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Updated: Apr 2, 2024 By ZHOU TAIDONG China Daily Global Print
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Yunnan is an important gateway for China's opening-up to South and Southeast Asia

Over the years, Yunnan province has made full use of its location advantage to improve its level of openness and international cooperation.

Yunnan has promulgated a series of policies to accelerate its construction as a center with radiation effects for South and Southeast Asia. It has set up a dozen bilateral cooperation mechanisms with countries in the region, and has more than 100 pairs of international sister cities, including 49 pairs of sister cities in South and Southeast Asian countries. It has held seven China-South Asia Expo and 13 meetings of the joint working group for the northern provinces of Laos and Yunnan province. It has also actively taken part in the construction of the Lancang-Mekong cooperation mechanism, and pushed forward the Great Mekong Subregion Cooperation and the Lancang-Mekong River Shipping Cooperation Mechanism.

The China-Laos Railway was put into operation at the end of 2021, connecting China's railway network with the Central Line of the Pan-Asian Railway and building a convenient and efficient cross-border logistics channel. The China-Vietnam, China-Laos and China-Myanmar expressways are all connected within the province, and the overseas section of the China-Laos Expressway, the Vientiane-Vangvieng section has been completed and opened to traffic, providing a solid channel for the coordinated development of China and Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and other countries. Yunnan's air routes basically cover the capitals and key tourist cities of countries in the region. Additionally, the China-Myanmar oil and gas pipelines are operational, and regional trade of electricity with Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar is being conducted through integrated power grids. This comprehensive infrastructure connectivity reinforces Yunnan's role as a vital player in regional trade and cooperation.

As of 2022, Yunnan had established five national-level economic and technological development zones, two comprehensive bonded zones, four national-level border (cross-border) economic cooperation zones, and two national-level key development and opening-up pilot zones. The China (Yunnan) Free Trade Pilot Zone, three crossborder e-commerce comprehensive pilot zones, and a comprehensive open platform system have now been basically established. From 2012 to 2022, Yunnan's total foreign trade volume increased from 132.59 billion yuan ($18.35 billion) to 334.23 billion yuan, an increase of one and a half times, with an average annual growth rate of 9.7 percent. Besides, Yunnan is one of the two provinces in the country to carry out comprehensive border financial reform and its cross-border renminbi settlement has been rapidly increasing since 2010. Banking institutions in Yunnan have gradually established border financial cooperation service centers and regional functional headquarters.

Relying on the advantages of being connected by mountains and rivers and being culturally similar, Yunnan is economically integrated with South and Southeast Asia. It continues to strengthen cooperation in education, culture, tourism and health. A number of special education cooperation projects, such as the Sino-Indian Yoga College of Yunnan University and the Bangkok Business School of Yunnan University of Finance and Economics, have been implemented. A series of cross-border ethnic cultural festivals such as the China-Myanmar Paukphaw Carnival were successfully held to further build Yunnan's international tourism brand. Public welfare medical activities have provided free cataract restoration surgeries and congenital heart disease screening has been conducted for children. Ruili city also established a cross-border medical emergency mechanism to facilitate the entry of people from northern Myanmar and other places for emergency medical treatment.

Yunnan's transformation from a peripheral locale to the forefront of China's opening-up has been an inspiring journey. With its strategic geographical location, efficient ports and comprehensive infrastructure connectivity, Yunnan has become a beacon of economic cooperation between China and South and Southeast Asian nations. Nevertheless, Yunnan still faces major challenges such as inadequate international corridors, weak industrial foundation, insufficient policy support and increasing external risks, which restrict Yunnan from further deepening open cooperation with the neighboring region. Going forward, Yunnan should accord priorities to the following.

First, it should speed up the construction of major international corridors. Special attention should be given to transport, logistics, energy and digital connection with its southern neighbors so Yunnan can play a role as a gateway to the vast market of South and Southeast Asian nations. The good momentum of the operation of the China-Laos Railway should be maintained and connectivity in norms and standards with the China Railway Express should be promoted so as to accelerate the improvement of passenger and cargo transportation capabilities. The China-Myanmar and China-Vietnam railways and expressways, as well as the development of China-Myanmar land-water intermodal transport corridors, should be advanced to create multi-dimensional international corridors. Yunnan can also build Kunming into a hub city for international trains and create an international comprehensive transportation gateway hub. Logistics hubs and logistics industrial parks in cities such as Kunming, Hekou, Mohan and Ruili should be further strengthened, and further efforts should be made in effectively improving the customs clearance capabilities of border ports.

Second, Yunnan should accelerate regional cooperation in industrial capacity. Industry is the essential driving force for opening up and development. Yunnan should put more efforts into promoting industrial transformation and upgrading and enhancing its industrial radiation capabilities. As a province with more than 20 dry ports near the China-Laos, China-Vietnam and China-Myanmar border sections, as well as a dozen airports that operate the most Chinese air routes to South and Southeast Asian destinations, Yunnan can make full use of the opportunity of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and further explore the role of ports. New business formats such as "internet + border trade" should be encouraged. The advantages of the province's photovoltaic and other green energy industries and cross-border medical industry should be cultivated as new growth points for cooperation. The province can also explore cooperation with other countries in the region in development of mineral resources and construction of agricultural demonstration parks.

Third, Yunnan should increase policy support and guarantees. A multi-pronged approach should be taken to promote Yunnan to better integrate into the region, including strengthened support in customs clearance, investment and financing. Pilot programs can be carried out in Ruili and Mengla to establish development and opening-up zones to facilitate personnel exchanges, free trade and cross-border renminbi financing. Different financing channels including international and national development banks and development assistance should be explored to meet the financing needs of key projects. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation should be strengthened in information exchange, mutual recognition of supervision, inspection and quarantine, certification and accreditation, standard measurement and statistical information, among others.

The author is vice-president of the Center for International Knowledge on Development. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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