Road to Cooperation
An ancient city booms with international economic and trade partnerships
By Lu Yan  ·  2018-05-22  ·   Source: | NO. 21 MAY 24, 2018

An exhibition for Malaysian products at the Third Silk Road International Expo in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, on May 14 (LU YAN)

When thinking of Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the Terracotta Warriors and Horses, a collection of sculptures depicting the armies of Emperor Qinshihuang (259-210 B.C.), the first emperor of a unified China. But the city was also the starting point of the Silk Road that played a prominent role in the country's external relations for centuries. Today it has again become an international economic hub, as it plays host to the Third Silk Road International Exposition (SRIE).

"It's pretty amazing to see the country's historical vicissitudes through ancient walls and relic buildings. I'm very lucky to have witnessed the great changes taking place in Xi'an in the past decade as it becomes an international city attracting domestic and foreign experts," said Chen Jinyu, a 28-year-old chauffeured car services driver in Xi'an.

A visitor tries a virtual reality driving simulator at the Third Silk Road International Expo in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, on May 14 (LU YAN)  

A convention of opportunities

A total of 230 delegations from governments, international organizations, business communities and academia from over 75 countries and regions participated in the event which kicked off on May 11, with the UK and Malaysia as the honored guest nations.

"The SRIE plays an important role in enhancing economic cooperation, people-to-people exchanges and trade and investment facilitation among countries along the Silk Road," said Qian Keming, Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce, at the opening ceremony of the expo.

To provide a platform for guests to communicate and explore collaboration opportunities, the five-day event, under the theme New Era, New Pattern and New Development, had an impressive exhibition along with forums which covered various topics such as the law-based business environment, product quality improvement, trade facilitation, market access, intercity business promotion, urbanization, technological innovation, brand building and cultural and tourism cooperation.

Simo Päivinen, Development Director of Finnish company Kouvola Innovation, Ltd., told Beijing Review, "The economic relationship between our two countries has worked very smoothly, especially after Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Finland last year." In November 2017, his company joined with Xi'an International Trade & Logistic Park and Kazakhstan Railway to launch the Kouvola-Xi'an line, the first railway link to connect China with Nordic countries including Finland, Russia and Kazakhstan. The route has helped Scandinavian goods, such as electronic devices and agricultural specialties, to be exported to China and has facilitated cargo shipments from Western China to Nordic countries.

"The Belt and Road Initiative gave us a reason to start developing train transportation between China and North Europe. I hope during the SRIE we can establish more contacts with Chinese companies and plan more trains," Päivinen added.

Adama Essy, a business consultant with Kurok International from Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa, also sought business cooperation with Chinese companies in real estate construction. "We will try to get some experience from our Chinese counterparts. It's a good opportunity to see how people work here. We also expect more investment from China to Cote d'Ivoire," he said.

The other highlight of the Third SRIE was products displayed at the exhibition. Consumer goods and high technology products from China as well as from more than 20 countries scattered throughout six venues, attracted more than 300,000 visitors and customers.

Haliza Industries, a Malaysian company focused on Halal snack manufacturing, was one of the companies at the exhibition. Its manager, Ammar Hafiz, told Beijing Review that China, with its huge population, is a lucrative market. Besides promoting the brand during the exhibition, the company concluded a deal worth 1.27 million yuan ($200,000) with a company located in Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province.

Chinese companies also exhibited their wares to visitors from home and abroad, including special local products like tea, embroidery and porcelain, as well as cutting-edge innovations in aerospace, automobile, electronic information, clean energy, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, among others.

Chinese exhibitors show local specialties from southwest China's Guizhou Province at the Third Silk Road International Expo in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, on May 14 (LU YAN)

Regional business ties

As one of the honored guest countries, the UK had a strong presence at the event. According to Rona Fairhead, Minister for Trade and Export Promotion at the Department for International Trade of the UK, more than 200 British delegates and 50 enterprises participated in the event, making it the largest British delegation to visit northwest China.

"Trade between China and the UK has never been stronger...Chinese investment is expanding in the UK," she said in a speech at the opening ceremony. She also commented on how all the countries along the Belt and Road routes and enterprises across the globe were gathered at the event for trade exchanges, free capital flow, technology competition and communication of ideas and that the SRIE showed the world a modern, open and inclusive Shaanxi.

In the past few years, the relationship between cities in the UK and Shaanxi has been on the rise. Fairhead said in the last year alone, the joint venture between Queen Mary University in London and Northwest Polytechnical University in Xi'an was a great success. The Liverpool World Museum opened a Terracotta Warriors exhibition in February which was seen by thousands of visitors.

Edinburgh has also established a sister relationship with Xi'an. At the China-UK Regional Economy and Investment Forum on May 11, Frank Ross, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, shared with the audience the great potential for business cooperation between the two countries and two cities. He said Chinese companies doing business in Edinburgh vary from hi-tech, life science and software development to retail.

"This is a healthy economic mix which is important to ensure that we continue to have a sustained and varied economy," Ross noted, presenting several examples. China's leading online tourism service provider Ctrip announced in September 2017 that it would open a customer service call center in Edinburgh, creating up to 200 new jobs. China's IT giant Huawei and the University of Edinburgh announced the opening of a joint laboratory for distributing data management processing in June 2017, in the hope of providing direction for cutting-edge research for the next generation of information technology.

"I hope we see more interest in investment in the UK from Shaanxi and across China," said the country's trade commissioner to China, Richard Burn.

Representatives from the UK's northwestern and central regions, especially potential partners with Shaanxi, also made presentations to introduce their business environment and explore how the two regions can work together. Lu Zhiyuan, Vice Governor of Shaanxi, noted that the province and the UK enjoy a solid foundation for exchanges and cooperation, and the two economies are highly complementary.

"Shaanxi's market will be more open, ready to embrace quality products and services from the UK. We will ensure a more fair and transparent investment environment for UK enterprises," Lu said.

Paul Stowers, an official from the UK Department for International Trade, said the forum made him realize that the industrial similarity between Shaanxi and the UK's northwestern region is uncanny. He said both of them attach great importance to areas like finance, advanced manufacturing, energy and life science, which offer more opportunities for future collaboration.

In addition, the SRIE also provided a platform for bilateral exchanges and cooperation between China and other countries including Malaysia, the United States and South Korea, as well as for domestic collaborations between the eastern and western regions of China.

According to preliminary statistics released by the event organizer on May 15, during the expo, the UK delegation reached preliminary business agreements amounting to a total of over 1.22 billion yuan ($191 million), while the number for the other honorary guest country Malaysia reached 1.65 billion yuan ($259 million).

Quality first

China's economy has been transitioning from a phase of rapid growth to a stage of high-quality development, as President Xi stated in his report delivered to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2017. Improving quality of products and services is also a key aspect where China can seek international partners. As an important part of the third SRIE, the Second Belt and Road High-End Forum on Quality drew attention from government officials, experts and scholars specialized in product quality improvement.

The forum, themed Quality Reform and Industrial Quality Improvement, centered on quality management, quality standard recognition, inspection and testing methods, and quality innovation and application.

"Some Chinese entrepreneurs give priority to output value. They should put quality first. Only by manufacturing the world's best quality products, could they win the market," Lu Bingheng, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said.

Chen Jianhe, Director of Quality and Regulatory Affairs of Rex Bionics, a medical technology company based in Auckland, New Zealand, pointed out that setting quality standards is the most basic requirement of a company, and maintaining high quality is a result of an efficient management system.

"More high-caliber managerial personnel should be cultivated to ensure that every production procedure strictly follows quality standards," she told Beijing Review. (Report from Xi'an, Shaanxi Province)

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

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