04/22/2016, 18.52
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The Silk (Rail) Road on track, directly from Wuhan to Lyon

After 16 days and 11,300 km, the first freight train reached France after crossing six time zones through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Germany, taking half the time of sea shipping. Xi’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ is back in the spotlight, to trade with Europe, bypassing the United States.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – An intercontinental freight train that left Wuhan city in China arrived in Lyon, France, after travelling 11,300 km to Lyon, France, crossing seven countries and six time zones. A new ‘Silk Road’ thus begins.

The train arrived at its destination after 16 days, half the time it would take by sea, which tends to be dominated by US exports. The convoy carried a cargo of mechanical, electrical, and chemical products. The same train is expected to leave in a few days loaded with French wine and produce.

After receiving the iron horse with great fanfare, France announced plans to introduce three links a week between Wuhan and Lyon in the near future.

On its website, Chinese freight company Trans Eurasia Logistics (TEL) already advertises regular rail links between 16 Chinese cities and European cities – including Barcelona, Bologna, Rotterdam, and Kotka, in Finland.

In March 2015, China and a number of European nations agreed to a ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’, an initiative designed to open up new trade routes.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has backed this dream, which he had dubbed ‘One Belt, One Road’, and is part of a broad geopolitical project with many implications.

On the one hand, the ‘New Silk Road’ embodies a desire to bypass the war-torn Middle East and Africa’s pirate-infested seas. On the other, Beijing wants to become the most competitive possible to marginalise US exports in Europe.

China also has to contend with India, which launched its own maritime trade initiative, called the ‘Cotton Road’ to link the nations of South Asia and South-East Asia.

For Alice Ekman, a research fellow and head of China research at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI), China’s project “goes off in all directions".

"In the beginning, China announced a possible 60 partner countries – Eurasian countries. Now we're seeing that the project also includes Africa, and Beijing has also said that 'all countries across the world are welcome’.”

The ‘Belt’ initiative is backed by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which China controls. Yet, “it won't be easy for China's institutions to implement the government's program," said Ekman.

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