Published On: Wed, Jul 12th, 2017

One Belt, One Road’ brings new opportunities for former Silk Road city of Jiayuguan

As China’s ambitious “One Belt, One Road” transnational economic initiative starts to gain steam, the city of Jiayuguan in western Gansu province is making its pitch to attract investors.

With a slick video showcasing the city’s broad, tree-lined streets, sparkling new high-speed train station and nearby tourist attractions, Jiayuguan officials hoped to draw some attention to their rapidly developing city during the 23rd Lanzhou Investment and Trade Fair held last week in the provincial capital of Lanzhou, about 450 miles to the east along the old Silk Road.

The time couldn’t be better for Jiayuguan to be courting investors. Since the city of 300,000 people was connected to China’s high-speed rail network in 2014, it’s been making a push to diversify its economy beyond the struggling steel industry into other directions, namely tourism.

“Jiayuguan was once known as a steel city. But with the traditional steel industry now declining around the world, Jiayuguan is determined to have an economic transformation and become a tourism city,” said Han Zhiyuan, director of the Jiayuguan Investment Promotion Department. “We think ‘One Belt, One Road’ is our opportunity to promote our city as a tourist destination.”

Indeed, Jiayuguan is well-positioned to reap the benefits of the “One Belt, One Road” plan. It sits along the new freight rail line connecting the inland city of Chongqing with Duisburg, Germany, one of numerous rail and road connections launched as part of the plan that are drastically reducing the time required to transport goods between China and Europe.

In February, the central government named Jiayuguan as the key transportation hub in western China for the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, one of several new government directives intended to spur development in the old Silk Road city. A duty-free zone was also established in the nearby city of Wuwei to streamline the export process for goods headed to Central Asia.

These new policies, as well as Jiayuguan’s position as a gateway to Central Asia and Europe, were what convinced Shanghai-based FAW Lingyuan Automobile Manufacturing Co., a subsidiary of the auto giant FAW Group, to invest RMB 2 billion (US$294 million) to set up a new factory producing cars and trucks in the city.

“There are several reasons we are here,” said Yu Shugang, general manager of the Jiayuguan FAW Lingyuan Automobile Manufacturing Co. “First, the local government supports us a lot. Second, we took the development of “One Belt, One Road” into consideration. We also want to develop our business to the west of China.”

When the new factory is completed in August, it will have the capability of producing 100,000 cars and trucks every year by 2020. Initially, these vehicles will be sold in China, but the expectation is to begin exporting to Central Asian countries and beyond very soon.

“Every train to Europe passes through the city,” Yu said. “It’s very convenient.”

The local government also wants to encourage more investment in the steel industry to revive what was once the pillar of the local economy. But the biggest impetus is on growing the tourism industry—a sector that is already showing tremendous promise. The government anticipates receiving 8 million tourists by 2020, with an average annual increase of around 25 percent.

One key tourism objective was realized two years ago with the completion of a major restoration of the 14th century Jiayuguan fort—once one of the most important landmarks along the old Silk Road and today a popular tourism destination. Next to the fort is the Jiayuguan Great Wall Museum, which was relocated here from the city in 2003, and four miles away is one of the western-most sections of the Great Wall itself, clinging to a steep mountainside like the famous Badaling section of the wall outside Beijing.

In recent years, other entertainment venues and cultural attractions have opened to draw more tourists with young families, such as Fantawild Adventure, a giant amusement park with a colorful Disney-like castle and twisting roller coaster. The neighboring city of Wuwei is also hoping to lure tourists to its many wineries, including Zixuan Wine Estate, which purports to have the largest wine cellar in Asia.

“Most of the tourists are currently from China,” Han said. “We also get visitors from Japan and some from Europe and the U.S., though it’s still pretty small.” – AFP

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