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Chinese vessel sets sail to revive ancient maritime silk road legend | Coastweek

SHANGHAI China (Xinhua) -- Containers being loaded on freighter COSCO Netherlands of China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company (COSCO) at a wharf in east China’s Shanghai Municipality. Container freighter Netherlands will stop by Singapore, the Suez Canal, Rotterdam, Hamburg, Antwerp and the Pireaus Port in Greece after it leaves Shanghai. XINHUA PHOTOS - CHEN FEI

Chinese vessel sets sail to revive ancient maritime silk road legend

by Xinhua writers Yan Liang, Zheng Kaijun SHANGHAI (Xinhua) -- One of today’s most technically-advanced ships in the world set sail from here on Sunday to retrace the oldest maritime route that linked China with the rest of the world.

Merchant Vessel (M.V.) COSCO Netherlands is leaving Yangshan Deep Water Port at 7 p.m. local time (1100 GMT), in Shanghai, the world’s largest cargo port, and will dock in the Port of Ningbo in east China, the Port of Singapore, the Suez Canal, the Pireaus Port in Greece, and ports in Rotterdam of Netherlands, Hamburg of Germany, and Antwerp of Belgium, in its about 40-day journey.

Products with internationally well-known brand, like Hewlett-Packard (HP) computers, Sony LCD monitors, Hisense TV, Haier refrigerators, automobile spare parts and bicycles, assembled or made in China, are on board for export to northwestern European and other countries.

An over 150,000 ton oceangoing container vessel, the giant is 366-meter long, 51.2-meter wide and 67-meter high, and can carry up to 13,386 TEU (20 foot equivalent unit).

It was manufactured by China’s Nantong COSCO KHI Ship Engineering Co., Ltd. in 2013.

China COSCO Shipping Corporation Limited, owner of M.V. COSCO Netherlands, offers service on more than 100 routes globally, including those from the Far East to northwestern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Africa, as well as regional feeders within Europe and Southeast Asia nations. Part of the route that M.V.COSCO Netherlands travels overlaps with the ancient Maritime Silk Road and its history can be traced back to ancient time.

Yao Wei, a 30-year-old engine room engineman from Jiangsu Province, first time on board M.V. COSCO Netherlands, told Xinhua, "I am very looking forward to this new journey, from history to reality, from China to Europe. It must be very impressive."

The ancient Maritime Silk Road was a crucial conduit for trade and cultural exchanges between China’s southeastern coastal regions and countries in Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe.

It was first formed in the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 B.C.-220 A.D.), developed from the Three Kingdoms Period to Sui Dynasty (220-618 A.D.), flourished in the Tang and Song Dynasties (618-1279 A.D.), and fell into decline in the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911 A.D.).

Through the sea route, silk, tea and china were exported, while spices and rare treasures like precious stones were brought to China.

During the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 A.D.), renowned Italian traveler and explorer Marco Polo headed for China along the Silk Road. After living in China for 17 years, he left from Quanzhou, a coastal city in southeast China’s Fujian Province, or one of the starting points of the ancient Maritime Silk Road.

Marco Polo’s remarks and memories of China were recorded in the book—the Travels of Marco Polo, which described China’s politics, economy, culture and prosperity in detail at that time.

As ancient trade through sailing driven by monsoons and ocean currents gave way to the transoceanic trade via container freighters between China and Europe, the Maritime Silk Road has also witnessed the growth of cultural exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations.

Now, the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, or together the Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, aim to build an even stronger trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes and promote common development among all countries involved.

In May this year, China will host the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, during which participants will have an opportunity to explore cooperation opportunities, build cooperation platforms and share the outcomes of cooperation.

Chinese vessel sets sail to revive ancient maritime silk road legend | Coastweek

ROTTERDAM Netherlands (Xinhua) -- Freighter COSCO Netherlands of China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company (COSCO) at port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in April 20, 2013, when the vessel was which ranked first of the "Environmental Ship Index (ESI)" published by port of Rotterdam, the biggest European port, and was further honoured as "the most sustainable ship of 2012" in Rotterdam on Saturday. XINHUA PHOTO - JIA LIRUI


How one key trade port on the Maritime Silk Road changes the world

by Xinhua writers Yan Liang, Ye Shan NINGBO, China (Xinhua) -- Merchant Vessel (M.V.) COSCO Netherlands left Ningbo Zhoushan Port in Zhejiang Province in eastern China on Tuesday afternoon continuing its roughly 40-day journey from China to Europe to retrace the Maritime Silk Road, an ancient trade maritime route linking China with the rest of the world.

The vessel began its journey on Sunday from Shanghai to relive the old-time trade route. China proposed the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road in 2013, which is not only a valuable spiritual treasure to all of humanity but also a road of dialogue for Chinese civilization with the world.

On the backdrop of surging counter-globalization in the world today, retracing the memory about that history that different countries, regions and peoples along the route shared is a global call for peaceful intercultural ties.

Leaving Yangshan Deep Water Port in Shanghai, one of the world’s largest cargo ports, M.V. COSCO arrived at the Ningbo Zhoushan Port late on Monday afternoon.

Ningbo, called Mingzhou during China’s Tang and Song Dynasties, was one of the Chinese coastal cities linked with the ancient Maritime Silk Road. Nowadays, traces of the Maritime Silk Road relics still can be found in Ningbo, including the Yongfeng warehouse, a key official depot from the Southern Song Dynasty through to the Ming.

On the site of Yongfeng, large quantities of cultural relics had been found, like famous porcelain products from the Song and Yuan Dynasties, which prove that Ningbo was a significant trading port on the thriving Maritime Silk Road in ancient China.

Located in the middle of China’s long coastline, Ningbo possesses rare geographical advantages and serves as a unique port. The city has a special position in China’s history engagement with the world as the estuary of the Grand Canal of China and also the port of departure on the Maritime Silk Road in ancient China.

China’s Grand Canal was officially inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2014, which consists of three sections—Beijing-Hangzhou Canal, the Sui and Tang Dynasties Canal, and East Zhejiang Canal which refers to the section from Hangzhou to Ningbo.

It is because of Ningbo’s unique geographical advantages that cargo and people could be transported to Japan and the Korean peninsula through the Zhoushan Islands in the east, and reach anywhere in the world through ports in Quanzhou and Guangzhou in South China, Liu Hengwu, a professor at Ningbo University, told Xinhua.

Ningbo was an important "window" for Chinese civilization, and it was irreplaceable in the trade and cross-cultural exchange in ancient East Asia, Liu said.

Traditionally, it it believed that the ancient Maritime Silk Road came into being in the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 B.C.- 220 A.D.), grew up in the Three Kingdoms Period and the Sui Dynasty (220 - 618 A.D.), flourished in the Tang and Song Dynasties (618 - 1279 A.D.), and fell into decline in the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 - 1911 A.D.).

From China to East Asia, Southeast Asia and Europe, the ever-extending Maritime Silk Road brought business and trade convenience to the countries and peoples along its route, while enriching the culture of local societies.

A huge number of well-known cultural sites and examples of engagement with foreign societies are preserved in Ningbo today, Liu said.

Among these are the Tiantong Temple, Asoka Temple, Samo Pagoda, the Site of the Goryeo Embassy, and the Site of the Yongfeng Warehouse, among others.

Contact between Tiantong Temple and the Japanese Buddhist temples started from the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279 A.D.), said Liu.

During the Song and Yuan dynasties, there were not only many Japanese monks living and practicing Buddhism at the Tiantong Temple, but also eminent Chinese monks, such as Lanxi Daolong and Wuxue Zuyuan, who went to Japan and cast a profound influence on the development of Japanese Zen Buddhism.

The ancient Tiantong Temple, as an international religious cultural center, left its glorious mark on the history of cross-cultural exchange on the Maritime Silk Road.

Since the Southern Song dynasty, the relationship between Tiantong Temple and Japanese Zen Buddhism has been ongoing for nearly 1,000 years. Chinese and Japanese Zen monks have played a significant role in promoting cultural ties between China and Japan.

The Maritime Silk Road had facilitated the melting of different countries, religions and peoples. Its abundant relics constitute its various cultural heritages while promoting mutual learning between China and the rest of the world.

In this sense, the Maritime Silk Road has witnessed the progress of the human civilizations. And it is the common responsibility of all humankind to preserve its many heritages.

China has also been lending a helping hand in this regard to some Southeast Asian countries, including Cambodia.

Chinese cultural relics experts have spent many years in Cambodia, protecting and repairing cultural relics from the Angkor Wat complex, such as the Chau Say Tevoda and Prasat Ta Keo.

These experts working in the countries along the Maritime Silk Road today play a similar role like the 29 sailors of the M.V. COSCO Netherlands.

The Maritime Silk Road signifies a long journey that crosses different oceans and civilizations. Looking back on the history, numerous monks, scholars and artists from foreign lands had travelled a long way to China by ship through the ancient route regardless of the various risks in order to learn Chinese culture while spreading Western civilization.

In addition to exchanging needed goods, another important reason why foreigners flooded in was the diligence, courage, wisdom, openness, tolerance, and integrity of the ancient Chinese, who became curious about foreign things, accepted outside civilizations, and lived in peace with foreign nations based on mutual respect and trust.

After all, this inclusiveness stemming from the Chinese culture enabled many foreigners and religious cultures to co-exist and converge in China’s coastal ports, or even the hinterland. Together with these foreigners, the industrious and courageous Chinese people have composed glorious chapters in the history of human civilization.

In the 21st century, it is of greater significance to study and carry forward the Maritime Silk Road spirit.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the ancient Chinese.

Sometimes, they encountered raging waves and died in foreign lands. But despite all the hardships, the merchants and sailors along the Maritime Silk Road remained fearless in pursuing the world.

In the 21st century, it is more important than ever to carry forward the spirit of the Silk Road when dealing with complicated international and regional situations.

On this warm spring day, the M.V. COSCO Netherlands is travelling along the Maritime Silk Road.

With history as a mirror, it hopes to embrace a brighter future.


China-Europe rail prospers as alternative to sea and air cargo

ZHENGZHOU China (Xinhua) -- In ancient times, the Silk Road blazed by imperial envoy Zhang Qian 2000 years ago carried caravans of Chinese silk, Indian spices and Persian brocade between the Middle Kingdom and Europe.

Today, a new land route pieced together by railways in six countries takes a matter of days to transport made-in-China products, from laptops to Airbus parts, and made-in-Europe baby formula and wines between Europe and Asia.

Starting from Zhengzhou, a logistics center and transport hub in central China’s Henan Province, the 10,214-kilometer Zhengzhou-Europe International Shuttle Train crosses the border at the Alataw Pass in Xinjiang before passing through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Poland on its way to Germany’s Hamburg.

The containers have to be transferred by crane first to the Russian-style broad gauge line at the Kazakhstan-China border before being transferred back to the standard gauge at the Poland-Belarus border.

The 15-day journey following the Eurasian land bridge, also dubbed the "new Silk Road," offers an alternative to slower and riskier sea freight and much costlier air cargo.

The new intercontinental rail route can save about 20 days compared with maritime transport and costs 80 percent less than air shipment, according to the Zhengzhou International Inland Port Development Co. Ltd., which runs the train service with partner rail companies in each country.

The freight train normally consists of 51 containers filled with vehicle parts, cables, machinery, shoes, and clothing en route to Hamburg, some of which are discharged at Warsaw, Poland, and some that are headed to Antwerp, Belgium or Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Zhengzhou INLEDCO Lighting Co. Ltd., which once transported its export LED lighting products by air to Europe, now uses the Zhengzhou-Europe railway.

General manager Liu Qinghua told Xinhua that this helps cut the company’s overall costs by half.

Demand for the rail cargo service has exploded since its maiden journey in July last year, according to the Zhengzhou International Inland Port.

From July 18 to the end of 2013, the rails carried 9,461 tonnes of cargo, valued at about 307 million yuan (about 49 million U.S. dollars), in 14 trains.

In the first six months of this year, the figures more than doubled, with cargo worth 884 million yuan transported in 20 trains.

Zhao Wenming, general manager of the Zhengzhou inland port company, expects cargo volume and value to skyrocket this year, as the train has begun to operate twice a week regularly since May this year, compared to the original frequency of once weekly or less.

The growing demand has also been reflected in the train’s length, which increased from the original 41 containers to the current 51.

In July, the shuttle train started to provide return service on a stable basis twice a month from Hamburg to Zhengzhou, carrying sophisticated materials, advanced machinery, baby formula, wine and even finished vehicles.

The booming business comes at a time when many manufacturing companies are moving to inland China from coastal areas, creating growing need for logistics and transportation services for the transport hub.

The train has also evolved from a regional service to a national one.

According to the rail freight service operator, more than 70 percent of cargo comes from outside Henan Province, mainly the coastal Pearl River Delta, Yangtze River Delta and the Bohai River Economic Rim.

Tai’an Bowins Garment Company in coastal Shandong Province used to transport garments by road to a port in Qingdao and then ship them overseas.

Company manager Zhao Xingwen told Xinhua that most of his products now go to Europe through the train in Zhengzhou, saving at least 15 days and helping avoid loss of orders due to unstable maritime transport.

Due to its secure and low-cost service, companies from neighboring countries are also jumping on the bandwagon.

In April this year, the first batches of electronics made in the Republic of Korea were transported through the railway to Europe.

According to Zhao of the inland port company, companies in Japan, Hong Kong and a few Southeast Asian countries have also started using the shuttle train, and more firms are approaching the rail company for future cooperation.

China still heavily relies on sea freight in its trade with Europe.

Land transport allows traders to avoid passing through the pirate-plagued Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Malacca.

Over the past three years, several mainland cities, including southwestern Chongqing and Chengdu, Wuhan in central China, and northeastern Shenyang have launched rail freight services to Europe.

But the Zhengzhou service is by far the most successful and does far bigger business.

Speaking at a meeting earlier this year, Xue Yunwei, vice mayor of Zhengzhou, attributed the success of the shuttle train partly to the complete transport system in the city, which is a hub in central China for railways, airlines and highways.

The ability to provide so-called "multimodal transport service" is seen by Zhao as the key to success.

Through its partner companies specializing in highway, maritime and air transport, the inland port company picks up cargo from factories before transporting it to Zhengzhou and Europe.

Zhao said they are able to use the most cost-effective means of transport at all stages.

In addition to the China Railway Corporation, the company has or will soon sign partnership agreements with DHL, COSCO, DAMCO, Schenker, UPS, China Post, and China Shipping among other leading logistics companies.

The government also plays a big role in ensuring the effective and efficient operation of the rail cargo service, which involves cross-border customs, product inspection and quarantines.

Vice Mayor Xue said the government handles all the problems so that the company can focus on how to provide the best service.

Zhengzhou municipal authorities have organized several meetings, such as one in November of last year when senior customs officials from the nine countries along the rail route gathered in the city to solve problems affecting the railway’s operation.

Railway cargo between China and Europe holds enormous potential, said Guo Yuhua, vice director of the China Railway Corporation’s transportation bureau.

Among the 110 million tonnes of goods exported to 13 major European countries in 2012, about 78 million were suitable for railway transportation.

However, only 1.5 percent of trade volume was achieved via the railway, according to research by the CRC.

Trade volume between China and Europe is currently 566 billion U.S. dollars and is expected to reach one trillion U.S. dollars in 2020.



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