By Altay Atli
Yunnan, July 19, 2018
While geographical proximity is certainly an advantage, the Chinese government is actively capitalizing on it by increasing connectivities between Yunnan and neighboring countries, in order to turn its southern province into a gateway to a larger economic hinterland.
The first kind of connectivity in this respect relates to economic integration initiatives that bring Yunnan province together with countries in not only Southeast Asia but also South Asia. Yunnan has a special place in the Belt and Road Initiative, which is emphasized through its part in integration projects such as the Yangtze River Economic Belt, BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar) Economic Corridor, China-Indochina Peninsula Corridor and the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Framework.
In other words, China is expanding cooperation toward both South Asia and the lower Mekong countries within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, and Yunnan is perfectly placed to serve as a hub for this emerging network.
The second kind of connectivity, which in fact is required to vitalize the first one, is related to improvement of transport infrastructure. High-speed rail lines between Kunming and Shanghai, as well as Yunnan and Guangxi, commenced operation in December 2016. Cargo trains departing from Kunming and passing from Chengdu are making the trip all the way to Eastern Europe and terminating in the Polish town of Lodz.
But the real game changer will be the Pan-Asia Railway Network, which would connect China with Singapore through different routes, one passing through Vietnam and Cambodia, another through Laos and the third one through Myanmar. The Vietnam-Cambodia segment is already completed, work is in progress on the Laos segment, and ground has recently been broken in Myanmar. Once completed, which the Chinese hope to accomplish by the end of 2020, this rail system will also connect the overland routes of the Belt and Road Initiatives with the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road.