Superhighway of World Trade

The rebirth of the Silk Road

Marco Polo surely never dreamed that the legendary Silk Road would rise again to new glory seven centuries after his death. Under the Silk Road project, the Chinese government alone is investing around a trillion US dollars in land and maritime infrastructure to bring these ancient trade routes to Europe back to life.

It’s really neither here nor there whether Marco Polo ever really saw China or served as a valued consigliere at the court of Kublai Khan – or if the whole story derives instead from the contemporary spirit of enterprise and Europe’s growing curiosity about the outside world.  But one thing’s for sure: The volume of trade with the Middle Kingdom has been growing steadily for decades, which means that trade routes need to be upgraded and expanded to meet the new requirements. 

China’s “One Belt, One Road” encompasses far more than the classic east-west route across Eurasia

Taking account of this, the European Union embarked on the Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia project, or TRACEA, back in 1993. With the launch of its epic One Belt project in 2013, the People’s Republic of China has taken matters a big step further, looking beyond the classic land and sea routes linking Europe to East Asia.

Beijing’s ambitious Silk Road project includes trade arteries linking China to Russia, Mongolia, the countries of Southeast Asia, India, Central and Southwest Asia, and Africa. Moreover, the world’s most populous nation continues to look even further afield.  

More flexibility in the supply chain

In 2011, a direct rail link was established between Duisburg, Germany and several Chinese major metropolitan areas, including Chongqing. Rheinmetall Automotive has been using this transport route for the past three years to ship raw material to China and finished products to the West. 

David Li, Logistics Manager at the Pierburg plant in Kunshan, explains why: “For us, the biggest advantage of transport by rail is greater flexibility when it comes to managing our inventories.” Time is an important factor here: Transport by sea takes eight weeks, the train from Duisburg five weeks at most. “Especially in China”, adds Li, “we’ve seen a relatively strong upturn in customer orders. We have to be able to react quickly, which means we need a flexible supply chain.” 

Every week, one or two containers leave Duisburg’s inland port, packed mostly with coils – raw material for the solenoid valves produced at one of the company’s plants in China. In addition to these, pallets loaded with various components are shipped by rail to China on the Hamburg-Wu Han route. The economic benefits of rail transport soon become apparent when one realizes that air freight takes longer than one might think: fourteen days, no less. Each week, 35 trains set out for Chongqing on what is in part a spectacular journey. The Silk Road passes through unique natural landscapes, places rarely seen or explored before. On these pages, Heartbeat provides a glimpse of these splendors. 

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