China-Eurasia Expo: India pitches tent, eyes a new Silk Route

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Underlining its growing economic stakes in Central Asia, India is making its presence felt at the third edition of the China-Eurasia Expo in Urumqi, the first time New Delhi has participated in this regional jamboree that brings in business deals worth billions for China.

The China-Eurasia Economic Development and Cooperation Forum in Urumqi, the capital of China’s troubled northwestern province of Xinjiang, is already creating a buzz. Business deals worth $35 billion have already been sealed, and more is on the way.

An India Pavilion at the expo has brought in dozens of Indian companies to showcase their business strengths in diverse sectors like energy, banking, machinery, tractors, food processing, IT/ITES, and infrastructure. Some of Indian companies that have pitched their tent in Urumqi include State Bank of India, Mahindra & Mahindra, Thermax, LMW Textile Machinery (Suzhou) Co. Ltd., Urumqi Synthite, Infotech Enterprises Ltd, Monarch Infotech Services, Sricity SEZ, Roshni Seeds and GMR Group.

New Silk Route

jaishankarIndia’s participation is not just symbolic; it’s about serious business, and is inspired by vision of a new Silk Route. An investment forum organised by the Indian Mission, in collaboration with the China Eurasia Expo Secretariat and the Xinjiang Commerce Department, generated a wave of excitement. Over 100 Chinese companies are reported to have attended the forum. “Enterprises of India and Xinjiang are already exploiting the business and investment opportunities presented to them by the other side and I hope that this forum gives them another occasion to work in that direction,” said India’s ambassador to China S. Jaishankar at the investment forum. Underlining that “the India-China economic relations have grown very substantially in the last decade and a half,” the envoy said the relations are “at an important juncture where decisions that could be taken may raise our cooperation to a much higher level.”

China has been quick to welcome India’s participation at the expo, which has evolved into an important instrument of Beijing’s economic diplomacy in the region. Xinjiang’s governor Nur Bekri conveyed his desire for stronger economic connect between Indian companies and his province when India’s ambassador S. Jaishankar met him on the sidelines of the expo this week.  “The deep-rooted links between Xinjiang and India are anchored in a long history of cultural and commercial engagement that traversed the silk route. It today finds expression in the natural affinity and deep friendship that marks our people-to-people contacts,” said the Indian envoy.

Regional Economic Integration

The six-day expo that began September 2 has brought in business people and officials from a slew of European and Eurasian countries, from Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan to Armenia, Latvia and (perhaps most significantly) India.  With ‘openness, mutual trust and common development’ as the theme of the expo, Beijing is using the forum as a platform to outline and cement nascent geopolitical and economic strategies, one being the development of Western China (with the core being Xinjiang) and the other being what is touted as the revival of the Silk Route for trade and energy imports and exports.

Fittingly, Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao has pitched for greater openness and cooperation among the countries of the Eurasian region. The economic synergy is there for all to see: 165 projects  in diverse sectors, including clean energy, agriculture, steel, textiles, tourism and services and manufacturing, have been signed so far. The contracts are worth USD 35 billion, nearly 3 percent higher than the value of the contracts signed last year. The agreements were sealed between 14 cities in Xinjiang, and state-owned and private enterprises throughout China. Over the coming decade, Xinjiang’s regional government envisages that the region will be capable of exporting high-end products to Central Asian and European markets, and will be also able to supply cleaner energy-related products in order to meet domestic demands.

Buoyed by geographical proximity between key Eurasian countries, China is also seeking to build a more integrated regional communications network with its neighbours in Central Asia and Eurasia. Communications services are being seen as one of the most dynamic sectors for developed nations, and a number of developing countries are realising that the same benefits apply to them as well. China Telecom Corp Ltd, China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd and China Mobile Hong Kong Co Ltd have signed seven cooperative agreements and business memoranda with the governments of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Russia and Mongolia and various companies within these countries, in order to build communication facilities and infrastructure.
Road and bridge construction along the Eurasian land bridge (better known as the New Silk road) is being undertaken.

China and partner countries will share common resources in promoting trade in both regional and European markets through an improved communication network, which adopts the same signal system and service standards. Given the fact that the much-vaunted New Silk Road will consist of vital highways, gas and oil pipelines, it is small wonder that this region is now being spotlighted as the new hub of for development.

Beijing has already taken the first step, making Urumqi one of three major international communication hubs in 2011, along with five regional centres and fifty international channel gateways. Urumqi now has more than 230 Internet technology and telecommunication enterprises, nearly half of which already have business connections with the markets of neighbouring countries. As of 2012, nearly RMB 1.65 million has been invested in building the communications sector in Xinjiang. This is not to say that China will or can take the lead here, especially considering that many of the countries in question are capable of building their communications sectors on their own. Nevertheless, this year’s Expo has seen a lot of opportunities being tapped into. These developments also highlight the bilateral security imperative that dogs any multilateral economic cooperation.

China’s vice president met key foreign leaders on the sidelines of the Expo. From the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan to the Vice Chairman of the State Great Hural of Mongolia, the basic undertones remained the same. China remains willing to outline pragmatic cooperation from strategic perspectives, and to work closely on common security issues with partnering countries.

 

 

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