Deals with Azerbaijan to boost Silk Road plan

Updated: 2015-12-11 07:56

By Zhang Yunbi and Zhao Yinan(China Daily)

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China and Azerbaijan signed a memorandum of understanding on Thursday to boost the building of the Silk Road Economic Belt.

The signing of the document was witnessed by President Xi Jinping and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev after their talks in Beijing. A senior Chinese diplomat said the two countries are planning a cargo rail route to boost links between China and Europe.

Nine cooperation documents were also signed covering areas including trade, justice, civil aviation, education, transportation and energy.

Azerbaijan has formed a traditional gateway between China and Europe, and the deals were signed as it seeks better links between the Chinese initiative and its own strategy to revive the ancient Silk Road.

Xi said China "endorses the proactive response and support" from Azerbaijan for the Chinese initiative to co-build the Silk Road Economic Belt, adding that the signing of the deals "marks bilateral pragmatic cooperation entering a new stage".

Aliyev said his country is glad to help China achieve its vision and it supports the Belt and Road Initiative.

The strategy, which refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, was proposed by Xi in 2013. It has attracted increasing attention from countries along the routes seeking to dovetail their regional strategies with China's plans.

On Nov 26, five central European countries - Poland, Serbia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Slovakia-signed memorandums of understanding with China to jointly build the Belt and Road.

Xi said on Thursday that China is ready to strengthen financial and transportation cooperation to create conditions for the common development and prosperity of all countries in the region.

Gui Congyou, director-general of the Foreign Ministry's Department of European-Central Asian Affairs, said Azerbaijan is expected to use its role as a Eurasian hub to help build the economic belt.

One of the cooperation programs involves building a cargo rail route from western China to Europe via Azerbaijan and Turkey, Gui told Chinese reporters. Gui quoted Aliyev as saying that the rail link will provide the shortest China-Europe cargo route.

Li Jianmin, a researcher at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Azerbaijan offers an ideal option for China because it provides good access to other transportation routes in Eurasian countries.

Li said the progress made on Thursday shows "there is a mutual strategic need between China and Azerbaijan", and that Azerbaijan has made a wise choice as it strives not to lag behind neighboring countries such as Armenia.

Aliyev is making a four-day visit to China from Tuesday to Friday.

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(China Daily 12/11/2015 page1)