by Xinhua writer Shi Xiaomeng
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's upcoming trip to Uzbekistan and Thailand will further cement China's neighborhood bonds and promote Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) cooperation.
During the tour, Li is scheduled to attend the 18th meeting of the Council of Heads of Government of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Tashkent and a series of East Asian leaders' meetings in Bangkok.
Among the major topics will be the BRI, an initiative China put forward in 2013 to promote international cooperation and common development along and beyond the ancient Silk Road trade routes, in which both Central Asia and Southeast Asia play a significant role.
Uzbekistan, situated in the heart of Central Asia, was a hub on the Silk Road in ancient times, and was among the very first countries to endorse the BRI.
In July, a new air cargo route was launched linking Urumqi, the capital city of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, with the Uzbek capital of Tashkent to facilitate regional transport.
The China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, a major inter-connectivity cooperation project, is under negotiation, and will cut transportation costs and boost economic and trade vitality in the region once completed.
In recent years, trade between China and Uzbekistan has been rapidly growing, with China being Uzbekistan's largest trading partner, largest source of imports and largest destination of exports. More than 1,500 Chinese enterprises are operating in Uzbekistan. In 2018, bilateral trade exceeded 6.26 billion U.S. dollars.
Stronger people-to-people and cultural exchanges have always been a key dimension of BRI-related cooperation between China and Uzbekistan, particularly in archaeology and the restoration of cultural relics. And from Jan. 1, 2020, Chinese citizens will enjoy seven-day visa-free visits to the country, making Uzbekistan the first to adopt such an arrangement among Central Asian nations.
BRI projects are booming in Thailand. Last month, an agreement on a high-speed rail project linking three airports in Thailand was signed. The 220-km rail project, a key infrastructure program under Thailand's Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) strategy, is the latest example of the two countries' efforts to synergize their respective development plans.
Booming cross-border e-commerce has now become a major force to bring the markets and consumers of the two countries closer. Alibaba, China's leading e-commerce company, can now deliver fresh "golden pillow" durians to China within five days.
Trade between the two countries is also increasing rapidly, exceeding 80 billion dollars in 2018, an 8.7-percent year-on-year increase, according to China's Ministry of Commerce.
Last year, China was Thailand's biggest trading partner, and Thailand was China's third-largest trading partner among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Meanwhile, both the SCO and ASEAN have become important platforms for BRI cooperation, with the initiative creating more practical benefits for and gaining more support from member countries.
The tangible results of BRI cooperation are materializing, offering China's partners a golden opportunity for common development and prosperity amid growing global uncertainties brought about by rising trade protectionism and unilateralism.
BRI cooperation has now shifted to high-quality development, heralding even more opportunities for all parties involved.
Li's visit is set to help China and its BRI partners further unleash their cooperation potential and steer relations toward a future of closer friendship, mutual benefits and greater contributions to global development.