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Yunnan gateway plan eyes broad Asian links

Source:   Time:

 

Echoes of Burma Road and 'The Hump' as province strengthens its connections

When China was under severe attack from the Japanese army 70 years ago, Yunnan was a lifeline in the nation's eight-year war against the invaders.

After coastal and central regions were occupied by the Japanese, the province was one of few places with access to the outside world offering a way for assistance from the United States and other allies to enter the country.

Weapons and other cargo were transported to Yunnan using the arduous Burma Road and "The Hump" air route over the Himalayan Mountains from India. The provincial capital Kunming became the transport hub of unoccupied China.

Yet when the war ended in 1945, the province returned to its former status as a sleepy, remote and landlocked region.

And now that is again changing.

Yunnan gateway plan eyes broad Asian links

"Since the beginning of this century, Yunnan has once again been endowed with a historical opportunity to be a frontier for opening up in China," Liu Guangxi, vice-mayor of Kunming, told the Kunming summit for regional financial and monetary cooperation last week.

After the nation's historic opening up three decades ago along the coast brought prosperity to the east, the central government began planning development of the west as the new century dawned.

"Promoting the opening up of inland and frontier regions is an important part of the nation's 'go-west' strategy. In Yunnan our plan is to build a gateway that links to neighboring countries and the Indian Ocean," Liu said.

Also an expert with long experience in foreign trade and economic affairs, Liu was among the first advocates of the gateway strategy in Yunnan.

Less than 1,000 km from the Indian Ocean in Myanmar, the province has the potential to be a regional transportation hub. Planes from Kunming Airport can reach most of Asia's airports within five hours.

A regional link from Yunnan has also long been envisioned by neighboring countries.

In 1995, then Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad proposed a pan-Asia railway running from Malaysia to Yunnan and eventually to Mongolia.

Liu noted that today's regional cooperation - including the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area established in January 1 this year and the Greater Mekong Subregion program for joint development - can make stronger transport and trade links "practical and feasible".

"The increasing demand for the flow of cargo, cash, tourists and information resulting from the free trade area is pushing countries to build more cross-border facilities."

He added that a number of facilities have already been built, including the mostly completed Kunming-Bangkok Expressway and the China-Myanmar Highway.

"However, how to manage and operate these cross-border facilities is still a big problem because of the complicated economic and political situations in some neighboring countries," Liu said.

Liu said the governments of Yunnan and Kunming are proposing an annual meeting in Kunming for better coordination to meet the challenges.

He added that Yunnan's gateway strategy is not only for neighboring Southeast Asia and South Asia, but also has a broader pan-Asia agenda.

With cross-border transport facilities in place, Yunnan can offer a shortcut for cargo transport between Northeast Asia and the Indian Ocean and between Central Asia and Southeast Asia.

The provincial strategy has now won confirmation from the central government.

During his visit to Yunnan in March, Chinese President Hu Jintao discussed the proposal with local officials and pointed out that "the gateway strategy should be included in the nation's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15)".

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