After 18 days and 28,000 kilometers, the freight train pulled into London on time last week.It passed through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France, finally crossing under the English Channel.Inside the 68 containers were household items, clothes, fabrics, bags and suitcases.
“This is twice as quick as sea, so it’s got an important role there.And it’s much, much cleaner and cheaper than air freight, I mean it’s 20 times less pollution than air freight.”
But there’s more to the train than its cargo.Analysts say the historic journey also carried with it a political message – that China is forging new trade routes and new markets.Already, 15 European cities are served by freight trains from China as part of Beijing’s "One Belt, One Road" initiative.
“The domestic market in China now seems to be very much stagnated.So the Chinese are desperately looking for the new markets, and be able to absorb that excessive amount of production capacity.And obviously that freight train serves as a very good vehicle for the Chinese manufacturers,and restores the business confidence inside China.”
As the train arrived in Europe, another historic trip was being made, as Xi Jinping became the first Chinese president to attend the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.He spoke out in favor of globalization and free trade.“Pursuing protectionism is just like locking oneself in a dark room,while wind and rain may be kept outside, so are light and air.”That was a thinly veiled retort to U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of China’s trade policies and his pledge to hurt America first in all future deals.
Analyst Jie Yu says China spies an opportunity as a counterweight.“History opened a new era.And China has shown its willingness much more to shoulder more responsibility on the global stage and try to become a kind of responsible leadership as been presented in Davos.”
In Europe where popular opposition to globalization is running high, Xi’s words have been welcomed.So, could new U.S. trade policies drive Europe and China close together?“Don’t forget, these two economic blocs have divisive opinions on free market enormously,and they have been battling on the free market ideas for so many years.And this is not something I think that the EU and China could resolve overnight.”
Nevertheless, analysts say the Trump administration likely heralds a new era in global trade relations,but the outcome of this realignment is difficult to predict.
Henry Ridgwell, for VOA News, London.