With the opening to truck traffic of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan transportation corridor on Sunday, the three countries are now well on the road to realizing their vision of strengthening trade ties in Central Asia and beyond.
The launch of the international roadway was marked by a motorcade of seven trucks from Silk Road International, a cross-border transportation company, that began shipping bean products Sunday afternoon from a logistics center in Andijan, Uzbekistan to Kashgar in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
The launch of the new transportation corridor connects landlocked Uzbekistan with roads leading to China's sea ports.
The 950-kilometer transport route will reduce travel time for trucks from eight days to two days which includes passing through border customs inspection.
The route was achieved after the three countries signed contracts to connect existing roads to facilitate international transportation.
According to the People's Daily, 100,000 tons of cargo are expected to travel the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan transport corridor in 2018. The cargo will include textiles, leather, agricultural products and electronics.
The new corridor is expected to create 1 million jobs and cut transportation fees by $200-300 per ton of cargo, saving transporters around $2.5 million a year.
Analysts said the new corridor has implications for the advancement of trade links in the region.
"It shows that both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are actively responding to China's Belt and Road initiative, and paves the way for future economic cooperation and integration in Central Asia," Zhu Yongbiao, assistant director of the Institute of Central Asia Studies at Lanzhou University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
"It also promotes China's trade with Central Asia by significantly reducing custom clearance time," Zhu said.
A project representative from China Railway No.5 Engineering Group told the People's Daily that the group has won the contract to build an extension of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan transport corridor that will lead to Duschanbe, capital of Kyrgyzstan.
The project is expected to be completed by April this year and will lay the foundation for trade routes from China to West Asia, the representative said.
Analysts noted the launch of the transportation corridor indicates improved bilateral ties between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, which have had an often-fraught relationship since the collapse of the Soviet Union, particularly over disputed borders and competition over natural resources.
Their relations appear to have thawed following Uzbek leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev's inaugural visit to Bishkek last year.
"The China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan international road is a scaled-down version of the planned China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railroad, the implementation of which has met obstacles due to unresolved political issues between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan," Zhu said.
He noted that a delicate balance of rivalry and cooperation between Beijing and Moscow in Central Asian countries also contributed to the delayed railroad.
Both China and Russia unveiled grand visions in the region, with China's Belt and Road initiative and Russia's Eurasian Economic Union.
The new highway corridor was initiated by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev during his state visit to China in May 2017, during which an intergovernmental agreement on international road transport between the two countries was signed.
By Bai Tiantian for the Global Times (China).