China is a country where the media is not free. But one cannot but appreciate the way how the People’s Republic of China handled a group of 20 international journalists invited to visit Xinjiang to feel for themselves and then write about their ambitious project of reconstructing the Silk Route.
Internationally, we come to know of President Xi Jinping’s plans about this “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) from the write-ups of these journalists. Quoting from one of these journalists we know that “at the Urumqi International Land Port zone, among the 18 “A class” land ports in the region, it is clear that the land route of the BRI will be driven by the railroads that run through Xinjiang. Even a few years before the BRI was announced in 2013, it would have been impossible to consider its scope.
“Today, a freight train goes from the Chinese city of Yiwu all the way to London, a distance that is second only to the Yiwu-Madrid freight route that traverses 12,874 km. This year, officials estimate that about 800 trains will run between 35 Chinese cities and 34 European cities. New ones are being inaugurated every day. On the day we visit the port, a freight train dressed with a big red bow is preparing to undertake its first journey from Ürümqi to Naples in Italy. It’s a cargo train, carrying hundreds of thousands of bottles of tomato ketchup.
“The BRI is not just China’s outreach to the world for connectivity or influence. As China’s economic growth slows, down to an estimated 6.5% from 6.9% last year, these railway routes will also supply new markets for China’s flagging manufacturing industry.”
Two hundred and fifty km south of Ürümqi, Korla is being marketed as the ‘Eye of the New Vitality of the Silk Road’. This dusty town on the edge of the desert has been transformed with a grant of $50 billion. The aim is to make Korla a futuristic hub for applications development and cloud computing.
In 2015, the Litai textile company of China’s Jinsheng group, which has business in 35 countries, decided to invest in a “million spindle” silk yarn factory. Its website says that its Korla plant was an “an important strategic initiative” to “[seize] the ‘Belt and Road’ development opportunity and [promote] strategic transformation of Litai, and will make a positive contribution to the regional stability and economic development in Xinjiang.” Today, the mostly mechanised factory is up and running, with each unit producing about 75 tonnes of yarn a day.
Italian explorer Marco Polo is said to have discovered the Chinese ‘Baiju’ rice wine during his travels along the old Silk Route in the 13th century. Today, dozens of vineyards in Yanqi County, not far from Korla, are hoping to rev up production to the point where they can repeat along the new Silk Road Marco Polo’s wine exports. China has had 5,000 years of wine drinking, but regular grape wine is only just catching people’s attention.
China can think big and therefore, does not the fear the critical pen of the international media. Instead of the back-handed means of curbing the media, can the Indian government, too, dare to show-case the impact of its grandiose projects? Or does it really have one, to show off – as China does?