Tag Archives: Politics

China’s New Silk Road: 12,000 km from the UK to China

News and Travel Editor

Welcome to China Icons’ first ever 4K video, and what a subject to start on!

The UK is the latest country to ‘get connected’ to China’s latest global innovation, the One Belt One Road Initiative. It’s a rejuvenation of the ancient, 2,000 year-old Silk Road, arguably made famous by the traveller and explorer Marco Polo. China and the UK are now connected via one of the most innovative rail links in the world.

Join us as we travel 12,000 km to the other side of the globe from London in the UK to Yiwu on the eastern edge of China.

From electronic equipment to toys and games, the train will be transporting almost anything you could possibly think of.

Find out what it takes to launch one of the most ambitious projects the world has ever seen and re-live the celebrations in London as the train departs to Yiwu.

Don’t forget to check out our other blog on some of the highlights along the 12,000 km route, from the Russian wilderness to the mild climate of China’s eastern coast. This isn’t the only celebration of China’s ‘New Silk Road’, horticultural designers have created a Silk Road garden at the world famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Check out their incredible efforts here.

A Journey Across Continents: The London to Yiwu Train

News and Travel Editor

Today marks the end of a historic 7,500 mile freight train journey from London, UK, to Yiwu, China. Carrying everything from pharmaceuticals to milk powder and soft drinks, it’s the first ever journey on this route and marks a significant moment for trading relations between the UK, Europe and China. But its not been without difficulty – the train has ventured through 9 countries, from freezing Russian wilderness to the mild climate of China’s eastern coast. This blog visits some of the highlights along its route and looks at why this train journey is so important.

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This is the first ever direct cargo train carrying British goods from the UK to China. This may seem like a modern innovation, but the train is actually reviving the 2,000 year-old Silk Road, an ancient link between the east and west. As well as contributing to the recent Chinese initiative of the New Silk Road, transporting goods to China from the UK via freight train is twice as fast as transporting them by sea and the costs are tiny compared to transporting by air. This is a time and cost effective solution, not to mention it passes through 7,500 miles of glorious scenery.

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Cosmopolitan Western Europe

After leaving London Gateway, the train passes through the bright lights of Western Europe, from Paris and Brussels to Duisberg and Warsaw. This sounds like a great opportunity for a whirlwind tour of Europe, aboard one of the most important freight trains in the world today.

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The Freezing Russian Winter

Just as you’ve got used to the mild climate of western Europe, the train was fully immersed in the gloriously tropical  -40°C winters of the Russian wilderness. Beautiful it may be, there’s no doubt the train driver need their winter woolies.

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The Plains of Kazakhstan and Xinjiang

Here, the journey becomes even more beautiful. The train has journeyed through thousands of miles of beautiful plains of grassland, mountains and deserts. Where do we sign up to be the driver again?

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Yiwu: The Final Destination

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After 7,500 miles, the train has travelled through virtually every landscape and climate imaginable, and has finally arrived in Yiwu, one of China’s manufacturing and international trading centres. We can expect the train to make many more trips over the next few years, with other Silk Road trains making the trip up to 500 times each year! Judging from the photos of highlights along the route, one thing is for certain: whoever gets the job of driving the train halfway across the world is the luckiest person in the world.

 

 

Shenzhen’s Huaqiangbei: The Electronic Megamarket.

News and Travel Editor

Welcome to Huaqiangbei: The world’s biggest electronics market. Booths are crammed in over 10 floors and each one represents a factory close by. From smartphones and drones to circuit boards and security systems, if it’s electronic, I can guarantee you’ll be able to find it here. If you can’t find the finished product, don’t worry, there are so many components on sale, you’ll be able to make it from scratch.

It’s not the usual scenic attraction we might talk about on China Icons so why visit? Huaqiangbei is renowned for its vast range of products as well its speed and efficiency in producing them. Plus we were in town with a shopping list – a drone and some circuit boards. This is both geek heaven and the place to stock up on all the gadgets you wish you had.

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Its location in Shenzhen, rather than Beijing or Shanghai, reveals something fascinating about the modern history of China. Until 1979, Shenzhen was nothing more than a sleepy fishing port with a population of around 30,000. That year, Shenzhen became a ‘Special Economic Zone’, becoming China’s first experiment in capitalism. ‘SEZs’ were the brainchild of Deng Xiaoping, China’s leader at the time, who wanted to cement China’s place as a global economic powerhouse. They were designed to encourage foreign investment and this meant that zones such as Shenzhen would have different trade and business laws compared to the rest of the country.

Fast forward to today and the population has leaped to 10-15 million (the exact figure is unknown because of the shifting patterns of migrant workers), a larger population than London, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, New York and Washington D.C.. Economically, Shenzhen has undeniably flourished, with its GDP growing from 1.96 million RMB in 1979 to 1.95 trillion RMB today.

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This immense growth and rapid expansion turned Shenzhen into a haven for hardware and electronic startups. Huaqiangbei is simply one of Shenzhen’s most prominent examples of this.

Some of the famous ‘startups’ that call Shenzhen home include world-renowned drone-makers, DJI; BYD, famous for electric cars and having the world’s largest electric bus fleet; telecom giants, Huawei; and the owners of WeChat, Tencent, now worth over $200 billion. Many of these companies were founded in the 1990s during Shenzhen’s economic boom. DJI’s story is more impressive still. Founded in 2006, DJI have snapped up around 70% of the drone market, way ahead of the nearest rival, French firm Parrot.

The next big company to come out of China and dominate the international market may well come out of one of the tiny stalls in the vast Huaqiangbei electronic markets.

So what can you expect to see? Each floor has its own dedicated speciality, from motors, batteries and circits on one floor, to smart phones, drones, TVs, security systems and laptops on the others.

But you’ll still find a bit of everything on each floor. The challenge is giving yourself enough time to look round to make sure you get the best deal.

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So how did I get on? Sadly I didn’t follow my own advice and purchased a mini-drone far too early for 350 RMB ($50). I found a similar one later for just over half the price at 180 RMB ($25). A great reminder that there’s always room for a bit of bargaining and negotiation. If you play your cards right, buying here will almost certainly be worth your while. The custom-made circuit boards we were after were delivered the next day for half the price we would have expected to pay outside of China.

Make no mistake, Shenzhen continues to grow. The city is covered in building sites and there are plans to make Shenzhen one of the greenest cities on earth.

Fancy knowing more about Shenzhen’s history and how it is competing with the likes of Silicon Valley? The documentary visits some of the city’s startups and takes you through the electronics market, showcasing exactly what you can buy there.