The trains and sea ports of One Belt, One Road, China's new Silk Road

Chinese President Xi Jinping urges backing for his new Silk Road Initiative while addressing world leaders at a summit in Beijing, stressing the importance of rejecting protectionism in seeking global economic growth.VIDEO: REUTERS
A freight train transporting containers laden with goods from the UK, departs from DP World London Gateway's rail freight depot in Corringham, east of London.
A freight train transporting containers laden with goods from the UK, departs from DP World London Gateway's rail freight depot in Corringham, east of London. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - China opened its Silk Road summit Sunday (May 14) to showcase its ambitious plans to revive ancient trade routes from Asia to Europe and Africa.

President Xi Jinping hailed the initiative for a massive network of rail and maritime links - dubbed One Belt, One Road - as "a project of the century" in his address to delegates at the two-day conference in Beijing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan are among the 29 leaders expected to attend, along with delegations from North Korea and the United States.

Few Western leaders are taking part.

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Beijing's grand vision - unveiled by Xi in 2013 - includes the "Silk Road Economic Belt", which extends from China to central Asia through Europe, linking northern Xi'an city with Dushanbe in Tajikistan, Moscow, Rotterdam and Venice.

The "21st-century Maritime Silk Road" is a maritime transport route that plans to connect China's east coast with Europe via the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.

Obor spans some 65 countries representing 60 percent of the global population and around a third of global GDP. The China Development Bank alone has earmarked US$890 billion for some 900 projects.

Here are some of them:

Trains

The China-Europe Railway Express includes 51 rail links connecting 27 Chinese and 28 European cities, with freight trains that offer shorter transport time than sea routes.

A planned 418-kilometre (260-mile) rail line between the Asian giant and Laos attempts to be the first overseas route that connects with the vast rail system in China. Once finished, it will be the longest and fastest in the southeastern Asian country.

Another 873-kilometre high-speed railway project between China and Thailand will link the Chinese border to Thailand's ports. It will transform southwestern Yunnan province into a trading hub that exports China's goods to southeast Asian markets.

In Africa, Obor will include a 471-kilometre railway between Nairobi and Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast. Passenger trains will zoom at 120 kilometres per hour, while freights will run at 80 kilometres per hour and carry 25 million tonnes of cargo per year.

Sea ports

Three state-owned Chinese enterprises bought Turkey's third largest port, Kumport, which is considered an important joint between the "belt" and the "road".

In Pakistan, a controversial trade route was inaugurated in November to link south-western Gwadar port, on the Arabian Sea, with Kashgar, a city in China's north-western Xinjiang province.

The economic corridor has alarmed India because it cuts through Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, disputed territory that New Delhi claims is illegally occupied.

The port will provide China with safer and more direct access to the oil-rich Middle East than the waterway trade route it currently uses through the narrow Malacca Straits.

A new international airport will also be built in Gwadar.

Central to the project in Pakistan is the renovation of a 487-kilometre road that is part of China's only land passage to the Middle East.

Industrial parks

China and Malaysia are building an industrial park in Kuantan, Malaysia for steel, aluminium and palm oil processing.

In eastern Europe, a China-Belarus industrial park for high-tech businesses broke ground in Minsk in July 2014, the largest one built by the Asian country overseas.