CHONGQING - A network of railways linking Chongqing to Guangxi in south-eastern China is set to provide a shorter and more direct trade route between China and South-east Asia.
This was the focus of discussions at an annual meeting on Thursday (Aug 31) for the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI), a joint project between Singapore and China to boost regional connectivity.
When successfully integrated, the network known as the Southern Transport Corridor will connect the south-western city of Chongqing and its neighbouring Guangxi autonomous region, as well as Guizhou and Gansu provinces, to both the overland and sea routes of China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Eventually, it could be a more cost effective option for companies in South-east Asia to access western China through the southern Qinzhou port at Beibu Gulf (also known as the Gulk of Tonkin) and onwards to Central Asia and Europe via the overland Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe railway.
"The Southern Transport Corridor...is a key milestone project that combines what Chinese President Xi Jinping has set out - the development of the western China, and it connects the Yangtze River economic belt with the 21st century Maritime Silk Road," Mr Chan Chun Sing, Singapore's Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, said at the Third CCI-Joint Implementation Committee Meeting with Chongqing Mayor Zhang Guoqing.
"This new corridor is particularly important in the coming years. It will allow us to overcome the potential capacity constraints at the Three Gorges dam (along the Yangtze River) and in Shanghai," said the labour chief who is Singapore's pointman for the joint project.
Citing an example, Mr Chan said it now takes three weeks to transport a 20-foot container from Singapore to Chongqing via a sea route through Shanghai, followed by river transportation along the Yangtze River.
With the new Southern Transport Corridor, the time taken will be reduced to one week - five days by sea from Singapore to Beibu Gulf, and less than two days from Beibu Gulf to Nanning, Guizhou and finally Chongqing.
Mr Chan co-chaired the meeting with Mr Zhang at a downtown hotel in the inland city on Thursday.
"The (railway network along) the Southern Transport Corridor is already in place. But there are many obstacles. We will try our best to lower the transport and logistic costs, improve the ease of clearing customs and its operational efficiency," said Mr Zhang.
"Ultimately this corridor belongs to the companies that will make use of this route to grow their trade," he added.
Mr Chan and Mr Zhang also unveiled plaques to mark the start of two joint ventures between Singapore and Chinese companies that aim to help develop Chongqing into an inland international logistics hub, as well as to boost the development of the Southern Transport Corridor.
On Thursday, Mr Chan also met the new Chongqing party chief Chen Min'er, a rising political star who is widely known as a close aide to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
During the meeting, Mr Chan and Mr Chen discussed ways to deepen collaboration under the CCI to achieve the joint project's aims.
The joint project was launched during Mr Xi's visit to Singapore in November 2015 as the third government-to-government level project after the Suzhou Industrial Park and the Tianjin Eco-city.
It is aimed at boosting growth in China's less-developed western regions and supporting the BRI. It also serves as a platform for younger leaders from both sides to work together.
Mr Chen said the CCI is an important project and reiterated his commitment to its success.
He noted that for Chongqing to be selected as the location for the joint government project between China and Singapore, it is a historical opportunity as well as a historical responsibility for city.
"I've paid attention to the CCI from the very start of the discussions. Now that I'm in Chongqing, I will pay greater attention to the project, and I will get to appreciate the importance of the project to the strategic cooperation between the two countries," he said.
The former Guizhou party chief observed that in the 40-odd days since he arrived in Chongqing, he has already seen the high level of attention and support that the Chongqing government and the people have given the project. He also noticed the attention and support given by the neighbouring western provinces.
"This third government-to-government project is one that is visionary and has high foresight," Mr Chen said. "It is a win-win strategic cooperation at the country level, different from any other individual cooperation projects."
After the 30-minute talks, Mr Chen hosted Mr Chan and the Singapore delegation to dinner.
Mr Chan is in China for an official visit from Aug 30 to Sept 2. After Chongqing, he will visit Guangxi and Guizhou, which are key nodes along the Southern Transport Corridor. He will meet local government and party leaders in both provinces.
On Thursday morning, Mr Chan and the Singapore delegation visited the newly opened Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport Terminal 3A, which has a planned capacity of 30 million passengers annually.
Singapore's Changi Airport International has been engaged to work with the local team to plan the retail space to optimise commercial development.
At the joint implementation committee meeting, Mr Chan said he found the new airport "very impressive", especially the integrated transport centre where passengers taking the high-speed rail, subways, public buses and private cars interchange via air out of Chongqing.
"The same can be done for logistics, where we have a distribution centre to seamlessly move cargo via road, raol, river and air with the fastest speed, at the lowest cost," said Mr Chan.
On Friday, he will attend the ground-breaking ceremony of the Singapore-Guangxi Integrated Logistics Park in Nanning, the capital city of Guangxi.
Accompanying him on the trip are Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Manpower and Foreign Affairs Josephine Teo, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Health Chee Hong Tat, as well as senior officials from the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Transport, Civil and Aviation Authority of Singapore, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, International Enterprise Singapore, and Monetary Authority of Singapore.