LONDON • The first freight train from China pulled into Barking in East London this week after an 18-day journey, marking a milestone in Beijing's push to build commercial links across Europe and Asia.
The train had set off on Jan 1 from Yiwu, a wholesale market town in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang. It passed through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France, then crossed under the English Channel before arriving in London on Jan 18.
Yiwu Timex Industrial Investments, which is running this service with China's state-run railways, says prices are half that of air cargo, while journey time is two weeks shorter than that by sea.
The arrival of the new train in London coincided with a high-profile trip to Switzerland by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who offered a vigorous defence of globalisation at the World Economic Forum.
"Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room," he said in a keynote speech that had references to Chinese folklore, British writer Charles Dickens and former United States president Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
With the UK's future position with the EU looking uncertain due to Brexit, a potentially new paradigm for the island nation's international relations is gradually revealing itself. And right on cue, China was at its doorstep.
FORBES CONTRIBUTOR WADE SHEPARD, on how the rail route would usher in a new stage in China-UK trade relations.
It is simply "not possible" to reverse the flow of global capital, technology, goods and people, he added.
Mr Xi launched the One Belt, One Road initiative in 2013 that aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road trade routes.
With the new rail route to London, 16 cities in China are now directly connected with 15 cities across Europe. China is planning another 20 European routes, according to BBC.
"It's a new economic geography," Professor Magnus Marsden, an anthropologist at Sussex University's School of Global Studies, told The Guardian newspaper.
The train brought in a cargo of small commodities, including household items, clothes, fabrics, bags, and suitcases, according to Reuters.
Forbes contributor Wade Shepard called the re-creation of the ancient trade network "one of the biggest infrastructural, economic and political developments happening in the world".
The new rail route would usher in a new stage in China-UK trade relations, Mr Shepard wrote in Forbes.
"With the UK's future position with the EU looking uncertain due to Brexit, a potentially new paradigm for the island nation's international relations is gradually revealing itself. And right on cue, China was at its doorstep," he said.
There had been good interest in the new service, Mr Oscar Lin, general manager at OTT Logistics, the local UK booking office for the train, told Reuters.
"This is the first train for a test - we want to know what's the reaction of the UK market," he said. "But we've already received a lot of enquiries... 50 or 60 in just two weeks, without any marketing."