Author: Stephan Jüngling
The “One belt one road” initiative
A new boost for mutual exchange between China and Europe might come from implementing the 21st century “One Belt One Road” initiative first formulated by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013. This vision aims to rebuild the ancient Silk Road spirit of cultural and economic exchange with modern high speed train infrastructure, new energy transmission lines and digital networking technology. Gansu is rich in cultural resources and historical heritage sites. Gansu’s central geographical location provides many beautiful landscapes for tourism. Dunhuang is ready to conduct a series of annual international cultural expositions that started in September 2016. Their goal is to further promote cultural exchange and support mutual learning among all the countries along the New Silk Road.
The Gansu International Fellowship Programm GIFP
In November 2016, the GIFP took place for the 11th time with the goal to strengthen the ties of mutual understanding and friendship between the East and the West. It is sponsored by the People’s Government of Gansu Province and undertaken by the Foreign Affairs Office of Gansu Provincial Government. It provides a great opportunity for the delegates to learn about Gansu and China from the 8000-year-old roots of the ancient Silk Road up to the New Economic Road And Belt Initiative to be implemented during the next few years.
The GIFP agenda includes
- Facilitating bilateral exchange
- Exploring common development potential in the fields of economy, trade, tourism, science and technology
- Lectures about cultural, economic, political and ecological development
- Visits to universities and vocational training institutions, companies and public institutions
- Trips to other cities and heritage sites in Gansu
During this one-month programme, 26 delegates from 18 different countries were invited to learn and deepen their understanding about Gansu and China from a wide variety of different perspectives. We had lectures about the evolution of Chinas political system with the different approaches and influences from foreign monarchies over multi-party systems having more than 400 different parties up to today’s central communist party system. Other lectures were about the economic development of the Gansu province which ranges from being one of the most important locations of the ancient silk road during the Han dynasty, up to the fact that Gansu is currently the second poorest province of China but is in a very good position to play a major role in the context of the New Economic Road and Belt Initiative again.
Agriculture is an important industry sector in this area having a long history and expertise of farming and raising animals. Gansu has 250 million hectares of agricultural land with an annual meat production of 750’000 tons and 790 tons of grain. The corn seedling industry is very strong in the Hexi Corridor, which produces over 50% of corn for the entire country. Lanzhou is also well known as a “city of fruits and melons”. Since the weather is very dry, water saving and water efficiency technology are very important issues for Gansu and are subject of close collaboration with Israel.
The Yellow River which flows through the centre of Lanzhou also plays an important role for the city and its environs. Tourists marvel at the riverside waterwheel park with its 20m high wooden, fully functioning waterwheels that demonstrate ancient methods of agricultural production and irrigation. The nearby parks also serve as recreation areas and are used very actively by the people of all ages with even the very elderly enjoying the many physical exercising tools or practicing Tai Chi while others dance, sing or play cards together. Even strangers like myself are very quickly invited to join them for ping pong or badminton.
Lanzhou, a city with 2.4 million people, is the capital of Gansu province with its 26 million inhabitants and 56 different ethnic nationalities, I experienced a welcome as warm as your home village. Even if the language barrier seems to be very high, little tools on the smart phone help a lot to do a minimum of conversation. Tools such as translation apps are indispensable since not many people in shops can speak English. But in most cases, the staff in the shops tried to organize someone who does speak English, be it a client that just happens to be in the shop or English speaking staff from the shop next door.
In addition to the formal lectures we Gansu International Fellows enjoyed many on-site visits to privately-owned companies or institutions like the traditional Chinese medicine TCM center or the Lanzhou 3D digital center, which is the public service center operating 48 different service hotlines for the city. We also visited the monitoring system room, with a large wall with dozens of screens where employees observe pictures from all the live webcams distributed across the four main districts of Lanzhou city.
In order to understand the vision of Gansu it is important to understand its history. As part of the ancient Silk Road Gansu lay on the nexus of the the cultural exchange between China, India, Central Asia and the European countries which lasted for more than ten dynasties. We visited the Gansu Provincial Museum, which has 19 exhibition halls with state-of-the art facilities and cabinets with touchscreen functionality that allows visitors to interact with the different tools.
One of the highlights was the excursion to Dunhuang and the Mogao Grottoes, located 1100 km north west of Lanzhou, covering 735 caves, 45’000 m2 of murals and 2415 earthenware sculptures that constitute the largest and richest site of Buddhist cave art content existing in the world.
China International Friendship Cities Conference 2016
A special honour for me was to go to the China International Friendship Cities Conferences 2016 in Chongqing, an international biannual event where the Gansu Province and the Canton Solothurn got an award for their mutual and outstanding bilateral friendship and cooperation. The truly international atmosphere with all distinguished guests and excellences from 600 partner cities from 154 different countries was overwhelming.
Gansu is ready for economic development and is investing a lot in cultural exchange and mutual understanding. With high speed trains you will be able to reach major cities like Shanghai or Beijing within 4 hours. China has already become the 2nd largest economy of the world in a very short period of time. Reaching Rotterdam from Shanghai by high speed trains rather than by ship will have further game-changing effects on the European market. We should be careful to understand the global challenges and changes of today and be prepared to contribute to a sustainable future and global vision of tomorrow.
Dr. Stephan Jüngling
Lecturer Business Information Systems
Dr. Stephan Jüngling ist auch Projektleiter des 4-tägigen Seminars “Doing Business in China“