China and Central Asian Countries to Develop ‘Air Silk Road’

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More flights to serve as bridge for economic, trade exchanges

China will increase flights to and from the five countries of Central Asia in a bid to strengthen regional connectivity and economic exchanges, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), the country’s aviation regulator.

Xi’an, capital of Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, will open an air route to Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, on Thursday, Sun Wensheng, deputy head of the CAAC’s general department, told a press conference on Tuesday. 

Xi’an, the starting point of the ancient Silk Road and host city of the upcoming China-Central Asia Summit, will have passenger air routes to all Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Qi Qi, an industry observer, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the move will improve the accessibility of the air route network between Xi’an and Central Asia, and their close connections will reach a new high.

The Xi’an-Urumqi-Dushanbe route will be operated every Thursday.

Over the weekend, Xi’an Xianyang International Airport opened a route to Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. The Xi’an-Urumqi-Ashgabat route is scheduled to be operated every Saturday.

Li Jiuquan, a deputy general manager of the Xi’an branch of China Southern Airlines Co, which manages the two routes, said that most of the people on this flight are business passengers and the demand is likely to increase.

The rise in aviation coverage to Central Asian markets since January, when China began to optimize its COVID-19 management, will facilitate personnel and economic exchanges between China and Central Asia, which is an important region along the routes of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Sun said.

Central Asia is located along the ancient Silk Road, and all countries in the region have participated in the initiative in different ways.

The CAAC and the Central Asia countries have been discussing and preparing to sign a memorandum of understanding to jointly develop an “Air Silk Road,” according to the official.

They are also working together to compile regulations to improve the quality and efficiency of cooperation in the civil aviation sector.

“China will continuously strengthen communication and cooperation with the civil aviation authorities of the five Central Asian countries to improve the level of open air rights,” Sun noted.

China has signed intergovernmental air transport agreements with the five Central Asian countries, among which the third and fourth freedom of navigation operations were agreed on with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. 

There will be further opening with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan this year.

“We will actively encourage Chinese and foreign airlines to open and increase flight routes according to market demand,” Sun said.

So far 10 airlines have launched flights between China and the Central Asian countries, which have played an important role in benefiting the people on both sides and promoting the development of China’s western region and opening up to the outside world. 

“The CAAC will play a strategic supporting role, serving as a bridge in economic, trade and cultural exchanges, and it actively promotes cooperation and exchanges with the five Central Asian countries,” Sun noted.

With the 10th anniversary of the BRI approaching, experts said the upcoming China-Central Asia Summit, the first summit held on-site by the heads of state of the six countries since establishing diplomatic ties 31 years ago, will boost the relationship between China and Central Asia on BRI cooperation.

Liang Haiming, dean of the Hainan University Belt and Road Research Institute, told the Global Times that complementary advantages provide a strong impetus for economic and trade cooperation between China and the five Central Asian countries.

In the first quarter of this year, bilateral trade went up 22 percent, getting off to a robust start, data from China’s Ministry of Commerce showed. In 2022, bilateral trade between China and the five Central Asian countries reached a record high of $70.2 billion. 

The trade structure also became more optimized last year. China’s imports of agricultural, energy and mineral products from Central Asian countries increased by more than 50 percent year-on-year, while exports of mechanical and electrical products to Central Asian countries rose 42 percent from a year earlier.

China and Central Asian countries have the potential to further deepen their collaboration in building free trade zones and deep-level financial cooperation, in addition to traditional cooperation in such areas as infrastructure and energy, according to Liang.

Source : Global Times