Aviation and trade watchers may have noticed the term “Air Silk Road” popping up more and more. Simply put, it’s a media-friendly name for the economic air corridor between Europe and Asia, playing on the idea of the ancient Silk Road – a network of trade routes active from the second century BCE.
100 cities, 24 nations
An initiative first launched by Chinese state-owned Henan Civil Aviation Development and Investment Group and Cargolux Airlines International back in 2014, the Air Silk Road is effectively the aviation-based wing of China’s so-called “Belt and Road Initiative.” This is an overarching economic engagement policy based on overland and maritime infrastructure and trade.
Taking a “dual hub” approach, the air trade route took central China’s Zhengzhou as its Asia-Pacific logistics centre and connected it with its Luxembourg counterpart for European and American logistics. The network now includes over 100 cities in 24 nations in Europe, across the Americas and Asia.
“Bridge of interconnectivity”
The Air Silk Road has been in the press recently as China and Luxembourg celebrated the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations, and was hailed by Chinese President Xi Jinping as “a bridge of interconnectivity”.
At the same event, Luxembourg’s Ambassador to China Marc Hubsch said what he called the “Silk Road in the Air” was “more than the cornerstone of our bilateral cooperation. It is first and foremost, a unique success story and a showcase for the mutually beneficial implementation and further deepening of the Belt and Road Initiative. Real benefits have been achieved.”
It’s thanks to the Air Silk Road then that Henan has put down roots in overseas logistics companies and Europe has been able to export more than 3,000 products to the Chinese market.
Rapid flow of imports and exports
The efficiency of the Air Silk Road has also been credited with the rapid flow of protective medical supplies from China to Europe during the Covid-19 crisis.
In terms of new developments, further markets for cooperation via the Air Silk Road are being touted all the time including clean energy, smart civil aviation, and modern logistics solutions – as well as a plethora of goods marketed around “Singles’ Day” – a new consumer concept promoted by the Chinese encouraging anyone not in a couple to stave off any loneliness by treating themselves with a spending spree.
Civil Aviation Administration of #China🇨🇳 reached agreements with #Belgium and #Luxembourg on expanding traffic rights arrangements. The signed MoUs will help promote open-up of new flight routes and the development of Zhengzhou-Luxembourg “Air #SilkRoad“. pic.twitter.com/ZylDgMp4iW— 王鲁彤 Wang Lutong (@WangLutongMFA) August 24, 2023
As well as Luxembourg, hubs in Europe are mushrooming, including Belgium’s Ostend-Bruges International Airport which is now linked with Shanghai, Shijiazhuang and Nanchang, and an all-cargo regular connection between Qingdao and Liege has officially opened.
While China’s international aviation segment has seen capacity issues, it is growing and China is due to increase flights to and from the five countries of Central Asia to boost regional connectivity and mutual prosperity, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), the country’s aviation regulator. It’s a two-way street that has seen bilateral trade between China and the five Central Asian countries reaching a record high of $70.2 billion. China imports agricultural, energy and mineral products from Central Asian countries and these have increased by more than 50% year-on-year, while Central Asian imports of mechanical and electrical products from China rose 42% from a year earlier.
Passenger air routes too
Xi’an, the cradle of the ancient Silk Road will be a hub for passenger air routes to all Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and 10 airlines have launched flights between the countries.
“We will actively encourage Chinese and foreign airlines to open and increase flight routes according to market demand,” said Sun Wensheng, deputy head of the CAAC’s general department, at a recent press conference.