BEIJING, Jan. 2 (Xinhua) -- More than three years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed to build the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road.
Looking back at 2016, the Belt and Road Initiative has gained fruitful early achievements, promoting connectivity and opening up possibilities and potentials for development along the ancient trade route.
SILK ROAD ECONOMIC BELT STRINGS ROADS TOGETHER
One day in golden October in Kashgar of China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, a fleet of 50 trucks of a joint trade convoy carrying large containers started to roll along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
After passing the Pamirs, crossing the Har goolun Range, and threading Pakistan's western region, the fleet finally arrived at its destination -- the Gwadar Port of Pakistan, concluding its 3,115-km journey in a month.
The containers carried by the fleet were shipped to the United Arab Emirates and other countries, marking the Gwadar port's first export of containers to overseas destinations, and showing that the port has restored the designed handling capacity.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that CPEC is destined to transform the entire country and open up a world of possibilities for not just Pakistan but also Central Asian states.
In February 2016, China Railway Tunnel Group completed building the Qamchiq Tunnel in Uzbekistan, the longest tunnel in Central Asia. It is part of the 169-km Angren-Pap railway line, a major state project. After completion of the rail line, Uzbekistan's domestic transport will no longer have to go through foreign territories.
"If we say 2013 is the year of proposal, 2014 is the year of guideline, 2015 is the year of top-level design, then 2016 is the year of implementing landmark projects of the Belt and Road Initiative," said Zhao Lei, a professor at China's Central Party School. "Many European countries have high approval rates on the Belt and Road Initiative."
Perhaps the busy-running China-Europe trains give the best illustration to people's acceptance. Since the Belt and Road proposal, trains running between Europe and China have been burgeoning. By June 2016, trains had been running nearly 2,000 times between China and Europe, with a total of import and export value of 17 billion U.S. dollars.
Many other projects are also under way. The China-Belarus industrial park is in development, the Hungary-Serbia railroad is to be constructed by the Chinese side soon, cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European countries has been further expanded.
The Silk Road Economic Belt, with a nature of inclusiveness and openness, has become a vital link connecting regional development and China's transformation.
21ST CENTURY MARITIME SILK ROAD CONNECTS ROADS AND PORTS
In October 2016, the contract for the second phase of the China-Laos railway project was signed in Lao capital of Vientiane.
Kicked off in late 2015, the construction of the project is expected to be completed in five years. Upon completion of the railway, a trip from Vientiane to the Chinese border will take only four hours, turning Laos from a landlocked country into a land-linked nation.
On Jan. 21, 2016, at the ground-breaking ceremony of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, Indonesian President Joko Widodo launched the country's first ever high-speed railway project in Walini, West Java Province.
With a maximum design speed of 350 km per hour, the travel time between Jakarta and Bandung will be cut from over three hours to less than one hour once the project is finished.
The Belt and Road Initiative provides opportunities not only for a new round of China's opening-up, but also for the growth of world economy.
On Aug. 10, 2016, Chinese shipping giant COSCO acquired 67 percent stake of Piraeus Port Authority through the Athens Stock Exchange, officially becoming the controlling shareholder of the Greek port.
Piraeus is expected to operate as a hub in Europe for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and to connect the Silk Road Economic Belt with the China-Europe Land-Sea Express Line.
According to Chinese ambassador to Greece Zou Xiaoli, Piraeus was not merely an economic project, but also a bridge to connect the peoples of Greece and China.
In Africa, the Chinese-built Ethiopia-Djibouti railway has officially opened service, marking a milestone in cooperation between China, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
In Cambodia, the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone has attracted hundreds of enterprises, providing a model of China-Cambodia cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative.
In Myanmar, a consortium of six foreign companies led by China's CITIC has won two bids to build an industrial park and a deep-sea port in the Kyaukpyu Special Economic Zone in Rakhine State, which will improve the country's infrastructure, local people's employment and livelihood.
In Sri Lanka, the green light has been given to the delayed Colombo Port City. Through the Maritime Silk Road, China will support the country in becoming a shipping, logistics and even financial hub in the Indian Ocean.
A CHINESE MATTER, ALSO A WORLD MATTER
It has been nearly two years since the Chinese-owned company Southeast Asia Telecommunications entered the Cambodian market. With an investment of 150 million U.S. dollars, a fiber network extending 10,000 km, and over 1,000 base stations, the company has improved the efficiency of communications in Cambodia, and was spoken highly of by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Apart from opening up a new market in Cambodia with the dedication to high-speed Internet and high-quality phone calls, the company is also shouldering social responsibility by launching the Youth Sci-Tech Education Base and the Cloud Data Center.
"Previously, people saw most 'Belt and Road' programs in areas such as energy and infrastructure. In 2016, cooperation between China and those countries along the routes have been expanded to education, culture, medical care and telecommunications," said Zhao of the Central Party School
If the "hard connection" of the Belt and Road draws countries geographically closer, then the "soft connection" brings people together.
Till now, over 100 countries and international organizations have expressed willingness to actively support and join the initiative, 40 of which have signed cooperation deals with China.
In 2017, a Belt and Road summit will be held to further map out the blueprint of the initiative, explore business opportunities and deepen alignment of development strategies between China and the relevant parties.
On June 22, 2016, during a speech at the Legislative Chamber of the Uzbek Supreme Assembly in Tashkent, Xi called for building a green, healthy, intelligent and peaceful Silk Road, laying out the future of the initiative.
According to Huang Rihan, Executive Director of the Belt and Road Institute at the Center for China and Globalization think tank, a green Silk Road urges environmental protection and intensive cultivation for sustained development.
A healthy Silk Road means closer cooperation in medical care and health among related countries. An intelligent Silk Road calls for people cultivation and exchanges. A peaceful Silk Road aims at implementing a common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security concept in Asia, then promoting world peace and stability, Huang added.
While addressing the Uzbek Parliament, Xi invited other countries to attend the 2017 Belt and Road summit. The summit will not only look back at the fruitful harvest made so far under the initiative, but also set up a new starting point for the future, observers said.
"The Belt and Road Initiative will not be a flash in the pan, nor will it be formalism," said Zhao, "China will go deep with the initiative and turn it into real benefits."
"The agreement reached in November by the UN General Assembly to further promote the Belt and Road Initiative worldwide shows that its construction involves not just China, but also countries along the routes and the world at large," said Wang Yiwei, a professor at Renmin University of China.