ASTANA, April 22 (Xinhua) -- On Feb. 5, 2017, a train loaded with 720 tons of Kazakh wheat arrived at China's portal city of Lianyungang. The next day the wheat was loaded and shipped to Vietnam by sea.
This was the first time the high quality wheat from Kazakhstan had been sold to the Southeast Asian market. The trade breakthrough of the landlocked country was actually promoted by an international relations scholar.
"Our development is seriously impeded since we don't have any seaports in Kazakhstan," said Gulnar Shaimergenova, a researcher on international relations at Nazarbayev University, who has been working on the program of the export of Kazakh wheat to Southeast Asia.
Kazakhstan is famous for the high quality of its wheat, with two-thirds of its wheat being exported. However, due to its geographical location, Kazakhstan could not find a route to export its wheat to Southeast Asia.
Shaimergenova was inspired by a guest from afar on September 7, 2013, when the visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed building an "Economic Belt along the Silk Road" at Nazarbayev University.
"I was working at Nazarbayev University in 2013, so I had the privilege of witnessing President Xi Jinping proposing his initiative in this hall," she said. "I was deeply impressed by what President Xi said."
One year after the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was proposed, Kazakhstan introduced its own economic policy "Bright Road" to upgrade its own transport infrastructure and open more passages in a bid to export their goods. Since then, the China Railway Express trains passing through Kazakhstan proved the successful alignment of the two blueprints.
"China opens its ports to Kazakhstan. That is of vital importance to a country without seaport," said Shaimergenova. "It has brought us an entirely new and historic opportunity for development."
The opening of the China-EU transport links has further inspired Shaimergenova about what Belt and Road could do for Kazakhstan. It has become the main focus of her research with over 20 published papers.
In 2015, Shaimergenova was invited to be the director of the newly established think tank China Studies Center of Kazakhstan, which aims to push for progress of the Sino-Kazakhstan cooperation through systematic appraisal and informational analysis.
The think tank sent a delegation to China to investigate new export routes for Kazakhstan's wheat. Their reports submitted to the Kazakh government outlined suggestions for reducing transport costs and trimming of custom clearance procedures to help Kazakhstan engage in deeper cooperation with China.
When the Kazakh wheat was transported to Lianyungang and then to Vietnam for the first time in 2017, the BRI was not simply a road to the west, but a corridor of prosperity in both directions.
"The BRI is a new development opportunity, and offers a new model of international cooperation. It is a revival of the ancient Silk Road for the 21st century," Shaimergenova said.