When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch
food / travel

New Rail 'Silk Road' Feeds China's Love For European Goods

China-to-Europe cargo train in Chengdu
China-to-Europe cargo train in Chengdu
Sébastien Falletti

CHONGQING — Every day since 2014, a train leaves from the western German city of Duisburg. It winds its way across Europe and Asia to finally reach Chongqing, a megalopolis of 28 million inhabitants in southwestern China. Huge cranes there extract gigantic matchbox-like containers from the train. BMW cars made in Germany are taken from the train while HP laptops and iPads produced in the Chinese Foxconn factory nearby make their way to Europe.

The Old Continent has now become a lot closer to this western Chinese enclave. Most of the products here have been brought from Europe by train. This railway line is one of the first tangible achievements of Chinese President Xi Jinping's ambitious new Silk Road strategy. Xi hopes to stretch the railway to the Belgian port city of Antwerp as early as this year.

The train journey across Eurasia, which includes passing Russia and Kazakhstan, is still chaotic and lasts between 12 and 15 days. But this path is still a lot faster than the 25 days the journey takes by ship, which is often further delayed by customs on the Chinese coast and travel into Chongqing. By road, it can take up to 60 days door-to-door from western Europe to the Sichuan megalopolis.

This railway line has enabled Olive Zhang to raise funds to build a "Euro Shopping Park," a 72,000 square-meter warehouse that uses a locomotive-shaped logo and is located in the outskirts of Chongqing. In a brick building constructed in a vaguely British style, Orange Le Creuset casseroles costing 1540 yuans ($220) take center stage on the immaculate shelves. Under the spotlights, Victorinox Swiss knives are displayed on shelves next to German UHT milk cartons and French Dodie baby bottles. Outside the window, a fog partially conceals the Sichuan mountains.

"Chinese mothers want the best brands for their children," explains a vendor at Euro Shopping Park. Chinese consumers want European products, which are seen as safer and healthier, and this warehouse helps meet that demand.

Zhang, Euro Shopping Park's chief executive, has also developed an e-commerce application on which shoppers can find more than 500 European brands, including 80 French ones. "70% of the transportation costs are covered by government subsidies. Without those, this business wouldn't be viable," says Zhang, who took over her father's old business to turn it into an international operation.

If the new railway line beats the sea route in terms of speed, it's nonetheless more expensive and less competitive. Still, the young woman, who opened a branch in Germany, sees the rail as a way to distribute European products directly to consumers.

She's sure of the New Silk Road's prospects and has traveled with Prime Minister Li Keqiang to Lithuania and Kazakhstan in November to persuade these countries to invest in the sprawling railway network.

But Beijing is having difficulties in convincing its partners to modernize their stretch of the railway, which has been affected by technical issues especially in central Asia, where refrigerated containers are threatened by power shortages and frequent delays.

"There are doubts about governments' political will to invest and bring the railway up to date," says Kevin Martin, a representative of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, which is based in Chongqing. Brussels, which fears that Xi's project might be a one-way road that benefits only Chinese exporters and infrastructure companies, has made its reluctance clear.

It's true that Chinese authorities, after having multiplied the number of highways and high-speed rails, are now looking for new prospects. Zhang, whose warehouse lies next to an amusement park that reproduces Europe's most famous monuments in miniature, hopes to convince Brussels that the Old Continent, and not just China, can benefit from the president's new Silk Road.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Pride Or Politics? Why Poland Suddenly Turned Its Back On Ukraine

Poland has taken President Zelensky's criticism at the UN very badly, and has decided to not supply new arms to Ukraine. One man in the Kremlin couldn't be more pleased.

photo in front of flags Andrzej Duda and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

Happier times: Polish President Andrzej Duda and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Lutsk, Ukraine, in July

Jakub Szymczuk / Kprm handout/via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — Who could have imagined that the weakest link in support of Ukraine would be Poland? Since the start of Russia's invasion, Warsaw's commitment to Kyiv has been unwavering — initially driven above all by its unbound hostility towards Moscow.

That steadfast support of its neighbor is over now, and in a big way.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

The announcement in Warsaw that Polish arms deliveries to Ukraine were to be halted stunned all, and was accompanied by derogatory statements by Polish President Andrzej Duda towards Ukraine's leaders. He compared Ukraine to a desperate drowning man who would drag down those who tried to save him. Duda was also considered the most reasonable of the Polish populists — so that's the mood.

Poland had shown itself to be uncompromising in its support for Ukraine, and had even given lessons to more timid European countries on several occasions.

So why the U-turn? First of all, there are difficult general elections in Poland on October 15, and it's clear that the Law and Justice Party (PiS) in power in Warsaw will do everything possible to win.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest