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China’s Caofeidian port launches new rail freight link to Mongolia

The port of Caofeidian in northern China’s Hebei province has launched a new dedicated rail freight link to the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, the local government said on Tuesday, part of efforts to boost its international presence.

The government of Tangshan, which administers the port, held a ceremony to mark the official launch of the rail link on Monday. The first train is set to deliver 51 containers of electrical appliances, furniture and raw materials to Mongolia via the border crossing at Erenhot, it said in an announcement.

The president of the Caofeidian Port Corporation, Wang Kesheng, said Tangshan, a major steel producing city, would be able to deliver steel products to Mongolia and even to European countries via the new link, according to Xinhua news agency.

Landlocked Mongolia, sandwiched between China and Russia, has sought to gain greater access to the railway networks of its giant neighbours as it bids to deliver commodities like coal or copper to other markets, including Japan and South Korea. It has already reached a similar rail freight agreement with the northern Chinese port of Tianjin.

Mongolia also hopes to benefit from China’s “Belt and Road” initiative to boost economic cooperation in Asia and elsewhere, and is working with Beijing and Moscow to become a “transit corridor” to facilitate trade between the two countries. It has also sought funding for railway projects from the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

But efforts to integrate the rail networks of Mongolia and China have aroused concerns among nationalist politicians, who say Beijing’s economic and political power could be further enhanced. Some have urged the government to focus instead on developing freight routes in Russia’s Far East.

Mongolia has also continued to use the Russian rail gauge, rather than the narrower international standard gauge used in China, meaning trains’ undercarriage needs to be switched as they cross the border, causing delays.

Caofeidian Port, a unit of Tangshan Port, said the new link would allow it to become an important international hub in northeast Asia and take advantage of the “Belt and Road” initiative aimed at boosting economic cooperation between China and central Asia.
Source: Reuters (Reporting by David Stanway Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

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