Letter from China: Exploring the hustle and bustle of south China's border ports

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by Xinhua writer Huang Yaoteng

NANNING, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- As I arrived in Pingxiang, a small city by the China-Vietnam border in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, roadside decorations in the form of durians caught my eye before the unmistakable, pungent aroma of the tropical fruit wafted into my car.

Everywhere from main roads to alleyways, piles of durians were stacked like mountains at countless fruit stores, and vendors in rubber gloves eagerly showcased their prized produce to passersby.

This was my impression of Pingxiang, which I knew very little about. I had first heard of the city during my childhood, when I learned about an ancient building known as the Youyiguan border gate. The gate was a significant border crossing dating back over 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty, and the area has played a crucial role in border defence, trade and cultural exchange throughout its history.

The old site of the Youyiguan border gate has now become a tourist attraction, and the new Youyiguan port, which is clearly visible from the old site, is one of the busiest and most vibrant land ports in the country today.

While driving 15 kilometers from urban Pingxiang to the Youyiguan border gate, I drove past numerous cargo trucks laden with fruit. And the vast majority of these vehicles were fitted with cold-chain containers to ensure freshness is maintained during long-distance transportation.

Guided by a friend who works as a customs officer, we witnessed a number of people fly past us on scooters, delivering clearance documents to truckers waiting in front of the border gate checkpoint.

Youyiguan Customs statistics reveal a thriving scene in line with my observations. Fruits imported through the Youyiguan border gate totaled 23.88 billion yuan (about 3.36 billion U.S. dollars) in value last year, an impressive annual growth rate of 262.3 percent, with durians accounting for the lion's share at nearly 95 percent.

The whole country imported approximately 6.7 billion U.S. dollars worth of durians in 2023, and the sheer volume of durians trucked through Youyiguan accounted for nearly half of that total value.

"During the peak season, we processed hundreds of containers of durians each day," said Nong Liqing, who has been running an import and export company in Pingxiang since 2016. "Besides Thailand, we have been importing durians from Vietnam since last September."

Youyiguan is also a vital passage for other tropical fruits from Southeast Asia, such as mangosteens, dragon fruits and bananas, which is why increasing numbers of fruit traders are setting down roots in Pingxiang, Nong told me.

However, fruit represents only a small portion of the cross-border trade at Youyiguan. In 2023, the checkpoint handled about 431,000 crossing vehicles, a 106 percent increase from the previous year. It also handled 423.22 billion yuan worth of imports and exports of goods, or over 4.2 million tonnes of cargo, with those figures up 83.7 percent and 56.2 percent, respectively.

Leaving Pingxiang, I embarked on a three-hour journey to Dongxing City in Fangchenggang, another port city along the China-Vietnam border.

Unlike the rich atmosphere of cross-border trade in Pingxiang, Dongxing is a lot more touristy -- especially during the Spring Festival, when tourists flock to the city.

Separated from the Vietnamese city of Mong Cai by a mere river, Dongxing sees close interactions between border residents of China and Vietnam. Many Vietnamese residents commute to Dongxing for work during the day before returning to Mong Cai in the evening.

"The influx of tourists has simply been astounding. Our rooms were all booked out during the Lunar New Year holiday," said Jin Mingyong, a hotel owner in Dongxing who is also a friend of mine.

Jin is originally from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the country's northwest. In 2018, he moved to Dongxing and opened his hotel.

What first attracted him to settle in the little border town over 4,000 kilometers away from home was the idea of cashing in on its burgeoning tourism sector. He saw Dongxing as a geographically desirable place to grow his business.

Judging from recently released figures, he appears to have made a shrewd business choice. In 2023, the Dongxing border port processed over 5.3 million passenger trips, coming in top across the country. During the eight-day Lunar New Year holiday this year, it welcomed 110,000 cross-border travelers.

Upon learning of my journey to Dongxing, Jin suggested a faster and more convenient alternative to driving -- taking the express rail. On Dec. 27, 2023, the Fangchenggang-Dongxing high-speed railway was opened, becoming the first high-speed railway directly connecting Chinese and Vietnamese border cities.

The new route also connects Dongxing to Nanning, the capital of Guangxi. Travel between the two locations now only takes a little over an hour.

I think I will heed my friend's advice when I travel to the border next time. And I believe many other visitors will do the same to explore life along the China-Vietnam border. Enditem

(Edited by Tian Zijun and Xia Xiao)

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