"We decided to help 're-weave' the Silk Road," said Wim Westerhuis, senior representative of the International Road Federation (IRF), during the Third International Silk Road Conference being held from Tuesday to Thursday in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province.
The IRF envisages modern road links connecting the heart of China and the industrial centers of Western Europe.
"It is not simply a highway, but a network of roads facilitating trade between two major economic powerhouses, enhancing the development of landlocked Central Asia and making its markets more accessible," Westerhuis said.
The ambitious plan has caught the attention of 12 countries, including China and South Korea. Top-level transportation authorities from participating nations have already begun discussions.
Building a new Silk Road transportation corridor would make it easier and more convenient to cross borders, said Ju Chengzhi, director of the Ministry of Communications' International Cooperation Department. China's communications ministry oversees the nation's highway transportation and shipping.
Chen Deming, managing vice governor of Shaanxi Province, noted that in accordance with the central government's plan to push economic growth in western China, the vast inland region needs more ways to communicate with the rest of the world.
"Rebuilding the Silk Road from Xi'an to Rotterdam is in the interests of both East and West," Chen said.
Westerhuis stated that the IRF has continued to promote the Silk Road's restoration despite the five-year gap since the last conference in Uzbekistan. He said that wars and political turmoil in areas along the project route could only temporarily delay progress.
The International Road Federation, established in 1948, is a nongovernmental and nonprofit global organization comprising 70 governmental and corporate members. It participates extensively in road construction and financing.
The IRF believes that with the spectacular economic growth in China, with the EU increasingly looking outward and with the continuing development in Central Asia, the need for a road network along the Silk Road route is growing increasingly apparent.
Some countries, such as China, have already made substantial progress in the construction and rehabilitation of the road links within their territories, while others lag behind, according to Westerhuis.
"Our purpose is to promote the development of the whole region," he said.
The Third Silk Road Conference, co-sponsored by China's Ministry of Communications, the IRF and the Shaanxi provincial government, is held to enhance regional transportation cooperation and discuss the rejuvenation of the Silk Road and construction of transport infrastructure.
The First International Silk Road Conference was held in 1998 in Turkmenistan and the second was in Uzbekistan in 1999. Xi'an was selected as the site of this year's conference as it was the starting point of the ancient Silk Road. The city is now the capital of Shaanxi Province.
Financial entities such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and APEC are also attending the conference.
(China Daily October 27, 2004)