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17 to Sign Up for the Long Road

Seventeen nations will sign an historic agreement in Shanghai next week to clear the way for a 140,000-kilometer highway network linking 32 Asian nations.

Kim Hak-Su, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, announced the signing in his opening remarks to the 60th UNESCAP session yesterday.

The region needs to develop main physical arteries to carry goods, services, people and technology, Kim said.

The 32 participating countries -- including China, India, Bhutan, Cambodia, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam and Iran -- agreed on the final text of the highway agreement last November.

On Monday, representatives of 17 of the countries, who are attending the UNESCAP meeting, are expected to participate in a treaty-signing ceremony at Shanghai International Convention Center.

The highway, once completed, will start in Tokyo and link, via ferry, with the Koreas, across the continent to Istanbul and eventually reach the border of Finland.

It will link Shanghai, an important transport hub in the Asia-Pacific region, with other Chinese cities including Beijing and Urumqi of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

About 26,000 kilometers of the total 140,000 kilometers will be built in China.

Politically, the Asian Highway is likely to improve understanding and communication between peoples of countries separated by rugged mountains, deserts and maritime straits, officials said.

While much of the work on network development has been completed or is under way, about 17 percent of the highway still needs to be upgraded, UN officials said.

"There are many different standards of Asian highways, some are good and some are not so good. So we will set a minimum standard (for the whole project)," Kim said.

He acknowledged that after the pact was signed, member countries of the project will discuss ways of financing the highway -- either through the Asian Development Bank or private partnership sectors -- and UNESCAP will play the role of matchmaking.

Chen Youhua, a professor of Shanghai Urban Planning Administrative Bureau, said the Asian Highway will greatly facilitate transport between Shanghai and the outlying world.

"However, to use it to its full potential, member countries should also consider building enough side facilities along the highway such as motels and communication stations," he said.

An Asian road system, which was inspired by the European transport network, has been planned since 1959. It was suspended because of political differences during the cold war and revived in 1992.

Shen Guofang, Chinese assistant foreign minister, told a press conference yesterday that the UN should pay more attention to development as well as world peace and security.

He also expressed hope that more headquarters of regional and international organizations will be moved to Shanghai.

Asked about the chance of UNESCAP returning its headquarters to Shanghai, Kim said the decision was up to the members.

The economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, the forerunner of UNESCAP, was founded in Shanghai in 1947. The headquarters went to Bangkok, Thailand, in 1949.

The commission will meet in Shanghai from 22-28 April and began yesterday with the Senior Officials Segment involving officials from 62 members and sub-members discussing poverty reduction, managing globalization and social issues.

(Shanghai Daily April 23, 2004)

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