After nearly ten years of Sino-Russian negotiations, Chinese and Russian visitors can now much more easily travel overland between Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province in northeast China, and Vladivostok, capital of Primorskiy Territory of Russia.
Road travel between the two cities has been facilitated with an agreement which allows passengers to pass customs before they begin their journey.
Previously, travelers could only buy a ticket to the border and then wait there to clear the crossing before entering the other country and purchasing another ticket on another bus in order to get to Harbin or Vladivostok. The new travel arrangements are expect to cut overland travel between the cities from two days to 12 hours.
"These measures will improve cooperation, especially in the field of tourism, between Russia and China," said A. Voronin, a senior transport official of Russia, adding that Vladivostok, known as the "Lord of the East" in Russia, has become an important destinations for Chinese tourists to Russia.
The more convenient travel procedures for tourists are expected to eventually lead to the same treatment for products and goods. Harbin is hundreds of kilometers north of Vladivostok, the closest seaport to the Chinese city. Vladivostok is less than 100 kilometers east of the Chinese border.
Feng Zhenglin, Chinese Vice Minister of Communications, said the new arrangement is "a decisive step taken by the two sides to open an eastern route to the sea for Chinese people and goods."
If goods from Harbin are allowed to follow the same overland route to Vladivostok their journey onward to Japan and South Korea would be shortened by more than 1,000 kilometers and transportation cost would drop by at least one third.
"Opening the direct passenger route paves the way for the opening of goods transportation, which will be of greater importance for China," said Feng, adding that the two countries have been discussing the new travel procedures since 1997.
However, Voronin seems in no rush to throw open the Harbin-Vladivostok route to goods transportation. "The current routes for goods transportation are adequate for the moment, but Russia and China will consider opening new routes for goods if more transportation capacity is needed," he said.
Chinese statistics show that trade volume between China and Russia has grown by more than 30 percent annually in the past seven years.
(Xinhua News Agency June 19, 2006)