In the year-and-a-half that he has taken charge as the President of China, Xi Jinping has made the Silk Road initiative a central plank of his regional policy. Last week in Tajikistan, Xi won support for his initiative on developing a Silk Road Industrial Belt between China and Central Asia.
This week in Maldives and Sri Lanka, Xi is pitching for support of his plans for a Maritime Silk Road linking southern China with the Indian Ocean. Xi is eager for Indias participation, especially in the revival of the Southern Silk Road now called the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) Corridor.
On the ground here, India remains very much part of Tengchongs memory and imagination. Local tour operators say Tengchong is 700 km from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province; but Myitkyina in northern Myanmar is only 50 km from and the Indian border begins at 600 km to the south west.
With Chinas heartland far away to the north east of Yunnan, trade with the subcontinent and beyond has been a very important part of Tengchongs long history. It was the centre of the Southern Silk Road that is said to predate the Northern Silk Road running from Xian, the ancient capital of China to the Mediterranean.
The Southern Silk Road flourished for centuries. Large horse caravans travelled between Tibet, Sichuan, Yunnan, northern Myanmar, and eastern India. They moved goods and ideas, traders and monks across this vast and difficult terrain.
Living on the frontiers of the Chinese empires, the people of Yunnan see long distance trade and commerce as central to their lives. Local folklore here says when a young man wanted a bride in the past, he had to prove his credentials by travelling abroad on a trade mission.
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