China’s route to Russia needs better rail, says minister
China and Mongolia want to improve their railway connections. The respective governments have signed cooperation agreements towards this aim this week. Rail between China and Mongolia was always a part of the BRI, but the increased interest can be seen as an effort of China to facilitate trade with Russia, which currently has limited access to the global market due to sanctions.
Mongolia and China signed the agreements after the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited his counterpart Battsetseg Batmonkh in Ulaanbaatar this week. This was reported by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Among the mentioned goals are improvements in railroads, with good connections to highways “to ensure the stability and smoothness of production and supply chains”.
Train traffic between China and Mongolia serves several purposes. It is a transit route on the New Silk Road, as a considerable proportion of Eurasian cargo is routed via the border crossings of Manzhouli and Erenhot, both in Inner Mongolia. In 2021, 4,235 trains were handled in Manzhouli, and as of 16 December 2,605 China-Europe trains had been handled at Erenhot railway port. This compared to 5,848 China-Europe trains via Alashankou and 6,362 trains via Khorgos last year. This year, the border crossing of Erenhot reached the milestone of 10,000 China-Europe freight trains since its opening.
However, Mongolia also provides an access route from China to Russia, and these countries have accumulated trade since the war in Ukraine. Russia’s trade with western countries is subject to sanctions, while the friendship between Russia and China is at an all time best.
Added to this comes the fact that China is looking to diversify its export policy. Part of this policy is to prioritise trade with more ‘China-friendly countries in the region. Export from Mongolia to China is one of these priorities, for which good railway connections are important.