Liege Airport in southern Belgium is the latest city to benefit from the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as the launch of new direct flights and freight rail connections to China is driving growth and opening up new doors in relations between both countries.
With an ever-growing number of Chinese tourists and entrepreneurs benefiting from new transport routes to make their way to the Belgian city, Liege is fast turning into a vibrant commercial hub thanks to its flourishing e-commerce and Digital Hub (eHub) platform.
As things stand, Liege Airport is Belgium's largest cargo airport and one of the most important air cargo hubs in continental Europe. Luc Partoune, CEO of Liege Airport, believes that Liege, because of the central location in Europe, "has developed a strategy regarding full cargo freighters that is the seventh largest cargo airport in Europe and ranked in the top 30 in the world".
In April 2015, an Airbus plane carrying about 400 Chinese tourists landed at Liege Airport, the first Chinese passenger charter flight in Europe. Later that year, three new Chinese passenger charter flights were launched between Liege and several Chinese cities including Xi'an, Shenyang and Tianjin.
In 2016, direct flights were added from more Chinese cities such as Taiyuan, Changsha and Chongqing to Liege. During a three-year period, the project brought more than 50,000 Chinese tourists to Europe in one year, allowing for further business opportunities between Belgian and Chinese entrepreneurs.
On top of flights, freight trains are also becoming a much heralded means of transport connection. On Oct. 24, 2018, the freight railway line linking Liege and central China's Zhengzhou city was officially opened, offering new opportunities for future trade.
In December 2018, Chinese multinational conglomerate Alibaba Group signed a memorandum of understanding with the Belgian federal government and the Walloon District Government at Liege Airport, marking the first entry of Ali Group's World Electronic Trading Platform (eWTP) into European markets. An agreement was also signed to include Liege's "Digital Hub (eHub) to facilitate the entry of SME products into the Chinese market."
"I think that the initiative of China has to be followed by other initiatives from other countries. Liege Airport is connected with 80 cities in Europe, whereas we are connected with countries all over the Middle East and beyond. I think that this new road can connect all these countries to each other," said the CEO of Liege Airport.
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