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Smart preservation

BEIJING, April 12, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — A news report from

Smart preservation
Smart preservation

To the outside world, Yunnan, an inland province, at a low latitude and high elevation in southwestern China, is well known as a tourist destination that is characterized by many ethnic cultures and its rich biodiversity. It’s well known for its diverse ethnic minorities and its abundance of plants and animals.

It has more than 19,000 high plant species or 50.2 percent of China’s total and 2,273 vertebrate species or 52.1 percent of China’s total, catapulting it to the top of the list in terms of biodiversity in China, which ranks the eighth on the global biodiversity ladder.

Occupying a mere 4.1 percent of China’s total land area, Yunnan houses 171 rare and endangered plant species, constituting 44 percent of China’s protected plants. Alongside this, out of 335 prioritized species of protected wild animals in the nation, Yunnan has 243, accounting for 72.5 percent of China’s total, 15 percent of which are species endemic to Yunnan.

While the fragility of global biodiversity is constantly under severe threat, notably due to the onslaught of climate change, Yunnan has made positive response by leveraging digital technology to protect its mosaic of unique ecological heritage.

Its model of digital biodiversity conservation provides accurate and up-to-date biodiversity big data for effective conservation efforts. A groundbreaking case in point lies in the success in establishing a comprehensive artificial breeding management system for its terrestrial wildlife. This witnessed the growth of the elephant population in Yunnan, much to the surprise and delight of the involved parties.

As a nexus of technological innovation and rich biodiversity, digital biodiversity conservation does not merely offer a new viable avenue to preserve nature, but also frames a picture of compatibility between nature and humanity where development can be harmonized with environment. This has been augmented by the continuous discovery of new species of plants and animals in the province.

As such, Yunnan remains a robust bulwark of biodiversity in China, if not the entire region. It showcases the juxtaposition of sustainable development and ecological protection, demonstrating that they are not mutually-exclusive.

In this context, the mitigating of environmental impacts caused by the China-Laos rail link project in Yunnan has been a real eye-opener to the skeptics of the developed world. To the developing Global South, it comes as a confidence booster in the face of mounting challenges when the sustainability of development is called into question.

It hogged the international limelight for a totally different reason in December 2021 when the inauguration of the China-Laos railway service for the first time put Yunnan on the world map of railway connectivity. It signifies a great triumph for China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Southeast Asia. At the same time, the dormant Pan-Asian railway network was given a timely wake-up call from its decade-long slumber.

Since then, the economic pundits and logistical players have good reasons to stay upbeat with the leaps and bounds made in rail logistics statistics across the YunnanLaos border. More tropical fruits from its peninsular neighbors of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations can now be conveniently shipped into China via Yunnan, making it increasingly relevant in the progression of China-ASEAN trade.

The 1,035 km long stretch, once dubbed mission impossible due to the challenging terrain, has made a contribution of 44.7 percent to such a quantum leap in the rail logistics. Now Yunnan is all set to be the nexus between China and ASEAN that ultimately links to the Pan-Asian Railway system. Yet, cargo trade is not the entirety of its future.

From the macro perspective, the successive roll-out of Chinese initiatives, ranging from the inaugural BRI to the subsequent global initiatives, plays a pivotal role in enhancing regional economic integration, alongside realizing the ideal of fostering a community of shared destiny in the region. However, the vast tapestry of economic endeavors will remain incomplete without being woven with the rich threads of cultural and normative heritage from Yunnan and its neighboring partners in the Peninsular ASEAN.

The shared origin of the myriad of ethnic cultures across Yunnan, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and to a lesser extent, Malaysia, has much to be tapped as the building block for people-to-people connectivity, an integral part of the track 2 diplomacy underpinning the five-pillar connectivity of the BRI. This is no less significant vis-a-vis the physical connectivity through infrastructure development under the framework of the BRI.

However, sinews of cultural affinity across the region will only serve as a natural boon to the realization of the shared destiny community ideal if full blown interactions take place. In this context, the passenger traffic provided by the China-Laos rail service, alongside the upcoming China-Thailand stretch — another branch of the Pan-Asian Railway system — provide a timely answer to the call for greater cohesion and amity in the region.

In nurturing its enduring relations with ASEAN, it has never been a luxury for China to have multiple windows of outreach with the regional bloc. From the ASEAN perspective, Yunnan provides a viable sinew of China-ASEAN cultural connectivity alongside the existing window of seaborne trade ties via Nanning, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

After all, the China-ASEAN partnership is multidimensional in essence. All strengths in the various areas of forte on the part of China are to be tapped effectively in dealing with the diverse member states of ASEAN. Vice versa, the complementarity of the 10 ASEAN member states in engaging with their biggest trading partner, China, should also be given due significance, albeit competition in specific areas remains inevitable.

The author is Ong Tee Keat, who is president of the Belt and Road Initiative Caucus for the Asia-Pacific and is former transport minister of Malaysia. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.


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