GT on the spot: largest land port between China, Russia regains vitality as exchanges resume
Published: Feb 15, 2023 09:52 PM

With a Russian bus carrying 16 passengers slowly driving into the Manzhouli highway port on January 8 - some 33 months after the port was closed due to the epidemic - exchanges between China and Russia began their long-awaited recovery as China downgraded its COVID-19 management and optimized immigration policy. 

The Global Times reporters recently visited the city of Manzhouli in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region one month after the new measures came into effect. In talking with immigration officials, cross-border bus drivers, and passengers traveling between the two countries, they found an all-round surge in trade and people exchanges between China and Russia, and an ever-high enthusiasm and faith that bilateral ties will only be closer than pre-epidemic period after the border reopening.

At the Manzhouli land port, the largest land port between China and Russia, trucks and excavators lined up to pass through the port in an endless stream while other cargo trucks parked on the roadside waiting to be transported across the border. 

Alexander, a Russian bus driver, told the Global Times that he is from Zabaykalsk, a small town right on the opposite side of the border to Manzhouli, and he has been operating cross-border cargo services for 10 years. "It was inconvenient to transport goods during the epidemic, orders dropped significantly. But now things are picking up and I hope it can return to normal as soon as possible."

The Global Times reporters also noticed that a great number of Russian truck drivers have just begun this job after China lifted the COVID-19 management measures. They said it was because they are seeing more opportunities in transporting goods across the border than ever before.

Cargo traffic through the Manzhouli border reached a record high in the first month of 2023, Russian news outlet Sputnik reported, citing the Russian Consulate General in Harbin, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. 

During January, cargo volume carried on the cross-border railway between Manzhouli and Russia's Zabaikalsk surged by 82.9 percent year-on-year to around 1.5 million tons, the consulate general said, adding that bilateral trade is expected to keeping rising following China's reopening, according to Sputnik.

Russian Ambassador to China Igor Morgulov said on Friday during an interview with RIA that he expects trade volume between China and Russia this year to exceed $200 billion. According to data from the Ministry of Commerce of China, the trade volume of last year stood at some $190 billion. 

For passenger access, which has just resumed operation for a month since it was closed in April 2020, officials at the Manzhouli entry-exit border checkpoint told the Global Times that they have seen a sharp rise in the number of two-way passengers over the past month, processing a total of 2,119 passengers at immigration checkpoints. Among them, 1,249 were inbound travelers from Russia to China, mostly Chinese nationals who went back to spend Spring Festival holidays with their families. While some 870 travelers exited from the Manzhouli port to visit Russia, and they are mainly for the purposes of business and study. 

Tourism numbers are yet to fully recover as the freezing winter rages on, but are expected to return gradually to pre-epidemic levels in the spring and summer, immigration officials said. 

Yan Chun, a businessman from Nantong, East China's Jiangsu Province, told the Global Times that although it was a long way traveling from Jiangsu to Inner Mongolia, he still chose to cross the border through Manzhouli because the land port here was the most convenient. "Flocks of business representatives of foreign trade companies like me are recently busy signing new projects and grabbing orders, and I believe the port will only become more and more crowded," Yan said. 

"For the past three years when the passenger access was closed, our main duty was the safety inspection of border area and the prevention of virus imports. Back then, our border police officers were under a lot of physical and mental stress. Now with the reopening of the land port, I am very gratified to see passengers once again flooding into the immigration hall, and every facet of the society going on the fast track," Liu Zhiyu, an immigration police officer responsible for the Manzhouli highway port travel inspection works, told the Global Times. 

Member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi will pay a visit to Russia after attending the 59th Munich Security Conference. 

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that in recent years, under the strategic guidance of the two heads of state, China-Russia relations have maintained sound and steady development and cooperation momentum across various areas, yielding fruitful outcomes.?

China is ready to take this visit as an opportunity and work with Russia to promote steady growth of bilateral relations in the direction identified by the two heads of state, defend the legitimate rights and interests of both sides, and play an active role for world peace, the spokesperson noted.