China’s Belt and Road initiative is ploughing through central Asia. The plan, which aims to expand trade links between Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond, was unveiled in 2013. What impact has China’s grand plan had so far in Kazakhstan? I went to Almaty – the financial capital – to find out.
The lyrical strains of Almaty’s latest pop song reverberates through the city’s main Chinese market, lending a distinctly Kazakh feel to what looks like a scene that could easily be from Beijing or Shanghai.
Inside, signs in both Mandarin and Kazakh point out directions in the warren-like maze. It’s here that I meet Huang Jie, a jovial bear of a woman. She’s been running a convenience store in this market for 15 years, selling everything from hairbrushes to soy sauce. She came to Almaty from China to take part in an ice-skating competition, but then stayed on because of the opportunities here.
“They had almost no consumer items [when I came here in 1991],” she explained. So we brought cosmetics, stereo sets, kids clothes, shoes… then we moved on to food, pots, kitchen utensils. And then home furniture, and now even gym equipment. We built it up step by step.” And it’s been a remarkable success.
All of the products in Ms Huang’s shop and in the Chinese market are from China. Most of the time she says she serves a mixture of Russian and Kazakh customers, and has learned both languages to help her sales – but increasingly she and other vendors like her in this market have been getting customers from China, thanks to the One Belt One Road initiative.
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