A bridge between Germany and China

A Sino-European trade and innovation centre highlights the exceptional location of Duisburg at the end of the New Silk Road.

A star, visible over the sea for East and West, is the vision of Yaomin Wang, managing director of the Duisburg-based Starhai Group. She carefully chose the name of her company: ‘Hai’ is the Chinese word for ‘sea’, while the ‘Star’ shows the way and connects Asia with Europe.

What began as a small German-Chinese commercial agency has become an international creator of ideas and a project developer in the space of just six years. Starhai is behind the China Trade Center Europe, which is being developed in western Duisburg on an area the size of nine football pitches. The first work on the €260 million project in the Niederrhein (Lower Rhine) business park is scheduled to commence in the middle of 2019. 200 primarily Chinese medium-sized companies are expected in the Sino-European centre, which could create up to 2,000 jobs. Agencies representing Chinese universities, research centres, service providers from all industries, services for start-ups, a large hotel, encompassed by Chinese-inspired gardens, are to be built on the left bank of the Rhine in Duisburg at the end of the new Silk Road.

Up to 35 trains will transport goods from China to Duisburg every week along the New Silk Road. The journey of over 11,000 kilometres will take 12 days.

38-year-old Yaomin Wang from the northern Chinese coal-mining province of Shanxi has been living on the Lower Rhine since 2006. After completing her studies in business administration and languages in China, she began a Master’s degree in the city on the junction of the Rhine and Ruhr rivers. After graduating, the multilingual Yaomin joined a German company and helped them set up new branches in China. ‘I enjoyed the work, but as more and more Chinese customers were asking me about the opportunities in Germany, I quickly realised that I wanted to set up my own business,’ Yaomin Wang recalls. In 2013, she founded Starhai as a commercial agency in Duisburg. The city was practically unknown at this time in China.

Visit from the President made Duisburg well known in China

This changed dramatically with the visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping to Duisburg Port in 2014. In his vision of the New Silk Road, Europe’s largest inland port plays an important, geostrategic role. The ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, a strategy to revive former trade routes, add new routes and connect them to the China, is the largest infrastructure and logistics project of the 21st century. ‘We were in the right place at the right time and have benefited from Xi’s visit,’ Yaomin Wang sums up. ‘The magical idea of the New Silk Road, which offers an economic boost to neighbouring states and presents Duisburg with an important role, has made the city well known in China.’ Duisburg is now often the only German city indicated on many Chinese maps of Europe.

Starhai was also captivated by the dynamic nature of the Silk Road vision. In 2014, Yaomin Wang founded a second company in Starhai International, initially as a property agency and consultancy service for Chinese investors. She accompanied the Lord Mayor of Duisburg, Sören Link, on a trip to China. A joint press conference in Beijing offered a further boost to the China Trade Center Europe: think tanks, universities and investors all contributed their ideas. The project, which began as a trading centre, became a hub for Sino-European business with innovation and technology platforms and a focus on logistics, high-tech and medical technology.

The magical idea of the New Silk Road, which offers an economic boost to neighbouring states and presents Duisburg with an important role, has made the city well known in China.

Yaomin Wang, CEO Starhai GmbH and Starhai International GmbH

Effects of China Trade Center felt throughout Europe

‘Germany is a key market for China,’ says Yaomin Wang in relation to the developments. ‘The China Trade Center Europe is the largest project of its kind in Europe and its effects are felt all over the continent.’ Chinese and European entrepreneurs will benefit from sales and marketing support at the Duisburg site, while Chinese universities may relocate their offshore campuses to the business park. German professors will be able to train both Chinese students and European employees of Chinese companies there.

However, there is still a gaping void on the 60,000 m² Duisburg site. According to Yaomin Wang, if construction commences in mid-2019 as planned, the first tenants will be able to move in one year later. The mother of two, who is also working on her doctorate at the University of Duisburg-Essen, acknowledges that there is a lot of work to be done before then.

The last few years have taught her to be courageous and to think big. To close the interview, the 38-year-old says something remarkable. The €260 million project is very important by German standards. However, this is put into perspective when it is compared with projects in China. ‘We will act as a bridge between Germany and China,’ says the Starhai managing director. ‘When German companies wish to deal with China in the future, they will immediately think of us.’