Like Mao, many people along the proposed route are hoping to get a piece of the action. Provinces, regions and countries are working against time to conduct preliminary research, and many have started drawing up plans.
"Joint effort" was one of the most popular phases among the officials who attended the expo, but there will be no shortage of competition either, because a number of places are attempting to position themselves the belt's starting point, main transport center, or core business area.
Gansu province was an important region on the ancient Silk Road. "More than 1,600 kilometers of the ancient trade route went through the province, which was one of the route's most prosperous regions. Gansu is determined to exploit the opportunity to recapture former glories and make the province a 'golden section' of the proposed economic belt," Wang Sanyun, Party secretary of Gansu province, told team leaders from the member countries of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue in Lanzhou on Tuesday.
"In collaboration with the Development and Research Center of the State Council, provincial experts and related departments, Gansu has produced two reports. One is the Silk Road Economic Belt General Idea and Strategy report, and the other relates to strategic concepts to promote the proposed route," Zhang Shengzhen, secretary-general of the Gansu provincial government, said.
The Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, which neighbors Gansu, is also looking ahead. A number of regional departments, such as the local Development and Reform Commission, have formulated a program of opening-up and economic development to benefit from the proposed economic belt. Under the program, Xinjiang has suggested the construction of three major highways to serve areas in the north, south and center of China.
"Xinjiang borders eight countries, more than any other Chinese province or region. Its 5,600-km-long border is China's longest, accounting for 25 percent of the country's total land border. As an important portal for China to the outside world, Xinjiang will be developed into the core area of the proposed route," said Shi Dagang, vice-chairman of Xinjiang.
Farther south, Xi'an has vowed to become the starting point of the belt. "In November, we formulated a plan to accelerate the pace of construction to achieve that aim," Lou Qinjian, governor of Shaanxi province, said.
"President Xi's idea to build the Silk Road Economic Belt has far-reaching significance. We aim to make Shaanxi the starting point and are planning reforms that will facilitate the opening-up of inland provinces and regions. We hope to be the first choice for China's coastal regions, and other countries, for industrial transfers and transport. We want to be the largest logistics transit center and an important multicultural platform," he added.
As the geographical center of China, Shaanxi plays an important role in the country's trade with the West, so the province will focus on the advantages it enjoys, especially in the fields of fuel and raw materials, to deepen cooperation with countries along the route of the proposed belt, he added.
If it becomes a reality, the economic belt will bolster relations and connections along the route and benefit about 3 billion people. As such, the concept has been enthusiastically received by many countries along the proposed route.
"The concept of the economic belt as a successor to the ancient Silk Road has won support from many countries, including Tajikistan," said Zohidov Nizomidin, Tajikistan's deputy minister of Foreign Affairs.
Statistics from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce show that in 2013, the trade volume between China and four central Asian countries - Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan - rose 13 percent year-on-year to $40.2 billion, nearly 100 times that in 1992. China is the largest trading partner of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and the second-largest of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.