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    China’s New Silk Road

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    Background

    Historically, the Silk Road was the most extensive system of routes to trade goods, extending approximately 6,437 kilometres. Initially, these routes connected China, the Middle East, and Europe. Under the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.- 220 A.D.) the Silk Road started to take proper shape, offering what we would call today international trade. Although the Silk Road provided endless opportunities to trade goods, the travels were an opportunity to learn about diverse cultures. Nonetheless, in 1453 C.E., the Ottoman Empire closed off the routes to end trade with the West.

    Map of the Old Silk Road.

    Today, the New Silk Road, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), can be considered the reestablishment of the original Silk Road. Indeed, some routes slightly changed over the centuries, but the aims are the same: expansionism and trade. 

    Undoubtedly, the New Silk Road offers a more significant improvement in international trade between China and the West. Nonetheless, Chinese expansionism negatively affects developing countries of Central Asia, where China establishes new businesses and cuts off traditional ones. Similarly, China’s gateway to the heart of the West will challenge and pose some risks to Europe.  

    Key Judgements

    K.J. – 1 The New Silk Road will highly likely improve transport between Asia and Europe. 

    K.J. – 2 China’s expansionism towards the West will afflict small businesses and traditions of emerging countries of Central Asia. 

    K.J. – 3 Europe will enjoy opportunities from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and challenges. 

    The New Silk Road 

    The New Silk Road represents the attempt to re-establish the ancient trading routes of the original Silk Road. In 2013, President Xi Jinping announced the creation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to improve economic and trading possibilities between China and the West. 

    The New Silk Road extends itself through two major corridors by land and sea. Firstly, the land corridor starts from Beijing, passing through Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Romania, Poland, and Germany. Secondly, the sea corridor begins from the port of Beijing, touching Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Southeast Africa, Oman, the Suez Canal, and Venice.

    Map of the New Silk Road

    The Impact of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

    The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the new essential piece of China’s international economic policy. Indeed, this project increases China’s influence as a global economic superpower. Since the initiative’s start in 2013, China introduced a $900 billion scheme to enable the global economy to flourish again. Moreover, $8 trillion is dedicated to creating infrastructures in sixty-eight countries, focusing on developing countries lacking globalization and economic possibilities, such as Cambodia and Myanmar. 

    Projects

    Most of the projects listed below result from Chinese will and planning. Although the country of construction funds these projects, the Chinese government gives loans for the actual realization of the projects. 

    Logistics and Transportation 

    – The Chinese government invested in a 37 km-long asphalt road linking National Road no. 5 in Kampong Speu and National Road No. 4 in Kandal (Cambodia). 

    – 215 kilometres Padma Rail Link from Dhaka to Jessore in Bangladesh. Due in June 2022. 

    Khorgos Gateway Dry Port connects Kazakhstan to China by rail. It is also known as the “central station of the New Silk Road”, as it connects twenty-seven Chinese cities with eleven European ones. 

    Gwadar Port is the China-Pakistan economic corridor. The U.S. $54 billion worth, the Gwadar port is the gateway to the Arabian Sea and an essential part of the sea corridor. 

    – 370 kilometres of a high-speed railway between Budapest and Belgrade, worth €3.8 billion.

    Gwadar Port in Pakistan. Photo by Saadssuddozai via Wikimedia Commons.

    Consequences of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

    From an economic point of view, the Belt and Road Initiative is beneficial for economic integration, infrastructure improvements, and trade cost reductions. For instance, BRI can decrease global poverty for at least 8.7 million people through infrastructure investments in emerging countries, such as Cambodia. 

    Nonetheless, while China is bolstering its global economy through infrastructure and trade strategy, it is also expanding its geopolitical influence as an economic superpower. Indeed, China’s expansionism is negatively afflicting the well-being of some populations in poor and undeveloped countries, such as Cambodia and Myanmar. Notably, the construction of new infrastructure destroys small businesses and displaces villages without realistically increasing job opportunities for locals. 

    For instance, the infrastructure development in Cambodia is growing dept and raises concerns about the resettlement of small Cambodian businesses and land grabbing. The 400-megawatt Lower Sesan 2 dam is a controversial project. It displaced locals from their villages and had severe environmental impacts. 

    Similarly, Myanmar is dominated by hydropower dams and transport infrastructure, which affect local communities, small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and traders. 

    The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): European Opportunities

    Alongside projects in Central Asia, China is also investing in creating and expanding existing trade routes in Europe along the original Silk Road. Many European countries see an opportunity in the New Silk Road as it increases transport possibilities, that they will economically benefit. Indeed, the new routes of BRI will offer lower transport costs, new sales markets along the road, and shorter transport times. Therefore, BRI substantially improves connectivity between Asia and Europe. 

    For instance, China is one of the leading trading partners of Germany’s Port of Hamburg, counting 2.6 million twenty-foot seaborne containers (TEU) in 2021. 

    The 12,000 kilometres rail route between Hamburg and China is faster and more convenient than by sea, linking Hamburg to twenty-five cities in China.

    New Silk Road
    Port of Hamburg. Photo via Pixabay.

    The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): European Challenges

    Although the Belt and Road Initiative can bring economic and logistical opportunities to Europe, Europe can encounter challenges and risks. China’s involvement as a contractor in Europe can create challenges linked to the failure of understanding economic, legal, and local environments. For instance, the construction of a 49 kilometres motorway in Poland was rejected by the European Council on Foreign Relations. Indeed, China Overseas Engineering Group (COVEC) was inadequately paying Polish workers, lacked permits for import, and incapacitated Polish markets. 

    Moreover, another challenge regards the potential Chinese dominance of rail transits for trading. In other words, China will gain more market power over European trade than E.U. could ever obtain. Therefore, resulting in unilateral gains and manoeuvres on the Chinese part.  

    Bianca Bonardi
    Bianca Bonardi
    Bianca is a graduate student in Criminology at Goldsmiths College of London. She recently finished her post-graduate studies in Terrorism and Security at King's College of London. Her research is mainly focused on Middle East issues and International Terrorist threats.

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