Silk Road of 21st century: “One belt, one road”

by Zivadin Jovanovic, Chairman of the Belgrade Forum for a World of Equals

Beginning of March I have returned from China where I participated in the International Silk Road Think Tank conference, held in the Chinese Municipality of Shenzhen. The Belt and Road Initiative refers to the proposal by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013. There were 80 think tank participants from about 50 countries of Europe, Asia, Middle East and South America. High representatives of the government agencies from a number of countries, such as high ranking diplomats were also present (from Israel, Iran, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan). Among prominent politicians who participated were Alfred Gusenbauer, former Chancellor of Austria, Roza Otunbayeva, former President of Kyrgyzstan, and others.
Hosts and organizers were the Chinese Center for Contemporary World Studies (CCCWS), the Government of the Municipality of Shenzhen and the Fudan University of Shanghai. The International Think Tank Association of the New Silk Road was established and the Shenzhen Declaration were launched.
Foreign guests also visited Beijing, Chongqing and the district of Dazu, Sichuan Province. In Shenzhen (seat of mobile telephone production, 13 millions of inhabitants, next to Hong Kong) a welcome to the foreign participants was accorded by top local Government leaders and high politicians and scientists from Beijing.
Chongqing, with 33 million inhabitants on the Yangtze River, I learned, is the largest city in China, producing 3 million cars and 55 million laptop computers yearly. It plays one of the key roles in connecting Central China regions eastward to the Pacific and South East Asia and westward to Central Asia, the Volgograd region in Russia and Central Europe. This particular connectivity Chongqing – Volgograd region was promoted by presidents of China and Russia – Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin.
The Silk Road is a multidimensional global project and aims at modernizing and expanding fiscal connectivity between China, Asia, Africa and the whole of Europe, economic development of the vast belt along the New Silk Road but at the same time, reinforcing cultural cooperation, understanding and mutual trust among nations and civilizations. It presupposes construction and modernisation of modern roads, railways, air connections, energy, food and industry production, modernisation of Sea transport, facilities and communication, in general. It requires investment of about 900 billion US dollars from chinese sources. EU is expected to provide additional 315 billion of US dollars in order to be able to fully benefit from the Initiative. So far, according to available information, the EU could secure only 60 billion approaching China for the rest.
The US seem to be unwilling so far to join, or support the Chinese New Silk Road Initiative. The US has not joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in spite of the fact that their closest European allies, including Great Britain, have joined this Bank which already attracted about 60 member countries. Instead, US seem trying to get together all Asian and Pacific Ocean countries which supposedly have any reservation, or issue in dispute, towards China, to form an alternative integration counterbalancing if not obstructing Chinese Initiative. Not being pleased with EU joining the Chinese Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Washington apparently steps up pleasures on Brussels to approve TTIP and let it coming into force, as possible. Kind of “dead race”, for some countries economic for the others geopolitical one, is going on not only among adversaries, but among some traditional allies, too.
Apart from the EU which has primarily economic interests to join the Initiative, the Group “China plus 16” has been established three years ago to cater for the interests of Central and South East European countries within the Initiative. For various infrastructural projects of this particular Group, for the time being, China has provided 10 billion US dollars. Serbia has been promised 1.5 billion which makes her a rather high ranking partner. Part of that sum has already been engaged in construction of two very important bridges – one over Danube and the other over Sava river, with the rest reserved for modernization of the Belgrade-Budapest railway. It is only the beginning of modernisation of the European corridor No. 10, connecting the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki in Greece with Central and Northern Europe.
China is also engaged in the construction of the Belgrade-Bar Highway (Montenegro, Adriatic), the thermo-electric project Obrenovac II, while negotiations are under way about the construction of a free zone Industrial Park, the first of that kind in this part of Europe. In all Serb-Chinese joint projects special consideration is given to compliance with the highest EU standards of environmental protection.  Some participants in the discussion at the Shenzhen Conference have underlined the importance of connecting “Three Seas” – Adriatic, Black and Baltic. In order to optimilize connectivity the Danube River water way should be improved and modernised.
The Initiative of the New Silk Road (“Belt and Road”) is only four years old. Yet, it has already embraced 75 Free zones and Industrial parks in 35 countries along the Belt. They employed about 950,000 persons and provided the tax revenue of over 100 billion of US dollars to the participating countries. New highways, railways, ports and bridges – in addition. Isn’t that a promising start of the New Silk Road Initiative, notwithstanding hardships in the global world economy?     •

Silk Road

“The name ‘Silk Road’ harks back to the German geographer and colonialist Ferdinand von Richthofen (1833–1905). It stands for a system of trade routes that used to connect China – via Central Asia – to the Middle East and to the Mediterranean and Europe in Ancient Greece and parts of the Middle Ages. Geographically, the path of the historical Silk Road is characterized by deserts, high mountains and steppes, an area that – until the 20th century – was often influenced by alternating political powers. From a geopolitical point of view due to their location and resources the territories along Silk Road have always been of great strategic interest to both regional and big powers – among them Chinese states, antique nomadic people, imperial China, the (Graeco-) Iranian and later, during the Middle Ages, Islamic kingdoms, Russia and Great Britain in the ‘Great Game’ at the turn of the 19th century, the Soviet Union as well as the People’s Republic after Second World War.

Excerpt from: Hannes A. Fellner: “Handel statt Krieg” (Trade inspite of war); in: “Junge Welt”, 7 March 2016 (picture ma)

Terrorists in China and in Syria

"A key role in the Silk Road Initiative is played in that region of the country where in the past two of the main routes of the ancient trade route ran north and south of the Taklamakan Desert, namely in the Uygur Autonomous Region Xinjiang. [...] Since the 1990s, there have been repeated riots and terrorist attacks in Xinjiang. These are directed against the Han Chinese in the region. Although ethnic Chinese have been living in Xinjiang ever since the Han period and their percentage has, on average, not changed since the early 19th century and although the People's Republic has been under one of the most advanced minority laws in the world, there is a small number of Uyghurs who perceive Chinese policies as a threat to their ethnic group and strive for their own national independence. […] The Turkistan Islamic Party (ITP), which was founded by Uigurian Terrorists, has claimed responsibility for several attacks in Xinjiang and in other parts of China. It aims at not only the independence of Xinjiang, but the establishment of a Central Asian caliphate. Several interesting circumstances show whose interests ITP serves: After the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001, it was added to the United States’ terrorist list, but it was taken back off this list as early as in 2004. Today units of ITP are fighting alongside the terror groups in Syria. Like other anti-Syrian forces the ITP is supported by Turkey. So for instance the city Dschisr asch-Schughur, which is situated close to the Turkish border between Idlib and Latakia has been populated by Exile-Uigurians – many of them from Turkey – and has since served as a training camp for the ITP.”
from: Hannes A. Fellner

“Handel statt Krieg” (Trade inspite of war); in: “Junge Welt”, 7 March 2016

(Translation Current Concerns)

“Peaceful international cooperation benefiting everybody involved”

“It is not incidental that the current Chinese government uses the name ‘Silk Road’ for its initiative. It stands for a peaceful, international cooperation benefiting everybody involved, which is based on economic and cultural exchange as defined by the Chinese soft power strategy. ‘One Belt Initiative’ first and foremost aims at integrating countries and regions along the historical Silk Road such as China, Afghanistan, the northern parts of India and Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, the northern part of Iran, Iraq, Syria, into one economic zone. This is meant to be achieved by extension of infrastructure, by simplification and intensification of trade and consolidation of cultural contacts. For instance, the plan stipulates the construction of 8,000 kilometres of train rails for high-speed trains.”
Excerpt from: Hannes A. Fellner

“Handel statt Krieg” (Trade inspite of war); in: “Junge Welt”, 7 March 2016

(Translation Current Concerns)