The Silk Road or Silk Route refers to a network of interlinking trade routesacross the Afro-Eurasian landmass that connected East, South, and Western Asia with the Mediterranean andEuropean world, as well as parts ofNorth and East Africa. The land routes were supplemented by sea routes which extended from the Red Sea to East Africa, India, China, and Southeast Asia. China traded silk, spices, teas, and porcelain; while India traded ivory, textiles, precious stones, and pepper; and the Roman Empire exported gold, silver, fine glassware, wine, carpets, and jewels.
In recent years, both the maritime and overland Silk Routes are again being used, often closely following the ancient routes.
The Silk Road gets its name from the lucrative Chinesesilk trade, a major reason for the connection of trade routes into an extensive trans-continental network.
The German terms "Seidenstraße" and "Seidenstraßen"- 'the Silk Road(s)' or 'Silk Route(s)' were coined by Ferdinand von Richthofen, who made seven expeditions to China from 1868 to 1872. Some scholars prefer the term "Silk Routes" because the road included an extensive network of routes, though few were more than rough caravan tracks.
The Silk Routes (collectively known as the "Silk Road") were important trade routes for goods of all kinds between merchants, pilgrims, missionaries, soldiers, nomads and urban dwellers from Ancient China, Ancient India, Ancient Tibet, the Persian Empire and Mediterranean countries for almost 3,000 years. It gets its name from the lucrativeChinesesilk trade, which began during the Han Dynasty(206 BC – 220 CE).
Extending 4,000 miles (6,500 km), the routes enabled traders to transport goods, slaves and luxuries such assilk, satin, hemp and other fine fabrics, musk, other perfumes, spices, medicines, jewels, glassware and even rhubarb, as well as serving as a conduit for the spread of knowledge, ideas, cultures, zoological specimens and some non indigenous disease conditions between Ancient China, Ancient India (Indus valley, now Pakistan), Asia Minor and the Mediterranean. Trade on the Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of the great civilizations of China,India, Egypt, Persia, Arabia, and Rome, and in several respects helped lay the foundations for the modern world. Although the term the Silk Road implies a continuous journey, very few who traveled the route traversed it from end to end. For the most part, goods were transported by a series of agents on varying routes and were traded in the bustling markets of the oasis towns.
The central Asian sections of the trade routes were expanded around 114 BCE by the Han dynasty,largely through the missions and explorations of Zhang Qian, but earlier trade routes across the continents already existed.In the late Middle Ages, transcontinental trade over the land routes of the Silk Road declined as sea trade increased.Though silk was certainly the major trade item from China, many other products were traded, and various technologies, religions and philosophies as well as the bubonic plague (the so-called "Black Death") also traveled along the Silk Routes. India played a vital role in the trade, being virtually by the center of the route as well as having unique products such as spices, precious stones, and hand-crafted goods. With the fall of the Han dynasty in the 3rd century trading between the east and west had decreased. Byzantine historian Procopius had said that two Christian monks uncovered the way of how silk was made. From this revelation spies were sent to steal the silkworm eggs and after this silk was also produced in the Mediterranean. Emperor Wu Di (141-87 BCE) had to battle the Xiongnu nomads in the north and sent out his general Zhang Qian to find allies and to buy the famous Iranian war horses from Nisaia. Although Zhang Qian failed in his mission, he visited Bactria and had found the way to the west. With Wu Di in power, the Silk Road had been opened.Then it was not until around 1400 when the Silk Road stopped as a shipping route for Silk.
As it extends westwards from the ancient commercial centers of China, the overland, intercontinental Silk Road divides into the northern and southern routes bypassing the Taklimakan Desert andLop Nur. The northern route started at Chang'an (now called Xi'an), the capital of the ancient Chinese Kingdom, which, in the Later Han, was moved further east to Luoyang. The route was defined about the 1st century BCE as Han Wudi put an end to harassment by nomadic tribes.
The northern route travelled northwest through the Chinese province of Gansu from Shaanxi Province, and split into three further routes, two of them following the mountain ranges to the north and south of the Taklamakan Desert to rejoin at Kashgar; and the other going north of the Tian Shan mountains through Turpan, Talgar and Almaty (in what is now southeast Kazakhstan). The routes split again west of Kashgar, with a southern branch heading down the Alai Valley towards Termez (in modern Uzbekistan) and Balkh (Afghanistan), while the other traveled through Kokand in theFergana Valley (in present-day eastern Uzbekistan) and then west across the Karakum Desert. Both routes joined the main southern route before reaching Merv (Turkmenistan). A route for caravans, the northern Silk Road brought to China many goods such as "dates, saffron powder and pistachio nuts from Persia; frankincense, aloes and myrrh fromSomalia; sandalwood from India; glass bottles from Egypt, and other expensive and desirable goods from other parts of the world." In exchange, the caravans sent back bolts of silk brocade, lacquer ware and porcelain. Another branch of the northern route turned northwest past the Aral Sea and north of the Caspian Sea, then and on to the Black Sea. The southern route was mainly a single route running from China, through the Karakoram, where it persists to modern times as the international paved road connecting Pakistan and China as the Karakoram Highway. It then set off westwards, but with southward spurs enabling the journey to be completed by sea from various points. Crossing the high mountains, it passed through northern Pakistan, over the Hindu Kush mountains, and into Afghanistan, rejoining the northern route near Merv. From there, it followed a nearly straight line west through mountainous northern Iran,Mesopotamia and the northern tip of the Syrian Desert to the Levant, where Mediterranean trading ships plied regular routes to Italy, while land routes went either north through Anatolia or south to North Africa. Another branch road traveled from Herat through Susa to Charax Spasinu at the head of the Persian Gulf and across to Petra and on to Alexandriaand other eastern Mediterranean ports from where ships carried the cargoes to Rome.
The fragmentation of the Mongol Empire loosened the political, cultural and economic unity of the Silk Road. Turkmenimarching lords seized land around the western part of the Silk Road, belonging to the decaying Byzantine Empire. After the Mongol Empire, the great political powers along the Silk Road became economically and culturally separated. Accompanying the crystallization of regional states was the decline of nomad power, partly due to the devastation of theBlack Death and partly due to the encroachment of sedentary civilizations equipped with gunpowder. Gunpowder and early modernity in Europe led to the integration of territorial states and increasing mercantilism. Meanwhile on the Silk Road, gunpowder and early modernity had the opposite impact: the level of integration of the Mongol Empire could not be maintained, and trade declined (though partly due to an increase in European maritime exchanges).
The Silk Road stopped serving as a shipping route for silk around 1400.
The point to start this thread is that as China and India rise economically and militarily, these ancient routes will take significance again.
Be it oil and gas of central asia which will require diplomatic and military control of these routes, to Chinese expansion along these routes that has to be blocked esp the ones connecting it to Pakistan.
The Ancient Maritime Silk Route passes the same region that is of much significance today, the Indian Ocean Region and the important Malaccas strait.
The route that was once thriving can and will once again see significant trade and military expansion.
While the whole world was terrified by the prospect of the Obama administration bombing Syria, Chinese President Xi Jinping was busy doing the Silk Road.
One has to love that famous Deng Xiaoping dictum; "Always maintain a low profile". This being the second-largest economy in the world, "low profile" always packs a mighty punch. Cue to September 7, in Astana, Kazakhstan's capital, when Xi officially proposed no less than a New Silk Road in co-production with Central Asia.
Xi's official "economic belt along the Silk Road" is a supremely ambitious, Chinese-fueled trans-Eurasian integration mega-project, from the Pacific to the Baltic Sea; a sort of mega free-trade zone. Xi's rationale seems to be unimpeachable; the belt is
the home of "close to 3 billion people and represents the biggest market in the world with unparalleled potential".
Talk about a "wow" factor. But does that mean that China is taking over all of the Central Asian "stans"? It's not that simple.
A roomful of mirrors
On Xi's Silk Road trip, the final destination was Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital, for the 13th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). And to cap it all off, nothing less than a graphic reminder of the stakes involved in the New Great Game in Eurasia; a joint meeting on the sidelines of the SCO, featuring Xi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
This is Rouhani's first foreign trip since he took office on August 4. Not an epic like Xi's; only two days in Bishkek. In a preliminary meeting face-to-face with Xi, Rouhani even started speaking "diplomatic Chinese" - as in the upcoming negotiations over the Iranian nuclear dossier leading, hopefully, to a "win-win" situation. Xi emphatically supported Iran's right to a peaceful nuclear program under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, while Rouhani stressed the Iran-China relationship "bears vital significance for Asia and the sensitive Middle East issue".
And that leads to the common Iran-China-Russia front in relation to Syria. Even before meeting with Putin, Rouhani had agreed with the Russian four-part plan for Syria, which, as Asia Times Online had reported, was brokered between Damascus, Tehran and Moscow (See Al-Qaeda's air force still on stand-by, September 11, 2013). According to the plan, Damascus joins the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW); discloses the location of chemical stockpiles; allows OPCW inspectors access to the sites; and then comes the long process of destroying the stockpiles.
In the nuclear front, Tehran and Moscow remain open for business. Russia will hand operation of Unit 1 of the Bushehr nuclear power plant over to Iran in less than two weeks. And there will be more "cooperation" ahead.
The importance of this triangulation cannot be overstated. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that Xi-Putin-Rouhani Kyrgyz room. Tehran, Moscow and Beijing are more than ever united on bringing about a new multipolar international order. They share the vision that a victory for the axis of warmongers on Syria will be the prelude for a future war on Iran - and further harassment of both Russia and China.
The God of the market, it's us
Meanwhile, monster business - and strategic - opportunities beckon in the Eurasian corridor. Xi's Silk Road Economic Belt, with trademark Chinese pragmatism, is all about free trade, connectivity and currency circulation (mostly, of course, in yuan).It's ready to go because there are no more border problems between Russia and Central Asia. It ties up perfectly with China's push to develop its Far West - as in Xinjiang; consider the extra strategic Central Asian support for the development of China's Far West.
Here's an example. At a China-Eurasia Expo in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital, earlier this week, China Telecom and two Hong Kong telecom companies signed seven deals with the governments and companies from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Russia and Mongolia. Not many people know that Urumqi boasts more than 230 Internet companies; nearly half are connected with neighboring countries. Xinjiang is not only about Han Chinese encroaching on Uyghurs; it's no less than the communications base for the Eurasian corridor - a hub for broadband and cloud computing.
Beijing is already massively investing in new roads and bridges along the Eurasian Land Bridge - another denomination of the New Silk Road. As Asia Times Online has reported, the New Silk Road is all about highways, railways, fiber optics and pipelines - with now the added Chinese push for logistics centers, manufacturing hubs and, inevitably, new townships.
There are plenty of Pipelineistan gambits to implement, and a lot of mineral resources to be exploited. And, crucially - considering the original Silk Road traversed Afghanistan - there's also the prospect of an Afghan revival as a privileged bridge between Central, East and South Asia. Not to mention speeding up China's land access to both Europe and the Middle East.
In China, no major decisions such as this are "spontaneous", but there's a neat softening PR behind it. In Astana, Xi said, "my home, Shaanxi province, is the start of the ancient Silk Road"; and he was "moved" as he reviewed Silk Road history during the trip.
He indulged in sightseeing in Samarkand's fabulous Registan square, flanked by Uzbek President Islam Karimov, and even waxed "poetic", telling Karimov, "this gives us a special feeling. We are far away in distance, but we are also so near to each other in our soul. It is just like time travel." Well, the Timurid empire has finally met its match. It's not that China hadn't done it before; during the Western Han dynasty (206 BC - AD 24), imperial envoy Zhang Qian was dispatched to Central Asia twice to open up China to global trade.
"Poetic" or not, Xi was always on message. All along his Silk Road trip, he left no doubts this is a foreign policy priority for China. China has now established strategic partnerships with all five Central Asian "stans".
The Pipelineistan angle
Kashagan is your usual Pipelineistan nightmare. Significantly, on 9/11 this week, the North Caspian Operating Co, which runs Kashagan - one of the largest oil fields discovered in the past 40 years, with 35 billion barrels in reserves - said the first oil was finally in sight.
Kashagan is in the northern Caspian Sea. I've been there. Technically, oil extraction is immensely complex; that is certainly the case here. Production should have started in 2005. No less than US$46 billion has been spent by a consortium featuring Italy's ENI, France's Total, Royal Dutch/Shell, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips. Nasty bickering has been the norm. A week ago, Astana finally signed an agreement for China's CNPC to buy the former ConocoPhillips' 8.4% share.
With China stepping in, major hard cash will flow. Beijing is determined to become a major player in the Kazakh energy market. Ideally, Kashagan should be producing 370,000 barrels a day in 2014 and 1.6 million barrels by 2016.
China's strategy in Kazakhstan is basically about oil. But China also badly needs a lot of natural gas. Russia's Gazprom is betting on Beijing's non-stop thirst for gas to facilitate its shift from exporting mainly to Europe. But competition is stiff. And Turkmenistan is a key part of China's equation.
China is already planning expansions for the Central Asia-China pipeline - which it built and paid for. Exports should be up by 2015. In his Silk Road trip, Xi naturally hit Turkmenistan, inaugurating no less than one of the largest gas fields in the world, massive Galkynysh, which began production only three months ago. Most of the gas will flow through - where else - the pipeline to China. China is paying the bill, $8 billion so far, and counting.
Turkmenistan's economy now virtually depends on natural gas exports to China (at 60% of GDP). Beijing's ultimate strategy is to use its Turkmenistan leverage to extract better gas deals from Gazprom.
Kyrgyzstan also features in China's Pipelineistan strategy. Beijing will finance and operate the proposed Kyrgyzstan-China gas pipeline - which will be a key part of the fourth Turkmenistan-China pipeline. Beijing is also building a railroad linking it to with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Observing all this frenzy, we have to come back to the ultimate adage of the times; while the (Washington) dogs of war bark, the (Chinese) caravan does deals.
Those three evils
The SCO is also involved in boosting this major transportation route connecting East Asia, West Asia and South Asia, and ultimately the Pacific to the Baltic Sea.
Yet Stalin's legacy lives - as in the demented way he partitioned Central Asia. China will need to shell out a fortune in transportation. Chinese trains are always in trouble traveling on Soviet-era railways. Airline service is dodgy. For instance, there's only one flight every two days between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan (I took it; always crowded, the usual delays, stranded luggage ...)
The SCO was founded 12 years ago, when Uzbekistan joined the members of the original Shanghai Five; China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Turkmenistan preferred its splendid isolation.
The original emphasis was on mutual security. But now the SCO encompasses politics and economics as well. Yet the obsession remains on what the Chinese define as "the three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism. That's code for the Taliban and its offshoots, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The SCO also tries to fight drug trafficking and arms smuggling.
Again in classic Chinese style, the SCO is spun as fostering "mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for diverse civilizations and seeking common development", in an atmosphere of "non-alliance, non-confrontation and not being directed against any third party."
It may go a long way before becoming a sort of Eastern NATO. But it's increasingly carving its territory as a direct counterpunch to NATO - not to mention Washington's Central/South Asian chapter of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) and the push for "color revolutions". The SCO is actively discussing its regional options after Washington's withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. China and Russia will be deeply involved. Same for Iran - for the moment a SCO observer.
Xi's Silk Road belt, in principle, is not detonating alarm bells in the Kremlin. The Kremlin spin is that Russia and China's economies are complementary - as in China's "sizable financial resources" matching Russia's "technologies, industrial skills and historical relations with the region".
One wonders what the adults in assorted rooms in the Beltway think about all this (assuming they know it's happening). Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton used to wax lyrical about an American-propped New Silk Road. Well, after Xi's trip that sounds like yet another Barack Obama campaign promise.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
It's high time to get Iran and Pakistan also aboard SCO formally aka "Silk Road Belt"
India should be invited too, Sino-Indian tensions notwithstanding. The more major players utilize a trade network, the more profitable and more resilient it becomes, and it would be major brownie points for China to be viewed as mature enough to let India join in on regional trade negotiations while border tensions persist.
If India wants to join, though, it'll need to make nice with Pakistan, since those trade routes run through Afghanistan and Central Asia, and Pakistan will never brook economic envelopment by India so long as India is a hostile neighbor. At this point, I'd hope NaMo becomes PM of India, because only he has to the authority with the Hindu right to pull a Nixon and cement lasting peace across the Indus River.
After reading first para, I was expecting this to be rational to elicit some hope. But then again, your Chinese side showed up and put a show. In the veil pretext of being broad minded, you once again pulled off a stupid gimmick implying that India was the one who is not coming to terms for peace while it's the other way round. Nixon is an asshole and an idiot. Period!!! Pls don't insult NAMO by comparing with him. And India didn't choose to be hostile with Pakistan. It is Pakistan, whose sole existence is to seek destruction of India and and we have another bigger neighbor which is supposed to be rational, mature and brotherly but is nothing more than a jackass!!
I never implied India was to blame for not coming to terms for peace. I simply stated a fact - that if India wants to utilize Central Asia for trade, it has to find peace with Pakistan.
As for Nixon, how was he an asshole and idiot? He, more than any other Cold War American president, set in motion the long-term chess moves that destroyed the Soviet Union. He had a strategic objective, and he accomplished it masterfully.
My apologies for being unclear in the original post as well.
Because of political pressure, US Presidents rarely make policy decisions based on factors stretching beyond the next election cycle. When Nixon chose to engage with China, he at least looked all the way to the end of his own lifetime.
Never hate your enemies, it affects your judgment.
As Chinese President Xi Jinping headed to Central Asia last week, Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang in the northwest of China, hosted the 3rd annual China Eurasia Expo. While maybe not intentionally choreographed to take place at the same time, the two events have a significant parallelism to them, reflecting the importance of Xinjiang to China’s Central Asian policy. For China, the “Silk Road Economic Belt” that Xi spoke of in Kazakhstan starts in Xinjiang, acting as the connective tissue that binds China’s crowded and prosperous eastern seaboard with Eurasia, Europe and the Middle East.
China’s interest in Central Asia is primarily a selfish one. This is not unusual in national interests: foreign policy is naturally focused on self-interest. But with China in Central Asia, the key role of Xinjiang distinguishes it from China’s relations with other parts of the world. For Beijing, Central Asian policy aims at both increasing China’s connectivity to Europe and the Middle East as well as reaping the benefits of the region’s rich natural resources, but also about helping foster development and therefore long-term stability in Xinjiang. A province periodically wracked by internal violence and instability, Beijing has quite clearly made the calculation that to stabilize the province, more economic development should be encouraged.
The result is a surge in internal investment in the province, most recently typified by the figures to emerge from the China Eurasia Expo, where some $121 billion worth of domestic deals were announced. German-Chinese joint venture company VW-SAIC is opening a car factory outside Urumqi, a Sino-Turkish investment park is being opened on the other side of the city, while companies from across China are being actively encouraged to invest in the province. And across Xinjiang new infrastructure is being built – from the refurbishment of the Karakoram Highway, to a new airport in Urumqi, to new roads to connect Kashgar to nearby border posts with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, all of which aims to transform the province into the “gateway to Eurasia” as former leader Wen Jiabao put it during his speech to the Expo last year.
But for this approach to work, it is essential that Xinjiang have a prosperous region around it to trade with – hence the heavy focus during Premier Xi’s visit on economic development and links. And it is important to note that it is not only a region to trade with, but also a region to trade through. Ultimately, Central Asian markets are quite limited and still relatively underdeveloped and poor. The real goal is to reach through Central Asia, into Russia and ultimately Europe. This is the Silk Road Economic Belt that Xi is talking about, and it is one that ends in the first instance at the new city being built with Chinese support outside Minsk in Belarus and similar developments near Tbilisi in Georgia, but really ends in the homes of European consumers.
An ambitious goal for sure, but from Beijing’s perspective, it is a means of re-connecting China to its Eurasian heritage, while also helping develop a province that has proven a difficult issue to resolve. It also provides China with a further avenue to markets that is not reliant on sea routes, as well as opening up links to a part of the world rich in natural resources.
The vision is good, but is it actually being realized? This year, cumulative deaths in Xinjiang are approaching 200, the result of a number of incidents. Almost three years on from the re-branded strategy and the “Develop the West” push, it is not clear that this approach is working. In fact, given that it increasingly seems as though incidents in Xinjiang are not the product of external direction, but rather internal anger, one could say that the problems are getting more intense.
So if the strategy is not quite working, what does China need to do to change it? What is missing, it seems, is an overarching vision that seeks to reach beyond simply making everyone wealthy, but also tries to address some of the fundamental underlying social and ethnic tensions that boil beneath the surface. Xinjiang-ren, or those who consider themselves natives of the province, will clearly not be happy just to be given jobs, trade prospects and prosperity. A larger, more holistic picture must be painted and one that is not solely reliant on trade or an iron fist. This must be the legacy of the New Silk Road: reconnecting Xinjiang and opening up the province in every way to enable it to prosper once again.
China is Central Asia’s most consequential power, a consequence of the intense focus on the region through Xinjiang. If Beijing really wants this policy to work, then it will need greater nuance and focus to transform it from a money-driven theory to one that better reflects local realities.
Raffaello Pantucci is Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and Dr. Alexandros Petersen is the author of The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West.