A Trade Route for the 21st Century
Gone are the days of wandering merchants and far roaming caravans of spices. Gone but not forgotten as China’s President Xi Jinping promises $46 billion of infrastructure investment to countries in the path of a modern Silk Road.
China has in large part become a dominant economy by producing far more than it consumes. Now China is working to create a shipping super-highway of roads, railways, shipping lanes, and pipelines for its mass-produced goods. The New Silk Road would connect China to Southeast and Central Asia, Africa, and Europe in the hopes of making record speed. Shipping from China to Germany by sea takes roughly 60 days. With this new network, the same trip would supposedly take only 14 days by cutting west through Asia and Eastern Europe.
One problem with this plan for global market domination is corruption. The wealthy in nations like Kazakhstan stand to gain from trade agreements with China, but with a large wealth gap, it is likely that most won’t see profit. Additionally, countries within the proposed network have a well-founded fear of Chinese exploitation.
Another problem with China selling this New Silk Road? History.
A physical silk road never existed as most imagine it. It was instead a term coined by German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen in the 1800s to describe the flow of trade. Even the roads and passes included in the historical “Silk Road” were hardly traversable. Though a romanticized history of the Silk Road is now a staple in China and around the world, historically China has been strongly isolationist, self reliant, and wary of outsiders.
Revisionist history isn’t unique to China, but it goes to show that history is written by the victors, even if business plans have replaced battle plans.