How the New Silk Roads are merging into Greater Eurasia

Russia is keen to push economic integration with parts of Asia and this fits in with China’s Belt and Road Initiative

By PEPE ESCOBAR

The concept of Greater Eurasia has been discussed at the highest levels of Russian academia and policy-making for some time. This week the policy was presented at the Council of Ministers and looks set to be enshrined, without fanfare, as the main guideline of Russian foreign policy for the foreseeable future.

President Putin is unconditionally engaged to make it a success. Already at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2016, Putin referred to an emerging “Eurasian partnership”.

I was privileged over the past week to engage in excellent discussions in Moscow with some of the top Russian analysts and policymakers involved in advancing Greater Eurasia.

Three particularly stand out: Yaroslav Lissovolik, program director of the Valdai Discussion Club and an expert on the politics and economics of the Global South; Glenn Diesen, author of the seminal Russia’s Geoeconomic Strategy for a Greater Eurasia; and the legendary Professor Sergey Karaganov, dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the National Research University Higher School of Economics and honorary chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, who received me in his office for an off-the-record conversation.

The framework for Great Eurasia has been dissected in detail by the indispensable Valdai Discussion Club, particularly on Rediscovering the Identity, the sixth part of a series called Toward the Great Ocean, published last September, and authored by an academic who’s who on the Russian Far East, led by Leonid Blyakher of the Pacific National University in Khabarovsk and coordinated by Karaganov, director of the project.

The conceptual heart of Greater Eurasia is Russia’s Turn to the East, or pivot to Asia, home of the economic and technological markets of the future. This implies Greater Eurasia proceeding in symbiosis with China’s New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). And yet this advanced stage of the Russia-China strategic partnership does not mean Moscow will neglect its myriad close ties to Europe.

Russian Far East experts are very much aware of the “Eurocentrism of a considerable portion of Russian elites.” They know how almost the entire economic, demographic and ideological environment in Russia has been closely intertwined with Europe for three centuries. They recognize that Russia has borrowed Europe’s high culture and its system of military organization. But now, they argue, it’s time, as a great Eurasian power, to profit from “an original and self-sustained fusion of many civilizations”; Russia not just as a trade or connectivity point, but as a “civilizational bridge”.

Legacy of Genghis Khan 

What my conversations, especially with Lissovolik, Diesen and Karaganov, have revealed is something absolutely groundbreaking – and virtually ignored across the West; Russia is aiming to establish a new paradigm not only in geopolitics and geoeconomics, but also on a cultural and ideological level.

Conditions are certainly ripe for it. Northeast Asia is immersed in a power vacuum. The Trump administration’s priority – as well as the US National Security Strategy’s – is containment of China. Both Japan and South Korea, slowly but surely, are getting closer to Russia.

Culturally, retracing Russia’s past, Greater Eurasia analysts may puzzle misinformed Western eyes. ‘Towards the Great Ocean’, the Valdai report supervised by Karaganov, notes the influence of Byzantium, which “preserved classical culture and made it embrace the best of the Orient culture at a time when Europe was sinking into the Dark Ages.” Byzantium inspired Russia to adopt Orthodox Christianity.

It also stresses the role of the Mongols over Russia’s political system. “The political traditions of most Asian countries are based on the legacy of the Mongols. Arguably, both Russia and China are rooted in Genghis Khan’s empire,” it says.

If the current Russian political system may be deemed authoritarian – or, as claimed in Paris and Berlin, an exponent of “illiberalism” – top Russian academics argue that a market economy protected by lean, mean military power performs way more efficiently than crisis-ridden Western liberal democracy.

As China heads West in myriad forms, Greater Eurasia and the Belt and Road Initiative are bound to merge. Eurasia is crisscrossed by mighty mountain ranges such as the Pamirs and deserts like the Taklamakan and the Karakum. The best ground route runs via Russia or via Kazakhstan to Russia. In crucial soft power terms, Russian remains the lingua franca in Mongolia, Central Asia and the Caucasus.

And that leads us to the utmost importance of an upgraded Trans-Siberian railway – Eurasia’s current connectivity core. In parallel, the transportation systems of the Central Asian “stans” are closely integrated with the Russian network of roads; all that is bound to be enhanced in the near future by Chinese-built high-speed rail.

Iran and Turkey are conducting their own versions of a pivot to Asia. A free-trade agreement between Iran and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) was approved in early December. Iran and India are also bound to strike a free-trade agreement. Iran is a big player in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which is essential in driving closer economic integration between Russia and India.

The Caspian Sea, after a recent deal between its five littoral states, is re-emerging as a major trading post in Central Eurasia. Russia and Iran are involved in a joint project to build a gas pipeline to India.

Kazakhstan shows how Greater Eurasia and BRI are complementary; Astana is both a member of BRI and the EAEU. The same applies to gateway Vladivostok, Eurasia’s entry point for both South Korea and Japan, as well as Russia’s entry point to Northeast Asia.

Ultimately, Russia’s regional aim is to connect China’s northern provinces with Eurasia via the Trans-Siberian and the Chinese Eastern Railway – with Chita in China and Khabarovsk in Russia totally inter-connected.

And all across the spectrum, Moscow aims at maximizing return on the crown jewels of the Russian Far East; agriculture, water resources, minerals, lumber, oil and gas. Construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants in Yamal vastly benefits China, Japan and South Korea.

Community spirit

Eurasianism, as initially conceptualized in the early 20th century by the geographer PN Savitsky, the geopolitician GV Vernadsky and the cultural historian VN Ilyn, among others, regarded Russian culture as a unique, complex combination of East and West, and the Russian people as belonging to “a fully original Eurasian community”.

That certainly still applies. But as Valdai Club analysts argue, the upgraded concept of Greater Eurasia “is not targeted against Europe or the West”; it aims to include at least a significant part of the EU.

The Chinese leadership describes BRI not only as connectivity corridors, but also as a “community”. Russians use a similar term applied to Greater Eurasia; sobornost (“community spirit”).

As Alexander Lukin of the Higher School of Economics and an expert on the SCO has constantly stressed, including in his book China and Russia: The New Rapprochement, this is all about the interconnection of Greater Eurasia, BRI, EAEU, SCO, INSTC, BRICS, BRICS Plus and ASEAN.

The cream of the crop of Russian intellectuals – at the Valdai Club and the Higher School of Economics – as well as top Chinese analysts, are in sync. Karaganov himself constantly reiterates that the concept of Greater Eurasia was arrived at, “jointly and officially”, by the Russia-China partnership; “a common space for economic, logistic and information cooperation, peace and security from Shanghai to Lisbon and New Delhi to Murmansk”.

The concept of Greater Eurasia is, of course, a work in progress. What my conversations in Moscow revealed is its extraordinary ambition; positioning Russia as a key geoeconomic and geopolitical crossroads linking the economic systems of North Eurasia, Central and Southwest Asia.

As Diesen notes, Russia and China have become inevitable allies because of their “shared objective of restructuring global value-chains and developing a multipolar world”. It’s no wonder Beijing’s drive to develop state-of-the-art national technological platforms is provoking so much anger in Washington. And in terms of the big picture, it makes perfect sense for BRI to be harmonized with Russia’s economic connectivity drive for Greater Eurasia.

That’s irreversible. The dogs of demonization, containment, sanctions and even war may bark all they want, but the Eurasia integration caravan keeps moving along.

A man, a plan, a canal…Thailand?

Ex-top brass appeal to new King Vajiralongkorn to bless building the long-envisioned Kra canal; China is keen to start digging

General Saiyud Kerdphol, the military engineer of Thailand’s winning Cold War-era anticommunism campaign, believes now is the time to build the Kra canal – a long-envisioned channel through the country’s southern isthmus that would connect the Indian and Pacific Oceans and dramatically shorten East-West shipping routes.

And for the massive infrastructure undertaking to finally break ground after centuries of pondering, the nonagenarian former supreme commander believes the monumental decision cannot be taken by any government and thus must be conceived and graced as “the king’s canal.”

“This cannot be done if it’s not the king’s project,” says Saiyud, who in an interview with Asia Times recalls meeting with the previous monarch in the 1980s when British motor company Rolls-Royce briefly had interest in the canal. “The government will never be firm enough to make a decision because they know they can’t control corruption.”

To be sure, Thailand is no closer to digging the Kra canal today than when it was first considered by King Narai in 1677. The scheme has been resurrected in various forms several times since, only to founder on political rocks and security concerns, including existential trepidation of physically dividing the nation in two.

The incumbent ruling junta, while grasping for new economic transformation strategies, has shown no interest in the canal. That’s due to perceived security risks in sight of a raging separatist Muslim insurgency in the kingdom’s southern reaches and the likely criticism that would arise from taking such a big decision as an unelected government.

But with the recent transition from deceased King Bhumibol Adulyadej to King Maha Vajiralongkorn, now known as Rama X, the canal’s ex-top brass backers hope the new monarch with a military background will give the scheme royal consideration, in the name of national peace and development.

Saiyud suggests the canal could herald “a new era of civilization” during Vajiralongkorn’s reign and bring peace through hearts-and-minds development to the conflict-ridden Deep South. The new king has taken special interest in the Muslim majority region, leading some to wonder if he may prioritize achieving peace in the region as part of his legacy.

It’s not altogether clear if the previous king shared concerns about physically dividing the kingdom, though staunch royalists note the canal would necessarily be wider than the Chao Phraya River, the nation’s main north-south waterway that travels through Bangkok and by the royal Grand Palace, viewed by many as the spiritual heart of the nation.

The Thai Canal Association (TCA), a group of influential former top brass soldiers advocating for the project, recently rechristened the canal from “Kra” to “Thai” to indicate it would be built for all Thais, in line with Bhumibol’s view that the decision should be made by the people.

TCA points to a recent local Songkhla University poll that apparently showed 74% of residents in 14 southern provinces agreed with building the canal.

The project’s skeptics, on the other hand, believe the latest drive-to-build aims ultimately to win rich feasibility study contracts “for the boys”, with scant prospects of actually implementing any proposed grand plan. The canal would cost anywhere between US$20-US$30 billion depending on the chosen route, and likely take a decade to dig.

While it’s unclear if any formal representations have been made to the monarch, the canal does have one rich and powerful new backer: China.

Beijing’s newly appointed ambassador to Bangkok, Lyu Jian, has said in recent high-level meetings that China envisions the Thai canal as part of its US$1 trillion ‘One Belt One Road’ (Obor) global infrastructure initiative, according to Thai government officials and advisors briefed on the discussions.

While China aims to link the initiative with the junta’s Eastern Economic Corridor industrial, logistical and real estate development plan, including via a long-stalled high-speed rail line connecting the two nations via Laos that broke symbolic ground in December, it is apparently the first-time Beijing has actively promoted the canal as part of the Obor program.

Until now, Beijing has publicly distanced itself from private Chinese companies which have engaged Thai trade groups to probe the project’s potential. That includes a memorandum of understanding entered by the China-Thailand Kra Infrastructure and Development Company and Asia Union Group to study the canal signed in Guangzhou in May 2015.

China’s Embassy in Bangkok did not respond to Asia Times’ written request for its current official position on the canal.

If China is involved, past financial and engineering obstacles – a previous consortium toyed with the notion of using nuclear explosions to excavate the channel – are likely no longer stumbling blocks, according to Pakdee Tanapura, a long-time advocate for building the canal and ranking TCA member.

Pakdee said Longhao Co Ltd, a Chinese construction company involved in recent land reclamation and island-building in the South China Sea, has expressed interest in the canal. Its plan would entail the construction of two man-made islands for facilities on either side of the canal’s entry points at the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea, according to Pakdee.

Other Hong Kong and Macau-based construction firms have also expressed interest in meetings with known palace emissaries, according to a diplomat monitoring the security dimensions of the canal. Beijing has put Hong Kong and Macau companies forward due to their global experience and comparatively polished executives, the envoy says.

The canal would save approximately 1,200 kilometers from current East-West shipping routes that currently must travel through the congested Malacca Strait, the world’s busiest maritime area where an estimated 84,000 ships and around 30% of global trade currently passes each year.

The World Bank has projected that volume could increase to over 140,000 per year in the next decade, while the narrow strait currently has the capacity to handle 122,000 ships. Much of that transport passes by or stops over for supplies and fuel in Singapore, the wealthy city-state that would seemingly have the most to lose from an alternative East-West shipping route.

Jinsong Zhao, a maritime expert at state-led Shanghai Jiao Tong University, suggests the canal could put Thailand at the center of a “third revolution” of fast-transport global trade, where e-commerce driven sales require ever quicker door-to-door delivery of goods that is limited in the region due to the long shipping route through the Malacca Strait.

“To my Thai friends: Don’t waste your time, don’t delay this project,” Jinsong implored at a conference on the canal held last September in Bangkok. “We have technology, we have capacity, we have money, we are happy to help. It’s good for Thailand, Asia and the whole world.” He said if Thailand waited another 20 years, it would be “fatal” to winning China’s support.

That may or may not be true. As much as 80% of China’s fuel imports currently pass through the Malacca Strait, a maritime bottleneck running between Malaysia and Indonesia that strategic analysts say the US Navy could readily block in any conflict scenario by leveraging its strategic access to nearby Singapore.

Beijing’s interest in a Thai canal comes amid uncertainty at Obor-invested ports envisioned – at least in part – as strategic hedges to its Malacca vulnerability, including facilities in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Myanmar’s now violence-wracked western Rakhine state, through which China has built oil and gas pipelines to fuel its landlocked southern hinterlands.

If built, the Thai canal would necessarily shift Asia’s maritime strategic dynamics by bypassing Malacca, one of the US’ chief strategic advantages vis-à-vis China at sea. One US official who communicated with Asia Times was skeptical the canal would be built any time soon, even with China’s apparent interest and potential financial support.

Another independent analyst with a US military background in the region and aware of the Pentagon’s recent strategic thinking said that even if the Thai canal was built, it would merely mean that the US Navy would have two strategic chokepoints, rather than just one, to block in a potential conflict with China.

Saiyud says he believes the US, which showed interest in the canal in an era when China was a minor maritime player, could ultimately support the canal for the logistical benefits to regional trade and as a long-time ally committed to Thailand’s economic development and prosperity. Thai-US bilateral relations have waned, however, under junta rule.

While fully engaged with Beijing, the canal’s Thai advocates are also keen to build a multinational coalition of backers and funders to prevent any one country, namely China, from having inordinate leverage over the channel and its related port facilities. “It must be a Thai company to lead and not look too Chinese,” says military statesman Saiyud.

Other advocates point to the recent multilateral funding for expansion of the Panama Canal, with support from Germany, Spain, South Korea, US, Argentina and Mexico, among others, as a financial model. They note the project would require new airports, communication networks and other modern infrastructure that would allow several nations to participate.

That’s sparked certain multinational interest. Last September’s TCA-organized conference held in Bangkok was supported by the European Association for Business and Commerce and sponsored by Hong Kong construction company Grand Dragon. A follow-up event on February 1 in Phuket will be staged in collaboration with the Thailand chambers of commerce of Australia, France, Germany, Netherlands and US.

Finance Minister Somkid Jatusripitak was scheduled to make opening remarks at last September’s canal event, but was held back at the last minute by the Prime Minister. As the junta’s political troubles mount and with an uncertain democratic transition on the horizon, such a monumental undertaking isn’t likely to win government support any time soon.

“We’re no closer today [to building the canal] than we were 340 years ago,” said General Pongthep Thesprateep, TCA’s chairman and secretary general of top royal advisor Prem Tinsulanonda’s Statesman Foundation, in an interview with Asia Times. “But for the people and the country, it’s a good time to start.”

Source: http://www.atimes.com/article/man-plan-canal-thailand/?utm_source=The+Daily+Report&utm_campaign=986de26588-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_01_25&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1f8bca137f-986de26588-21552319

Polar Silk Road: Why Russia’s Northern Sea Route is the Best Option for China

Russia’s Northern Sea Route emerges as the best option for Beijing’s “Polar Silk Road” project, RIA Novosti contributor Dmitry Lekukh underscores. Besides developing the secure transit routes along the Russian Arctic and Far East, Moscow and Beijing are likely to bolster the exploration of natural reserves in the region, he noted.

China’s newly announced “Polar Silk Road” evokes the memory of President Vladimir Putin’s remark about the possibility to link the Beijing-led One Belt One Road project with Russia’s Northern Sea Route, which is likely to become one of major trade routes connecting Asia and Europe, RIA Novosti contributor Dmitry Lekukh writes.

“The Chinese government hereby issues this white paper, to expound its basic positions on Arctic affairs, to elaborate on its policy goals, basic principles and major policies and positions regarding its engagement in Arctic affairs, to guide relevant Chinese government departments and institutions in Arctic-related activities and cooperation, to encourage relevant parties to get better involved in Arctic governance, and to work with the international community to safeguard and promote peace and stability in, and the sustainable development of, the Arctic,” China’s Arctic Policy white paper, which was released on January 26, reads.

The journalist argued that Russia’s northern route, which goes along Russia’s Arctic and Far East regions, corresponds best to Beijing’s geopolitical interests and security.

Lekukh drew attention to the fact that the trade route through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean is overburdened. Moreover, the Middle East still remains a hotbed of instability. Another potential route running through Central America — either the existing Panama or the hypothetical Nicaraguan canal — doesn’t meet Beijing’s need to bolster ties between Europe and Asia, the journalist noted.

According to Lekukh, only two polar routes could be of a truly strategic, long-term interest for China: the Northwest Passage, which runs along the northern coast of North America; and Russia’s Northern Sea Route, which appears to be “far more attractive” for the Chinese, as the first lane goes through the territorial waters of Beijing’s geopolitical competitors, the US and its ally, Canada.

“For [Russia], China’s active participation in the development of the Northern Sea Route is attractive not only because of potential investments [into Russia’s economy on the part of Beijing],” the journalist explained, “For us, the Chinese could be of particular interest as constant ‘purchasers of services’… And it’s absolutely logical because the Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese and the countries of the European Union will be also interested in [Russia’s] Northern Sea Route ‘services’.”

However, it’s beyond doubt that China will become the “transit wholesaler” on the NSR, Lekukh highlighted.

Meanwhile, China’s sphere of interest in the Arctic also includes the joint exploration of the region’s natural resources with the Russian Federation; while Moscow, for its part, is vitally interested in Beijing’s helping hand developing the Arctic infrastructure, the RIA Novosti contributor assumed.

Apparently, therefore, the two countries are boosting cooperation in the field of new Arctic technologies for ocean research, modeling of ice loads and ship structural analysis, Lekukh wrote, adding that in December 2017 the St. Petersburg State Maritime Technical University and the China Shipbuilding Research Center struck an agreement to jointly develop these technologies.

“It is a very good sign that the authorities of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China have approximately the same vision for the need to cooperate on the development of this [Arctic] region. Neighborliness and common interests are the best way to establish cooperation, and not only in the ‘Arctic areas’,” the journalist underscored, admitting, however, that it will take time and effort to implement the mutually beneficial Sino-Russian project.

Source: https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201801301061169398-china-polar-silk-road/

The Eurasian Century Is NOW Unstoppable

The transfer of the geopolitical center of gravity to Eurasia is something the West will have to get used to

 

William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, “New Eastern Outlook


I recently returned from a fascinating two week speaking tour in China. The occasion was the international premier of my newest book, One Belt, One Road–China and the New Eurasian Century.

In the course of my visit I was invited by China’s Northwest University in Xi’an to give a lecture and seminar on the present global political and economic situation in the context of China’s New Economic Silk Road as the One Belt, One Road project is often called.

What I’ve seen in my many visits to China, and have studied about the entirety of this enormously impressive international infrastructure project convinces me that a Eurasian Century at this point is unstoppable.

The idiotic wars of the Washington war-hawks and their military industry–in Syria, in Ukraine, Libya, Iraq and now the South China Sea provocations against China–are not going to stop what is now clearly the most impressive and economically altering project in more than a century.

The term “American Century” was triumphantly proclaimed in a famous editorial in Life magazine in 1941 in the early phase of World War II, before the United States had even entered the war, to describe the system publisher Henry Luce saw dominating the postwar world after the fall of the rival British Empire.

The American Century has lasted a mere seven decades if we date from the end of the war. Its record has been one of dismal failure on balance. The industrial base of the United States, the predominant leading industrial nation and leading scientific innovator, today is a hollowed, rotted shell with once-booming cities like Detroit or Philadelphia or Los Angeles now burned-out ghettos of unemployed and homeless.

The Federal Debt of the United States, owing to the endless wars its Presidents engage in, as well as the fruitless bailouts of Wall Street banks and Government Sponsored Enterprises like Fannie Mae, is well over 103% of GDP at an astonishing $19.5 trillion, or more than $163,000 per taxpaying American and Washington is adding to the debt this year at near $600 billion. Countries like China and Russia are moving away from subsidizing that debt at a record pace.

America’s economic basic infrastructure–bridges, sewer and water treatment plants, electric grid, railways, highways–have been neglected for more than four decades for a variety of reasons.

The American Society of Civil Engineers recently estimated that gross domestic product will be reduced by $4 trillion between 2016 and 2025 because of lost business sales, rising costs and reduced incomes if the country continues to underinvest in its infrastructure. That is on top of the fact that they estimate the country at present urgently requires new infrastructure investment of $3.3 trillion by the coming decade just to renew.

Yet US states and cities are not able to finance such an investment in the future in the present debt situation, nor is the debt-choked Federal Government, so long as a cartel of corrupt brain-dead Wall Street banks and financial funds hold America to ransom.

This is the sunset for the American Century, a poorly disguised imperial experiment in hubris and arrogance by a gaggle of boring old patriarchs like David Rockefeller and his friends on Wall Street and in the military industry. It is the starkest contrast to what is going on to the east, across all Eurasia today.

Flowing the Thought to Transform

The Eurasian Century is the name I give to the economic emergence of the countries contiguous from China across Central Asia, Russia, Belarus, Iran and potentially Turkey. They are being integrally linked through the largest public infrastructure projects in modern history, in fact the most ambitious ever, largely concentrated on the 2013 initiative by Chinese President Xi Jinping called the One Belt, One Road initiative or OBOR.

The project and its implications for Europe and the rest of the world economy have been so far greeted in the west with a stone silence that defies explanation.

It’s been now three years that have transpired since then-new Chinese President Xi Jinping made one of his first foreign visits to Kazakhstan where he discussed the idea of building a vast, modern network of high-speed train lines crossing the vast Eurasian land space from the Pacific coast of China and Russia through Central Asia into Iran, into the states of the Eurasian Economic Union, principally Russia and potentially on to the select states of the European Union.

That initial proposal was unveiled in detail last year by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s economic planning organization, and the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Commerce.

It’s a useful point to look now more closely at what has transpired to date. It reveals most impressive developments, more because the development process is creative and organic. The great project is no simple blueprint made by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and then simply imposed, top down, across the so-far 60 countries of Eurasia and South East Asia.

An international conference was recently held in Xi’an, origin of the ancient version of One Belt, One Road, namely the Silk Road. The purpose of the international gathering was to review what has so far taken place.

It’s fascinating, notably, in the care that’s being taken by China to do it in a different way, as indications so far are, different from the way American Robber Barons like Cornelius Vanderbilt, E.H. Harriman, Jay Gould or Russell Sage built rail monopolies and deluded and defrauded investors with railroad monopolies more than a century ago.

The seminar, titled the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): Shared Memory and Common Development, on September 26th, brought together over 400 participants from more than 30 countries including government officials, universities, corporations, think tanks and media.

A key role is being played by Renmin University of China’s Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies to identify progress and problems of the OBOR project. Their report in Xi’an presented principles underlying the OBOR international project: It adheres to the principles of the UN Charter; it is completely open for new participant nations to cooperate; it will follow market rules and seek mutual benefit of participating countries.

Those are noble words. What’s more interesting is the flow process underway to realize such words and to build the mammoth game-changing infrastructure.

Notably, China’s Xi Jinping decided to encourage input from sources other than the state central planning agency or the Communist Party for the complex OBOR. He encouraged creation of private and independent think-tanks to become a source of new creative ideas and approaches.

Today there is a Chinese Think Tank Cooperation Alliance group coordinating efforts around OBOR headed by the dean of the Renmin University. In turn they partner with think tanks along the OBOR route including think tanks in Iran, Turkey, India, Nepal, Kazakhstan and other countries.

There will be two main routes of the OBOR. On land there are several routes or corridors in work. The Initiative will focus on jointly building what is being called a new Eurasian Land Bridge from China via Kazakhstan on to Rotterdam. Other OBOR land rail corridors include developing China-Mongolia-Russia, China-Central Asia-West Asia, China-Pakistan, Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar, and China-Indochina Peninsula economic corridors.vThis is huge.

It will build on international transport routes, relying on core cities along the OBOR route and using key economic industrial parks as “cooperation platforms.”

At sea, the Initiative will focus on jointly building smooth, secure and efficient transport routes connecting major sea ports along the “Belt and Road” including modern upgraded super port construction that will link present China ports at Haikou and Fujian with Kuala Lumpur’s port in Malaysia at the Malacca Strait passage, Calcutta in India, Nairobi in Kenya and via the Suez Canal to Athens and beyond. Crucial is that land and sea parts of OBOR are seen as one whole circulatory system or flow of trade.

The OBOR Initiative will link key Eurasian ports with interior rail and pipeline infrastructure in a way not before seen

To date China has signed memoranda of understanding with 56 countries and regional organizations regarding OBOR. Since his initial proposal in 2013, President Xi Jinping has personally visited 37 countries to discuss implementation of OBOR. China Railway Group and China Communications Construction Company have signed contracts for key routes and ports in 26 countries.

Power plants, electricity transmission facilities and oil and gas pipelines, covering 19 countries along the “Belt and Road” in some 40 energy projects have begun. China Unicom, China Telecom and China Mobile are speeding up cross-border transmission projects in countries along the “Belt and Road” to expand international telecommunication infrastructure.

Already, taking the full sea and land routes of OBOR, some $3 trillion of China trade since June 2013 has flowed over the route, more than a quarter of China’s total trade volume.

To date China has also invested more than $51 billion in the countries along the present OBOR route. The new land rail routes will greatly reduce transportation costs across Eurasia, enable formerly isolated regions to connect efficiently to sea and land markets and ignite tremendous new economic growth across Eurasia.

The effects of the OBOR are already beginning to appear. Earlier this year an Iranian container ship arrived at Qinzhou Port in China with 978 containers from several countries along the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road opening the first shipping route linking the Middle East and the Beibu Gulf or Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnamese.

In February 2016 a container train with Chinese goods took only 14 days to complete the 5,900 mile (9,500km) journey from China’s eastern Zhejiang province through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

That was 30 days shorter than the sea voyage from Shanghai to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, according to the head of the Iranian railway company. China and Iran, now formally part of the OBOR, have targeted bilateral trade, none in US dollars by the way, to exceed $600 billion in the coming decade.

China is presently in negotiations with 28 countries China is in talks with 28 countries including Russia, on high-speed rail projects, China’s train maker, China CNR reports.

It includes a major joint China-Russia $15 billion high-speed Kazan to Moscow line. The 770 kilometers of track between Moscow and Russia’s Tatarstan capital, Kazan, will cut time for the journey from 12 hours now to just 3.5 hours. China has agreed to invest $6 billion in the project which would become a part of a $100 billion high-speed railway between Moscow and Beijing.

Notably, for the new high-speed track being laid, China is developing a new generation of trains capable of reaching speeds of 400 kilometers per hour. And the new trains will solve the costly rail gauge switching problem between China rails and Russian.

Trains in Russia run on a 1520mm track, compared to the narrower 1435mm track used in Europe and China. Jia Limin, the head of China’s high-speed rail innovation program told China Daily that, “The train… will have wheels that can be adjusted to fit various gauges on other countries’ tracks, compared with trains now that need to have their wheels changed before entering foreign systems.”

Given its strategy of building thousands of kilometers of high-speed railways and developing its domestic Chinese rail sock manufacture as well as other rail technology, China today is the world’s leading producer of rail technology.


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