THE extremely ambitious Chinese project known as One Belt, One Road is becoming a reality with every passing day. As you must know, the project is designed to create a web of transport routes all across Eurasia to allow faster transfer of people, goods and resources. Despite the fact that the project is described as an ‘economic belt’, it would be more accurately described by the term ‘network’, since there is not a single route connecting Europe and Asia that it would leave unimproved. One Belt, One Road is going to transform all the main trade routes of the Eurasian continent. But it doesn’t stop just there since the vast African continent is also going to enjoy the benefits of this vast network.
The project will use the most effective way of transportation known to men by launching the construction of ultra-modern high-speed rail lines. It’s been noted time and time again that transporting goods by air is too expensive, while sea freight, although effective, is painfully slow. Still, sea transportation won’t be abandoned all together, since there’s a separate project that implies a major improvement of the existing means of sea transportation, and its called New Silk Road.
In August 2016, the first freight train started from from China to reach Afghanistan in little to no time. The People’s Republic of China has been one of the major Kabul for a while, so it’s onl logical that Beijing constructed a new railway route stretching from the Chinese city of Nantong, through the territory of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, to then reach the Hairatan bridge on the crosses the Uzbek-Afghan border that was built by Soviet engineers back in 1981. The journey takes about two weeks. The opening of the Chinese-Afghan railway line in Nantong drew the attention of high-profile statesmen big businessmen of the two states. According to the Afghan ambassador to Beijing, Janan Mosazai the new road opens the way to a major increase in the volume of bilateral trade between China and Afghanistan. It quite possible that someday this railway will stretch across the entire territory of Afghanistan to reach Iran. This will transform this railway line in one of the most important transport arteries in existence, since it would be connecting the Far and Middle East with Central Asia. But for now China would use another railway line that connects it with Iran, which is one of its most important economic and political partners. This second route stretches across six thousand miles across the territories of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and it was opened in February 2016. The arrival of the first Chinese trains to the capital of Iran, Tehran has marked one of the milestone events in the history of the One Belt, One Road project.
We witness new railroad lines stretching in virtually all directions from the centre in China. The South Asian, even its most inaccessible areas, has not been forgotten or left out. In November 2016, a rail line between China and Nepal was opened for regular service. The route is stretching across 15 hundred miles from the Chinese city of Lanzhou to the capital of Nepal — Kathmandu. This trip is usually takes no more than 10 days when modern Chinese trains are used. It’s hardly a secret that due to its geologic location Nepal has been in partial isolation for quite some time. It has a trade line with India, but it’s been separated from China by the Great Himalayan Range. Other than these two partners, Nepal does not share a common border with any other states. This situation makes it difficult for Nepal to trade with other countries and makes it dependent on India and its political decisions. That way the new route that is connecting Nepal with China is of utmost importance for this small country.
To establish an effective way of conducting trade and supporting communication between the European states and South-East Asian players one is bound to establish good contacts with the countries of the former USSR lying between them. They seem to divide Eurasia in half, and the land communication between Europe and China its almost impossible without their participation. This is especially true for Russia and the countries of Central Asia.
In December 2016, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan decided to jointly build the railway stretching from Uchkuduk (Uzbekistan) to Kyzylorda (Kazakhstan). This new railway will establish a connection between these two states and Russia, and in the future it can be expanded by to reach Iran via Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, China will be interested in making this route also a part of the One Belt, One Road project.
At the end of March 2017, the authorities of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China with the Republic of Kazakhstan signed a memorandum on joint preparations for the construction of a 160 miles long Tachen-Ayagoz railway. It will become the third railway that crosses the Chinese-Kazakh border. In Ayagoz the road will be linked with the famous Turkestan-Siberian railway, allowing trains to reach the enormous Trans-Siberian Railway, that is the longest railway in the world, that connects Russia’s Far East with Moscow. Thus, the massive network of Chinese railways will be linked with Central Asia and European railway lines. The creation of such a route would be of enormous importance for the One Belt, One Road project as well as for the economies of Russia and Kazakhstan.
The group of 17 European countries that have a direct rail link with China has recently been joined by the United Kingdom. On April 12, 2017, the first freight train was sent from England to China. Its 7500 miles long journey started in Stanford-le-Hope, England, and stretched across the territories of seven states — France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan. The road ends in the Chinese city of Yiwu, Zhejiang Province and takes three weeks, which is twice as fast as to travel to China by sea from England.
The One Belt, One Road promises a major economic recovery for a great many states of Europe, Asia and Africa. It’s also curious that the development of means of transportation and trade results in the relations between countries improving. As the level of life will improve in most states across the new trade route, the level of extremist sentiment will inevitably diminish. In addition, Beijing intends to actively ensure the safety of its offspring, establishing military cooperation with the countries that have become a part of the One Belt, One Road project. Therefore, it is especially important to promote the it across the Middle East and such Central Asian countries as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those are rich in natural resources, yet unstable regions. It should be recalled that back in 2014 defence ministers of China and Iran would discuss bilateral military cooperation in much detail. After the meeting it was stated that One Belt, One Road project should become the basis for the growth of Chinese-Iranian influence in the region, and that the two countries will unite efforts in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and other problems. If the above mentioned Chinese-Afghanistan railway would be expanded to reach Iran, it can lead to some positive changes in the life of Afghan people. Thus, this ambitious project is not only promoting economic growth, but also strengthens peace in different regions of the world.
New Eastern Outlook, May 10. Dmitry Bokarev, an expert politologist, writes exclusively for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook.
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