Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The New Silk Road

... China calls the project “One Belt and One Road,” referring to a belt of railroads, highways, pipelines and broadband communications stretching through China to the West, and a “maritime Silk Road” combining sea routes with port infrastructure from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean. 
Israel’s location makes it possible for the Jewish state to “play the role of bridgehead for ‘One Belt and One Road’ with the completion of the ‘Red-Med’ rail project,” said Dr. Liu Zongyi at a November seminar at Remnin University. Dr. Liu based at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, spoke of a $2 billion, 300 km rail line linking Ashkelon with the Red Sea. The “Red-Med” project is usually presented in more modest terms, as a way of absorbing excess traffic from the Suez Canal, or an alternative route in the event of political disruption. 
What China calls “One Belt and One Road” proposes that China, with the Mediterranean on the East-West axis, will have the opportunity to create high-speed rail lines in Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. China aims to double its 12,000 kilometers of railway track by 2020, with high-speed lines comprising most of the expansion. It is building a rail network south through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia to Singapore, and west to Istanbul. 
Some Chinese strategists see “Red-Med” as emblematic of a more ambitious design for the region. For example, Sino-Israeli collaboration aims to include counterterrorism and anti-piracy operations, as well as economic support for Arab countries. Israel can provide advanced technologies, such as in agricultural, to support the industrialization of the Middle East in the context of “One Belt and One Road.”  The Chinese have even pointed out to Israel that their navy is conducting anti-pirate missions in the Indian Ocean and The Gulf of Aden that Israel can participate in. 
The project implies a radical shift in China’s perceptions of regional security in the Middle East. China’s net oil imports have nearly tripled in the past decade, from 100 million tons per month in 2005 to nearly 300 million tons today, and most of the increase has come from the Persian Gulf. China’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil will continue to rise. Until recently, China was content to follow America’s lead on Gulf security. After the collapse of Syria and Iraq, however, China’s complacency has turned to concern, and China is seeking ways to enhance its regional security presence without, attempting to play a superpower role in the region.
Interestingly, a map showing the planned route shows it taking a path south of the Caspian Sea ... and Russia. Rather, it shows it travelling through northern Iran, Iraq, and through Syria into Turkey. I suppose the war in Syria may force it even further south, perhaps requiring it to pass through Jordan and into Israel. The sea route requires shipping to pass through the Suez Canal.

There are some significant implications to China's plan. First, it apparently is China's intent to remove the U.S. from the flow of goods from China to Europe. One of the key's to the U.S.'s prosperity is its location between Europe and Asia, and the ease it can trade with both important locations.

Second, it bypasses Russia, meaning that China does not trust Russia to control such rail lines, and, perhaps, that China intends for Russia to be isolated.

Third, such a rail system will open the Middle East up to the world in ways those countries cannot imagine. Islam--at least in its current form--is too fragile to survive such exposure.

Finally, China will be forced to take a more active role, militarily, in the region. We may yet see Chinese troops in the Middle-East or the horn of Africa.

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