There are always leaders and followers and one bitter truth that the world has always witnessed is that in this system there are superpowers that act as the leaders of the globe. The 19th century saw the rule of the Grand Britain Empire. The 20th century witnessed the advent of the two mighty superpowers of Soviet Union and the USA. After the breakdown of Soviet Union though there has been just one world leader that is the US. However, in the last 5 years we have seen US taking a back step from its responsibilities of the leader to helping its own economy. So the world asks in unison what next? Does this uncertainty along with the global slowdown in the economy indicate the emergence of a new superpower? If yes, then who do you think could it be!
When the US and Britain, pioneers of free trade, retreated from their commitment to support globalisation and free trade, a new country has stepped in to claim the space left vacant. An ambitious plan was unveiled by Chinese President Xi Jinpeng in 2013, one that could potentially cement China’s economic dominance for years to come. He spoke of the ancient Silk Road- a network of trade routes that ran across Central Asia spanning 3 major continents since centuries. To look at the present it is imperative to make the reader know about the silk route.
More than 5000 years ago, the Chinese discovered the art of making silk. Its production was kept fiercely guarded but rumors of the magical material reached the ears of the Rich and powerful Romans. They were ready to pay good money for it and the fabric made its way across continents through a network of trade routes. Caravans and ships carved from the west coast of Japan to the Mediterranean spanning more than 15000 km over both land and sea. For the first time in history, the East and West came together. The route was bustling with trade. Merchants had to learn new languages and traditions to sell their goods to foreign lands. Science, art, literature, religion and politics were discussed and ideas shared. Travel inn and guesthouses sprung up all along the way providing voyagers a respite from their journey. Ports emerged along sea routes, and business flourished. Religions crossed borders, cities developed and world progressed. But also with it came disease and strife. Local Chieftains warred for control over parts of it. Bandits thugs and pirates patrolled in the dead of night, striking the unsuspecting. Fragmented kingdoms and local power centers soon made it impossible to use the route safely anymore.
Xi plans to reopen the modern version of the old route, spending over $5 trillion to get the necessary infrastructure in place. The plan consists of developing trade routes through land and sea, linking over 60 countries. China has a huge workforce and some of the largest infrastructure companies in the world that could make this project a reality. By road it plans to link China to London and beyond, and by sea, it plans on installing ports at strategic locations along the route. While some countries love it others are skeptical.
India has been one of the biggest opponent due to the routes followed by the plan. The $50 billion China – Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is part of the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir which asks questions about sovereignty and territorial integrity. Pakistan hasn’t been the first choice for foreign investment in years, and the Chinese project was welcomed by Pakistan. A port was built at Gwadar and a network of multiple highways and train lines linking China to Pakistan all the way to the Initiative’s Sea route. Here, China found itself with a new route to bring in supplies from the Middle East.
Some analysts predict that the route may extend beyond Xi’s initial plan of covering Asia, Europe and Africa and may even extend to the Americas. A white paper released by Chinese authorities details its plan of playing a larger role in Arctic. “The Polar Silk Route” encapsulates its strategy for the Arctic and how it should be governed. Its plan to build the infrastructure and conduct commercial trial voyages, paving the way for Arctic shipping routes that could connect China and Europe shipping through the Northern Sea Route which would save almost 20 days off the regular travel time through the Suez Canal. The white paper also said that China eyes development of oil, gas, mineral resources, fishing and tourism in the region, making Arctic States vary. When Beijing organized the first ever Belt and Road Summit in 2017, South American presidents were in attendance. Panama’s President Juan Carlos Barely talked about the extension of the BRI to Latin America. The scope of the project is now one that encapsulates the entire world.
The above map indicates the strategic ports and locations of China to emerge as Global leader.
China claims that countries should stick together like a flock of geese and claims that the project as a goodwill initiative that would benefit nations wishing to be the part of it. To achieve the same, China has pumped in billions of dollars in several South Asian countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to improve their basic infrastructure. China invested 1.6 billion dollars in building a Sri Lankan port, but when Colombo was unable to pay back, it was forced to give up a large stake to a Chinese holding company that now operates the port under a 99 year lease. Such strategies provide China with a strategic military advantage in these regions. Between 2014-16, China’s total trade volume in the countries along the Belt and Road initiative exceeded $3 trillion, created $1.1 billion revenues and 180,000 jobs for the countries involved, but escalating debt burdens may offset the small benefits.
The future seems to be uncertain but if this strategy works then the time is not far away when China will rule this world and establishes itself as a super power.