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The Road well traveled: Silk Road

The World's First Information Superhighway that influenced trade, culture and livelihoods of people living in three different continents

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The Old Silk Route, Wikimedia Common

By Pashchiema Bhatia

The Silk Route or the Silk Road, which extends to more than 6,500 kms, is a network of ancient trade routes connecting Asia, Africa and Europe which also became central to cultural interactions. But from where did it derive this name? From 2nd Century BC, this route was majorly used to transport Chinese Silk to Europe through Central Asia. Although, there were many trade routes connected to the main Silk Route which existed in much earlier times and traded in various commodities ranging from salt. But the greatest contribution of Silk Route to world history was beyond trading few entities. It facilitated the exchange of ideas, art and science between Asia, Africa and Europe. The South West Silk Route is one of the most ancient parts of the route connecting the Yunan Province of China to Tibet and finally to India but interestingly silk was not the major entity traded in this part of the route- It was horses and tea.

Contribution of Silk Route

Macro Polo, a Venetian merchant traveller, travelled through the silk route and witnessed the opulence of the Chinese civilization. The bubonic plague (the ‘Black Death’) also travelled through this route. Buddhism from India extended to the world and Greek art from Europe procured into India through Silk Route. New sciences like Algebra were brought up when the Arabs acquired the understanding of mathematics from India and China. Gradually, new cities and empires started emerging along the route and it enhanced the exchange of ideas and culture to great extent which re-shaped the world history. Also, it is not just about trade and cultural exchange. Many times, India and China had to send troops to Central Asia to fight military alliances.

History

The political centres of Mongol Empire, the largest continental Empire, looped around the Silk Road but soon after the Empire was fragmented, the political, cultural and economic unity was affected. After the disappearance of Silk Route, the Europeans had to visit the prosperous Chinese Empire through alternate routes, especially by sea route. Direct trade connection with Asia would result in tremendous profits and hence finally a direct ocean route from Europe to the East was opened by the excursions of Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama in 1499 through Atlantic and Indian oceans. The assets of the ancient Silk Road are now scattered around museums of various countries.

In the end of the Nineteen century, the interest to renew the Silk Road arose when various countries started to explore the region. The “New Silk Route” is sometimes referred to the “Eurasian Land Bridge” railway route. In 2013, the President of China Xi Jinping introduced a plan of establishing a New Silk Road from China to Europe and the project was named as ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR), which includes land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road.

The Silk Road on the sides of Indus river, Wikimedia Commons
The Silk Road on the sides of Indus river, Wikimedia Commons

The Present Day

The route had fallen into disuse but eventually after a long period of hibernation, the importance of Silk Road is increasing again. The project seems to be put high on the China development priority list. Many places are opening up for tourists to visit. However, the authorities do not allow the visitors to wander wherever they like. Also, there are traces of ruined cities but there is still much to see. In 2014, the Chang’an-Tianshan corridor of the Silk Route was titled as World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The initiatives would help to improve the business environment of the region and contribute to greater connectivity. Also, China is ready to expand its investment in India. The OBOR project might not only re-shape the continental geography but also the regional politics and security.

Pashchiema is an intern at NewsGram and a student of journalism and mass communication. Twitter: @pashchiema5

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Xi Jinping Calls for More Countries to Join China’s Belt and Road Initiative

“We need to encourage the full participation of more countries and companies,” the Chinese president said at the event at a government conference center outside Beijing

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China's President Xi Jinping speaks at a press conference at the end of the final day of the Belt and Road Forum at the China National Convention Centere at the Yanqi Lake venue, outside Beijing, April 27, 2019. VOA

President Xi Jinping called Saturday for more countries to join China’s sprawling infrastructure-building initiative in the face of U.S. opposition to a project Washington worries is increasing Beijing’s strategic influence.

Xi spoke at a gathering of leaders to celebrate the multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, his signature foreign project. The upbeat tone of the two-day forum, at which Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders praised the initiative, is a setback for the Trump administration, which is trying to discourage other countries from participating.

Xi promised Friday to promote high financial, environmental and other standards in response to complaints about debt and other problems. That has the potential to heighten tensions with Washington by attracting more participants.

“We need to encourage the full participation of more countries and companies,” the Chinese president said at the event at a government conference center outside Beijing.

Xi tried to dispel complaints Belt and Road does little for developing countries that have borrowed from Beijing to build ports, railways and other facilities. Xi said his government wants to “deliver benefits to all.”

Other governments welcomed the initiative launched in 2013 to increase trade by building ports, railways and other infrastructure across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. But some are struggling to repay Chinese loans, which has fueled complaints about a possible “debt trap.”

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Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers his speech at the opening ceremony of the second Belt and Road Forum, in Beijing, April 26, 2019. VOA

Critics also complain too much of the work goes to Chinese state-owned companies and the initiative might lead to corruption and environmental damage.

The United States, Russia, Japan and India worry Beijing is eroding their influence. American officials have warned other governments about potential debt problems and China’s possible political motives.

Xi’s government is trying to revive momentum for Belt and Road after the number of new projects slumped last year. That followed official announcements that Chinese lenders would examine borrowers more closely and concerns by some governments about Beijing’s rising influence.

On Friday, Xi promised to embrace international financial, environmental and other standards. He pledged to work more closely with multinational entities and to open projects dominated by Chinese state-owned companies wider to private and foreign contractors.

Despite U.S. opposition, the Chinese government says the number of countries have signed agreements to support the initiative has risen to 115 from 65.

Beijing scored a diplomatic coup in March when Italy, a member of the Group of Seven major economies, signed an agreement to support Belt and Road. On Friday, Putin said Belt and Road fits with Moscow’s initiative to develop a common market with four of its neighbors.

The Chinese leader repeated his promise to adopt “widely accepted rules and standards” and encourage Belt and Road countries to follow global standards for project development, purchasing and operations.

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FILE – Workers inspect railway tracks for the Belt and Road freight rail route linking Chongqing, China, with Duisburg, Germany, at the Dazhou railway station in Sichuan province, China March 14, 2019. VOA

“We welcome the participation of multilateral and international financial institutions in Belt and Road investment and financing, and we encourage third market cooperation,” said Xi. “With involvement of multiple stake holders we can surely deliver benefits to all.”

Xi’s promises on debt, transparency and anti-corruption “will be well received by some BRI countries and outside observers,” Kelsey Broderick of Eurasia Group in a report. Others including the European Union “will wait to see actual implementation.”

Chinese lenders have provided $440 billion in financing for Belt and Road projects, the country’s central bank governor, Yi Gang, said Thursday.

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Beijing is ordering Chinese state-owned companies to pay more attention to local economic development, benefits for local residents and environmental protection, the chairman of the Cabinet agency that oversees national-level government industries said Thursday, according to a transcript on the agency website.

Xi’s government also has tried to defuse tensions with Belt and Road participants by renegotiating debts or offering other concessions. Ethiopia’s government announced Wednesday that Beijing had forgiven interest payments owed by the northeast African nation through the end of 2018. (VOA)