The Belt and Road Initiative comes to Turkey in a big way, but the West is too distracted to notice or care
A hundred years from now, Donald Trump’s looming impeachment and Syria’s unending travails will be long forgotten. But just as we still celebrated the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869 without remembering who ruled Egypt at the time (Isma’il Pasha), China’s relentless and historically significant push to establish new trading links between East and West—links that promise to revolutionize the world trading system no less than the Suez Canal—will come to define our era.
Two recent developments highlight how the new world is being invented by the Chinese—and how it will affect the Middle East and central Asia.
Last month, while Congress busied itself with impeachment hearings, a mammoth Chinese cargo train arrived in Turkey en route to the heart of Europe. It will be remembered as the first freight train to pass from China across central Asia and under the Bosphorus Strait, using the Marmaray tunnel as part of China’s historic Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Like the Suez Canal in its day, this “Iron Silk Road” through central Asia is a time saver, with the added bonus of circumventing sea routes now controlled by the West. It will reduce the transportation time between China and Turkey from one month to 12 days, while the entire journey from Xi’an to Prague in the heart of Europe will take only 18 days, half the time of a similar journey by sea and at similar cost.
The Chinese revival of a 21st-century Silk Road reflects the emerging transformation of the central Asian nations along this route, which have long been eclipsed by a Western trading and commercial system that China is now challenging.
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