New Silk Road should boost China in Mideast
BEIRUT - China will depend on Middle Eastern oil supplies to bolster its economic build-up, so it’s not surprising that Beijing is bending over backward to keep all sides in the region happy, particularly energy-rich Saudi Arabia and its arch-foe Iran.
Both countries, but particularly Iran, will play significant roles in the new Silk Road, a modern version of the trading system that flourished in the Middle Ages to link east and west.
Beijing’s $900 billion, multitrack plan is intended to champion globalisation, a system that once-reclusive China has embraced in recent years as it emerged from behind the Bamboo Curtain to put it on the road to being a major trading power.
Work has already begun on some elements of the plan, unveiled in 2015. It is officially labelled the Belt and Road Initiative.
It envisages that China, long a global backwater with a population of 1.38 billion locked away from the rest of the world by a leadership that feared contact with the liberal West would contaminate the world’s most populous country, will build new ties with the West.
It will do this via high-speed rail links from Beijing to Brussels, a network of super-highways spanning a score of countries and a maritime sector that would open the riches of Central Asia, long cut off from the West by Soviet paranoia and ready to make itself part of a new and freer era.
The energy-rich Arab world, lying between Europe and Asia, is expected to play a major role in bringing East and West together.
“For this purpose, China needs to develop infrastructure such as bridges, roads, railways and ports across Central Asia and the Middle East to facilitate trade in both directions,” observed Cesar Castilla of the independent Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm.
The Chinese initiative might help improve Iran’s fractious relations with the West, particularly in Europe, which is more inclined to do business with what many regard as a rogue state.
“Iran, in particular, is a linchpin of such plans,” Castilla stressed.