New Silk Roads: diminishing the original Silk Road?

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (eTN) – The nostalgic Silk Road that actually started the travel and tourism industry in the world is facing a crises of identity.

New Silk Roads: diminishing the original Silk Road?

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (eTN) – The nostalgic Silk Road that actually started the travel and tourism industry in the world is facing a crises of identity.

Selling a brand name is easy in today’s corporate economy. Therefore, the United States of America and China both are using the ancient Silk Road name for selling their political ideas. The “New Silk Road” brand is being used these days in the policymaking world as well. The US has introduced a New Silk Road – a combination of modern highways, rail links, and energy pipelines running across Central Asia, as a way of preparing Afghanistan’s economy.

China’s New Silk Road is based on three main corridors across the Eurasian continent, called the Eurasian Land Bridge, which serves as the main arteries from which offshoot rails, highways, and pipelines will be built. The first one is the existing Trans-Siberian Railway running from Vladivostok in Eastern Russia to Moscow and connecting onto Western Europe and Rotterdam; the second runs from Lianyungang port in Eastern China through Kazakhstan in Central Asia and onto Rotterdam; and the third runs from Pearl River Delta in Southeast China through South Asia to Rotterdam. This part one can call the emerging North-South corridor concept of India, Iran, and Russia, if it is materialized. China has almost entered its second main arteries by connecting it with Kazakhstan via its expressway that China is calling the New Silk Road.

There is a major difference between the US-sponsored New Silk Road and the China project. China has totally left out Afghanistan from its project, thinking that this land will remain unstable, while the US project stands on the foundation of promoting Afghanistan and linking developments in South Asia and Central Asia through Afghanistan even at the cost of Tajikistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Turkmenistan. The United States is insisting Pakistan and India get natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan instead of getting natural gas from Iran through Pakistan to India. It is also insisting Pakistan get electricity from Tajikistan through Afghanistan land. For the US, all roads lead to Kabul, but China plans all roads to lead directly to Central Asia, leaving Afghanistan aside. The United States’ New Silk Road left out Iran due to obvious reasons, while the original Silk Road has Iran as its greatest component, with Afghanistan as on off shoot of original Silk Road.

US Congress issued and updated The Silk Road Strategy Act to maintain US influence in Eurasia, while the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) released its concept of its Silk Road as an Eurasian Land Bridge connecting China to Europe across the Eurasian continent.

In the past, representatives from 40 countries participated in a two-day Ministerial Conference on Transport, sponsored by UNESCAP. China, Indonesia, Laos, Korea, Cambodia, Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Iran, and others designed an 81,000 kilometer railway network linking 28 countries through tracks and ferry routes to boost Asia’s economic development and a direct route to European markets. The plan is to develop routes between Asian countries, then expand to its central neighbors, and unto Europe. This was actually a blueprint of the China New Silk Road.

In January 2008, China, Mongolia, Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Germany implemented the first corridor of the Eurasian Land Bridge and agreed to create conditions to pave the way for regular container train service between Europe and Asia. A demonstration container train dubbed “The Beijing-Hamburg Container Express,” carrying a load of Chinese goods, rolled out of one of the logistics bases of the China Railway Container Transport Corp Ltd.

The train covered 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) in 15 days, crossing China, Mongolia, Russia, Belarus, and Poland before arriving in Hamburg, Germany. By comparison, sea transport adds 10,000 kilometers to the journey through the Indian Ocean, and would have taken 40 days to ship goods from China to Germany – more than double the time to send trains through the Eurasian corridor. The original Silk Road also had the component of ferries, as does the New Silk Road of China.

The original Silk Road, or Silk Route, refers to a historical network of interlinking trade routes across the Afro-Eurasian landmass that connected East, South, and Western Asia with the Mediterranean and European world, as well as parts of North and East Africa. The land routes were supplemented by sea routes, which extended from the Red Sea to coastal India, China, and Southeast Asia.

Extending 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers), the Silk Road gets its name from the lucrative Chinese silk trade along it, which began during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE). The central Asian sections of the trade routes were expanded around 114 BCE by the Han dynasty. In the late Middle Ages, transcontinental trade over the land routes of the Silk Road declined as sea trade increased. In recent years, both the maritime and overland Silk Routes are again being used, often closely following the ancient routes.

Trade on the Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of the great civilizations of China, India, Ancient Egypt, Persia, Arabia, and Ancient Rome, and in several respects helped lay the foundations for the modern world. Though silk was certainly the major trade item from China, many other goods were traded, and various technologies, religions, and philosophies traveled along the Silk Routes. China traded silk, teas, and porcelain; while India traded spices, ivory, textiles, precious stones, and pepper; and the Roman Empire exported gold, silver, fine glassware, wine, carpets, and jewels. The main traders during antiquity were the Indian and Bactrian traders, then from the 5th to the 8th century CE, the Sogdian traders, then afterward the Arab and Persian traders.

As it extends westwards from the ancient commercial centers of China, the overland, intercontinental Silk Road divides into the northern and southern routes bypassing the Taklimakan Desert and Lop Nur.

The northern route started at Chang’an (now called Xi’an), the capital of the ancient Chinese Kingdom, which, in the Later Han, was moved further east to Luoyang. The route was defined about the 1st century BCE as Han Wudi put an end to harassment by nomadic tribes.

The northern route traveled northwest through the Chinese province of Gansu from Shaanxi Province, and split into three further routes, two of them following the mountain ranges to the north and south of the Taklamakan Desert to rejoin at Kashgar; and the other going north of the Tian Shan mountains through Turpan, Talgar and Almaty (in what is now southeast Kazakhstan). The routes split again west of Kashgar, with a southern branch heading down the Alai Valley towards ancient Persia starting from Termez (in modern Uzbekistan) and Balkh (Afghanistan), while the other traveled through Kokand in the Fergana Valley (in present-day eastern Uzbekistan) and then west across the Karakum Desert. Both routes joined the main southern route before reaching Merv (Turkmenistan).

A route for caravans, the northern Silk Road brought to China many goods such as dates, saffron powder, and pistachio nuts from Persia; frankincense, aloes, and myrrh from Somalia; sandalwood from India; glass bottles from Egypt; and other expensive and desirable goods from other parts of the world. In exchange, the caravans sent back bolts of silk brocade, lacquer ware, and porcelain. Another branch of the northern route turned northwest past the Aral Sea and north of the Caspian Sea, then and on to the Black Sea.

The southern route was mainly a single route running from China, through the Karakoram, where it persists to modern times as the international paved road connecting Pakistan and China as the Karakoram Highway. It then set off westwards, but with southward spurs enabling the journey to be completed by sea from various points.

Crossing the high mountains, it passed through northern Pakistan, over the Hindu Kush mountains, and into Afghanistan, rejoining the northern route near Merv. From there, it followed a nearly straight line west through mountainous northern Iran, Mesopotamia, and the northern tip of the Syrian Desert to the Levant, where Mediterranean trading ships plied regular routes to Italy, while land routes went either north through Anatolia or south to North Africa. Another branch road traveled from Herat through Susa to Charax Spasinu at the head of the Persian Gulf, across to Petra, and on to Alexandria and other eastern Mediterranean ports from where ships carried cargo to Rome.

Why are the United States and China using the Silk Road name? Because the Silk Road name has never been registered as a brand name by world tourism authorities. It is feared that many New Silk Roads many diminishes the importance and romanticism of the original Silk Road.