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China Looks to Open New Silk Roads

A visitor walks past the statues of the characters from the Chinese novel 'Journey to the West' Thursday March 15, 2007 in Lanzhou, China. Lanzhou was an important town along with the ancient Silk Road connecting China and Europe.
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In recent months, Chinese officials have been campaigning for the establishment of two new trade routes they call the Silk Roads. One of the routes would be a land-based road. The other would be for trade ships at sea.

Earlier this year, China held what it called a Silk Road Economic Belt Media Cooperation meeting in Beijing. Chinese state media said the goal of the talks was to “rejuvenate the Silk Road by encouraging interregional development.”

In ancient times, the Silk Road was a series of roads that linked the major economies of Asia to trading partners in Europe and the Mediterranean.

Alice Ekman follows China issues at the French Institute of International Relations.

“We have seen repetition or an insistence on the concept of a maritime Silk Road and a Silk Road economic belt that may announce development of a specific strategy or at least an emphasis on constructing a new axis that may guide this regional policy.”

Highway near Pol-I-Kumari, Afghanistan, along the one time Silk Road route.
Highway near Pol-I-Kumari, Afghanistan, along the one time Silk Road route.

Chinese officials say the land-based Silk Road would go through Central Asia to northern Iran and through Iraq, Syria and Turkey, ending in Europe. The other would go through the Malacca Strait to India, Kenya and then north around the Horn of Africa, through the Mediterranean Sea. It would meet the land-based Silk Road in Venice, Italy.

China’s ancient leaders worked hard to protect the trade routes. Experts say China will also work hard to make the new routes successful.

Alice Ekman says China is increasingly using its power through what she calls hard moves, such as territorial disputes in the South China Sea. She says it also has used soft moves, such as increased aid to Africa.

Steven Sabey works at the United Nations Development Program. He says China’s international aid is increasingly helping other countries through job creation.

“So I think what we’ve seen is a lot of governments gradually saying, you know ‘the things you’ve done have been really helpful, you know, setting up the agricultural training centers, or bringing out the doctors, building the, you know, building whatever it was, the government buildings, etc.’ But we now would like you to be doing things that have a more direct impact on grass roots, on poverty reduction at the grass roots. And so that message is coming through. And now, now the question for (our) Chinese counterparts is not whether to do that, it’s how?”

China is also reaching free-trade agreements with other countries. And it is calling for greater use of its money in some countries along trade routes. The increase in ties between China and these countries will not only increase trade, but will help China’s energy security.

But some observers say just because some Chinese officials are working to re-create the Silk Roads does not mean China has an organized plan. Barry Sautman is an associate professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

“It seems to me there are strategies rather than a strategy. That is to say, in China there are a whole lot of people proposing strategies, and there is no one strategy adopted by the central government.”

He says some of China’s policies are based on competing ideas on how best to stay involved with the rest of the world.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

*This report was written from a story by Shannon Van Sant in Beijing.

China Looks to Open New Silk Roads

China Looks to Open New Silk Roads

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