Silk Road map

Silk Road Threat

The mysterious and romantic Silk Road, which sadly lost its trading mojo after Vasco da Gama opened up a sea lane to Asia in the 15th century, could soon come roaring back into the commercial jungle. The president of China, Xi Jinping, wants to transform it with a colossal investment into a cohesive economic area boasting new infrastructure, more cultural exchanges and broader trade. He calls it One Belt, One Road. The potential to develop the vast petroleum and other resources of Central Asia are probably the catalyst.

What more natural question can be asked than how will the rest of the world regard this? On the one hand, such a large expenditure injection into the region would ultimately benefit the global economy, which needs some hemoglobin. On the other hand, scope would exist for China to push its influence over the Pamir Mountains into the ‘Stans’, a reach which may arouse suspicion.


It would be excusable to wonder whether China is quietly laminating local benefits to its foreign policy objectives as it has traditionally tended to do, expanding its footprint by stealth, no military force being necessary. In his book, On China, Kissinger gives a metaphor to explain this type of approach. It is the ancient board game of Go (Weiqi in Mandarin).


A contest of strategy and imagination, Go starts with an empty board where two players alternate in placing stones (black for one and white for the other). The object is to surround more territory than the opponent, thereby gaining hegemony. While stones can be taken in some cases, the strategy is principally based on subtle and non-violent moves (unlike in chess). Originating three thousand years ago, it appealed to the scholarly gentry and particularly to the mandarin class.


Huge changes could come to the Silk Road from One Belt, One Road. No doubt cultural treasures like the Buddhist caves will be preserved, but less prominent features could be sacrificed. People interested in the great connector’s traditional character would be well advised to visit sooner than later. The descriptions of places along the Road I wrote in my recently published historical novel #tortoiseinasia soon may no longer apply.