Strategic Aspects of the New Silk Road Concept and Global Transportation Lanes

_ Alexander Nagorny, Vice-President, Association of Political Scientists (ASPEK), Deputy Editor, Newspaper «Tomorrow». Report at the 5th Workshop “Developement of Transport and Infrastructure in Eurasia” within the IIASA research project “Challenges and Opportunities of Economic Integration Within a Wider European and Eurasian Space”. Laxenburg, 15 – 16 September 2015.

Problems and prospects for the coming years

1. Transportation Passageways in Retrospect

The subject of my short presentation is the role of strategy planning and, consequently, military—political factors in the development of global transportation lanes in the context of the three world-powers “triangular” relationships. Our Chinese friends refer to these as «developmental belts». But the terminology itself is subject to broader discussions and interpretations as well as profound changes in the course of history in the framework of planetary economic development.

To understand better today’s specific problems and conditions surrounding plans of transportation corridors, let us address more closely the ancient times when such work was done by Chinese merchants who blazed pioneering trails to the Middle East and Europe. That activity involved immediately political and warfare struggle. Those transportation passageways were trade routes linking different regions lying far away from one another. Of course, apart from purely commercial motives some other motives and interests were involved too. Naturally, the routes emerged and developed in a chaotic manner. The silk road, for example, as well as other ancient trade passageways were “paved” mainly through individual efforts and aspirations of merchants seeking bigger profits. But as soon as the routes took some initial shape, there came up various security concerns. Wild tribes would attack caravans and overtook commanding heights on their paths whereas merchants had to turn over for help to chieftain tribes or nobility in city-states situated along the routes. Thus, security concerns and strategic considerations became essential early in the process. Strategic planning cropped up as inseparable from the process. At the same time, there came up struggle for control. Not much has changed since then, which is illustrated by, say, today’s case of the Ukraine.

Naturally, with the development of states in history they all engaged in rivalries for trade and finance making security-related aspects of trade an important part of diplomatic activities and military planning. Transportation routes became, in a sense, even more important than commerce and trade as such. This was especially true for the Russian state. Russian tsars and Soviet leaders paid special attention to the country’s eastward expansion on land up to the Pacific Ocean and to eastward expansion in the Arctic. The main lines of expansion, thus, went eastward.

2. The US-Russia-China Triangle and Transportation Lanes

The first main eastward thrust of Russia came toward the end of the 19th century when, under count Witte, the Trans-Siberian rail mainline was launched, later amplified with the East China Railway (“KVZHD”). The second stage of expansion same in the Soviet period, when railway lines were built from central Russia to Central Asia and to Norilsk and when the construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline (“BAM”) was launched. Those two expanding drives were motivated mainly by military-political considerations and security interests rather than economic and commercial ones, even though the latter were not inessential of course. That approach turned out to be quite correct, when enormous and various natural resources were discovered later in Siberia and the Far East. And history repeats itself today in the current ongoing power struggle within the big Triangle of the predominant world superpower (USA) and the two “minor” world powers (PRC and Russia). The ongoing competition for political zones of influence and world leadership defines, in the final analysis, approaches to economic activities and construction of developmental corridors. Since Russia has lost its global power ambitions and communist appeal whereas the PRC is still incapable of global-power claims ideologically, financially, and culturally, the USA still dominates the global scene in all respects. Accordingly, the interests of the two “minor” world powers, in terms of their relations toward Washington, have become similar, if not identical. Washington has turned out to be a real and potential threat to both of them.

In this framework, all schemes and plans pertaining to transportation lines between Russia and China are being elaborated and will be implemented based mainly on such motives, whatever both capitals may claim otherwise. Those will not be purely commercial enterprises but first and foremost undertakings that strengthen Sino-Russian security relationships.

Now let us look into strategic interests and goals of each of the troika in relation to each other.

PRC (Communist China):

1.Preserving its growth with political and ideological stability which depends mostly on raw material supplies and fulfillment of large projects in coming 8-12 years. Struggle with world financial and economic crisis.

2.Keeping open and secure Pacific ocean routes for raw materials supply which are totally controlled by US Navy supremacy.

3.Creating additional mainland direction of supplies from the north and Central Asia with political stability in adjacent areas.

4.Making back yard of China territory and the rear north as secure as possible which requires good relations with Russia.

5.Repelling ideological US pressure for destabilizing domestic political system, irradicating communist ideology and dividing the country.

The Russian Federation:

1. Preserving stability in the country under mounting pressure of the West and the USA which demands a large increase in relations with China. Strugglling with world economic crisis and its dependency on oil and other raw materials.

2. Stability and peace of the longest borderline with PRC which can not defended otherwise than with nuclear capacity.

3. Change the Western financial and economic infusion for the Chinese.

4. Political and diplomatic support in the struggle against political isolation.

5. Repelling ideological pressure of the USA to destabilize and fragment the country through political process.

United States:

1. Keeping present dominant role in world politics, world finances and economy with maximum possible increase in all above mentioned spheres which requires elimination of every structure or the state which are uncontrollable at present (politically, economically, militarily e.t.) Struggling with the problems of its own financial system that makes the core of world financial crisis.

2. Keeping its influence on major geographical most important routes and straits by military and political means.

3. Keeping its military and technological predominance in the world

4. Preseving US dollar as the world’s major and exclusive currency which allows Washington to consume more than it produce whine increasing its debt to abnormal heights at the expanse of the rest of the world.

Just simple comparison of the above-mentioned items shows the deep coherence of Russian-Sino relations as against the American position with small chances to accommodate each other in the near future. Such accommodation would require a huge turn over in American assessments and even values. Since the crisis will to all probability worsen then the large Sino-Russian projects will drastically facilitate their economic positions irrespective of the US stance.

And roughly speaking we have two contrasting variants for moving forward in international relations as well as in creating global network of transportation corridors: either conflicting model with Sino-Russian block as against the American predominant influence in the Pacific and the world on the whole. Or the other variant consisting in USA reassessing its present strategy of undermining zones of traditional interests belonging to Communist China and Russia. In other words Washington can either join Russia and China in super large projects if it stops its hegemonic global policy. Or Russia and China will move in developing large transportation projects by themselves. Neither Russia nor China close the door in front of the USA and international participation but it can hardly happen with current positions and principles of American foreign policy.

Some kind of joint effort between big triangular powers is possible and positive since only super big projects can save our world from mounting regional conflicts intermingling into a world war as it happened twice in former century.

But this turn of the events where USA will skip its offensive policy and join PRC and Russia in their work to create a new continental network of transportation system stretching from China seas to Atlantic in Europe is next to impossible. Whereas the first scenario is highly probable as we see the evolving picture of international conflict spreading from the Ukraine to the Middle East and further.

3. New silk road concept and its strategic aspects for Russia and the ATR

Logically speaking we can assume that the whole concept of of new transportation corridors was reborn last two years under decisive influence of strategic considerations. To a larger extent the deep interest of Chinese establishment to the silk road concept was formed as an offspring of the future international conflict evolving between USA and China with Russian participation. And thus the triangular relationships between Russia-PRC-and the USA will come to the frontline in the nearest future. I am pretty much sure that the last party Congress of CPCU was putting forward this concept of New Silk Road and 7 belts of development under these two motives. One: to reorient export industries to large projects domestically and internationally. Secondly: winning the economic and technological completion over the USA. Namely because these tendencies PRC moved quickly to form instruments for carrying out this policy line: Asian Bank of Infrastructural Investment (100 billion dollars), Fund for Silk Road (40 biillions) and some other financial institutions and projects of smaller scale.

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Right now plans are being discussed around two major railroad lines through Central Asia (Kazahstan e.t.) and through Russian Federation. To a certain extent they are competitive. You may see it at the map given above with already existing lines and planned. But they will both find their places. I think what is more important consists in future construction of oil and gas tubes lanes which will go on vertical mode from north to south providing grounds for the development of new areas in Siberia. And lastly the Chinese are interested in joining at an early stage in the development of North Arctic route around Siberia and territories in Arctic areas.

An increasing pressure of the west block under USA command against Russia and partly against China created very favorable conditions for such projects and ultimately showed the genuine necessity for Russia-China political, diplomatic and economic including infra structural cooperation.

Thus, this year saw unprecedented exchange of top visits between Russian and Chinese leaders and bureaucrats engaged in massive preparation work for joint projects. First and for most connected with railway routes which will connect Moscow and Kazan and further to Urals and then to China territory up to Beijing. Besides smaller road will be built in the Far East also facilitating two sides cooperation. For example, the route through Tumangan from – China territory to Passiet and Zarubina ports. They are already functioning but at a low level. The full capacity may bring a total turnover equal to 7-9 billion dollars.

The decisive energy impulse to the development of transportation corridors by President Putin who announced 16 Far east seaports as open ports after the regulatory lines of Singapore which showed that Russia was going to keep open door policy not regarding cold war practices of the United States .

In conclusion it is possible to assert that Sino-Russian cooperation in the field of transportation corridors will come across many hardships and problems which will be resolved under the impact of security factors.

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