China’s Silk Road to Europe

China has opened a new transport corridor from Western China to the Atlantic running the expansive breadth of the Eurasian land mass.

Written by Raja Mandala | New Delhi | Published: July 2, 2012 6:51 pm

While there is much talk in America and India on building a New Silk Road between Central Asia and the Subcontinent through Afghanistan and Pakistan,China has opened a new transport corridor from Western China to the Atlantic running the expansive breadth of the Eurasian land mass.

More than two millennia ago,the Silk Road was a vast overland network that connected China with the Mediterranean. Branches of the Silk Road connected the Subcontinent with the trade flows between the two other ancient civilizations.

Last week,Beijing dispatched six trucks on a trial run from Helgus,the biggest land port in far Western China on the border with Kazakhstan to France. By the end of the year,nearly 50 trucks are expected to move every day from Helgus to Western Europe via Central Asia and Russia.

Connecting China’s heartland on the eastern sea board to its far flung territories has always been a major strategic objective of its communist rulers. This objective acquired a new momentum in 1999 when Beijing launched its ambitious West region development strategy.

China invested hundreds of billion dollars modernising its road networks in Xinjiang,Tibet and Yunnan and extending them beyond borders to the neighbouring countries. As part of this initiative,China developed the South Xinjiang Railway that extended the rail network to Kashgar just across the northwestern frontiers of the Subcontinent.

It also built the spectacular Tibet railway that connected Lhasa and is on its way to Nepal. China has plans to build a railway line connecting its Yunnan province to Myanmar.

Building an overland transport corridor to the Atlantic is a logical extension of Beijing’s strategy amidst the booming trade between China and Europe. Currently all the trade between the two regions takes place via the long sea routes.

In contrast,India’s efforts to develop overland transport corridors have faltered amidst Delhi’s uncertain relations with Pakistan and Bangladesh,which constrain India’s physical access to the West and the East.

The unending conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s reluctance to provide overland transit to goods from India makes many plans for reviving the Silk Road in the Subcontinent a distant dream.

Bangladesh has been more open to providing transit to India. Dhaka,however,pulled back after the chief minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee scuttled the Teesta water sharing accord that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to sign in Dhaka last September.

Tied down by the bitter legacies of Partition,India will have to work ever harder to connect the Subcontinent to itself and the regions beyond it. Meanwhile China is well on its way to transform the Eurasian geopolitical space.

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