China's $1 trillion One Belt One Road (New Silk Road) initiative is unprecedented in size and scope. President Xi Jinping has sealed megaproject deals with 65 countries to construct ports, power stations, rail lines, roads, and all the tunnels and bridges needed to connect them back to mainland China.
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Having recently completed both the world’s most extensive system of expressways and the planet’s longest high speed rail network, China is now looking beyond its borders for opportunities to keep building. President Xi Jinping announced at a recent summit that Beijing has sealed megaproject deals with 65 countries throughout Eurasia and Africa to construct ports, power stations, rail lines, roads, and all the tunnels and bridges needed to connect them back to mainland China.
At a total cost of over $1 trillion, the One Belt, One Road initiative is unprecedented in size and scope. So is the bold funding mechanism: China will use its large, state-run banks to provide most of the financing, a risky move, when you consider how few of the nations in the O.B.O.R. could afford something like this on their own. “Oh,” say the leaders of economically-challenged, underdeveloped Laos, Yemen, or Ethiopia — or the blood-soaked regime of Bashar al-Assad in war-ravaged Syria — “you want to loan us billions of dollars to build some cool stuff in our countries? Of course, why not!?”
China is hard-selling the project as a way to boost its westward connections, an update of the silk road trade route that played a significant role in developing China and the rest of the region 1,000 years ago. But many analysts see this comparison as little more than a marketing pitch.
Al Jazeera clip: “Is the real point of this, East-West service then simply to boost China’s westward connections?
[Pauline Loong] “Well I wouldn’t say simply to boost China’s westward connections, but I totally agree with Charles that it’s more a PR stunt. To call it the “Silk Road,” that’s really brilliant—evocative of romantic camel travels in the past. When, you know, you have these lovely silks and trade and so forth. And it’s good, because look at all the headlines it has been getting, but in practical terms, it’s early days yet.”
[Bryce] Aside from the lessons China learned from its own recent infrastructure boom, Beijing is also drawing inspiration from the American Marshall Plan which financed the rebuilding of Western Europe after it was decimated during the second world war. That program was worth the equivalent of $130 billion in today’s dollars and ensured the US had reliable export markets for the manufactured goods and machinery its growing economy had become dependent on producing.
China’s modern version — first announced in 2013 — is the signature initiative of President Xi Jinping. Several projects have already been completed. Earlier this year London became the 15th European city connected directly to China through an ever-expanding global rail system, meaning freight trains loaded with goods can now arrive after a 12,000km journey all the way from the east coast of the landmass.
And, at a cost of $4 billion, China also just completed Africa’s first transnational electric railway, which runs 466 miles from Djibouti to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Chinese companies designed the system, built the line, and supplied the train cars...