The railway line from Urumqi to Kashgar runs along on of the ancient silk routes © Getty Images
The railway line from Urumqi to Kashgar runs along on of the ancient silk routes © Getty Images

Why China is driving a new silk road

18 January 2016

Stretching thousands of miles, with 63% of the world’s population on its routes, China’s new Silk Road could be set to shift the world’s centre of economic gravity.

More than 2,000 years ago, the Silk Road opened a network of trade routes linking China with Europe and changed the world forever. Causing a seismic shift in cultural understanding, it developed civilisations through all points in between: Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and beyond. Today, a new Silk Road looks set to change the world again, as vast quantities of concrete are poured and rails, tarmac and pipelines are laid to build, at China’s behest, a vastly expanded transport and trade network.

Officially called One Belt, One Road (OBOR), this new Silk Road will take two forms: an enormous railway and a major maritime route (see map on p36). For this vision to be fulfilled, immense challenges – geographic, political and social – must be overcome. The schemes traverse remote and unruly regions, contested waters and rival spheres of influence.

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