“The New Silk Roads” – The Present and Future of the World

The Silk Road was the network of trade routes which began as long ago as 200 BCE, linking China to Southern Europe and named after the lucrative sale of silk developed by the Han Dynasty. The Chinese also traded high value luxury goods that were easier to transport: porcelain, spices, teas, sugar and salt. In exchange they bought goods like cotton and wool, together with ivory, gold, and silver. The Silk Road was also a channel for cultural exchanges: religion, philosophy, science and technological “advances” like the use of gunpowder and papermaking.

Peter Frankopan’s book “The New Silk Roads: The Present and Future of the World” is apparently an extended appendix to his highly praised major academic work, “The Silk Roads: A New History of the World”, inspired by the desire to broaden the outlook of a somewhat inward-looking, complacent North American and European world.

“The New Silk Roads” is designed to alert readers to the recent rapid and significant changes in the countries lying across these old trade routes, which will inevitably alter the balance of power to the disadvantage of countries like Britain and the United States, now forced to realise that their periods of world domination have proven transient. In the latest swing of the pendulum, China has since 2013 invested heavily in the “Belt and Road Initiative” involving railways and highways, power grids, construction material, vehicles, real estate, education and telecommunications.

Intended ” to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future”, the project with a target completion date of 2049 is also seen as a strategy for world domination. Trade along this new Silk Road using both land and parallel sea routes is expected to account for over 40% of world activity. In the process, in regions still torn by wars and marked by poverty and under-development, there is growing evidence of cooperation between central Asian Republics like the joint ventures between state-owned oil companies in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.

My problem with Peter Frankopan’s book is that it resembles a series of hastily written newspaper articles cobbled together in a mixture of dissociated facts which are quite hard to absorb without analysis or much context, and reference to political situations at the time of writing which will soon be out-of-date, if not already, such as Brexit negotiations or the presidency of Donald Trump. A few maps would have been useful.

There is the potential for several books here. Although I appreciate the value of a book which gives an overview and appreciation of the complexity of relationships between countries, there is an art to achieving a sufficient degree of analysis without bombarding readers with examples.

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