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The Return of Landlubbers

Silk Routes versus Sea Lanes

The Chinese strategy is to build rail and road links over the Eurasian landmass to escape the vice-like grip over maritime trade routes exercised by the United States and its allies. An exploration of the possible consequences, drawing on history, for China, the Western powers, India and the global trade and military architecture.

Grapes from Astana can reach Amritsar in just 28 hours by train through Pakistan—a fact recently reinforced by an economist from Tajikistan1 in his talk about land routes connecting Central Asia to India. A few years ago, the idea itself would have been relegated as impractical to a mind conditioned to think of international trade as synonymous with ships and sea lanes of communication (SLOC). Until, of course, the Chinese proposed their signature idea of “One-Belt-One-Road” (OBOR) which is fast gaining currency.

For long, the Chinese story was devoid of ideas that could develop an emotional rapport with the world. OBOR has injected a new dimension to the Chinese growth narrative. The primary aim of OBOR is to connect China with Europe through Central Asia and Russia. The purpose is to limit the maritime component in the global supply chain and thereby reduce dependence on the international merchant fleet of bulk carriers and tankers.

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