Directed and financed by China under the name 'One Belt, One Road', and now 'the Belt and Road initiative', the historic Silk Road is about to be reborn on a much more comprehensive and global scale, connecting the Chinese economy by land and sea to central Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The final shape of this gigantic infrastructure network is open to speculation – and so is the price tag.
Chinese president Xi Jinping is keen to stress the development aspect of the project for the countries involved. However, the biggest beneficiaries of this adventurous vision will be the Chinese companies who are already being awarded most of the 900 megaprojects. The Chinese infrastructure investment strategy is already well known in Africa, although a Gallup poll revealed last year that local governments don’t have many positive things to say about collaboration with the Chinese. Financing huge infrastructure plans according to the preconditions set by Chinese companies not only indirectly subsidises the Chinese government, but leaves little room for positive spillover effects for the host countries.
While the first train arrived in Tehran in February after crossing Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, proving that the grand Silk Road vision is becoming a reality, it will be up to the governments of the participating countries to analyse the development benefits and risks of these ventures for themselves.
Despite the possible mistakes and unforeseeable risks, it is unlikely that a partial or total failure of this vision would result in the kind of regional unrest caused by the 'destroy and rebuild' strategy of other global powers in the Middle East and Africa region. History shows that connecting cultures through business has always brought peace, wealth and prosperity as long as the golden rule of 'win-win' is respected by all parties involved.
Mazdak Rafaty is managing partner of Ludwar International Consultancy and SME adviser to the joint Emirati-German Chamber of Commerce. Email: email@example.com