One Road”

The New Silk Roads and the Rise of the ‘Chinese Dream’

chinese flagsgc2smFrom the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Originally published in Counterpunch on February 26, 2016

 


Beijing is advancing a Chinese-led globalization that will challenge U.S. hegemony both regionally and globally.

Earlier last week, the first Chinese commercial train, with 32 containers, arrived in Tehran after a less than 14-day journey from the massive warehouse of Yiwu in Zhejiang, eastern China, crossing Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

This is a 10,400 km-long trip. Crucially, it’s also no less than 30 days shorter compared to the sea route from Shanghai to Bandar Abbas. And we’re not even talking about high-speed rail yet – which in a few years will be installed all along from eastern China to Iran and onward to Turkey and, crucially, Western Europe, enabling 500-plus container trains to crisscross Eurasia in a flash.

When Mohsen Pour Seyed Aghaei, president of Iran Railways, remarked that, “countries along the Silk Road are striving to revive the ancient network of trade routes,” he was barely touching the surface in what is an earth-shattering process.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Iran only last month – the first global leader to do so after nuclear sanctions were lifted. Then the heirs to the former Silk Road powers – imperial Persia and imperial China – duly signed agreements to boost bilateral trade to $600 billion over the next decade.

And that is just the beginning.

Trade Wars and Air/Sea Battles

To frame the earth-shattering process in a strategic perspective, from the Chinese point of view, it’s enlightening to revert to a very important speech delivered last summer by General Qiao Liang at the University of Defense, China’s top military school. It’s as if Liang’s formulations would be coming from the mouth of the dragon – Xi – himself.

Beijing’s leadership assesses that the U.S. won’t get into a war against China within the next 10 years. Pay attention to the time frame: 2025 is when Xi expects China to have turned into a “moderately prosperous” society as part of the renewed Chinese Dream. And Xi for his part would have fulfilled his mandate – arguably basking in glory once enjoyed only by the Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping.

The secret for the next 10 years, as General Liang framed it, is for China to overhaul its economy (a work in progress) and internationalize the yuan. That also implies striking an Asian-wide free trade pact – which is obviously not the Chinese-deprived American TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), but the Chinese-driven RCEP.

General Liang directly connects the internationalization of the yuan to something way beyond the New Silk Roads, or One Belt, One Road, according to the official Chinese denomination. He talks in terms of a Northeast Asia free trade agreement, but in fact what’s in play, and what China aims at, is the trans-Asia free trade agreement.

As a consequence, a “ripple effect” will divide the world:

“If only a third of the global money is in the hands of the dollar, how can the U.S. currency maintain its leadership? Could a hollowed out United States, left without monetary leadership, still be a global leader?”

So the decline of the U.S. dollar is the key issue, according to the Beijing leadership, of China’s “recent troubles” under which loom “the shadow of the United States.”

Enter the U.S. “pivot to Asia.” Beijing clearly interprets its goal as “to balance out the momentum of China’s rising power today.” And that leads to the discussion of the former AirSea Battle concept (it has now “evolved” into another mongrel), which General Liang qualifies as an “intractable dilemma” for the U.S.

“The strategy primarily reflects the fact that the U.S. military today is weakening,” said Liang. “U.S. troops used to think that it could use airstrikes and the Navy against China. Now the U.S. finds neither the Air Force nor the Navy by themselves can gain advantages against China.”

Only this previous paragraph would be enough to put in perspective the whole, tumultuous cat and mouse game of Chinese advances and American bullying across the South China Sea. Beijing is very much aware that Washington cannot “offset some advantages the Chinese military has established, such as the ability to destroy space systems or attack aircraft carriers. The United States must then come up with 10 years of development and a more advanced combat system to offset China’s advantages. This means that Americans may schedule a war for 10 years later.”

Have War, Will Plan

So, no major war up to 2025, which leaves Xi and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership free to advance like a juggernaut. Observers who follow the moves in Beijing in real time qualify it as “breathtaking “ or “a sight to behold.” The Beltway remains mostly clueless.

At the onset of the Chinese Year of the Monkey, the CCP under Xi’s orders released a sensational cartoon hip hop video that went mega-viral. Talk about Chinese soft power; that’s how Xi’s platform for his 10-year term, up to 2023, was announced to the masses.

Enter the Four Comprehensives: 1) to develop a “moderately prosperous society” (translated into a GDP per capita of US$10,000); 2) Keep deepening reforms (especially of the economic model); 3) Govern by the rule of law (that’s tricky; but essentially means the law as interpreted by the CCP); 4) Eliminate corruption from the CCP (a long work in progress).

None of this, of course, implies following a Western model; on the contrary, it shows off Beijing counteracting Western soft power on every domain.

And then, inevitably, all roads, sooner or later, lead to One Belt, One Road. And yet General Liang sees it as way beyond a globalization process, “the truly American globalization,” which he qualifies as “the globalization of dollars.” He – and the Beijing leadership – do not see the China-driven One Belt, One Road as “an integration into the global economic system. To say that the dollar will continue its globalization and integration is a misunderstanding. As a rising great power, One Belt, One Road is the initial stage of China globalization.”

Radically ambitious does not even begin to describe it. So as much as One Belt, One Road is the external vector of the Chinese Dream, bent on integrating the whole of Eurasia on a trade and commerce “win-win” basis, it is also “by far the best strategy China can put forward. It is a hedge strategy against the eastward move of the U.S.”

There we have it – mirroring what I have been writing since One Belt, One Road was launched. This is China’s “hedge strategy of turning its back to the U.S. eastward shift: You push in one direction; I go in the opposite direction. Didn’t you pressure me to it? I go west, neither to avoid you nor because I am afraid, but to very cleverly defuse the pressure you gave me on the east.” Welcome to China pivoting West.

Feel Free to Encircle Yourself

General Liang, predictably, prefers to concentrate on the military, not commercial aspects. And he could not spell it out more clearly.

“Given that China’s sea power is still weak, the first choice of One Belt, One Road should be to compete on land,” he said. Liang frames the top terrain of competition as the “belt” – overland New Silk Road routes; and that leads to worrying, still unanswered questions about the Chinese army “expeditionary capabilities.”

General Liang does not expand on this competition – arguably with the U.S. – along the New Silk Road belt. What he believes to be certain though, is “that in choosing China as its rival, America chose the wrong opponent and the wrong direction. Because in the future, the real challenge to the United States is not China; it is the United States itself, and the United States will bury itself.”

And how will that happen? Because of financial capitalism; it’s as if Gen. Liang has been reading Michael Hudson and Paul Craig Roberts (as he certainly does). He notes how “through the virtual economy, the United States has already eaten up all the profits of capitalism.”

And what about that “burial”? Well, it will be orchestrated by “the Internet, big data, and the cloud” as they are “pushed to the extreme” and will “gain a life of their own and oppose the government of the U.S.”

Who would have thought it? It’s as if the Chinese don’t even have to play go anymore. They just need to let the adversary encircle itself.


PepePepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Empire of Chaos preparing for more fireworks in 2016

f18 superhornetgc2smOff the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Originally published in Ron December 24, 2016

 


In his seminal 'Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization,' Bryan Ward-Perkins writes, "Romans before the fall were as certain as we are today that their world would continue forever… They were wrong. We would be wise not to repeat their complacency.”
 

The Empire of Chaos, today, is not about complacency. It’s about hubris – and fear. Ever since the start of the Cold War the crucial question has been who would control the great trading networks of Eurasia – or the “heartland”, according to Sir Halford John Mackinder (1861–1947), the father of geopolitics.

We could say that for the Empire of Chaos, the game really started with the CIA-backed coup in Iran in 1953, when the US finally encountered, face to face, that famed Eurasia crisscrossed for centuries by the Silk Road(s), and set out to conquer them all.

Only six decades later, it’s clear there won’t be an American Silk Road in the 21st century, but rather, just like its ancient predecessor, a Chinese one. Beijing’s push for what it calls “One Belt, One Road” is inbuilt in the 21st century conflict between the declining empire and Eurasia integration. Key subplots include perennial NATO expansion and the empire’s obsession in creating a war zone out of the South China Sea.

As the Beijing-Moscow strategic partnership analyses it, the oligarchic elites who really run the Empire of Chaos are bent on the encirclement of Eurasia – considering they may be largely excluded from an integration process based on trade, commerce and advanced communication links.

Beijing and Moscow clearly identify provocation after provocation, coupled with relentless demonization. But they won’t be trapped, as they’re both playing a very long game.

Russian President Vladimir Putin diplomatically insists on treating the West as “partners”. But he knows, and those in the know in China also know, these are not really “partners”. Not after NATO’s 78-day bombing of Belgrade in 1999. Not after the purposeful bombing of the Chinese Embassy. Not after non-stop NATO expansionism. Not after a second Kosovo in the form of an illegal coup in Kiev. Not after the crashing of the oil price by Gulf petrodollar US clients. Not after the Wall Street-engineered crashing of the ruble. Not after US and EU sanctions. Not after the smashing of Chinese A shares by US proxies on Wall Street. Not after non-stop saber rattling in the South China Sea. Not after the shooting down of the Su-24.

It’s only a thread away

A quick rewind to the run-up towards the downing of the Su-24 is enlightening. Obama met Putin. Immediately afterwards Putin met Khamenei. Sultan Erdogan had to be alarmed; a serious Russian-Iranian alliance was graphically announced in Teheran. That was only a day before the downing of the Su-24.

France’s Hollande met Obama. But then Hollande met Putin. Erdogan was under the illusion he fabricated the perfect pretext for a NATO war, to be launched following Article 5 of the NATO Charter. Not by accident failed state Ukraine was the only country to endorse – in haste – the downing of the Su-24. Yet NATO itself recoiled – somewhat in horror; the empire was not ready for nuclear war.

At least not yet. Napoleon knew history turns on a slender thread. As much as Cold War 2.0 remains in effect we were, and will remain, just a thread away from nuclear war.

Whatever happens in the so-called Syrian peace process the proxy war between Washington and Moscow will continue. Hubristic US Think-Tank Land  can’t see it any other way.

For Exceptionalist neocons and neoliberalcons alike, the only digestible endgame is a partition of Syria. The Erdogan system would gobble up the north. Israel would gobble up the oil-rich Golan Heights. And House of Saud proxies would gobble up the eastern desert.

Russia literally bombed all these elaborate plans to ashes because the next step after partition would feature Ankara, Riyadh – and a “leading from behind” Washington – pushing a Jihadi Highway all the way north to the Caucasus as well as Central Asia and Xinjiang (there are already at least 300 Uyghurs fighting for ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.) When all else fails, nothing like a Jihadi Highway plunged as a dagger in the body of Eurasia integration.

In the Chinese front, whatever “creative” provocations the Empire of Chaos may come up with, they won’t derail Beijing’s aims in the South China Sea – that vast basin crammed with unexplored oil and gas wealth and prime naval highway to and from China. Beijing is inevitably configuring itself by 2020 as a formidable haiyang qiangguo – a naval power.

Washington may supply $250 million in military “aid” to Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia for the next two years, but that’s mostly irrelevant. Whatever “creative” imperial ideas would have to take into account, for instance, the DF-21D “carrier killer” ballistic missile, with a 2,500 km range and capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

On the economic front, Washington-Beijing will remain prime proxy war territory. Washington pushes the TPP – or NATO on trade pivoting to Asia? It’s still a Sisyphean task, because the 12 member nations need to ratify it, not least the US featuring an extremely hostile Congress.

Against this American one-trick pony, Xi Jinping, for his part, is deploying a complex three-pronged strategy; China’s own counterpunch to the TPP, the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP); the immensely ambitious “One Belt, One Road”; and the means to finance a tsunami of projects, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) – the Chinese counter-punch to the World Bank and the US-Japan-controlled Asian Development Bank (ADB)

For Southeast Asia, for instance, the numbers tell the story. Last year, China was the top ASEAN partner, to the tune of $367 billion. This will grow exponentially with One Belt, One Road – which will absorb $200 billion in Chinese investment up to 2018.

Heart of Darkness – revisited

Prospects for Europe are nothing but bleak. French-Iranian researcher Farhad Khosrokhavar has been one of the few who identified the crux of the problem. A jihadi reserve army across Europe will continue to feed on batallions of excluded youth in poor inner cities. There is no evidence EU neoliberalcons will be fostering sound socio-economic policies to extract these alienated masses from the ghettos, employing new forms of socialization.

So the escape route will continue to be a virus-like version of Salafi-jihadism, sold by wily, PR-savvy profiteers as a symbol of resistance; the only counter-ideology available on the market. Khosrokhavar defined it as the neo-umma – an “effervescent community that never existed historically”, but now openly inviting any young European, Muslim or otherwise, afflicted by an identity crisis.

In parallel, on our way into a full 15 years of the endless neocon war against independent states in the Middle East, the Pentagon will be turbo-charging an unlimited expansion of some of its existing bases – from Djibouti in the Horn of Africa to Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan – into “hubs”.

From sub-Saharan Africa to Southwest Asia, expect a hub boom, all of them merrily hosting Special Forces; the operation was described by Pentagon supremo Ash “Empire of Whining” Carter as “essential”“Because we cannot predict the future, these regional nodes – from Moron, Spain to Jalalabad, Afghanistan – will provide forward presence to respond to a range of crises, terrorist and other kinds. These will enable unilateral crisis response, counter-terror operations, or strikes on high-value targets.”

It’s all here: unilateral Exceptionalistan in action against anyone who dares to defy imperial diktats.

From Ukraine to Syria, and all across MENA (Middle East and North Africa), the proxy war between Washington and Moscow, with higher and higher stakes, won’t abate. Imperial despair over the irreversible Chinese ascent also won’t abate. As the New Great Game picks up speed, and Russia supplies Eurasian powers Iran, China and India with missile defense systems beyond anything the West has, get used to the new normal; Cold War 2.0 between Washington and Beijing-Moscow.

I leave you with Joseph Conrad, writing in Heart of Darkness: "There is a taint of death, a flavor or mortality in lies….To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe….We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember, because we were traveling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign – and no memories…”


PepePepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

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