The War for the Railways and the Motorways of the New Silk Roads

I always write about the oil and energy wars, because energy is the main cause of war and the main determinant of the geopolitical landscape. However there are other factors, of minor importance of course, which affect the geopolitical landscape i.e. arms sales, disputes about the waters of shared rivers etc. The railways and highways of the New Silk Roads, which are promoted by China, are one such factor. It is true of course that railway and highway networks are related to energy, because they make easier the transportation of energy resources. Remember that the Baghdad Railway, which would connect Germany with the oil fields of Iraq, which at the time was under Ottoman control, was one of the major causes of the First World War.

I have mentioned in the past the disagreement between China and Turkey over the Muslims (Uyghurs) of Xin Jiang, which is the western province of China, and where the terrorist organization of East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) operates. Turkish nationalists call the Xin Jiang province East Turkestan. The ETIM terrorist organization is influenced by ISIS, and it is not a secret that Turkey has quite some influence over ISIS. See “Turkey VS China”.

See also “Turkey, Russia and China in Central Asia”.

Map 1 Rough map of Xin Jiang

Map of Altai and Power of Siberia Pipelines

Through pipeline networks Xin Jiang connects China with the oil of Kazakhstan and the natural gas of Turkmenistan. Moreover the Russo-Chinese Altai pipeline will cross Xin Jiang if ever constructed. The Altai and the Power of Siberia pipelines are two natural gas pipelines that China and Russia agreed to build in the summer of 2014. The New Silk Roads promoted by China will also have to cross Xin Jiang. The New Silk Roads are a network of railways, highways and ports, which will bring to China resources from around the globe, and which will allow China to export her products to the rest of the world much faster. There is not an exact map of the New Silk Roads, because some projects are planned but cancelled, and some new ones are brought forward.

You can see the following Financial Times map, but this map might look different after a couple of years. But this is the main idea.

Map 2 The New Silk Roads

Map of the New Silk Roads 3

Kazakhstan wants to play a major role in the New Silk Roads, and Kazakhstan is already important in that respect, since the Turkmen and Kazakh gas and oil travel to China through Kazakhstan. However as you can read at the following article from the Astana Times of Kazakhstan, titled “Major Transport Corridor to Connect Kazakhstan, Russia, China by 2015”, February 2015, China and Kazakhstan have agreed to the construction of the Western Europe-Western China Transport Corridor, which will connect China to Western Europe through Kazakhstan and Russia. The project is also supported by the European Union, and it definitely involves a road network. I am not sure if it also involves a railway network.

“Major Transport Corridor to Connect Kazakhstan, Russia, China by 2015”, February 2015

1st and 2nd Paragraphs

Russia, China and the European Union have signed new agreements with Kazakhstan giving the go-ahead to complete the Western Europe-Western China international transport corridor by 2015.

The new transportation corridor is the largest project of its kind ever undertaken in the history of Central Asia.

4th Paragraph

Some 2,452 kilometres (1,523.6 miles) of the new roads will be constructed in Kazakhstan. That programme will cost 825.1 billion tenge ($5.47 billion) and involve 1,390 kilometres (863.7 miles) of the Kyzylorda – Turkestan – Shymkent – Taraz – Almaty – Khorgos highway to Category I standards with four-lane highways and 1,062 kilometres (659.9 miles) of the route from the Russian border through Martuk, Aktobe, Karabutak, and Kyzylorda) to Category II standards. Conditions for turns, visibility and angles on inclines and descents will be substantially improved.

The Astana Times article also includes a map of the Western Europe-Western China transport corridor, and it claims that this is the fastest connection between China and Western Europe, at least when compared to the Trans-Siberian railway and the sea routes of the New Silk Roads. For the article’s map see the following map.

Map 3 Western Europe-Western China Transport Corridor

Map of the New Silk Roads 1

However in 2010 China had also promised Turkey that she would construct a super fast railway network connecting China and Turkey, which would be funded by China. However until recently China had done nothing about it, as you can read at the following Asia Nikkei Review article, titled “China all aboard Turkish high-speed rail effort”, July 2015. The Asia Nikkei Review belongs to one of the Japan’s largest news group. China promises infrastructure projects to all countries, and it is not always easy to go ahead with all these projects in order to keep everyone happy.

“China all aboard Turkish high-speed rail effort”, July 2015

1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Paragraphs

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, agreed here Wednesday to pursue greater economic cooperation between their countries, with China seeking to move forward on rail exports.

     Erdogan is making his first visit to China since becoming Turkey’s president after a lengthy stint as prime minister. His country lies at the junction of Europe and Asia, which Xi envisions linking with his “One Belt, One Road” vision — a 21st-century take on the ancient Silk Road. Turkey also counts itself among the founding members of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. A delegation of more than 100 Turkish business representatives is accompanying Erdogan in China.

     The two countries agreed back in 2010 to plans for a major Turkish railway buildup with Chinese money and technology. But nothing has come of that deal. Last July, Erdogan, then prime minister, said Turkey aims to lay roughly 3,500km of high-speed rail. That month saw the opening of a fast connection between Istanbul and Ankara.

Xi and Erdogan may have discussed Turkish plans to build a third nuclear power plant, the subject of negotiations involving China Nuclear Power Engineering and U.S. plant builder Westinghouse, a unit of Japan’s Toshiba.

     Turning to matters of security, the two leaders agreed to coordinate their countries’ efforts against terrorism. China fears that members of its Muslim population are heading off to join the Islamic State — and that they will return home radicalized. Xi and Erdogan are thought to have discussed Turkish protests over Chinese religious policy toward Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group who practice Islam and live mostly in China’s far west.

    The leaders also appear to have discussed a missile defense system that China is trying to sell to the Turks. Asked whether this issue came up in the summit, a senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official said that the two countries would increase cooperation on this front, suggesting it had. The U.S. and NATO, to which Turkey belongs, oppose the sale.

Map 4

Map of the New Silk Roads 2

The lines on my map are rough representations and not actual representations of the transport networks.

The Turks were not happy with China’s procrastination on the promised project, and the Turks might even have felt that China paid more attention to the Western Europe-Western China transport corridor which would run through Kazakhstan. However the transport corridor through Kazakhstan has not been finished either, because even though Kazakhstan has been very active on the Kazakh part, the Russians were not very active on their part of the project, as you can read at the following Asia Times article, titled “Kazakhstan breaks ground on China’s New Silk Road”, May 2015.

“Kazakhstan breaks ground on China’s New Silk Road”, May 2015

1st, 2nd and 3rd Paragraphs

Kazakhstan authorities are pledging to speed up implementation of China’s New Silk Road project. Their efforts will focus on the Western Europe-Western China road system, as well as other transit routes spanning Central Asia.

Russia, meanwhile, despite its “Ostpolitik” eastward policy shift, remains slow to develop its section of the Western Europe-Western China road system. Major showcase projects, such as the Western Europe-Western China road system, are suffering as a result.

For Kazakhstan, efforts to become a major transit route between Asia and Europe are a priority. On May 22, President Nursultan Nazarbayev mooted plans to finish Kazakhstan’s section of the Western Europe-Western China road system by the end of 2015.

However it seems that China has now decided to bring Turkey big time into the New Silk Roads. As you can read at the article of the Nikkei Asian Review that I mentioned above, China gave the green light to the construction of the Turkish railway, and China and Turkey will also develop a nuclear plant. The article also mentions that China and Turkey have decided to work together on the issue of terrorism in Xin Jiang, which greatly worries China, because as the article mentions many Chinese Muslims join ISIS, and then they return to China as terrorists.

Moreover, as you can read at the following Asia Times Article, titled “China’s Silk Road project gets port in Turkey”, September 2015, China bought a part of the Turkish port of Ambarli at the European part of Constantinople (Istanbul). The article mentions also the disagreements between Turkey and China over the Muslims (Uyghurs) of Xin Jiang, and it reckons that Turkey’s inclusion in the New Silk Roads will help China and Turkey to overcome their differences.

“China’s Silk Road project gets port in Turkey”, September 2015

Map 5

Map of Silk Roads

One has to remember that there are three main powers which support Islamist terrorists i.e. the Arabs of the Gulf, Iran and Turkey. Pakistan, Sudan and other countries run by Islamic regimes also support Islamist terrorists, but the three main powers are the ones I mentioned. China buys tons of oil and natural gas from the Arabs and the Iranians, and she can ask them to be good boys and behave themselves. Moreover, with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), China will invest billions in Pakistan, and Pakistan will have to be a good boy too. If China wants Turkey to behave, she must be careful not to exclude Turkey from the Chinese investments. By including Turkey in the New Silk Roads, China not only will have Turkey’s support when dealing with the Islamists of Xin Jiang, but she will be able to send her products to Europe through Turkey and Constantinople (Istanbul). Constantinople (Istanbul) has been for centuries the most important point of both the terrestrial and the sea routes of the Silk Roads.

The problem for China is that the oil and gas of Iran will go to China through Xin Jiang, and that will make the Arabs of the Gulf very unhappy. And if the Russo-Chinese Altai pipeline comes to life, the Russian gas will also go to China through Xin Jiang, which will make both the Arabs and the Iranians unhappy. But as long as China remembers to buy oil and gas from everybody, everybody will try to stay calm. Actually Russia is always proposing to the Arabs and the Iranians not to mess with the European market in order for Russia not to mess with the Asian markets.

Before closing I must also say that Turkey already has a very close cooperation with Russia on the energy sector, since Turkey is the second largest importer of Russian natural gas, second only to Germany, and Turkey’s inclusion in the New Silk Roads will affect the Turkish foreign policy in the same way that the Russian natural gas does. That will make the American-Turkish relations even more problematic.

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