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New Silk Road Strategy is a winner

Updated: 2014-12-16 08:01
By Martin Sieff (China Daily)

China's new Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road economic strategies confirm the adage that rising powers make all the right decisions while falling ones (such as the British Empire in the first half of the 20th century) make all the wrong ones.

Premier Li Keqiang's visits to Kazakhstan and Thailand mark an important step forward in implementing these important strategies, as he will promote and seek agreements to create massive infrastructure projects.

The two destinations were skillfully chosen for Li. Both have vibrant, booming economies but both are also worried about Islamic terrorist groups trying to destabilize them and derail their economic growth. The governments in Astana and Bangkok both realize the importance of renewing economic growth as the best prophylactic against these security challenges.

Also, Kazakhstan has become the great economic locomotive of Central Asia while Thailand plays a crucial role in maintaining economic growth and confidence throughout the vast Southeast Asian region of 600 million people.

At the prime ministers' meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Astana, Li will seek SCO cooperation for its program of vastly expanded road, rail and industrial infrastructure along the axis of the Silk Road.

Li's SCO initiative is historic because the organization had been more focused on security cooperation across Asia, but with the Silk Road initiatives and the Beijing-proposed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, it is likely to dramatically turn its focus on economic growth in the region.

This visionary but highly realistic policy echoes a historical and highly successful US precedent: The creation of a continent-spanning, government-backed railroad and industrial structure - the first of its kind and largest in the world - by the Abraham Lincoln administration during the 1860s. It is this structure that brought prosperity and economic growth to the American Midwest and Far West, creating a long-lasting giant economic nexus that has lasted 150 years. That's why, as I wrote in my 2012 book That Should Still Be Us, China' economic policies over the past 35 years have been so successful.

China's expanded economic cooperation programs in Central, South and Southeast Asia parallel the US economic programs to revive Europe both after World War I (through massive low-interest Wall Street loans encouraged by the Harding administration) and World War II through the Marshall Plan.

China's new strategy offers the prospect of Central Asia continuing the unparalleled economic boom it has enjoyed over the past quarter century since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Experiences across Africa, the Middle East and Asia over the past 35 years since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 show that such overall, sustained growth and steady rise in the standard of living is the best inoculation against the appeal of extreme Islamic terrorism.

In contrast, the supposedly pro-democracy and pro-human rights policies the United States has pursued energetically across the Middle East, as expressed and defined in former US president George W. Bush's Second Inaugural Address in January 2005, have served only to undermine stable governments, investment optimism and standards of living throughout that region. These policies have relentlessly generated the very murderous ideologies they were supposed to defeat in the first place.

China's "One Belt and One Road" initiatives, on the other hand, are rooted not in fantasies based on vague, ill-understood pseudo-philosophical principles, but on clear empirical realities of industrial strength, successful economic policies and business realism.

As reported in the Chinese media, the initiatives will reach 4.4 billion people, 63 percent, or almost two-thirds of the world's population, with a collective GDP of $21 trillion, or 29 percent of the world's GDP.

The new Chinese strategies are practical: They can succeed. And they offer the promise of raising the standards of living of billions of people on the most populous continent.

The author is a senior fellow of the American University in Moscow and has the book, Shifting Superpowers: The New and Emerging Relationship between the United States, China and India, to his credit.

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