Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Revisiting the Silk Road: A social dimension imperative

By Ali Biniaz ( Updated: 2014-09-03 14:39

President Xi Jinping in his speech of September 2013 in Kazakhstan proposed the idea of a “silk road economic belt.” He emphasized on five connectivity-area spaces to make his proposal a robust one. These are, namely, policy space, trade space, transportation space, monetary space and people-to-people space.

A month later and in the Southeast Asia, President Xi again articulated the idea of a “21stcentury maritime silk road” to provide an impetus for connectivity in the sea lanes between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, from China’s coastline with Southeast Asia, to the subcontinent, to the Persian Gulf and ultimately to the east coast of Africa. These two proposals combined is called: "One belt, one road."

Looking from the perspective of an Iranian citizen who lives on the other side of the ancient Silk Road and participated in the esteemed Chinese Foreign Ministry’s tour of "revisiting the Silk Road" from August 4 to August 13, 2014, the following remarks may be of some help.

First of all, the idea of “one belt, one road” may remind us of a "geostrategic concept" already promoted by Mao Zedong, namely the idea of “one line and one large expanse.”

On February 17, 1973 in a meeting with the US envoy, Henry Kissinger, MaoZedong indicated that he had told a foreign friend that they needed to establish a horizontal line, a line of latitude, along the US, Japan, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Europe. In less than a year and in a meeting with the Japanese Foreign Minister, Masayoshi Ohira, Mao Zedong again proposed the idea of “one large expanse,” referring to the countries located on the periphery of “one line.”

It appears that President Xi Jinping's characterization of how to address security threats originating from the United States in future with "one belt, one road" proposal sits on the same strategic footing as Mao Zedong's proposal of "one line and one large expanse" in order to address security threats coming from the former Soviet Union. While this resemblance may illustrate connectivity in policy space and rich dynamics of the Chinese Administration's thinking about issues of geostrategic nature, nevertheless, a challenging part remained to be taken care in future is the issue of maintaining ''connectivity'' in five mentioned area spaces, as it is not clear in this proposal that “Who does have what?” and “who interacts with whom?”

This distinction may further sharpen if one has a chance to look at a Silk Road map in the museum of Guyuan. The map suggests that the Silk Road looks like a "distribution ring" mostly shaped around the territory of the Persian Empire with two tails extended eastward and westward towards China and the Roman Empire.

UNESCO's characterization of the Chang'an-Tianshan Corridor indicates that the Silk Road was as an interconnected web of routes that contributed largely to the development of many of the world's great civilizations.

Therefore, if we are going to inspire from the ancient Silk Road in order to define a sustainable way of living together prosperously and on a win-win basis, then seeking an equilibrium point between "social dimension" and "economic dimension" of life may be an imperative. Iran and China are located on the two sides of the ancient Silk Road. China enjoying a "right chance" and a "right decision," in the past two decades, opened in a concerted way successfully to the rest of the world and achieved an economic miracle.

However, how far China will go with this economic miracle is not that much clear? On the other hand, playing the role of a world's significant game changer of the past 35 years, Iran enjoys the richest social dynamics of the world and is an island of social stability and peace in the sea of regional turbulence. The author believes that this quality sooner than one can expect, may pave the way to a robust economic growth of the next decades entailing social prosperity.

Therefore, if this analysis has any grain of truth, then China and Iran should consider themselves as two important poles of social stability and economic stability, two poles that have many things in common as well as to share.

In other words, rather than one wrongly blames "religion" as a driving force of 1000 years of war in the Middle East, the author believes that it will be the driving force of 1000 years peace and prosperity in future, a fact that the Chinese scholars should not in any sense ignore.

Abi Biniaz is the First Counselor of Iran Embassy in Beijing.

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