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Belt and Road

29 January, 2018 (17:39) | Dead Water | By: Ian Burdon

New Scientist carried an article in its 20 January edition by Laura Spinney, looking at notions that western civilisation is “starting to crumble” (NS 3161, p29). The leader column (p.5), downplayed the claims, but also made the point that we should treat them seriously, and that is impeded by the politicisation of them. NS suggests one of the problems of the climate change debate is that the degree of politicisation has turned it into a facet of a culture war. That seems to me to be a fair warning.

I thought of that article when I saw, in today’s Guardian [29 January] a lengthy piece by Bruno Maçães called At the Crossroads of the New Silk Road in which he asserts:

We live in one of those rare moments in history when the political and economic axis of the world is shifting. Four or five centuries ago, it shifted towards the west. Europe, for so much of its history a quiet backwater, came to rule practically the whole globe.

Now this axis is shifting east.

Maçães, who has a new book out on the subject, states this to be the context in which to understand China’s Belt and Road initiative, the full scope and ambition of which seems to me not to be well enough understood here in the UK. Although there are dangers in identifying specific initiatives with suggested ebbs and flows in the tide of history, especially when one is living in the midst of them, this rings true to me.

Where I’m not so sure about Maçães’s argument is his assertion that:

Let us forgo the more spectacular pronouncements and settle on a compromise: this century will not be Asian, but neither will it be European or American, as the previous 300 or 400 years so clearly were. I suggest the alternative of “Eurasian” as a way of signalling this new balance between the two poles. It is increasingly a composite world – as Eurasia itself is a composite word – where very different visions of political order are intermixed and forced to live together.

I suspect that is too optimistic about the extent that the European end of the deal can get its act together in the short to medium term in the face of a resurgent and confident Asia. Be that as it may, it is more bad news for the UK. The rail infrastructure that forms part of Belt and Road certainly wends its way to Britain, but, as the axis shifts east, the route comes right through the European block which we are leaving, putting our competitors between us and China both physically and metaphorically.

The idiots in our Government can rattle on all they like about striking new deals on our own terms, but we are not only ceding influence, we are actively colluding in our own irrelevance.