The New Silk Road in Central Asia

Issue 1905

2 May 2019

Seven years ago, when living in Southern Kyrgyzstan, I met a German tourist who had tried to cycle south through the mountains from the capital city, Bishkek. He had taken the Eastern road leading from Issyk Kul to Jalalabad. The road was marked on the map, but it was actually a secondary track paved in stone, which had cost him several tires and a great deal of anger.

That was 2011. Today, that track has been replaced by an eight-lane highway, traveled by trucks transporting Chinese products to Central Asia and beyond, toward the Middle East and Europe. China built and paid for the highway. It is a small portion of what the Chinese calls “One belt, one road” (in Chinese yi dai, yi lu), a modern version of the ancient Silk Road.[1]

This new Silk Road should again lead the countries of Central Asia to the core of the economic and political arena. In ancient times, these countries constituted a true world economic power. After the fall of the Mongolian empire, and especially after the beginning of the era when oceans were used as maritime trade routes, these countries became irrelevant and passed into oblivion.

At the start of the 19th century, during the so-called “Great Game” between Russia and Great Britain, they had to be somehow rediscovered, since in Europe no one had precise information about them any longer. However, with the new Silk Road, these countries will end up creating a unified area in Eurasia, with China once again at the center, as befits the self-awareness of the Middle Kingdom.

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