China maps out vision of future prosperity along a New Silk Road | The Times

About half an hour west of Kashgar, China’s westernmost city, a chic estate agent bristling with pamphlets presents a vision of the future. Buy a place here — a short hop from the Uzbek border — and soon the global economy will pivot around you.

Her pitch boasts an artist’s impression of the villa complex a buyer might expect: miniature European palaces nestled between crystal lakes, arcades of high-end boutiques and a pine forest.

It takes (to put it mildly) an imaginative leap to square this idyll with the blistering desert and sheer, barren mountain range just outside the showroom, not to mention stories of ethnic bloodshed in the villages near by.

Yet the large image on the wall is a show-stopper. Kashgar, normally shown on the far left-hand side of Chinese maps, is a red dot at the centre of the world. Around and through it, planned road and rail lines on an epic scale twine and lunge towards Calais and Rotterdam at one end and Guangzhou and Shanghai at the other. Spurs dart off to Karachi, Tashkent, Helsinki, Moscow and Tehran. Australia and Turkey are mentioned as eventual waypoints. This Kashgar villa project, the saleswoman says, will sit at nothing less than the heart of the New Silk Road, a project viewed by some as the most important piece of geo-economic engineering we will see in our lifetimes.

Cheerleaders of the New Silk Road story have plenty to back their optimism, not least the fact that the vision is the unambiguous focus of President Xi. Talk about the Silk Road will ride high on China’s domestic political agenda this year; the global trade implications will start to reverberate soon afterwards. In 2013, when Mr Xi first laid out his ambition of building a Silk Road economic belt and a maritime Silk Road to run in parallel, he did so with the glint of a nation that is getting better and better at turning expansive blueprints into reality.

Mr Xi’s rhetoric doesn’t feel empty. China has buckets of cash to invest and a rising sense that it is deploying those funds at an historically perfect juncture: Europe is light on leadership, Putin’s Russia is not a natural builder of partnership and American domestic politics are a long-term drag on Washington’s capacity to build cohesive global visions. All around it, Beijing sees countries that may be wary of China’s ambition but, at the very least, are underwhelmed by the alternatives.

Yesterday, China’s central bank officially opened its new Silk Road fund, a $40 billion wedge of cash that supposedly will be run like a private equity investor and will drive the construction of the rail and road infrastructure on which all of President Xi’s strategic vision depends.

The blossoming of the Silk Road vision marks an even greater inflection-point in China’s economic advance — the moment when its outward direct investments, as a percentage of global investment flow, outpace inflows. Its investments abroad rose from $45 billion to more than $600 billion between 2004 and 2013. Since 2010, its two largest state-owned development banks have annually lent more to developing countries than the World Bank and China is the predominant funder of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Brics Development Bank.

This all needs to be built into the way European leaders see the world, because at the moment, Mr Xi has a vision that could be internationalised or forever belong to China. While the initial stages of the Silk Road expansion will involve dreary-looking handshakes between China’s leaders and their various central Asian counterparts, the moment is fast arriving when the European economies have to work out the extent of their buy-in to Mr Xi’s dream.

via China maps out vision of future prosperity along a New Silk Road | The Times.

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