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China stitches up (SCO) Silk Road

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Source: Asia Times

While the whole world was terrified by the prospect of the Obama administration bombing Syria, Chinese President Xi Jinping was busy doing the Silk Road. 

One has to love that famous Deng Xiaoping dictum; "Always maintain a low profile." This being the second-largest economy in the world, "low profile" always packs a mighty punch. Cue to September 7, in Astana, Kazakhstan's capital, when Xi officially proposed no less than a New Silk Road in co-production with Central Asia. 

Xi's official "economic belt along the Silk Road" is a supremely ambitious, Chinese-fueled trans-Eurasian integration mega-project, from the Pacific to the Baltic Sea; a sort of mega free-trade zone. Xi's rationale seems to be unimpeachable; the belt is the home of "close to 3 billion people and represents the biggest market in the world with unparalleled potential."   

Talk about a "wow" factor. But does that mean that China is taking over all of the Central Asian "stans"? It's not that simple. 

A roomful of mirrors 

On Xi's Silk Road trip, the final destination was Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital, for the 13th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). And to cap it all off, nothing less than a graphic reminder of the stakes involved in the New Great Game in Eurasia; a joint meeting on the sidelines of the SCO, featuring Xi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. 

This is Rouhani's first foreign trip since he took office on August 4. Not an epic like Xi's; only two days in Bishkek. In a preliminary meeting face-to-face with Xi, Rouhani even started speaking "diplomatic Chinese" -- as in the upcoming negotiations over the Iranian nuclear dossier leading, hopefully, to a "win-win" situation. Xi emphatically supported Iran's right to a peaceful nuclear program under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, while Rouhani stressed the Iran-China relationship "bears vital significance for Asia and the sensitive Middle East issue."  
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And that leads to the common Iran-China-Russia front in relation to Syria. Even before meeting with Putin, Rouhani had agreed with the Russian four-part plan for Syria, which, as Asia Times Online had reported, was brokered between Damascus, Tehran and Moscow (See Al-Qaeda's air force still on stand-by, September 11, 2013). According to the plan, Damascus joins the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW); discloses the location of chemical stockpiles; allows OPCW inspectors access to the sites; and then comes the long process of destroying the stockpiles. 

In the nuclear front, Tehran and Moscow remain open for business. Russia will hand operation of Unit 1 of the Bushehr nuclear power plant over to Iran in less than two weeks. And there will be more "cooperation" ahead. 

The importance of this triangulation cannot be overstated. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that Xi-Putin-Rouhani Kyrgyz room. Tehran, Moscow and Beijing are more than ever united on bringing about a new multipolar international order. They share the vision that a victory for the axis of warmongers on Syria will be the prelude for a future war on Iran -- and further harassment of both Russia and China. 

The God of the market, it's us

Meanwhile, monster business -- and strategic -- opportunities beckon in the Eurasian corridor. Xi's Silk Road Economic Belt, with trademark Chinese pragmatism, is all about free trade, connectivity and currency circulation (mostly, of course, in yuan). It's ready to go because there are no more border problems between Russia and Central Asia. It ties up perfectly with China's push to develop its Far West -- as in Xinjiang; consider the extra strategic Central Asian support for the development of China's Far West. 

Here's an example. At a China-Eurasia Expo in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital, earlier this week, China Telecom and two Hong Kong telecom companies signed seven deals with the governments and companies from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Russia and Mongolia. Not many people know that Urumqi boasts more than 230 Internet companies; nearly half are connected with neighboring countries. Xinjiang is not only about Han Chinese encroaching on Uyghurs; it's no less than the communications base for the Eurasian corridor - a hub for broadband and cloud computing. 
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Beijing is already massively investing in new roads and bridges along the Eurasian Land Bridge -- another denomination of the New Silk Road. As Asia Times Online has reported, the New Silk Road is all about highways, railways, fiber optics and pipelines -- with now the added Chinese push for logistics centers, manufacturing hubs and, inevitably, new townships. 

There are plenty of Pipelineistan gambits to implement, and a lot of mineral resources to be exploited. And, crucially -- considering the original Silk Road traversed Afghanistan -- there's also the prospect of an Afghan revival as a privileged bridge between Central, East and South Asia. Not to mention speeding up China's land access to both Europe and the Middle East. 

In China, no major decisions such as this are "spontaneous," but there's a neat softening PR behind it. In Astana, Xi said, "my home, Shaanxi province, is the start of the ancient Silk Road"; and he was "moved" as he reviewed Silk Road history during the trip. 

He indulged in sightseeing in Samarkand's fabulous Registan square, flanked by Uzbek President Islam Karimov, and even waxed "poetic," telling Karimov, "this gives us a special feeling. We are far away in distance, but we are also so near to each other in our soul. It is just like time travel." Well, the Timurid empire has finally met its match. It's not that China hadn't done it before; during the Western Han dynasty (206 BC - AD 24), imperial envoy Zhang Qian was dispatched to Central Asia twice to open up China to global trade. 

"Poetic" or not, Xi was always on message. All along his Silk Road trip, he left no doubts this is a foreign policy priority for China. China has now established strategic partnerships with all five Central Asian "stans."  

The Pipelineistan angle

Kashagan is your usual Pipelineistan nightmare. Significantly, on 9/11 this week, the North Caspian Operating Co, which runs Kashagan -- one of the largest oil fields discovered in the past 40 years, with 35 billion barrels in reserves -- said the first oil was finally in sight. 

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)

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