Route through Western China and preparation for the anniversary summit "One Belt - One Road"
New Silk Road
On October 12, at the CIS summit in Bishkek, the Russian President instructed the government to “consider the issue of forming a Central Eurasian transport corridor through Mongolia and Western China and submit proposals on possible measures for its formation.”
The topic of transit corridors has become very popular over the past year and a half; observers are looking for (sometimes justified, sometimes not so) geopolitical background, and are also trying to roughly calculate the hypothetical volumes of cargo transit along the branches of the new Silk Road and earnings on them.
The question is not even that the transit of European goods to China through Russia (and the Silk Road is, after all, a two-way road) tends to zero, and in the future, most likely, will be completely prohibited by law at the level of the European Commission. And without sanctions, these land routes to and from the EU are simply an additional logistical bonus to sea freight.
The New Silk Road is not really about EU markets, although the project is often promoted precisely under the banner of trade with the EU, since the European Union is one of the most capacious markets. The Silk Road is primarily logistics to the internal markets of the continent. It is precisely there that China quite rightly sees the prerequisites for economic growth after 2030, which is recorded in program documents.
The intensification of the discussion of these projects is timed to coincide with the upcoming anniversary summit “One Belt, One Road”, which will be held on October 17-18 in China and will bring together delegations from 130 countries. It is noteworthy that France, Italy and Germany, the backbone of the very European Union, which, according to the general belief, is the main and final point of the route, were not invited to the summit dedicated to the tenth anniversary of the initiative. But the EU is not the be-all and end-all, although it is important.
The internal logistics network on the continent is the main task for the future. China is now fully focused on this event, in which it sees more specifics in response to challenges in the form of American integration initiatives. Based on the success of its implementation, a model of relations in Africa and Latin America will be built.
This is why we see so many seemingly new transport lines that are proposed to cover Central Asia and the Middle East. One of the latest projects that was discussed the other day was a route from the port of Al-Fao to northern Iraq and Turkey. Before this, Iran presented routes to Iraq and Pakistan. But they are not new, it’s just that the participants also revise projects and strengthen those that for some time were simply at different stages of technical development.
Whether the new Silk Road bypasses Russia or not is strategically of no fundamental importance for us in the current conditions. For Russia, a more pressing task is to fully integrate into the system of new internal continental routes in the hope that in the future this will provide an opportunity for its own export to the markets of Asia and the Middle East. Eventually, this strange period of suppressed domestic industrial production will end someday.
But, in addition to the hypothetical prospect of exports, there is another problem - Russia’s current eastern logistics route has been operating at capacity for more than a year.
Our turn to the east happened like snow in winter for public utilities - everyone was expecting it and, as usual, they were not quite ready for it.
Both the railway and the Far Eastern ports are already struggling to handle the multiply increased volumes, and yet passenger traffic is still underway. Therefore, it is logical that new routes through Mongolia to China need to be developed; this is in the interests of China, Mongolia and Russia. And develop it in such a way as to expand and unload the Trans-Siberian Railway without accumulating all cargo traffic in the Far East.
At first glance, the instructions to the government refer to rather old transport corridor projects.
The first is the reconstruction and modernization of the section from Ulan-Ude to the station. Naushki and with access to the Trans-Mongolian Highway and further to Erlian.
The second is the construction of a new section to the Chinese city of Altai in Xinjiang with access to a branch line to Urumqi. China once reached Altai, but we had a pause.
Both directions have long been in line for construction and modernization. And they should hypothetically distribute the load on the Trans-Siberian Railway well. Especially the branch to the Chinese Altai, diverting part of the freight traffic from the main course of the Trans-Siberian Railway to the south - even to the difficult sections around the lake. Baikal. At the same time, the interests of joint production in Mongolia and separately only commodity logistics in the Chinese direction would be taken into account separately.
The advantage of these projects was that in each section the length of the new and reconstructed route does not exceed 300 km. That is, this is the installation mileage that we can handle without significant delays.
We are not a priori able to meet the Chinese pace of 2–900 km per year, but if we focus our attention and move away from imitation, then it is entirely possible to add the same amount to the annual 3–000 km. Plus, there is also a project for the North Siberian Railway, which in theory fits well with the route to Chinese Altai.
It would seem good that the international situation and the formation of common strategies with China and, by the way, Iran make it possible to unfreeze the construction of these routes. But there is an interesting nuance in the commission, which suggests that the original concept is even deeper than that which underlay the design several years ago.
The fact is that the phrase Western China, which is discussed in the instruction, is a rather rare guest in our design practice. On the one hand, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which includes the route from Altai to Urumqi, belongs to Western China, but practice shows that when the Chinese themselves use this term in projects, then we are talking about more.
Western China is a specific geographical and historical the term is purely Chinese. Western China includes ten regions and its peculiarity is that only the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region and the very edge of the Gansu region border directly on Mongolia, all other regions stretch south to Tibet and the borders with the countries of Southeast Asia (Yunnan), and from The borders of the Guizhou region in the east to Hong Kong are less than 800 km away.
When the project, now somewhat forgotten, was being formed: the Western China – Western Europe highway, the routes were taken into account not from Xinjiang, but at least from Xi’an and the southeastern provinces of China.
Taking into account the fact that the order is specific in terms of timing and made on the eve of the “One Belt - One Road” summit, it is clear that these are the specifics with which Moscow will go to China, and the connotation in such cases is always general.
With access to Xi'an (Shchensi Province), the route immediately crashes into a fairly dense network of old and new passenger and freight highways in inland China. And under certain conditions, it allows the use of Xi’an as a large hub connecting Russia (and, by the way, Belarus) with the southern seaports of China. A certain depth of trade integration is already visible here, and not just the unraveling of the Trans-Siberian Railway or the acceleration of the implementation of old projects and their removal from pause.
In this regard, it is quite interesting to observe how actively, unlike previous years, the CIS summit is taking place, which before was more like a protocol event. It is clear that it was not the CIS format itself that the participants decided to activate, and not only to remind Moldova of its existence.
It’s just that the parties’ positions are now being finalized before the anniversary event in China, which is being prepared very carefully. For example, the Chinese leader did not take part in the UN General Assembly or attend the GXNUMX summit. Minor meetings are relegated to the background - since the United States has formalized as many as two major concepts this year (in Southeast Asia and the Middle East), China is also preparing its response.
Surely some observers will point out that, according to the order, new Russian routes will pass outside the countries of Central Asia, in particular Kazakhstan. But in this case, this is not at all the case where such a topic needs to be developed somehow - preparation is underway for a common continental logistics network aimed at the domestic market.
But the question that is really worth thinking about is what to fill this future continental network with from the point of view of Russian exports. This is a more important topic for discussion than how many Chinese containers will ultimately go to Europe through us, and how many through Kazakhstan.
The trade network, given the geopolitical situation, will sooner or later start working; we will be able to import almost from the southern ports of China, but what we ourselves will export to new, additional markets, for example, Iraq or Pakistan. Is it really grain, oil, coal and diesel, which has become scarce today, again?
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