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The extraordinary confluence between the signing of the Iran-China strategic partnership deal and the Ever Given saga in the Suez Canal is bound to spawn a renewed drive to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and all interconnected corridors of Eurasia integration.

This is the most important geoeconomic development in Southwest Asia in ages – even more crucial than the geopolitical and military support to Damascus by Russia since 2015.

Multiple overland railway corridors across Eurasia featuring cargo trains crammed with freight – the most iconic of which is arguably Chongqin-Duisburg – are a key plank of BRI. In a few years, this will all be conducted on high-speed rail.

The key overland corridor is Xinjiang-Kazakhstan – and then onwards to Russia and beyond; the other one traverses Central Asia and Iran, all the way to Turkey, the Balkans and Eastern Europe. It may take time – in terms of volume – to compete with maritime routes, but the substantial reduction in shipping time is already propelling a massive cargo surge.

The Iran-China strategic connection is bound to accelerate all interconnected corridors leading to and crisscrossing Southwest Asia.

Crucially, multiple BRI trade connectivity corridors are directly linked to establishing alternative routes to oil and gas transit, controlled or “supervised” by the Hegemon since 1945: Suez, Malacca, Hormuz, Bab al Mandeb.

Informal conversations with Persian Gulf traders have revealed huge skepticism about the foremost reason for the Ever Given saga. Merchant marine pilots agree that winds in a desert storm were not enough to harass a state of the art mega-container ship equipped with very complex navigation systems. The pilot error scenario – induced or not – is being seriously considered.

Then there’s the predominant shoptalk: stalled Ever Given was Japanese owned, leased from Taiwan, UK-insured, with an all-Indian crew, transporting Chinese merchandise to Europe. No wonder cynics, addressing the whole episode, are asking, Cui Bono?

Persian Gulf traders, in hush hush mode, also drop hints about the project for Haifa to eventually become the main port in the region, in close cooperation with the Emirates via a railway to be built between Jabal Ali in Dubai to Haifa, bypassing Suez.

Back to facts on the ground, the most interesting short-term development is how Iran’s oil and gas may be shipped to Xinjiang via the Caspian Sea and Kazakhstan – using a to-be-built Trans-Caspian pipeline.

That falls right into classic BRI territory. Actually more than that, because Kazakhstan is a partner not only of BRI but also the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU).

From Beijing’s point of view, Iran is also absolutely essential for the development of a land corridor from the Persian Gulf to the Black Sea and further to Europe via the Danube.

It’s obviously no accident that the Hegemon is on high alert in all points of this trade corridor. “Maximum pressure” sanctions and hybrid war against Iran; an attempt to manipulate the Armenia-Azerbaijan war; the post-color revolution environment in both Georgia and Ukraine – which border the Black Sea; NATO’s overarching shadow over the Balkans; it’s all part of the plot.

Now get me some Lapis Lazuli

Another fascinating chapter of Iran-China concerns Afghanistan. According to Tehran sources, part of the strategic agreement deals with Iran’s area of influence in Afghanistan and the evolution of still another connectivity corridor all the way to Xinjiang.

And here we go back to the always intriguing Lapis Lazuli corridor – which was conceptualized in 2012, initially for increased connectivity between Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.

Lapis Lazuli, wonderfully evocative, harks back to the export of an array of semiprecious stones via the Ancient Silk Roads to the Caucasus, Russia, the Balkans and North Africa.

Now the Afghan government sees the ambitious 21st century remix as departing from Herat (a key area of Persian influence), continuing to the Caspian Sea port of Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan, via a Trans-Caspian pipeline to Baku, onwards to Tblisi and the Georgian ports of Poti and Batumi in the Black Sea, and finally connected to Kars and Istanbul.

This is really serious business; a drive that may potentially link the Eastern Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean.

Since Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan signed the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea in 2018, in the Kazakh port of Aktau, what’s interesting is that their major issues are now discussed at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), where Russia and Kazakhstan are full members; Iran will soon be; Azerbaijan is a dialogue partner; and Turkmenistan is a permanent guest.

One of the key connectivity problems to be addressed is the viability of building a canal from the Caspian Sea to Iran’s shores in the Persian Gulf. That would cost at least US$7 billion. Another issue is the imperative transition towards container cargo transport in the Caspian. In SCO terms, that will increase Russian trade with India via Iran as well as offering an extra corridor for China trade with Europe.

With Azerbaijan prevailing over Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh flare up, while finally sealing a deal with Turkmenistan over their respective status in the Caspian Sea, impetus for the western part of Lapis Lazuli is now in the cards.

The eastern part is a much more complicated affair, involving an absolutely crucial issue now on the table not only for Beijing but for the SCO: the integration of Afghanistan to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

In late 2020, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan agreed to build what analyst Andrew Korybko delightfully described as the PAKAFUZ railway. PAKAFUZ will be a key step to expand CPEC to Central Asia, via Afghanistan. Russia is more than interested.

This can become a classic case of the evolving BRI-EAEU melting pot. Crunch time – serious decisions included – will happen this summer, when Uzbekistan plans to host a conference called “Central and South Asia: Regional Interconnectedness. Challenges and Opportunities”.

ORDER IT NOW

So everything will be proceeding interconnected: a Trans-Caspian link; the expansion of CPEC; Af-Pak connected to Central Asia; an extra Pakistan-Iran corridor (via Balochistan, including the finally possible conclusion of the IP gas pipeline) all the way to Azerbaijan and Turkey; China deeply involved in all these projects.

Beijing will be building roads and pipelines in Iran, including one to ship Iranian natural gas to Turkey. Iran-China, in terms of projected investment, is nearly ten times more ambitious than CPEC. Call it CIEC (China-Iran Economic Corridor).

In a nutshell: the Chinese and Persian civilization-states are on the road to emulate the very close relationship they enjoyed during the Silk Road-era Yuan dynasty in the 13th century.

INSTC or bust

An extra piece of the puzzle concerns how the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) will mix with BRI and the EAEU. Crucially, INSTC also happens to be an alternative to Suez.

Iran, Russia and India have been discussing the intricacies of this 7,200 km-long ship/rail/road trade corridor since 2002. INSTC technically starts in Mumbai and goes all the way via the Indian Ocean to Iran, the Caspian Sea, and then to Moscow. As a measure of its appeal, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Oman, and Syria are all INSTC members.

Much to the delight of Indian analysts, INSTC reduces transit time from West India to Western Russia from 40 to 20 days, while cutting costs by as much as 60%. It’s already operational – but not as a continuous, free flow sea and rail link.

New Delhi already spent $500 million on a crucial project: the expansion of Chabahar port in Iran, which was supposed to become its entry point for a made in India Silk Road to Afghanistan and onward to Central Asia. But then it all got derailed by New Delhi’s flirting with the losing Quad proposition.

India also invested $1.6 billion in a railway between Zahedan, the key city in southeast Iran, and the Hajigak iron/steel mining in central Afghanistan. This all falls into a possible Iran-India free trade agreement which is being negotiated since 2019 (for the moment, on stand-by). Iran and Russia already clinched a similar agreement. And India wants the same with the EAEU as a whole.

Following the Iran-China strategic partnership, chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Mojtaba Zonnour, has already hinted that the next step should be an Iran-Russia strategic cooperation deal, privileging “rail services, roads, refineries, petrochemicals, automobiles, oil, gas, environment and knowledge-based companies”.

What Moscow is already seriously considering is to build a canal between the Caspian and the Sea of Azov, north of the Black Sea. Meanwhile, the already built Caspian port of Lagan is a certified game-changer.

Lagan directly connects with multiple BRI nodes. There’s rail connectivity to the Trans-Siberian all the way to China. Across the Caspian, connectivity includes Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan and Baku in Azerbaijan, which is the starting point of the BTK railway through to the Black Sea and then all the way from Turkey to Europe.

On the Iranian stretch of the Caspian, Amirabad port links to the INSTC, Chabahar port and further on to India. It’s not an accident that several Iranian companies, as well China’s Poly Group and China Energy Engineering Group International want to invest in Lagan.

What we see in play here is Iran at the center of a maze progressively interconnected with Russia, China and Central Asia. When the Caspian Sea is finally linked to international waters, we will see a de facto alternative trade/transport corridor to Suez.

Post-Iran-China, it’s not far-fetched anymore to even consider the possible emergence in a not too distant future of a Himalaya Silk Road uniting BRICS members China and India (think, for instance, of the power of Himalayan ice converging into a shared Hydropower Tunnel).

As it stands, Russia is very much focused on limitless possibilities in Southwest Asia, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made it clear in the 10th Middle East conference at the Valdai club. The Hegemon’s treats on multiple fronts – Ukraine, Belarus, Syria, Nord Stream 2 – pale in comparison.

The new architecture of 21st century geopolitics is already taking shape, with China providing multiple trade corridors for non-stop economic development while Russia is the reliable provider of energy and security goods, as well as the conceptualizer of a Greater Eurasia home, with “strategic partnership” Sino/Russian diplomacy playing the very long game.

Southwest Asia and Greater Eurasia have already seen which way the (desert) winds are blowing. And soon will the masters of international capital. Russia, China, Iran, India, Central Asia, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Korean Peninsula, everyone will experience a capital surge – financial vultures included. Following the Greed is Good gospel, Eurasia is about to become the ultimate Greed frontier.

(Republished from Asia Times by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Economics, Foreign Policy • Tags: China, Eurasia, India, Iran, New Silk Road, Russia 
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  1. Svevlad says:

    Haha they annexed Tajikistan and Kyrgyzia on the map

  2. Please correct the place of Rotterdam on the map or rename it to Kiel!

  3. This project will never be completed, and will end in failure, and be forgotten, as the 21st century and all its empty promises circle the drain.

    • Replies: @showmethereal
    , @meena
  4. @JohnPlywood

    Please offer some in depth analysis…. What exactly is not going to happen and why not? Fact is a lot of the parts of this are already coming together. Iran is just another piece. US sanctions just slowed it.
    Eurasia was connected many centuries ago. That’s why it’s dubbed now the “New Silk Roads”

    • Replies: @JohnPlywood
  5. @showmethereal

    Eurasia was connected many centuries ago by various nomadic peoples living in wagons and traveling on grass and dirt “roads”. Items traded ranged in weight from silk and fur to human beings. Not something that takes any real skill, and the nomads controlled the trade independently.

    What China is trying to do is build modern multilayer roads, concrete bridges, etc, across Eurasia, when it’s already cheaper and safer to use planes for most valuable shipments. And it wants to pacify all these central Asian people so that China can control all the commerce. Despite the rise of groups like Taliban, Al Qaeda, US ideological support for Central Asian Turks and any future terrorist groups they form, etc.

    Clearly, this was never a real plan for China but just something they ceated to make themselves look more ambitious than they really are. Like all Communist countries do (leaving behind a lot of wasted concrete in the process).

  6. @JohnPlywood

    And the other countries involved don’t habe opinions, desires, interests or investments in this project? Russia, the Stans, Iran, Pakistan, India, the Kavkav, and Germany don’t exist? Even the Taliban want infrastructure. They just wanted a cut of the profits (which the US didn’t give enough of.)

    Planes are not nearly as efficient per unit of weight as trains and ships are. It’s much harder to ship several hundred tons of coal on a planes.

    America ought to waste more concrete and steel here, you know, building long-lasting and efficient infrastructure. Something a person could ship a thousand tons of coal on, in a long chain of freight cars, or maybe some people and trinkets.

  7. You’re thinking efficiency only in terms of energy consumption. There are other elements of efficiency, like time and safety. While a plane may require more energy to lift its cargo 30,000 feet in to the air, it also gets to its destination more quickly than a train or truck.

    Safety is another critical aspect. Note that I said air transport is best for “valuable” cargo. Coal is obviously not very valuable and nobody would think of shipping it by air. But high end consumer products are valuable, as is stuff like electrical infrastruture. That’s what was supposed to go on the silk road land route. And shipping that kind of stuff by sea is dangerous, as are trains. Both have a high rate of accidents compared to air transport. The safest way to ship it is by plane.

    The sea initiative is viable but the road/rail concept is a monstrous challenge, it’s never gonna take off when planes were the quickest, safest way to get important stuff across borders. Most countries that signed up have already scaled back their participation and are looking to get out of it, including even sea belt countries like Australia. China seems to be waking up to the fact that it isn’t going to be profitable.

    • Replies: @Boomthorkell
  8. @JohnPlywood

    Alternative news is great but alternate reality is not. For one thing – generally speaking air cargo is the most expensive. Ship cargo is cheap and slow but has great economies of scale. Rail splits the difference in cost – time – capacity between the three. Its growth has been exponential in Eurasia in the last decade. Thats even with much of the area still having poor infrastructure. Seems to me you just dont like the idea of poorer antions having better domestic infrastructure than boost their standards of living.

    But saying the Silk Roads in antiquity were simple and not a complex undertaking borders on troll territory.

  9. One element missing from this one red belt and road nitiative is the role the Rothschild Reich’s banking empire is playing in financing this grandiose scheme and the central role Israhell will play in coordinating this hopium dream. America’s greatest ally is already transferring U.S. technology to China. As it becomes a technology superpower, it is using China as its manufacturing base. They envision Greater Israhell as being at the center of the Eurasian Bunting Clover leaf map.

  10. @Showmethereal

    Except air cargo is not more expensive relative to train, ship or road cargo relative to speed, dummy. That’s why valuable, high end products are always shipped via air.

    https://www.flexport.com/blog/does-apple-ship-iphones-by-air-or-sea/

    In general, air freight is around 5 times more expensive than ocean, but that can easily hit 10X during peak season. And we know that the new iPhone is always released during peak season right in the months before Christmas.

    That means Apple would have to pay $0.30 to $0.65 more per phone to ship by air instead of ocean. At 30M phones, that’s a difference of $9 – $19.5M per quarter in savings to move the phones by sea. So shipping by ocean is a no brainer right?

    Wrong. Apple almost certainly ships by air, despite the higher logistics costs, for two reasons. First is the cost of working capital. Ocean shipments take 30 days or more to cross the Pacific and reach their final destination in Apple’s retail stores, versus just 3-5 days for air freight.

    Let’s assume that Apple’s cost per phone is around $175, as has been reported elsewhere, and let’s also assume they have a cost of capital 5%–that is, the amount they could generate from making conservative investments with their cash. If the goods–and therefore their cash–are tied up for 25 days longer by ocean than by air, then they are incurring a cost on that capital of $0.60 per phone. That means the opportunity cost of tying up capital up for 25 days almost singlehandedly wipes out any savings from shipping by sea instead of air.

    At the same time, Apple has created such demand for the iPhone, that it is almost always on the verge of selling out. Why leave the phones at sea for 30 days when you can get it into a customer’s hands and generate almost $600 in net revenue as soon as it arrives? Why risk having a customer appear at a retail store to buy an iPhone, discover they are out of stock, and go buy an Android phone instead?

    When you factor in the cost of capital and supply constraints on Apple’s sales, it becomes clear that Apple will never ship an iPhone by ocean.

    That you actually think anyone would ship valuable cargo by sea or train reveals your barbarity and absent-mindedness.

    Do I want to keep retarded people like you in poverty and obscurity? Hell yes. Simple minded, primitive people such as yourself should never be capable of reading or writing or communicating in any way with highly evolved organisms, or otherwise pretending that they have any place in the modern world. That means no running water, no electricity, no education, and no internet.

    • Replies: @Showmethereal
  11. @JohnPlywood

    Ah, that kind of “value.” Sure, that makes sense, and for that reliable air transit certainly has its purpose. (I liked taking the trains in India, but a plane IS faster, though worse at moving large numbers of people “shorter” distances.)

    Trains still have a valuable purpose for land-route transfers of goods such as coal, fuel, cattle, etc. basically any heavy freight, and work in any region that is heavy on trucking. They could even be used to ease travel across a country w/ one’s car. That’s its value. Within America, are iPhones flown to every major city, or are they loaded onto trucks from various coastal arrival points and shipped from there? Actually, I should probably research this myself, as it sounds intriguing.

    With the development of any kind of anti-gravity such-and-such, that will render anything non-aerial as obsolete, but until then, countries ought to develop all three points of infrastructure as complementary and preferable to internal trucking (outside remote regions and going from unloading point to delivery point.)

    I suppose we will see within a few years whether scaling back or scaling up occurs.

  12. @Showmethereal

    Show Plied Word the real. Thanks. And China has massive high-speed rail infrastructure and experience. If there was high speed cargo train service right across Asia that skunk stuck between the Pacific and the Atlantic wouldn’t use it but who cares? It would/will totally change the world.

    I’m wondering about India in the Quad, the name given to a bowl of four turds. Why is India getting itself dirty in that? Huge pressure from the skunk’s turd, I guess.

    • Replies: @Showmethereal
  13. @JohnPlywood

    Your comment is simply stupid. Cars are shipped mainly by ship and also rail. In fact German luxury cars are now shipped to China by train. Talk sense.

  14. Clearly cars have no value.

    • Replies: @Showmethereal
  15. @Boomthorkell

    I wonder if Plywood is just a troll or if he is really that daft. Anyhow his nonsensical comments really take away from the gravity of the article…. Better infrastructure is always wanted.

    • Replies: @Boomthorkell
  16. @Ann Nonny Mouse

    Yeah im baffled India would join Quad. It took itself out of RCEP as well. But joined BRICS and the SCO. Cant figure them out.

  17. @Showmethereal

    Hard to say in this mad era.

    Yes, it is. If I was going to see a country “waste” money on anything, it might as well be trains, roads, airports and model cities. Sure beats Afghanistan and importing Somalis. We could turn Mexico and Central America into a freaking paradise with the trillions we’ve spent in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    No more immigrants, better supply lines and people might complain less if we unite.

  18. meena says:
    @JohnPlywood

    You mean like F 35, War on Terror , Global War on Terror ,Pivot to Asia ,Drug War , War on Money Laundering, Obamas Health Policy ,Trump’s efforts to drain the swamp or Bush-Chney’s global vision of uS roles in the 21st century . Ideological shenanigans have left wastes all across . There is no waste from building and constructing activities because there was none .

    Anyway China is not answer. Answer is deep cultivation and promotion of American ideas diverted of militarism and jingoism. That means wresting the central from the bad apples in the elite basket who form majority .

    Here is China – don’t like it https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1980/10/27/111304331.pdf?pdf_redirect=true&ip=0
    They have not been fair to Xinxaing natives.

    • Replies: @anon
  19. J says:

    Trade routes move not only goods but also people and culture. I don’t see the Chinese learning English and adopting woke ideas, nor learning Persian and eating lamb tails, so our descendants will have to learn Chinese and eat with chopsticks. Spoken Chinese is easy.

  20. Jiminy says:

    BMW, Mercedes, Toyota, etc must all be highly barbaric and retarded because I’ve seen the enormous floating car carriers that are used to ship valuable cargo across the world. Granted there may not be the level of brainwashed loyalty that Apple has found in their cult followers for the car manufacturers, but they still have budgets to watch.
    India I think has totally confused itself to a point where it can’t go this way or that. It wants to play with the big boys, “The Quad,” but knows it’s out of its league. It’s their blasted head wobble again totally confusing everyone. Spent millions in Iran on a white elephant, money that they can least afford really, when they don’t even have any toilets. The trouble is that Indians were told that they were going to be a modern superpower by about now, ah well.
    As long as the US and the jews can keep their grubby little hands away from the BRI then it has to be a win-win situation for all. Surely even the inbred nutters can see that. Of course there will always be some infrastructure that can’t make a profit from the start, that’s what governments are for. But eventually the benefits could be more encompassing then first thought. Not only goods and services but also ideals can spread from one country to the next down the line.

  21. anon[228] • Disclaimer says:
    @meena

    “Scott talks to Peter Lee about the ongoing Uyghur controversy in China. The Chinese government, he says, is trying to integrate their minority Uyghur Muslim population, as part of their larger project to urbanize and centralize China. There is growing concern, especially on the American right, that these efforts represent an outright genocide, with claims of mass forced birth control and up to a million people in detention centers. These fears, Lee says, tend to be exaggerated—though what the Chinese government is doing might be something more like cultural genocide. He stresses that it is important to acknowledge the horrors faced by many citizens of China’s authoritarian government, without using something like this as an excuse to advocate war.” antiwar.com

    https://scotthorton.org/interviews/4-2-21-peter-lee-on-chinas-treatment-of-the-uyghur-muslims/

    By exaggerating we might throw the entire narrative and damage the valid interest of Uighur
    It is like 911 truthe who by introducing th worst theory ignore or minimize the importance of the Urban Moving, 911 dancing, passport finding ,interrogation derived confession, box cutter dolalrs p[pictures maps found in the Israeli visitors , decades old planning by Wolfowitz and his gangs ,and the sudden consensus in the cabinet defense academia religious circle and media about need to start war against the 7 countries that Gen Wesley Clarke ( https://www.antiwar.com/blog/2021/04/01/conquering-the-middle-east-video/) did talk about in 2007 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEigig2qWkc.

  22. This is a very good article. It describes something that is going on, in real time, right now. Those of us in “the industry” has known about all this for years. And the latest events are putting all the pieces together nicely.

    Of course the USA doesn’t want any of this to occur. For it will (in many ways, not covered here) add to the demise of the USD as a major currency. All what will be left is the amount of gold the US has to back up, prop up, and support the currency. If it doesn’t have enough, then the value of the USD will decrease and this will be problematic for the holders of it.

    Thus we see the US trying to block the BRI efforts. From trying to interrupt the XinJiang growth through a propaganda onslaught and injection of “assets” into the region, to the QUAD and fortification of Guam.

    It’s nice to read the anti-China screed here in the comments. They look they came right out out of Mike Pompeo’s “Long Telegraph”.

    The demise of the USA is in progress. You cannot seriously believe that it is anyway going to be thwarted by stopping Russia, China and Iran from improving their infrastructure. That is silly. It is also a “pipe dream”.

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