Earlier last week, the first Chinese commercial train, with 32 containers, arrived in Tehran after a less than 14-day journey from the massive warehouse of Yiwu in Zhejiang, eastern China, crossing Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
This is a 10,400 km-long trip. Crucially, it’s also no less than 30 days shorter compared to the sea route from Shanghai to Bandar Abbas. And we’re not even talking about high-speed rail yet – which in a few years will be installed all along from eastern China to Iran and onward to Turkey and, crucially, Western Europe, enabling 500-plus container trains to crisscross Eurasia in a flash.
When Mohsen Pour Seyed Aghaei, president of Iran Railways, remarked that, “countries along the Silk Road are striving to revive the ancient network of trade routes,” he was barely touching the surface in what is an earth-shattering process.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Iran only last month - the first global leader to do so after nuclear sanctions were lifted. Then the heirs to the former Silk Road powers – imperial Persia and imperial China – duly signed agreements to boost bilateral trade to $600 billion over the next decade.
And that is just the beginning.
Trade Wars and Air/Sea Battles
To frame the earth-shattering process in a strategic perspective, from the Chinese point of view, it’s enlightening to revert to a very important speech delivered last summer by General Qiao Liang at the University of Defense, China’s top military school. It’s as if Liang’s formulations would be coming from the mouth of the dragon - Xi - himself.
Beijing’s leadership assesses that the U.S. won’t get into a war against China within the next 10 years. Pay attention to the time frame: 2025 is when Xi expects China to have turned into a “moderately prosperous” society as part of the renewed Chinese Dream. And Xi for his part would have fulfilled his mandate – arguably basking in glory once enjoyed only by the Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping.
The secret for the next 10 years, as General Liang framed it, is for China to overhaul its economy (a work in progress) and internationalize the yuan. That also implies striking an Asian-wide free trade pact – which is obviously not the Chinese-deprived American TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), but the Chinese-driven RCEP.
General Liang directly connects the internationalization of the yuan to something way beyond the New Silk Roads, or One Belt, One Road, according to the official Chinese denomination. He talks in terms of a Northeast Asia free trade agreement, but in fact what’s in play, and what China aims at, is the trans-Asia free trade agreement.
As a consequence, a “ripple effect” will divide the world:
“If only a third of the global money is in the hands of the dollar, how can the U.S. currency maintain its leadership? Could a hollowed out United States, left without monetary leadership, still be a global leader?”
So the decline of the U.S. dollar is the key issue, according to the Beijing leadership, of China’s “recent troubles” under which loom “the shadow of the United States.”
Enter the U.S. “pivot to Asia.” Beijing clearly interprets its goal as “to balance out the momentum of China’s rising power today.” And that leads to the discussion of the former AirSea Battle concept (it has now “evolved” into another mongrel), which General Liang qualifies as an “intractable dilemma” for the U.S.
“The strategy primarily reflects the fact that the U.S. military today is weakening,” said Liang. “U.S. troops used to think that it could use airstrikes and the Navy against China. Now the U.S. finds neither the Air Force nor the Navy by themselves can gain advantages against China.”
Only this previous paragraph would be enough to put in perspective the whole, tumultuous cat and mouse game of Chinese advances and American bullying across the South China Sea. Beijing is very much aware that Washington cannot “offset some advantages the Chinese military has established, such as the ability to destroy space systems or attack aircraft carriers. The United States must then come up with 10 years of development and a more advanced combat system to offset China's advantages. This means that Americans may schedule a war for 10 years later.”
Have War, Will Plan
So, no major war up to 2025, which leaves Xi and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership free to advance like a juggernaut. Observers who follow the moves in Beijing in real time qualify it as “breathtaking “ or “a sight to behold.” The Beltway remains mostly clueless.
At the onset of the Chinese Year of the Monkey, the CCP under Xi’s orders released a sensational cartoon hip hop video that went mega-viral. Talk about Chinese soft power; that’s how Xi’s
platform for his 10-year term, up to 2023, was announced to the masses.
Enter the Four Comprehensives: 1) to develop a “moderately prosperous society” (translated into a GDP per capita of US$10,000); 2) Keep deepening reforms (especially of the economic model); 3) Govern by the rule of law (that’s tricky; but essentially means the law as interpreted by the CCP); 4) Eliminate corruption from the CCP (a long work in progress).
None of this, of course, implies following a Western model; on the contrary, it shows off Beijing counteracting Western soft power on every domain.
And then, inevitably, all roads, sooner or later, lead to One Belt, One Road. And yet General Liang sees it as way beyond a globalization process, “the truly American globalization,” which he qualifies as “the globalization of dollars.” He – and the Beijing leadership – do not see the China-driven One Belt, One Road as “an integration into the global economic system. To say that the dollar will continue its globalization and integration is a misunderstanding. As a rising great power, One Belt, One Road is the initial stage of China globalization.”
Radically ambitious does not even begin to describe it. So as much as One Belt, One Road is the external vector of the Chinese Dream, bent on integrating the whole of Eurasia on a trade and commerce “win-win” basis, it is also “by far the best strategy China can put forward. It is a hedge strategy against the eastward move of the U.S.”
There we have it – mirroring what I have been writing since One Belt, One Road was launched. This is China's “hedge strategy of turning its back to the U.S. eastward shift: You push in one direction; I go in the opposite direction. Didn’t you pressure me to it? I go west, neither to avoid you nor because I am afraid, but to very cleverly defuse the pressure you gave me on the east.” Welcome to China pivoting West.
Feel Free to Encircle Yourself
General Liang, predictably, prefers to concentrate on the military, not commercial aspects. And he could not spell it out more clearly.
“Given that China's sea power is still weak, the first choice of One Belt, One Road should be to compete on land,” he said. Liang frames the top terrain of competition as the “belt” – overland New Silk Road routes; and that leads to worrying, still unanswered questions about the Chinese army “expeditionary capabilities.”
General Liang does not expand on this competition – arguably with the U.S. - along the New Silk Road belt. What he believes to be certain though, is “that in choosing China as its rival, America chose the wrong opponent and the wrong direction. Because in the future, the real challenge to the United States is not China; it is the United States itself, and the United States will bury itself.”
And how will that happen? Because of financial capitalism; it’s as if Gen. Liang has been reading Michael Hudson and Paul Craig Roberts (as he certainly does). He notes how “through the virtual economy, the United States has already eaten up all the profits of capitalism.”
And what about that “burial”? Well, it will be orchestrated by “the Internet, big data, and the cloud” as they are “pushed to the extreme” and will “gain a life of their own and oppose the government of the U.S.”
Who would have thought it? It’s as if the Chinese don’t even have to play go anymore. They just need to let the adversary encircle itself.
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 Times Online, where he wrote the column The Roving Eye from 2000 to 2014. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of "Globalistan" (2007), "Red Zone Blues" (2007), "Obama does Globalistan" (2009) and "Empire of Chaos" (2014), all published by Nimble Books. His latest book is "2030", also by Nimble Books, out in December 2015. He currently lives between Paris and Bangkok. Follow him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pepe.escobar.77377