Historically, the Silk Road was established during the Han dynasty, between 206 B.C and 220 A.D., after the long Chinese exploration of Southern and Western Asia which had started at least two thousand years before.
As the original myth of Eurasia’s foundation has it, it was in those areas – among nomadic and warring populations – that the Son of Heaven became, for the first time, a shepherd of sheep flocks, and escaped the wild beasts which wanted to kill him and then devour the whole Han dinasty.
President Xi Jinping, the new Son of Heaven, embodying positive forces both at political and mythical levels, followed again the Silk Road and hence returned to the Middle East, by visiting Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
This was meant to rebuild the original strategic projection of China’s First Red Empire – hence to make China regain its ancient role based on the philosophical principle of “All under Heaven”.
The visit to the three Middle East countries was paid by the CCP Secretary on January 19-22, 2016, on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the mutual recognition between China and the Arab League.
Until 2015 Saudi Arabia was the most important China’s crude oil supplier – a position currently held by Russia as primary seller.
The travel to these three Arab and Islamic countries is the first visit paid by the CCP Secretary in 2016 and this makes us understand the special importance that Xi Jinping and his China attaches to the commercial, political and strategic relationship between China and Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
As is well-known, Xi Jinping’ strategic project is the new Silk Road, which he called “One Belt One Road“.
Xi Jinping’s project was made public in October 2013. It is divided into a maritime part and a land part, which will both connect China with Central and Western Asia, the Middle East and finally Europe.
To put it in a metaphor of the Taoist sages – and Mao Zedong was so – the void (of power) of the United States and of the European Union itself, completely devoid of a real foreign policy, will be “filled” by a link with China and Eurasia on the part of the Sunni and Shi’ite Islamic world.
In Asia, where it originates, the new Silk Road will be connected with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and with the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor (BCIM).
After the globalization which was an Americanization, the Chinese-style globalization will prevail, which will unite all the losers of the first globalization by tying them at first to Eurasia and later to China itself.
Since the diplomatic recognition between Russia and Saudi Arabia in 1990, trade has increased by 230 times, up to 70 billion US dollars in 2014.
Currently, in Saudi Arabia, 160 Chinese companies operate not only in the oil sector but also in the logistics, transport and electronics sectors.
China wants to support the Arab world with a stimulus to the domestic production differentiation and the reduction of those economies’ oil dependence.
For China, the relationship with Saudi Arabia is the strategic link with the Sunni country closest to the United States which, however, does not want to be tied hand and foot to the United States.
Saudi Arabia has every interest in dealing with China so as to avoid having only North America as counterpart – a relationship and a situation which, devoid of any counterbalance, would obviously be less favourable to Saudi Arabia.
The most important project binding China and Saudi Arabia is the Yarseef refinery which is worth 10 billion US dollars, 62.5% of which funded by the Chinese Sinopec.
President Xi Jinping has defined Yanbu – the Red Sea port where the Yarseef refinery is located – as the regional point of arrival of the Silk Road and, at the same time, the axis of the new Saudi industrialization.
Another essential aspect of Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia is the idea of establishing, by 2017, a Free Trade Zone together with the Gulf Cooperation Council, another component of the “Silk Road” which, in these areas, connects its maritime way and its land stretch.
Later, in his visit to Egypt, the CCP Secretary followed up the themes already developed during the visit paid by the Egyptian President, Al Sisi, to Beijing in December 2014.
The idea is to implement a “comprehensive strategic partnership” based on 15 major projects, to the tune of 15 billion US dollars.
These projects are related to infrastructure and transport, considering that Cairo and the Egyptian coast will be the Mediterranean point of arrival of the new maritime Silk Road.
Other investments in the “comprehensive strategic partnership” regard the Egyptian energy sector while, during Xi Jinping’s visit, additional 21 new investment projects were defined with an additional soft loan to this country equal to 1.7 billion US dollars, managed by some Egyptian banks.
A geopolitical level, Xi Jinping’s attention is mainly focused on the Egyptian and Shi’ite region, with a probable mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia which has materialized during the Chinese leader’s visit.
This means that China fears the expansionism of the Isis/Daesh “Caliphate” and, above all, the return of hundreds of Uighur foreign fighters living in Xingkiang.
At diplomatic – and probably at operational – level, China has supported Egypt in its fight against the Qaedist jihadist area, at first, and later against the Caliphate jihadist aera in the Sinai. It will certainly distribute its investments across the Middle East, based on the each country’s ability to fight against the jihad.
If Europe and the West will not be able to support the new autonomous development of the Middle East – and we can currently perceive all their limits in this regard – this region will become – between Russia and China – the Southern and maritime part of Eurasia.
This will be the new Sino-Russian Heartland which will hegemonize the Mediterranean region and much of the “great European plain”, as the French philosopher Raymond Aron called it.
Another significant geopolitical sign is that Xi Jinping urged Al Sisi’s Egypt to participate, as observer, in the next G20 Summit to be held in Beijing next September.
The last Middle East country visited by the Chinese leader, was the Shi’ite and not Arab nation of Iran.
Xi Jinping was the first leader of a world power to visit Iran after the lifting of sanctions, to which the Chinese and Russian activity within the P5+1 contributed significantly.
It is a very important symbolic fact.
Certainly China has never taken the sanctions against Iran into account. In fact, as early as 2014, China has replaced Germany as first business partner of the Shi’ite country, with a bilateral turnover exceeding 70 billion US dollars.
Obviously Xi Jimping came to preserve the Chinese position reached in Iran, but also to support Iran in its strategic differentiating from Europe and NATO, as demonstrated by the open support he showed during some interviews in Iran for the presence of Shi’ite forces in Syria.
Unlike many naïve Western experts and the even more childish leaders of a gutless Europe believe, the Syrian issue is not the fight against a “tyrant” such as Bashar al-Assad so as to restore a very unlikely “democracy”.
In the Middle East democracy is imposed to make a country strategically “viable”, which means devoid of reactions to the operations carried out by other players on the field.
Therefore the real Syrian issue is the fight against those hegemonizing the Greater Middle East in the future.
It may be Turkey, which wants to conquer Syria’s vast Sunni area for its mad neo-Ottoman dream.
Or the Russian Federation along with Iran, which will annex the Shi’ite and Alawite Syria to the corridor stretching from Ukraine to the coast towards the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean basin.
Or finally Saudi Arabia, which wants to manage its own “Sunni and Wahhabi International” so as to dominate the whole Middle East region and its oil, without the constraints of OPEC, which is now a residual cartel.
Xi Jinping, however, proposes to Iran a greater Chinese presence in the local banking and financial sector, the building of seven fast railway lines to be connected, in the future, with the networks already existing in China and, of course, a greater Chinese presence in the Iranian oil and gas sector.
According to Chinese analysts, trade between China and Iran is expected to increase tenfold, up to reaching 700 billions a year by 2017.
Hence, considering all the actions undertaken in the three Middle East countries he visited late January, the core of Xi Jinping’s operation is the creation of a joint Free Trade Zone between the three countries with China’s support – a topic we have already raised at the beginning of this article.
This is a move intended to rebalance the free trade agreement between the United States and other 11 Pacific countries, as well as to fill Western Europe’s “void” throughout the Middle East.
China has reached the free trade agreement with all the six Persian Gulf countries, namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman.
China wants to put enemy countries together so as to mediate in a credible way.
The agreement is supposed to be signed by the end of 2016.
Hence the “void” of the United States and of an ever weaker and inward-lookingWest, obsessed by the idea of “exporting democracy” or by a naïve, self-defeating and self-destructive “geopolitics of values”, is “filled” by a China exporting economic support, political influence and credible skills and abilities to mediate between all regional players.
China’s proposed One Belt One Road project, which is the geopolitical matrix of all Chinese operations in the Middle East, stems from the current leadership’s perception of a now unrenounceable geoeconomic power projection.
It also stems from China’s feeling to be geographically surrounded by confined and enclosed spaces, mountains and deserts which must be overcome so as to avoid the Middle Kingdom – which has a much greater production potential than its territory expresses – remaining blocked.
This is the contemporary version of the structural crisis between the evolution of production ratios and the growth of productive forces, which has always been fatal to Marxism applied in practice.
It is worth recalling that the “productive forces” are science and technology with their applications to the production process, namely the whole organization of work, while “the development of production ratios” regards the relations established by those participating in productive work, including those which are outside the actual production process, such as owners and shareholders.
Hence if the development of productive forces is expanded beyond a certain limit, its expansion is made at the expense of production ratios, as an increasing share of manpower is replaced or marginalized by new technologies.
It was the problem Stalin had to face shortly before his death. It was Mao’s demon from the Great Leap Forward onwards and it is currently the concept underlying the One Belt One Road project.
In other words, for Xi Jinping the issue lies in projecting productive forces outside China’s land and sea borders, so as to prevent its internal production ratios from being distorted up to jeopardizing the State and the Party.
Obviously the project of the new Silk Road is also a way for ensuring the security of the first Chinese loop, namely Central Asia’s, and freeing from dangerous opponents the Chinese secondary loop, stretching from the Greater Middle East to Western Europe.
The two geoeconomic processes to ensure security regard both the Earth and the Sea, two entities which, in the Western tradition synthesized by the philosopher Carl Schmitt, tend to be two opposing entities.
Hobbes’ Leviathan, the biblical sea monster epitomizing the future British thalassocracy, is opposed by Behemoth, the terrestrial State which enslaves its citizens.
It is the constant plot of Western political thought.
Furthermore the One Belt One Road project involves the Russian Federation which, after the different globalization to which the USSR and post-Maoist China were subjected, de facto unites the two countries that had radically changed the relationship between productive forces and production ratios in an anti-capitalist way.
The One Belt One Road line, or rather lines, starts from Xi’an – the former capital of 13 dynasties, where there is the Mausoleum of the Qin Emperor Shi Huang, the first unifier of China, and his famous “terracotta warriors”.
It must never be forgotten that the Chinese universe, today as in its earliest stages, lives on symbols it uses in a way we can define apotropaic both for the unity of “all-under Heaven” and against external enemies.
From Xi’an – with connections to Beijing, Zhanjiang and Shanghai – the terrestrial route reaches up to Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang, and hence the area characterized by a strong Islamic presence where the Turkmen arrived following their expansion eastwards, which was also a return to the origins.
The previously mentioned city of Zhanjiang, the old Fort Bayard until 1946, is the capital city of the Guangdong Province and a very active port, the future geopolitical axis of the new China-led “Indochinese Union”, which will obviously be very different from the one favored by French occupiers from 1899 until 1946.
From Urumqi, the Silk Road terrestrial route reaches Almaty, the old Alma-Ata of the Soviet era, which is the oldest and most populous city of Kazakhstan, the former capital city until 1993.
The new “Silk Road” will then directly reach Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia’s oil axis, up to Tehran.
The reasons for the particular interest currently shown by China in Shi’ite Iran are the following: it is an oil supplier needed for its continued development; it is an anti-jihadist rampart, as we can currently see in the role played by Iran’s paramilitary forces in Syria; for the China of the new Silk Road, it is the point of control over the whole region of the Greater Middle East.
China will never lift a finger against Saudi Arabia, which is peripheral compared to its new strategic axis, but it will play an essential role in stabilizing the infra-Islamic clash, which China sees as a direct threat to its oil and geopolitical interests.
A Middle East in flames destabilizes the Islamist Uighur minorities, blocks the large commercial networks being created and devastates the economies of New China’s primary buyers.
From Bishkek there will be a line connecting the terrestrial Silk Road with the maritime one. A transport line will link the Kirghizistan capital city to Gwadar, the Pakistani port located in the Balochistan province, an area already acquired by China.
Gwadar is China’s strategic sentinel toward the Strait of Hormuz.
From Tehran the One Road will reach directly Istanbul and will then deviate – again on a land route – towards Moscow, the real military and political pivot of current China vis-à-vis the Eurasian peninsula.
All “Eurasist” theories and approaches which currently inspire Russia imply substantial unity between China and Russia, with a view to preserving Eurasia and its hegemony over current Europe.
This is the theoretical and operational foundation of Russia’s presence in Syria.
In Syria, Russia wants: a) to block any kind of US and its allies’ hegemony in the Middle East; b) to ensure its presence in the Mediterranean region, which will become a military, economic and political presence; c) to impose its hegemony over an area where there are no longer global players, with the gradual withdrawal of the United States and NATO.
The very recent Munich agreement, regardless of its duration, is the reaffirmation and certification of the special role played by Russia in the region, while temporarily enabling the United States and its allies to save face.
From Moscow, the new Silk Road will reach Rotterdam and, southwards, up to Venice, the city which, thanks to Marco Polo, is associated with the West’s new discovery of China.
As already seen, the Chinese maritime Silk Road will start from Zhangjian, and will reach Jakarta, through Kuala Lumpur, in the Straits of Malacca which are the jugular vein of international maritime trade. It will then head to Colombo, in the ancient island of Ceylon – now Sri Lanka – and northwards to Kolkata, the ancient Calcutta.
From both Eastern ports, the maritime Silk Road will reach Nairobi and then, through the Straits of Bab el Mandeb, it will reach the Suez Canal up to Athens.
Hence this is the meaning of Xi Jinping’s current visit to Cairo, the Eastern closing point of the maritime Silk Road and the military closure of the Middle East instability area.
From Athens to Venice, the two Belts will reconnect.
A “Taoist” geopolitical project: the two natural opposites oppose and merge because they are both “the Way.”
Moreover, in the Middle East, China (and Russia) are completely rethinking their relations with Israel.
In the Jewish state, China seeks advanced technologies and, in fact, in mid-December last year the two countries signed a treaty for the co-financing of some advanced research.
The Chinese banks are now strongly present in the funding of many Israeli projects, as was the case of China CreditEase with the Hapoalim Bank.
Obviously this new link between Israel and China stems from a choice of the Israeli leadership that now sees minimized its relations with the European Union, which is increasingly heading towards dangerous anti-Semitism, as well as its relations with the United States, which are now de facto abandoning the Middle East.
The geopolitical and military alternative option for the United States will be a new cold war with the Russian Federation, a true strategic nonsense which, however, will serve to preserve the old “political-military complex” of which even President Eisenhower feared the choices.
Keeping Europe ever more irrelevant at strategic level and often ridiculous in foreign policy, so as to contain Russia and then China, is the US project, which will be followed also by Barack Obama’ successor, irrespective of his/her political complexion.
It is worth noting that this new North American stance is not at all in contrast with the great project One Belt One Road which, as you can easily understand, is designed to support some countries, namely the less close to the United States, and exclude the others, namely those which are more traditionally in line with the North American Grand Strategy.
In all likelihood, Israel will be a de facto point of arrival of the maritime-terrestrial “Silk Road” while, in the future – once stabilized the Syrian chaos – China will propose itself as a credible mediator and broker between the Jewish State and the Islamic countries.
Giancarlo Elia Valori (@GEliaValori)
Honorable of the Académie des Sciences of the Institut de France