Everyone will have heard about the silk route. Sure, but which silk route? Until recently there would have been no doubt. There was only one silk route – the one known from ancient history, the silk route along which goods were shipped between Europe and China for centuries. It is the route that served as a supply line of Chinese ceramics for European courts, where they were in such high demand that one of our monarchs swapped a regiment of his troops for four dozen vases with the king of Prussia. The silk route fell into disuse when a sea route to China was discovered. The Chinese ceramics so beloved of king August II Sas ended up in museums, while the name of the route was confined to evocative descriptions in history books. In the next few hundred years no one even dreamed of shipping goods by land. Until recently.
Anyone who has even the vaguest idea of which way world trade is moving will have guessed what I am getting at. This year’s visit of Xi Jinping, the president of China, to Poland was an occasion to talk and write about the silk route so much that it couldn’t have escaped anyone’s attention. And there were good reasons for it! Restoration of the silk route is, without doubt, the most important economic initiative not only for the next few decades but for at least the whole of the twenty first century (medium term being a conservative forecast). It is a venture on a scale and of a calibre that is beyond comparison with anything we have seen so far.
If you think I exaggerate, try to imagine a deal involving a third of the world’s economy, several dozen countries, serving over half of the world’s population. The new silk route, referred to as One Belt, One Road (some pundits also add One World), is simply the biggest infrastructure project in history. The biggest and the most expensive, because construction and modernisation of the transport infrastructure is said to cost nearly one billion dollars! I don’t mean just the railway line (which always springs to mind in this context), but also roads, airports, seaports, including pipelines and a telecommunications network. So it is not surprising that in order to finance this gigantic venture a number of new organisations have been set up, with the Silk Road Fund and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) leading the way.
I have said that most people think about the railway line when they think about the new silk route. That is true. Shipping goods from China to Europe by sea takes over a month; by rail – less than two weeks and, to be sure, the latter is currently four times more expensive than the former but eight times less expensive than shipments by air. But the new overland silk route will run parallel to a sea shipping line – something we should not lose sight of. Why? The route crosses the South China Sea, waters of key strategic importance, not just to China but to the world! It is often said, and not without reason, that anyone who controls the South China Sea controls the world. It would be hard to deny that the new silk route was not a powerful argument in – to put it subtly – the on-going dialogue between America and China; a dialogue which concerns something more than just this strategic area. It is a venture capable of shifting the centre of world trade gravity to the Far East within a relatively short time. Such a prospect would not necessarily please everyone, would it?
Returning to things on a European scale, from our perspective the dynamism of the Chinese project is just breath-taking. The first time Xi Jinping mentioned the new silk route was in 2013. The end of 2014 saw the arrival in Madrid of the first train from China’s Yiwu, not far off the Pacific coast. In June 2016, the Railway Express from Chengdu in central China pulled into Łódź. Talk about the pace of things! And that’s just the beginning! Small wonder then that imports from China have been consistently breaking new records year after year in Poland, with a rate of growth above 10 per cent.
The new silk route creates real opportunities for our economy. Unsurprisingly, Xi Jinping’s visit was dominated by this issue. Perhaps for the first time in history Poland will be able to take advantage of its geographical location, which makes it a gateway to Europe! Need I say how important the project would be for companies such as ABC? A market leader is a leader not only because it is the first to spot opportunities but can also capitalise on them. And new opportunities are just opening up. Today the silk route does not lead either to China or to Europe. It leads to the future.
Some articles about the new silk route: