Into the Asian Century

FROM A DISTANCE By Carmen N. Pedrosa

I was told that there was no way I could go for the Belt and Road launch in Beijing The invitation could only come from the Chinese government. There were just too many who wanted to come. For myself, I wanted to be there for the event that will presage the Asian Century. For a long time the West did not think it possible but this event changed the opinions of those who said that the Asian Century was a figment of the imagination. With the launch of the new Silk Road, it is no longer something to be speculated about. It has happened.

Several countries, were sending lists of who should be invited. According to reports Vietnam’s list was already for 80 invitees. The Philippines had 29 but it was growing. We were told only heads of government and state, their cabinet members, scholars and important businessmen were invited. But many came not to listen to speeches about the Belt and Road forum but to be present for the historic launch of the legendary Silk Road of our time. It has a fascinating ancient history most of which many people, especially Filipinos, did not know. That history can be found in Wikipedia:

“The Silk Road or Silk Route was an ancient network of trade routes that were for centuries central to cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent connecting the East and West and stretching from the Korean peninsula and Japan to the Mediterranean Sea.”

The Silk Road has a romantic appeal. But did you know the trade across that route also included horses. It began during the Han dynasty (207 BCE – 220 CE). 

The Han dynasty expanded Central Asian sections of the trade routes around 114 BCE, largely through missions and explorations of the Chinese imperial envoy, Zhang Qian. The Chinese wanted their trade products protected and this is one of the reasons why they extended the Great Wall of China.

Long before we even talked about globalism and how to put peoples together to live harmoniously, it was happening in our part of the world through the Silk Road in ancient times. Trading was the key.  It grew as vibrant as roads were opened even if travelling took days, even months from East to West and vice versa. The Philippine counterpart as one ambassador pointed out was the galleon trade.

“Trade on the Silk Road played a significant role in the development of the civilizations of China, the Goguryeo kingdom (Korea), Japan, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, Europe, the Horn of Africa and Arabia, opening long-distance political and economic relations between the civilizations.  It was through trade that the East and West interacted.” 

 That is why many Filipinos have Chinese ancestors and we have Muslims in Mindanao. Though silk was certainly the major trade item exported from China, many other goods were traded and with it came also the spread of religions, philosophies, and various technologies. You take your pick. But it also had its bad side – the spread of diseases. The plague spread along the Silk Routes. 

In addition to economic trade, the Silk Road was a route for cultural trade. “The main traders during antiquity included the Chinese, Arabs, Turkmens, Indians, Persians, Somalis, Greeks, Syrians, Romans, Georgians, Armenians, Bactrians, and (from the 5th to the 8th century) the Sogdians.”

In June 2014, UNESCO designated the Chang’an-Tianshan corridor of the Silk Road as a World Heritage Site.

The Eurasian Land Bridge (a railway through China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia) is sometimes referred to as the “New Silk Road.” 

“On 15 February 2016, with a change in routing, the first train dispatched under the OBOR scheme arrived from eastern Zhejiang Province to Tehran. Though this section does not complete the Silk Road-style overland connection between China and Europe, plans are underway to extend the route past Tehran, through Istanbul, into Europe.” 

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named the Silk Road a World Heritage Site at the 2014 Conference on World Heritage. 

When I was younger I did want to take the railway from St. Petersburg to Siberia but I was not able to make the trip. That was the only railway route opened to tourists when I visited Russia. Today the plan is to build more than five touristic and economic corridors. The Philippines is not connected by land to the Asian continent but it is part of Southeast Asia. The nearest economic corridor to us in the Silk Road would be the Indochina corridor. 

The project will require huge funds but I am sure Xi Jinping and his assistants studied the financial requirements and how the other countries would contribute to it.

Whatever politics is imputed to it, the opening of the new Silk road is momentous. It will mean greater interchange of culture and trading of goods from East to West and vice versa. It will change the world. To me this is the true globalism.

Trivia: Of course you can’t be in Beijing (formerly Peking) without eating Peking Duck found in Chinese restaurants all over the world. We have our own Peking House in Greenbelt Makati. The restaurant we went to for Peking Duck was Da Dong. The duck was cooked in open fire but as my Chinese friend told me the stomach is filled with water before it is roasted in the fire. The heat from the open fire is as hot as 800 degrees (I don’t remember if it is 80 or 800 degrees but he said the water inside the stomach keeps it from burning.)  It was delicious. The best I had tasted. 

 

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