China's Maritime Silk Road will connect China via sea routes to nations and cities across South Eastern and Southern Asia, as well as Africa and Europe. Here we present some of the ongoing and proposed projects which will define the success of the Maritime Silk Road.
Currently Gwadar is viewed by China as a primarily strategic investment that will help link the Middle East and Europe with Western China via the Chinese backed Pakistan Investment Corridor. A new deepwater port will be built to handle large vessels alongside a new international airport and an export processing zone. Critics fear that the port and road north to China will just attract terrorists and the development will not benefit locals, only the Islamabad elite and their Chinese allies.
Bagamoyo in Tanzania might not be the first place on people's mind when thinking about the Maritime Silk Road. But now thanks to a Chinese/Omanii backed investment plan to develop a port there – Bagamoyo could be a key hub in the Maritime Silk Road helping to cement links between East Africa and Asian markets. Once complete, the port will be the biggest in Africa and again thanks to the Chinese there will be major rail upgrades to connect Bagamoyo to other parts of the continent as well as a new export development zone, which in theory should help Tanzania export more of its own goods as well as becoming a regional hub for other countries wares. China is also developing ports in and around 10 other African countries – helping meet the continent's massive infrastructure needs.
The Golden Waterway
Perhaps the most controversial potential project around the Silk Road is a proposed canal through the Isthmus of Kra in Thailand. The canal would cut through the thinnest part of Thailand (around 30 km) and allow ships a short cut from China to Europe, avoiding the congested Straits of Malacca. But the project has met with local and international opposition from Thais fearing it would divide the country as well as being highly expensive. Naturally, Singapore is opposed as it would undermine its strategic position overseeing and docking a huge proportion of the world's container traffic. For now, Thailand has failed to back the project, but the Chinese still view a long term opportunity to finance and develop a canal which could then fall under their sphere of influence, giving them more power over the sea lanes to China.
The proposed project will create a US$ 1.7 billion port and international airport, plus supposedly a new special economic/export processing zone.
In principle, all this will allow Sri Lanka greater access to export markets plus a cut of the docking fees paid by visiting ships, especially given the port is so close to major shipping lanes.
The Chinese are developing a logistical base for the country's anti-piracy naval operations in the region. The base will strategically overlook the passage between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean and through which much of the world's merchant shipping flows. This could be the start of a series of overseas naval bases for China as it looks to extend its military reach in an attempt to protect its now huge and lucrative global trade network.
China has signed a deal with Myanmar to develop an industrial park and deep water port in Kyaukphyu . This port in Bay of Bengal gives China another route through which goods and energy can flow to the Chinese heartland while avoiding the Straits of Malacca, currently dominated by the US. This route is however dependent on a rail line from Kunning in Southern China to Kyaukphyu, not on the table right now – but a long term ambition for both nations.
China's development of air force and military installations on this tine outpost and other parts of the Paracel Islands will test the resolve of neighbouring countries that all stake a claim to the region. Control over the islands could prove a Pyrrhic victory for China if it alienates its neighbours and invokes the ire of the US.
The South East Asian nation is made up of thousands of islands and is in much need of new port infrastructure, something which China can help build and finance, but there is a wariness towards Chinese intentions in Jakarta thanks to the simmering territorial disputes which bedevil the South China Sea. Japan has also made promises to help build Indonesian infrastructure and could provide potent competition to China in the years to come.
The Chinese China Ocean Shipping Group (Cosco) brought a stake in the Greece port and made fresh investment worth around Euro 1 billion. Cosco has promised a new start and the renewal of a logistics hub that would help connect Eastern Europe by rail and Asia by sea. This is Greece's biggest port, which had to be privatized with foreign funding as the country went through a severe economic depression.
Suez Canal Zone
Egypt is viewed as a central pillar of the Arab world and a key plank of the Maritime Silk Road thanks to its control of the Suez Canal, a strategic chokepoint where much of China's trade flows to and from Europe. China has announced new investments in Egypt, including help with the construction of a new capital between Cairo and the canal.