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A NEW SILK ROAD?
From one trans-national infrastructure project to the next, the Silk Road is constantly ressurected as a political trope that symbolizes regional collaboration and shared future. There is perhaps no other region in the world that is so thoroughly defined by a complex system of linear routes and infrastructures. Yet whereas the "Silk Road" of the past was more a series of trade corridors than a fixed transit corridor, the linear landscapes of today are frequently anchored into the ground in cement and steel.
In one example, China’s “Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road” AKA “Belt and Road” has been described by Chinese President Xi Jinping as a new Eurasian link “created by transportation routes, with ‘core cities’ as links in the chain.” The United States of America, meanwhile, began marketing “The New Silk Road Initiative” in 2011 as a policy vehicle through which Afghanistan would begin to re-connect with her “traditional trade routes” by “reconstructing significant infrastructure links broken by decades of conflict."
Yet the most literal and perhaps profitable reincarnation “new” Silk Road is that of the network of oil and gas pipelines that facilitate the flow of natural gas across Eurasia. Not only is this linear landscape a fixed route, either buried below ground or supported above-ground by giant steel columns, but it is also one that permanently bypasses certain countries. Much like the Silk Road of the past, the directionality of oil and gas pipelines today serves as a way to make sense of the region’s economic and political future. New infrastructure is also one of the operative methods through which the Chinese government has sought to de-frontierize the frontier, opening Central Asia to a wave of large-scale financial investments from massive state owned enterprises like Sinopec. Numerous accounts have been made of the flood of Chinese small-scale entrepreneurs seeking new places to do business across Eurasia.