From the dust of Caravan: A book review of The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan
With many of the analysts believing that the sun of the west is soon going to set and the east lead by China would soon take the seat of Super Power, Faheem Ahmad reviews 'The New Silk Road' written by Peter Frankopan. The Silk Road, a historical route connecting East with the Middle East and Arab World was once the backbone behind the economic development of the region. The author sees China's Belt and Road Initiative as an exact replica of the silk route, thus leading to the emergence and shift of power to the east.
The earth is round and so is time, at least by way of history repeating itself, as the fate of great civilizations, emerging from the dust and returning to dust, like the fate of people, from dust to dust, or even the fate of ideas, first emerging and then subsequently contested and challenged. Can this be true about power too? Can the political power, which once lied with the great empires of the East and now sits right in the high towers of the west, return back to the East? After the renaissance in the west through the 13th, 14th and 15th century, and especially with the advent of the industrial revolution in Europe, the west catapulted itself far ahead of the medieval East, in terms of the material progress and a fresh breed of ideas such as liberalism and secularism swept across the world. The dust on the caravans on the Silk Road, which once determined the course of history, is long dead and converted into the ugly mud by the onslaught of western domination by way of colonialism and imperialism. Could there be an end to this centuries’ old western hegemony?
The book, ‘The New Silk Road’ by the Oxford Historian Peter Frankopan, asks this very question and documents a prophecy of the death of the west and its imperialistic ideas, and subsequently the re-emergence of Eastern powers. This book, grounded in a sound research base, was written in 2018. It provides a new identity and place in the world to the Asian powers. In the introduction, the author writes:
“I wanted to show that the decisions being made in today’s world that really matter are not being made in Paris, London, Berlin or Rome – as they were a hundred years ago – but in Beijing and Moscow, in Tehran and Riyadh, in Delhi and Islamabad, in Kabul and in Taliban controlled areas of Afghanistan, in Ankara, Damascus and Jerusalem. I wanted to remind the reader that the world’s past has been shaped by what happens along the Silk Roads. And I wanted to underline that so too will its future.” (P. 7)
This book is divided into five parts. The first part ‘The roads to the East’ especially discusses the growing wealth in the east, its demographic and economic advancement and its resources. The arguments presented in the favour of the East are well supported by the statistics, press reports and newspaper articles. That chapter is followed by the title ‘The Roads to the Heart of World’. It is loaded with information about the remaking of Central Asia via many projects and economic treaties especially ‘the Belt and Road Initiative’. It encapsulates the events that unfolded in these countries having some political or economic importance for the re-establishment of the Silk Roads and thenceforth the resurgence of the east. Understanding China, as the most important player in the re-emergence of Asia, the author continues to discuss it under the heading ‘The Roads to Beijing’. The author believes, that the most important place on earth, at this time, is undoubtedly Beijing. He continues…
“All roads used to lead to Rome. Today, they lead to Beijing.” (P. 117)
The author argues that the market penetration of China, especially in Pakistan and other central Asian countries will lead to a stronger economy, lesser liabilities and stronger political relations and thus give rise to an economic-political block that will eventually dominate all other existing powers and blocks of the world, including Europe and USA. This debate is continued in the next chapter titled ‘The roads to Rivalry’. The author mentions that the rivalry and competition for the market between the US and China which grows by the day, is leading to a lesser importance, thus lesser influence, of the US in Asia. This chapter exclusively focuses on the ever-intensifying rivalries, between the US and China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran etc. (The rivalry between US and China has kindled up even more due to the ongoing pandemic). Even the rivalry that is growing between the EU and Turkey! These rivalries provide a base for the East, led by China, to build a different world without the influence of Dollar or Trump.
However, the author has failed to take into consideration the ideological and civilizational divide within the countries of the East and does not explain how a loose economic federation can overpower strong rivalries between China and India or India and Pakistan. The author is keen to make the reader feel that Asia will take over the world and very soon, but it fails to address the geopolitical tensions between India, Pakistan and China, which are only growing by the day. A strong economic union such as the one in Europe is a rare possibility in Asia due to centuries of rift and rupture between the communities.
The last chapter of this book is ‘The Roads to the Future’. This is the culmination of the argument. This chapter presents a picture of the future unfolding, as envisaged by the author. Given the rivalry between East and West, the strong intervening socio-politico-economic structures in East and vice versa in the west, the future is promised to the old hosts of the Caravans and Caravansaries, that is the East. Under the influences of growing Arterial Intelligence (AI) technologies, Robotics, strong economies, it is clear that from the dust of the Caravan will rise the new power centres of the world, who will have to decide the future course of the world, economics and human rights.
I will end up this review, in the same words the author ends up this book:
“Silk Roads are rising. They will continue to do so. How they develop, evolve and change will shape the world of the future, for good and for bad. Because the Silk Roads have always done just that.”
The author is a student of Literature in the final year of graduation. He can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are exclusively personal and do not reflect the stand or policy of Oracle Opinion