China’s belt and road meaning, sometimes referred to as the New Silk Road, is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever conceived. Launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, the vast collection of development and investment initiatives would stretch from East Asia to Europe, significantly expanding China’s economic and political influence.
Some analysts see the project as an unsettling extension of China’s rising power, and as the costs of many of the projects have skyrocketed, opposition has grown in some countries. Meanwhile, the United States shares the concern of some in Asia that the BRI could be a Trojan horse for China-led regional development and military expansion. Under President Donald J. Trump, Washington has raised alarm over Beijing’s actions, but it has struggled to offer governments in the region a more appealing economic vision.
What was the original Silk Road?
The original Silk Road arose during the westward expansion of China’s Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), which forged trade networks throughout what are today the Central Asian countries of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as modern-day India and Pakistan to the south. Those routes extended more than four thousand miles to Europe.
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Central Asia was thus the epicenter of one of the first waves of globalization, connecting eastern and western markets, spurring immense wealth, and intermixing cultural and religious traditions. Valuable Chinese silk, spices, jade, and other goods moved west while China received gold and other precious metals, ivory, and glass products. Use of the route peaked during the first millennium, under the leadership of first the Roman and then Byzantine Empires, and the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE) in China.