How It Started
The Silk Road refers to the terrestrial and maritime routes that connect the East and the West. Precisely, it connects East Asia and Southern Asia with East Africa, West Africa, West Asia, and Southern Europe. The name silk is due to Asian silk which is the main traded good, thus influenced the creation of the trade route. The route expanded around 200 BCE when China made contact with the west, however, trade along the route came to a stall in the 18th century due to the fragmentation of the Mongol Empire and the collapse of the Safavid Empire. Following the earthquake that struck Central Asia in 1966, the effort has been made to reconstruct trade networks, majorly rail routes such as the Eurasian land bridge which spurred transportation of goods from China to Europe.
Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, announced the plan to construct a transcontinental trading route that will comprise of the railway (belt of overland corridors) and shipping routes (maritime road of shipping lanes). The belt and road initiative (BRI) is to connect cities in over 65 countries across Asia, Africa, and Europe. Although as of date about 75 countries as expressed participation in the plan, following President Xi’s assertion than the project is open to all countries. These countries boast of a cumulative gross domestic product of around US$ 21 trillion (about 30 percent of global GDP), a population size of 4.4 billion (62 the world’s population), and 75 percent of the world. The BRI is estimated to cost over US$1 trillion. The initiative is seen as a way of enhancing the growth of trade among countries, thus spurring economic growth and development of member countries in the process. The initiative is in its fifth year of operation with a giant stride made as well as some notable setbacks.
Four features can be identified that distinguish the Belt and Road Initiative from other trade relation plans. First, BRI takes global trade integration into the next level, unlike most regional trade relationships in which countries within similar regions form trade blocs, BRI aims at fostering trans-regional by breaking transportation barriers among regions. Thus, this is a foremost evidential drive towards integrating global trade. Second, the colossal size of the plan, according to Forbes, the project is expected to cost more than 12 times the US Marshall Plan. It covers a significant proportion of the global population and countries of the world, thus creating the largest trade network thus far in global trade relations. The third is the two routes of the plan. Interestingly the concept sounds confusing as the road aspect refers to the sea route, while the belt aspect refers to the terrestrial route. Lastly, the openness to all countries provides a physical barrier breaker for countries to effectively break into the world global market and this threatens the existing trade barriers as capture in regional trade blocs.