by David P. Goldman
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 284
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: China’s “New Silk Road” is Beijing’s latest project aimed at creating a belt of railroads, highways, pipelines and broadband communications stretching through China to the West, and a “maritime Silk Road” combining sea routes with port infrastructure from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean. This project comes at a point where the role of the US in the Middle East is declining, and it is likely that China will aspire to adopt a larger role in the region. Israel’s geographical position and technological advances makes it possible for Israel to play a bridgehead role in the project, and the opportunity to shape Chinese thinking and strategy in the region for decades to come.
China’s “New Silk Road” might become history’s most ambitious investment in infrastructure. Some Chinese strategists predict an Israeli role in the project on par with, or possibly even more important, than that of Turkey. China calls the project “One Belt and One Road,” referring to a belt of railroads, highways, pipelines and broadband communications stretching through China to the West, and a “maritime Silk Road” combining sea routes with port infrastructure from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean.
Israel’s location makes it possible for the Jewish state to “play the role of bridgehead for ‘One Belt and One Road’ with the completion of the ‘Red-Med’ rail project,” said Dr. Liu Zongyi at a November seminar at Remnin University. Dr. Liu based at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, spoke of a $2 billion, 300 km rail line linking Ashkelon with the Red Sea. The “Red-Med” project is usually presented in more modest terms, as a way of absorbing excess traffic from the Suez Canal, or an alternative route in the event of political disruption.
What China calls “One Belt and One Road” proposes that China, with the Mediterranean on the East-West axis, will have the opportunity to create high-speed rail lines in Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. China aims to double its 12,000 kilometers of railway track by 2020, with high-speed lines comprising most of the expansion. It is building a rail network south through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia to Singapore, and west to Istanbul.
Some Chinese strategists see “Red-Med” as emblematic of a more ambitious design for the region. For example, Sino-Israeli collaboration aims to include counterterrorism and anti-piracy operations, as well as economic support for Arab countries. Israel can provide advanced technologies, such as in agricultural, to support the industrialization of the Middle East in the context of “One Belt and One Road.” The Chinese have even pointed out to Israel that their navy is conducting anti-pirate missions in the Indian Ocean and The Gulf of Aden that Israel can participate in.
The project implies a radical shift in China’s perceptions of regional security in the Middle East. China’s net oil imports have nearly tripled in the past decade, from 100 million tons per month in 2005 to nearly 300 million tons today, and most of the increase …read more