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article imageOp-Ed: Australia tiptoes on to the New Silk Road

By Paul Wallis     Nov 11, 2018 in World
Melbourne - An Australian state, Victoria, has signed up with China to explore participation in the Belt and Road initiative, aka the New Silk Road. This is Australia’s first hesitant step on the New Silk Road, but it’s a major deal.
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Victoria and China last month, but has only now become public. You’d think that any deal with China, Australia’s biggest trading partner, would be perfectly normal, but not this time.
Australia has been very coy about Chinese trade deals. This is largely because our now frumpish partner, America, is engaged in a ridiculous, utterly pointless, trade war with China. (We’re not fans of the trade war. Nor are we grateful for being given an “us or them” position between the two nations which is no possible use at all to us.)
The problem for Australia is that a US perspective which never takes the long view on anything these days, isn’t much use to us. We need to look and go forward, not backwards, and this huge new network is a real, meaningful, future option.
The Belt and Road Initiative is a global game changer, and it’s specifically designed to be a global game changer. It’s based on a long view of trade and upgraded distribution which is as much necessary as it is practical.
It looks like a circuit board/cabling network, (see map) with six major axes on land and connecting with major distribution networks. There are also four axes on sea, covering big shipping lanes, and plugging in to Africa on the east coast.
From the Chinese perspective, this is a good rationalization of freight, shipping, handling, and distribution. It’s a net benefit across the entire spectrum of Chinese trade. It’ll save them money, expand trade access, and improve the bottom line over time. It’s as useful to the Chinese as the transcontinental railway was to the US in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The external perspective, however, has been long on politics and very short indeed on trade. Chinese money and infrastructure is setting up all over the world, and a lot of pompous verbiage, none of it productive, has resulted.
The problem for Australia is we haven’t actually modelled, or costed, or explored in any real depth, our participation in the New Silk Road. It may or may not work for us. There are more than a few credible indicators that it might be a major positive. It may have major benefits as a network for our exports and imports. (Given that we import as much from China as anyone else and that freight costs are murder in Australia, you’d think it’d be a no-brainer. Apparently we haven’t thought it through, even to that extent, yet.)
China in Red  the members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in orange.
China in Red, the members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in orange.
Lommes via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)
So the big deal is a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding with China and one Australian state. This is just to be able to get involved in the Silk Road at some time in the future. Talk about fearlessly bold business savvy; it’s more like some very young kid approaching a wading pool for the first time.
What about the politics, you ask?
One of the reasons China, and to some extent Russia, find it so easy to score political and economic points around the world is the sheer mindless superficiality of Western perspectives. It’s as if the West focuses exclusively on what is done at any given moment, not the objectives of what’s done. Every tiny detail with be analysed to death, but not the bigger picture.
A very old Chinese saying, thousands of years old, in fact, is that “The superior general wins without fighting”. That’s exactly what they’re doing, and they’re winning with ease. The West isn’t doing a damn thing about global trade, let alone setting up a huge global trading network.
The West can’t do a damn thing about the Belt and Road Initiative, either. What are the options? Throw a tantrum on Twitter? Put tariffs on dim sims? Don’t be bloody absurd. Or at least, no more absurd than usual, for god’s sake.
One thing I can tell you from decades of reading Chinese history and culture: China is long overdue for one of its brilliant periods. If this is one of those periods, learn from it. …And try not to go broke in the meantime with idiotic, outdated trade policies.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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