69 Comments
Apr 14, 2020Liked by Wade Shepard

Is good idea here but need moderation and throw off the idiot trolls trying ruin everything and make sensible opinion leave away from here. Is very annoying. Please do somethings. I want learn not read trolls.

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Apr 15, 2020Liked by Wade Shepard

Xenia, you posted quite after me, so I just suppose your comment not in my regard. I live and work in Kazakhstan in transport and logistics sphere and each time before visiting China I face with a real challenge of documents a whole procedure of getting visa to China. Of course it's diplomatic issue and for our Chinese partners it is also not always an easy process to get into the country. On top of that rules are often changing (some documents, requirments and etc.) So I realise that the relations in between these 2 countries are important for for at least a few new Silk Way corridors. That is why I am intrested in an opinion of Wade Shepard regarding volume and influence of current situation of bilateral relations. Because many things are not very well seen for the whole world, but can make a big effect, like this latest news, which spreaded widely in Kazakhstan, but reach other countries much I suppose. Also here is additionaly a link in English now https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2020/04/14/Kazakhstan-protests-Chinese-article-for-territorial-claims/8291586884730/

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This is probably the worst news that could come out for the BRI in Kazakhstan. I will look more into it and have a story up about it today.

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Thank you, so much. It is not just interesting, but important to see the situation from different perspectives.

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Thanks Xenia, that situation was taken care of and the user was banned from commenting.

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Hi Wade, do you mind if I contribute with some answers to some of the business questions? - Chris

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Hello Chris, Excellent to see you here. Yes, please do. That would be great. Thank you.

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(Banned)Apr 11, 2020Liked by Wade Shepard

Not so much a question, but part of my motivation is that I've made 20%+ on investments in my worst years, 67% in my best. Forbes is an excellent resource. But far more valuable in my investment strategies has been studying the climate of the world through objective researchers such as yourself. 2020 won't be my best year investing (as I didn't buy stock in toilet paper manufacturers), but I dumped all energy investments before they tanked. I'm vested heavily now in technology, with China-based companies leaving me guessing.

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Thanks for sharing. Yes, while I've never really invested in any companies before I imagine that there's way less value to reading the same things everybody else is. The Forbes model was pretty cool, as it was initially about bringing in experts in their field to do deep dives in the micro-aspects of what they cover and how they relate to the bigger picture rather than journalists. They allowed their writers freedom to really explore their topics, so there was always a wide array of viewpoints that wouldn't make it into other mainstream publications. Unfortunately, they seem to be getting farther and farther away from this model, which is one of the main reasons why I began this newsletter / site. If I can bring in just 800 paying subscribers I could make more than what I made there and it would be enough to travel the Silk Road perpetually and do this full time. Plus, I would get to really dive deep into the topic and share some things that can't really be published in such a big name publication.

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Technology is the way to go, and especially in Blockchain and Fintech. Look at solutions that require less personal handling of products. Here's some pointers: https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2018/10/27/infoforum-shanghai-2018-china-russia-collaborate-new-digital-economy-technologies/

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While I fully agree that technology is the way to go, and China will likely remain a giant from both industrial espionage as well as past criminal espionage (for a season), I find two things that will keep the plans described in the linked article from succeeding:

1) Russia is bordering on economic collapse, especially with a huge population to feed and its dependence on oil as its main export, and

2) The best secrets China has obtained (i.e. stolen), are relatively common ("dated technology"), and development of new technologies will continue with or without China's involvement.

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I disagree with you about Russia 'bordering on economic collapse' and its dependence on oil. I spend 6 months of the year there, and own property in Moscow and St. Petersburg. I also take part in the annual SPIEF and FEEF forums. Rather than get into a long and frankly boring debate about Russia and media, I will point out a few things:

1) Russia is one of the least indebted countries in the world;

2) It is the worlds 11th largest economy;

3) It has the worlds fourth highest foreign capital reserves.

In terms of trade and reserves, Russia is, or has:

1) The worlds largest grain exporter

2) The worlds largest oil reserves

3) Russia possesses about 30% of total global natural resources.

I walk the streets of Russia on a regular basis, and do business there. I can assure you that media claims of its pending economic collapse are far from accurate.

As for China, and "the best secrets China has obtained (ie: stolen) - that's a little disrespectful towards the thousands of smart Chinese who are leading the way in technologies such as 5G (and the later 6G and 7G already being discussed), in addition to areas such as bio-engineering, A.I. and other hi-tech industries.

That's not to say that the Chinese haven't been involved in industrial espionage. However that shouldn't be a blanket over which all Chinese technological achievements are dismissed, as it is incorrect, misleading and fails to acknowledge the new technological advances that are being made. If you do that, you end up with a divided world using differing systems. VHS vs.Betamax for example. And that is an immense waste of resources, right at a time when these need preserving. Collaboration, not confrontation is required.

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Respectfully, Mr. Devonshire-Ellis, we all have our perspectives. I may have been a bit harsh in my response to your (firm's) article calling people "Stupid," and for that, please forgive me.

As for the other matters, I seek truth in patterns. I know many international business people, some whom opened initial Russian-USA trade (before China re-emerged in the modern world). My dad was a Wharton School graduate, and he was a part of a huge initiative in the late 90's to put medical records on microchips, working with a worldwide consortium made up of all the nations you've mentioned, and about 50-60 more. So yes, it is good when MANY nations can work together, as I believe there is a higher purpose to such. But that "unity" and it's ultimate purpose has already been explained by people far greater than me, and that time will come.

As for China, I'm glad you recognize that there's a very long history of industrial and criminal espionage. It's well documented that numerous spies were caught red-handed within other government's research facilities around the globe stealing technology for the Chinese Government. And those I know who have manufactured goods in China over the last several years have (repeatedly) seen the identical product online for sale with a Chinese name at a fraction of the cost(s), only months after the technology was sent to China for manufacturing. It's why Apple has/had independent security in-place at all entrances in all Chinese production facilities, tracked every part made... to keep that from occurring. But still, I believe you're right that many (if not most) Chinese engineers and researchers are developing technology without the need for such practices, building, as we all are, on the accumulated published knowledge of others. That noted, I would not declare China the hub for emerging technologies quite yet. I believe their workforce has become much more technically savvy, like many Asian nations, with Japan being the current leader.

It's clear that you stand to make money through a trade deal between China and Russia, and I hope you are successful. Somewhat related, I read you're a billionaire. Maybe I misread that. If so, I always liked "The Red Baron." Not exactly sure what that title gets you, but it sounds cool.

In closing, if you care to know my real hope, I'd love to see the MILLIONS of impoverished Russian citizens find their way to a better future, and I'd love to see a peaceful distribution of power take place in China. I believe both people groups are special and deserve better. Because God loves them all.

Yours truly,

Brad

P.S. I fully agree with you on that Betamax example. I talked my parents into buying one many years ago. It took a while before my dad forgave me. :)

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I think your sources for data are probably rather different to mine. Aa for personal invitations, I’m not really here for private correspondence. This is a professional dialogue - if you require additional assistance and opinion over and above what is posted here I’ll be happy to send you hourly rates.

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Please sent your rates, as well as your portfolio. I have friends who would like to know more about your business in the USA.

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Baron, you couldn't afford my hourly rates.

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(Banned)Apr 11, 2020Liked by Wade Shepard

I have three questions:

1) What is currently transported on the Silk Road, in addition to people? I suppose this question really predates (and includes) the current situation. If too broad a question, maybe I should ask what is predominantly transported along the route before and during this time? Please keep in mind I'm still new to the subject.

2) Given COVID 19 has taken center stage (even in Russia, where friends on the ground tell me the real story), are you still travelling or are you taking a short break to see how things go? (Why do I expect your answer is effectively, full speed ahead?)

3) Lastly, given the historic Silk Road and the maps that show it moving like a meandering stream, do you see any part of the current route as especially vulnerable to "pirates" and such? I've read a bit on early American history, and there was definitely a shift over time in the tragic slave, sugar, and rum trade through what seemed mostly centered through Charleston, South Carolina (1700's, long after the Silk Road became infamous). "Pirates" (i.e. thieves) seem to always disrupt economic trade.

Thank you for the insights on referring to yourself as an author rather than a journalist. Sebastian's question is a good one. I totally agree, you are an author. The negative connotation on the term "journalists" has been unfortunate and (fortunately) doesn't seem to fit you at all.

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Thank you for that last statement. Yes, it's true that the journalist title has been dragged through the mud. We seem to forget that it's the job of the journalists to properly contextualize information rather than trying to scare people or create hype and to hold those in power accountable. But journalism only has power if people believe in it. Somewhere along the line we've seem to have forgotten that journalism that pushes an agenda isn't journalism anymore.

1) Broadly, everything is transported along the routes of the Silk Road. It includes maritime routes and ocean trade, etc. More specific to your question, for China's Belt and Road the focus is on exporting electronics, medical items, auto parts, and other high-end stuff and importing oil and other natural resources. For other countries, the focus is more on creating transportation routes to help propel their industrial sectors in a world that's becoming more and more decentralized. For example, we're not going to be depending on China to be the world's factory anymore as big companies move towards having many smaller plants distributed through a variety of countries (which also provides easier and faster access to more markets).

2) I'd love to keep traveling right now but with borders being closed and airlines grounding flights it's not really possible. So I'm in NYC right now, setting up this publication and getting ready to get going again as soon as the walls come down. Probably looking at Uzbekistan --> Kyrgyzstan --> Kazakhstan and then Malaysia --> Cambodia --> Myanmar.

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3) As far as pirates go, not yet. Although theft was a major concern in the early days of Trans-Eurasian rail. These trains were traveling through some of the most remote parts of the planet packed with high-value electronics. But that really hasn't been an issue yet.

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1) The Silk Road routes transport rather more than people. The main thrust is trade: https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2020/02/05/chinas-belt-road-initiative-trade-opportunity-stupid/

2) Covid-19 has impacted on the BRI as much as anywhere else. It's what happens next that's important: https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2020/04/03/coronavirus-asian-belt-road-initiative-economic-recovery-2020-2021/ While borders remain closed, some supply chains are operational or reopening. The virus will also bring forward technologies such as blockchain https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2018/03/22/belt-road-initiative-ushering-new-trade-logistics-blockchain-5g-technologies/ and robot container ships: https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2017/08/03/chinas-autonomous-cargo-shipping-alliance-digital-unmanned-obor-maritime-deliveries/

3) There are occasional problems with Pirates on the Maritime Belt & Road in parts of East Africa, where Somali raiders sometimes harass ships going through to the Straits of Hormuz. (The Tom Hanks film "Captain Phillips" tells a true story about such an encounter) and the Malacca Straits around Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. But larger ships are now more difficult to board and naval protection has improved.

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As for the robotic container ships, very interesting. It follows the model of Walmart's largest distribution centers, UPS... While it's always unfortunate when technology places jobs in the balance, it is the future (and the active present). But I wouldn't close an article with, "Surprises are in store, and Europe needs to be prepared" when the pictured vessel showcased in the article was built by Rolls-Royce (i.e. The UK). I agree that automation continues to be the focus of massive research worldwide, but it's not as though China created it. China has the manufacturing hub (for now) to support development of such expensive vessels; but, the technology is dated. And what's more, most ports are run by a Harbor Master (translated differently in different parts of the world), who control all entry and exit of vessels into the world's largest ports. Moving merchandise across the open sea is one thing, but there is an established protocol that will require adherence until political powers overthrow such. China can't change that. But just as modern commercial airliners can take-off and land automatically, why not automate ships. Makes complete sense.

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Interesting article title, Mr. Ellis. And somewhat interesting information.

In full disclosure, we can ALL be stupid. You included.

Jesus described mankind as sheep, one of the dumbest animals on earth. But sheep were/are His beloved, and the greater portion of the world that celebrated Easter today.

As for being critical of the BRI, what potential investor doesn't scrutinize investment options? It is a risk. It might pay off, and it might leave a wake of lost investment capital. Time will tell.

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Er, Brad, lets keep things respectful here please. My family name isn't "Ellis" for one thing, its "Devonshire-Ellis". There is also no need to use the word "stupid" about anyone, including me on Wade's blog. As it happens, I'm a Visiting Professor at the Higher School of Economics, part of the State University of Russia, its highest academic platform. I specialize in the Belt & Road Initiative. https://spb.hse.ru/en/ma/econasia/news/212982433.html I also have a 30 year career in the region. As for Easter, the Eastern Orthodox Church - which has 260 million believers - celebrates next week, on April 19th. You may not agree with people's opinions here. But it would be preferable if you would respect them. Wars have been fought over such freedoms. Be nice. Thank you.

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Brad, let me do the editing on my articles eh? You are beginning to cross the threshold towards becoming annoying. This is a debate not an opportunity to constantly follow people around and post irritating comments. If you continue like this I’ll cease giving my opinion and sharing articles here. Ok?

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Agreed. Please go elsewhere. Your salesmanship and manipulation of facts won't be missed, Baron.

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Kazakhstan sent a note of protest to China. Sorry for the link on Russian: https://tengrinews.kz/news/kazahstan-napravil-notu-protesta-kitayu-398653/ What do you think about this?

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Hello Sister, could you send me an email at vagabondsong [at] gmail.com. I'd like to ask you some questions about your feelings about this. Thanks.

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On the CPEC part of BRI in Pakistan.

Do you think given the current state of economy of Pakistan, and the tightening of screws by IMF as to where Pakistan spends its monies, the projects under CPEC will fructify in the near future?

Also, Pakistan's government and its military have forced a silence in the country on the detention of Uighurs in Xinijiang. But isn't it a matter of time before hyper Islamized people in Pakistan take to the streets against China? Wonder how the hyper-sensitive China may react then.

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This is an excellent report on the status of CPEC after five years: https://www.csis.org/analysis/china-pakistan-economic-corridor-five.

I do find it interesting how many Muslim countries have not taken a more active stance over the Xinjiang issue. It's a huge public issue in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and is having a real impact on Chinese projects there. But most other Muslim countries seem to be trying to overlook it, and it's not even as if China is trying to hide what's happening.

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Thanks for the response. Have you traveled through Pakistan and interacted with its people firsthand? I'd be curious to know what its people think of China, CPEC and Xinjiang.

Also, do you think China might be better able to coerce/guide Pakistan away from Jihadi foreign policy where the US and UN bodies have failed. For more radicalism should be direct threat to Chinese national security and BRI.

PS: I'm a fellow hitchhiker. Recently became aware of your work, and became a fan of your roving first person approach to exploring issues that interest you. Live in BK and hope to buy a signed copy of your books directly from you once the lockdown lifts up.

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The thing about the Uyghurs is that they are not especially popular within the mainstream liberal Muslim community either.

Politically they tend to be seen as backward, argumentative and exclusive. Uyghurs will not intermarry with other Muslims and consider their version of Islam as the more pure. That creates conflicts. Consequently the main political contact they have with Islam is with extremists - which is what worries Beijing. This is a people who given their position and the relative wealth in Xinjiang - Urumqi is Central Asia's richest city by far - should be the top traders within the region. But they refuse to learn Mandarin and refuse to have any integration with the Chinese.

In terms of trade there are many cool Uyghur merchants, and many decent Uyghurs. But they tend to be cowed by their less liberal family heads and Mullahs.

I've been travelling around Xinjiang and Central Asia for years. I have come across Uyghur Mosques where even other Muslims are barred from worshipping.

The Uyghur issue is extremely complicated and involves tribal factions, varying opinions on Islam, an exclusivity and huge chips on shoulders partially created by their own tribal stance and made worse by Stalin, Mao and years of communist suppression. It is a great shame, these were the people who gave the Mongolians a written language and who acted as advisors to Genghis Khan. What has happened to the Uyghurs isn't purely down to contemporary Chinese suppression. It is an inherent lack of their beliefs to adapt to a more modern world, and that remains an internal Uyghur issue as the main drag upon them rather than anything else. They are a people who have lost their way, and that is very sad.

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It's interesting comparing the Uyghurs of Xinjiang and those of Kazakhstan, where they are more integrated into the matrix of society. The Uyghur trade network is pretty fascinating in Central Asia as well. However, as you put it, it's a very tribal culture and even the spoken language of the Uyghurs of Kazakhstan is rather different than those of Urumqi. I was friends with a Uyghur translator in Zharkent who could understand modern Turkish better than she could the Urumqi Uyghur dialect. There's also a growing return to Islam movement among Uyghurs in Kazakhstan as well, which is partially being supported / funded by Middle Eastern players. It's a very layered topic that I'm looking forward to digging deeper into the next time I can get back there.

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The Urumqi Uyghurs are extremely traditional and consequently often backward in their ability to progress. Young girls sent into purdah when they start menstruating, I've heard the screams of this happening. I employed a Uyghur girl in my Beijing office, very smart, spoke five languages, qualified accountant. That was rare enough. But after 5 years and having a great career and earning good money her family made her return to Urumqi for an arranged marriage. He was a railway porter and had nowhere near her education or career potential. Three years later, she was pregnant with her third child. I was visiting Urumqi and offered to see her, only to be told 'it would not be permitted'. We lost touch shortly after that. A society that takes its brightest and smartest then keeps them locked away as little better than brooding hens to support men who have no ambition other than to feel professionally oppressed has some serious social and development issues. The Chinese keep Xinjiang relatively safe compared with what went on there before. The Uyghur problem is largely a result of a society that remain backward in thought and social behaviour and are unable or unwilling to adapt to modern society. The elders and mullahs of the Uyghurs in China are more culpable than the Han Chinese in the poverty, disillusionment and destruction of their own people.

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Good day, Wade! I live in Russia and the new silk road is as far away for me as Japan. However, Japan is the only country to which I have an interest, and as far as I know, one of the routs of the New Silk Road begins in Japan. Am I right? If so, what will be the role of Japan in this?

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Hello Georgiy, Japan's role is huge, although not really as a physical location on the Silk Road. Sure, all roads link together and there are multimodal routes connecting Japan in with the Trans-Eurasian rail network. But Japan's biggest role is in infrastructure funding / development and stocking nascent industrial zones in emerging markets along the Silk Road with companies. Japan also leads the ADB, the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and the Japan Infrastructure Initiative, which are all, to varying extents, filling in the dots along the Silk Road. Some could say that, up to here, Japan has had as big of a role in Silk Road development than China -- they've also been at it for way longer.

Why don't you go out and research Japan's role in Silk Road building?

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I have never considered the role of Japan in the project from this point of view. It is interesting. Perhaps, really, I see no reason why I couldn’t try to find out more! You gave me good starting points.

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Excellent! Let me know how it goes.

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Hi Georgiy, Japan is taking advantage of the Belt & Road, but essentially it's the Trans-Siberian dressed up a bit. I wrote about that here: https://www.russia-briefing.com/news/trans-siberian-land-bridge-opens-reducing-japan-eu-transportation-time-50.html/ There are issues between Japan and Russia however as you will be aware, not least the debate about the Kurill Islands, which remains a huge problem. I suspect that Russia will eventually give them back but not until the last remaining relatives of Russian soldiers who died there are long gone. Until that is resolved, Japan will refrain from investing much in the Russian Far East. PM Abe said as much at last Septembers Far Eastern Economic Forum.

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Thank you for the answer and article. It was nice to know more a little bit!

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Who took that picture

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Karl Gheysen, the first CEO of Khorgos Gateway and one of the early dreamers who saw the potential of Central Asia and a dry port in the most landlocked place on the planet.

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What is some advice to new travelers that plan of traveling through Silk Road, China, and other Asian countries?

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Hello Gianna,

Thanks for the question.

1) Have an objective. Is your focus on tourism or in documenting development? If documenting development, a clear objective is needed. Who are you doing research for? Where is it going to be published?

2) Make sure you're creating "win-win" situations for the people you intend to interview, meet, etc. Ask yourself what's in it for them? This often means giving them a platform to share their message. So make sure you have an agreement in place with a publication or have some way of sharing what they have to say with an international audience.

3) Plan in advance. Put together a list of contacts and schedule meetings in advance. I usually start getting in touch with people around two weeks before arrival.

If you're interested in just traveling around -- which is cool too -- I'd say research big but plan little. Start at one end of the line and just work your way down it. Allow for serendipitous changes of plan. Take opportunities as they come. TALK TO EVERYBODY. Travel alone (important!). Contact people on social media and invite them out to coffee. Tell them what you're interested in and find out if they know anyone that could help. Have a list of things that you want to learn, things that you don't understand. Spend time in small villages. Know the history of the region's that you are traveling through and keep well organized notes. Make friends. Have fun!

A question for you: why do you want to travel the Silk Road?

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Gianna just an aside: travel alone for a single woman in some of these countries is probably not advisable, especially in the Muslim regions. Some of them have different views and would see a single woman outdoors as being a prostitute - and that can have very serious consequences. Research before you go.

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Chris is right about taking additional precautions traveling as a single woman in some countries. But I've known a decent amount of women traveling alone in Central Asia and they seem to not really be too concerned about it. A benefit of having a male with you is if you want to do research that involves interviewing local men. They often get a little squeamish in these circumstances, as the know how it could be perceived. Plus, it's just not a situation that they're in very often and it seems to make them uncomfortable. I once had a female researcher take me around with her just to hang out and be a "a dude," as she felt it provided her with better access. Although I would be a little more cautious in some Middle Eastern countries.

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If the BRI and its efforts are flawing, which player's project could overtake its role?

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Excellent question. I don't really see China withdrawing from Silk Road development anytime soon. While Covid will probably slow things down considerably, I don't see them being knocked out of the game. However, what this does it creates new space for other Silk Road initiatives -- such as those from Japan, India, Russia, etc -- to really step up their games. While the pandemic will probably slow things down a little, Silk Road infrastructure and industrial projects are truly needed / wanted by many of the players involved and they are going to pursue them regardless of anything. But what I believe may happen is partner countries being more weary of Chinese funding and direction in these projects. However, the fact of the matter is that many countries turned to China in the first place because they couldn't get funding / support from other sources. For this class of country I don't believe this will change that much. I don't see the World Bank or ADB all of a sudden going out and funding fanciful projects that they don't deem worthy with dubious partners just because countries are becoming more concerned about working with China. For many big projects, China is and will probably continue to be the only game in town. Now the big question is whether China is going to be as willing to continue bankrolling such expensive projects that have limited probabilities of success. What happens with loan repayment / economic recovery of partner nations in the aftermath of Covid will tell the direction this will go.

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The only other major initiatives announced by any country have been the US "Blue Dot Network" which has failed to ignite any serious attention: https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2019/11/19/blue-dot-infrastructure-network/ The EU has its own regional initiative but it fails to connect or even mention China: https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2018/10/23/eu-commissions-view-china-belt-road-initiative-map/ and India's "IDEAS" network: https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2019/07/17/indias-ideas-belt-road-alternative-project/

All smack of Government researchers coming up with alternatives in order to justify grants rather than anything serious. At present the BRI remains the only major, globally encompassing scheme of its type. I doubt it can be replicated.

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How do you manage to travel through all the authoritarian systems along the Silk Road as a journalist trying to investigate not only the "easy" pleasing questions but the ones which put the very „New Silk Road“ paths of those regimes into question?

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Haha good question. Reputation and connections, I guess. This situation has come up a couple of times, and the solution was to classify me as an "author." As one immigration official of one such country put it, I wouldn't be permitted to do journalism as a journalist haha. That said, what these countries are mostly worried about are local journalists digging into local issues. What I cover -- even if I do so critically -- isn't really on their radar of what they care about. They seem to know that having their big projects talked about in the international media is ultimately a net positive. There are many huge biases in the international media about what countries are considered "news worthy," and some dude wanting to come into a country that seldom gets international attention to talk about their big projects is often welcomed. This was especially true during the early days of the Silk Road, where things were just starting and everybody was positive and hopeful and there wasn't really too much to be critical of. How bad of a thing could you really say about an empty field? But now things are getting a little more interesting and the stakes have been raised for covering these initiatives. While small time (normal) corruption was always present and not really too relevant to an international audience, we've now had some major scandals along the BRI, and they may start being a little more careful about who they talk to in the future. But, of course, I hope I'm wrong!

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Wade has differing personal experiences from me, although I fully agree with his points. I have a slightly different background and can call upon a business and academic background rather than a media based one. That opens a lot of doors. I think at present the only countries it is really hard to get into are Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Others are opening up, Uzbekistan for example opened its doors to foreign visitors and provides visa on arrival for many nationalities last year. https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2019/01/09/uzbekistan-offers-visa-free-30-day-access-45/ It's getting easier to travel these days. Coronavirus excepted.

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What's going to be the impact of the China origin of the Corona virus on the BRI? Will we see a push back from any country? Will they begin to see the danger in being vassal states to China?

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Good question.

The impact of the pandemic on the BRI is going to be huge. I wrote a little about it here: https://newsilkroad.substack.com/p/why-china-tried-blaming-the-us-and. The pandemic is really leaving a bad taste in most of the world's mouth in regards to China, which isn't what the country needs if it intends to continue selling countries on the benefits of long-term partnerships.

In countries like the US and especially in Europe, where China is trying to become more of a technology partner, the perceived and real lapses in proper protocol by Beijing in the early days of the outbreak is really bringing into question how much of a trusted partner China can be. This happened at probably the worst time for Beijing's 5G ambitions in Europe, as many countries were currently debating on whether or not to let Huawei in. It's now going to be much harder sell to both government officials and the general public.

While in many emerging markets that are heavily indebted to China the economic / life loss can be used as leverage to attempt to get loans canceled or to work out better deals for repayment. We're already seeing calls for the cancellation of Chinese debt in Africa due to the pandemic.

This is also just another factor working against the BRI. Public and, in some areas, political sentiment towards the BRI was trending towards being extremely negative as it was. There were already fears of losing sovereignty, of being put in a debt trap, and the fact that there are very few truly successful BRI project that can serve as an example of what the initiative can do for the people of partner countries. Now with the novel coronavirus pandemic it is going to be even more difficult to convince countries to engage in long-term and very costly partnerships with China.

However, as Plamen Tonchev just pointed out in an excellent article on The Diplomat (https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/the-belt-and-road-after-covid-19/), the Covid-19 pandemic gives the BRI the ability to reboot and start over again. This is something that's sorely needed, as so much of it up to now has been scattered, corrupt, and poorly managed -- both by Beijing and the governments of the partner countries. In many areas, China hasn't developed the knowledge of other nations necessary for such an international endeavor and have yet to work out the kinks in their own administration, the deficiencies of which were often exacerbated by the BRI. A break was basically something that needed to happen anyway, as the BRI was going downhill fast in most markets.

If Beijing can come back with a new and improved, streamlined, and well-administered BRI, then the break that the pandemic is causing could oddly be turned into something positive for the initiative. However, the likelihood of that, I feel, is improbable. It's my impression that the BRI is not one of the biggest priorities of Beijing at this time, as they have far more important things to be working on domestically. Also, I have doubts as to if the upper levels of the government really understand how messed up the BRI is on the ground. I believe there is a very good chance that they are receiving a Potemkin view of things.

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I'm not sure I agree with Wade here. Here's an overview of Belt & Road after the virus, according to data from the Asian Development Bank: https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2020/04/03/coronavirus-asian-belt-road-initiative-economic-recovery-2020-2021/. I terms of issues such as "debt diplomacy" I have first hand experience of that. Sri Lanka is often touted as an example of China behaving badly. The true story is rather different: https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2018/04/23/chinas-belt-road-initiative-blamed-sri-lankas-hambantota-port-problems-real-story-rather-different/ We are also seeing China having lent money to poorer nations who then suffer problems such as natural disasters. I wrote about that here: https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2020/04/10/friendship-test-beijing-belt-road-initiative-vanuatu-laid-waste-cyclone-harold/ So yes, China has to deal with these issues and it will face some tough decisions, and it will get some of those wrong. I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt at present. Another way to look at Beijing's global position is to ponder which countries China currently has troops in and which countries it has recently threatened with sanctions? Food for thought.

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Hello Chris, Thanks for these responses. It adds another dimension to the discussion here.

I'd say that China is at a very different stage in its foreign policy than, say, the USA. We have yet to see what will come of China's massive military build up. However, I don't see China making the same globe-spanning military forays as the US has done and continues to do. However, in instances such as providing security in restive BRI regions, securing maritime trade, or defending what they perceive as their territory (South China Sea, etc) I would expect to see more and more Chinese military involvement.

What do you think would happen if countries began walking back on the One-China policy and started recognizing Taiwan's sovereignty? I imagine it would look very much like sanctions.

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Well yes, but that Taiwan scenario you suggest remains imaginary and is unlikely to happen. It isn't plausible. The United States meanwhile already has military on the ground elsewhere and does use sanctions as a weapon. As for China's military build up - where? I have never seen Chinese navy vessels in Sri Lanka for example. That may change as the US moves out of the picture. But it hasn't changed yet. However the global order is altering. A Russian Soyuz rocket took off on Friday carrying crew to the ISS. Among them the new ISS commander, who is American. The US doesn't have a viable mechanism to send men into space right now so they have to hitch a ride with the Russians. Meanwhile, the US response to Covid-19 looks a complete mess. So which is it? A rise of Chinese and Russian militarism or the on-going demise of a nation that 20 years ago had the worlds sympathy after 9-11? The United States has become neurotic, suspicious and aggressive during this time. An internal audit might be a rather more productive solution that the constant China/Russia-scaremongering that doesn't necessarily get to the real heart of the problem. But that's politics. It's not my thing.

What is my thing is that I'm a trade guy. From where I see things, China and Russia are up to negotiating Free Trade Agreements and reducing tariffs and barriers. The United States is doing the opposite and withdrawing from globalization. In trade terms, that concerns me, but will also open up new trade avenues elsewhere. Which is exactly what the Belt & Road is. From the trade aspect alone, that's exciting.

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Hello Chris, China has been excessively building up their military and developing military technology for many years. But of course you know this. Also, we have seen Chinese naval vessels in Sri Lanka -- but I feel that this was hyped out of proportion.

I don't believe I said anything in support of the US or US militarization above or that we have this sheer dichotomy between the China / Russia or the US. The countries are too interwoven for that to happen anytime soon. I believe there is a third option, which is where further Eurasian integration -- what we call the Silk Road -- comes in.

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All fair points Wade. I'm not sure about US / China / Russia integration though, if that's what you meant. The US & China have to dance through trade and debt financing, but both are now trying to reduce mutual dependency. Meanwhile China and Russia are consciously coupling - the Eurasian integration as you so wisely point out. But I don't see that as a triumverate by any means.

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With all due respect Mr. Devonshire-Ellis, you do not know what options the US has to send manned spacecraft into orbit. Because the US does not share that information with the general public.

You're a "trade guy" by your own admission. A businessman. But in reading your words, politics is definitely your thing, or have you not been reading the words you've written?

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@Brad: You miss the point. American rhetoric and behaviour towards other countries has been covering up inherent problems within the United States itself. The US would be better off looking internally to solve its problems than playing with other nations well-being. The view about the US position within the world from within the US is one thing. The view externally is quite another: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/apr/12/us-global-reputation-rock-bottom-donald-trump-coronavirus

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deletedApr 11, 2020Liked by Wade Shepard
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Excellent! Thank you very much.

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