The New Silk Road: An opportunity to develop the Lebanese economy


During the past two weeks, Lebanon has entered into a direct debate on cooperation with China and opened the door to its investment. But for months, many media and politicians have been racing to suggest examples, throughout the third world, that speak of “Chinese intentions to control” the world. These western narratives coincided with the beginning of talk about searching for eastern sources of financing. Suddenly, the Lebanese discovered the Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative, and many of them adopted the Western narrative that seeks to demonize it. However, what happened during the past days was reflected in the refusal of those rejecting the principle of cooperation with China, from the circle of allusions to “Chinese intentions”, towards a circle of frank accusation, especially after official American statements about the feasibility of Lebanese-Chinese cooperation.The truth is that the Western media and political spaces approach the Chinese initiative and policies that accompany it with a lot of skepticism, even to the limits of demonization. Just placing any “belt and road” phrases on Internet search engines will open up a stream of reports, articles and studies that spoil the initiative. We will find an elaboration to explain the Chinese pursuit of imperial expansion, especially through the “debt trap”.
The debt trap is when a developed country lends a loan to a developing country that it knows it is unable to repay, with the aim of controlling the national resources of the debtor.
In the context of demonization, Western specialists are not satisfied with attacking the initiative but in a way that the Chinese are also presenting it, especially when China focuses on linking contemporary Chinese efforts with the historic Silk Road. For these people, the evocation of the Silk Road, and the peaceful trade and civilization that surround it, is a deception aimed at blinding the true Chinese goals, which are economic expansion and then the Chinese imperial.

The Silk Road and the boundaries of infrastructures
The goals that Westerners envision to evoke the historic Silk Road within the “Belt and Road” initiative cannot be realistic. The deception of the peoples of the Third World with the aim of replacing Western hegemony with Chinese domination cannot be accomplished by evoking a historic trade route such as the Silk Road. This road was not purely Chinese, but all the peoples of the Eurasian field carry in their histories part of the memory of commercial, geographical and historical hegemony over it. Originally, there is nothing in history called the Silk Road, this designation is an invention of German traveler Ferdinand von Richthofen in 1877. This road was, in effect, a huge group of roads that pass through Central Asia and the South China Sea and India to Persia and Arabia to Mesopotamia, Syria and Anatolia and then to Europe via Mediterranean trade. Throughout history and geography, these roads were subject to the control and protection of many different peoples and empires successively, and were not only under Chinese protection and development.

Trade through these methods (or the Silk Road for the runoff of the designation in public space) was a precedent for any Chinese imperial formation. In her book “The Silk Road in World History”, “Chenroo Lu” notes that before the unification of China under the rule of the “Kin” imperial dynasty, the Chinese kingdoms traded with tribal alliances in Mongolia in the north, and those in Xinjiang (northwest China today) west. The pillar of this trade was the exchange of Chinese luxury goods with horses that these tribes were raising and securing in large numbers. The Chinese have been alerted to the importance of cavalry in military formations in the context of their struggle with the tribes of the North and West, which were invading Chinese agricultural villages in the northern kingdoms continuously. The Chinese were not able to breed horses, which needed extensive pastures, unlike the Asian steppe tribes. What the Chinese did not know, at the time, was that the tribes they were trading with were also trading their goods west with other tribes along the Asian steppe. This chain of intertribal trade extends to empires in Western Asia and to the Mediterranean trade.
And Lu adds that the Chinese were not aware of this trade and its extent until after the trip of the imperial envoy “Shan Sian” in the second century BC. Emperor Wu (the Han dynasty) sent Sian on a diplomatic mission west, but he was subjected to families in Mongolia and moved with the tribe that had held him for years in the Asian steppe. Among families, fleeing and returning, Sian’s journey took thirteen years, during which he became acquainted with the Asian steppe lifestyle and its trade and political relations. Before the families ’trip, the Asian steppe was almost unknown to the Chinese. In his reports, which he delivered to the emperor upon his return, Siyan denounced the type and quantities of Chinese goods in the West (even to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan today). He pointed out that these goods were arriving either through the steppe or through India from southern China. He even mentioned that this trade extends to the western sea (the Mediterranean, as the Chinese used to call it).
In this context, China began expanding north and west with the aim of controlling the trade route that runs through the Gobi Desert in the north and northwest, away from the steppes controlled by tribal alliances. Julia Lovel, in her book “The Great Wall”, says that the expansion of the wall north and west in the first phase of the rule of the Han dynasty was not aimed at protecting safe farmers from the invasions of the “northern barbarians”, but rather the main objective was expansion and subjugation, especially since “Sian” Not only did he transfer what he saw during his trip, he advised to control the trade route to the west.

Indeed, this expansion was governed by geographical and population challenges, as Luo points out. Building walls and installing defensive positions guarded by military units in the difficult desert environment bordered by a mountain range in the south was a logistical challenge. To overcome this challenge, the Chinese took advantage of the mouths of the springs that were pouring from the top of the mountain range to form oases in the desert, and established settlements in them to secure support and supplies for defensive positions on the wall. Over time, the Chinese transferred Chinese agricultural and irrigation technology to these oases, enabling them to expand their agricultural areas. The oases were transformed into towns and cities, capable of supporting military garrisons and providing services, food and fodder to travelers on the Silk Road. This means that the oases have become commercial stations on the Silk Road, that is, they have turned into part of the infrastructure that facilitated trade west to and from China. But the Chinese expansion did not go beyond the contemporary “Dunhuan” city, because these are the last oases that the Chinese were able to exploit and develop, and they built their last paths on the wall (the jasper gate) 80 kilometers northwest of the city.
In practice, during this period, Imperial China extended to the greatest geographical level, allowing its ability to develop trade road infrastructure. As for trade on the Silk Road, it did not depend only on the infrastructure of the Chinese Empire, because after the “jasper gate”, trade depended on the tribes. These, in turn, connected the Asian steppe to the infrastructure inherited by successive eastern empires from the Achaemenid Persian Empire. The latter had established the imperial road that linked the outskirts (from the west west to Afghanistan to the east) with the Persian center. Just as the Achaemenid Imperial Road continued to serve the peoples for the ensuing millennia, so did the infrastructures that the Chinese founded on the part of the Silk Road that they controlled for centuries until the fifteenth century. Trade continued on the Silk Road, regardless of the rise and fall of empires and states.

Opportunity and propaganda
Returning to the western propaganda by silk, Debra Proteigham states in her research paper “A Critical Look at the Chinese Debt Trap Diplomacy”, that the “Belt and Road” initiative is a cross-border economic stimulus package that is win-win for both sides, meaning China and any country that accepts it. The initiative aims to stimulate economic growth in China as well as the countries it deals with along the historic Silk Roads.
As part of the initiative, China has pledged to finance and build infrastructure and build new economic corridors that extend through Central Asia to Europe and southeastern India – the Pacific. So we can assume that China is trying to translate the history of its experience in managing trade between it and the West through Eurasia in contemporary economic language.
Brautigam (professor of political economy at Johns Hopkins University and director of the China-Africa Research Initiative at the Paul H. Knitz School of Advanced International Studies) elaborates on Western prejudice on Chinese foreign investment in the last decade. Western leaders, along with the media, made the legend of Chinese “debt trap diplomacy.” This myth that we consume today in Lebanon is based on the saying that China has reproduced the policy of lending to developing countries that it follows from what Japan has followed with it. In 1978 Japan agreed with China to lend it money for Chinese oil and coal. Thus, the Japanese guaranteed access to natural resources, in addition to early access to the Chinese market to meet its future need for machinery and parts, especially as China was on the way to becoming an industrialized country.

Lebanon does not have the luxury of missing out on opportunities for financing infrastructure projects

And within the study, Proteigam uses the statistics of about 4000 Chinese loans in Africa and the results of these loans, to conclude that the accusation of China to pursue a policy of unsustainable lending aimed at seizing the resources of these national countries is incorrect. It refutes details of specific accusations, such as investments in Sri Lanka and Angola, to refute them, explaining how the media adjusted its reports to the stereotype of Chinese investments that the West is trying to prove. Rather, it gives corresponding examples, such as what happened with Venezuela, where China was unable to obtain oil in exchange for loans (as the agreement stipulated) due to the American blockade and low oil prices. China did not claim part of the Venezuelan oil industry as compensation. Rather, it described Brautigam what happened as evidence that China lacked the diplomatic tools to collect its loans.
Finally, she concluded, the narrative of Chinese lending is more sophisticated and developmental than the dominant media shows.
As for Lebanon today, it does not have the luxury of handing over Western propaganda to miss financing opportunities in a time of tight financial transfers and the collapse of its economic model. The Chinese focus on financing infrastructure projects will open up prospects for building a productive Lebanese economic model. A pattern that will protect future generations of Lebanese from begging at the gates of Western capital. The leaked Chinese offers so far to finance Lebanese infrastructure projects solve many of the problems that Lebanon suffers from. The smallest problems are not the problems of electricity and transportation, and the development of these two sectors will allow the launch of the wheel that has been stalled for decades. It is important to approach any such opportunity away from Western propaganda, and out of the immediate and future interest of Lebanon. As is clear, the West will not rush to our aid for various political and economic reasons. It is also clear that the time for Western conferences in Paris to finance Lebanese borrowing is over. The reality today is bleak, so why stubbornness and miss the opportunity?


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