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Mauricio Valentinoti Palacios S.

The New Silk Road

- Through the Silk Road, China seeks to generate an exchange of goods and a movement of people.

The New Silk Road

China connected entire civilizations through the Silk Road for centuries. While it took the participation of various peoples to make such a trade route a success, Chinese influence was critical to its success. Both for the protection granted to caravans in its territory, and for the development of goods that in Europe were attractive because they were considered "exotic" and of incomparable value. Today, China is again a gravitational center of the political and social world.

This time, the Asian dragon is sponsoring the most ambitious transnational infrastructure project of a decade or even a century. The so-called Belt and Road Initiative (or BRI, for its acronym in English) aims to address the deficit of 29 trillion dollars that the Asian continent has. From the gates of Europe, through Central Asia, to Southeast Asia, through mainland China, the initiative seeks to connect a network of infrastructure to generate a faster exchange of goods and a more agile movement of people.

Specifically, it seeks to create six transnational land corridors through all of Asia, the northern Middle East, Russia and central Europe. As well as a maritime route that reaches from the Chinese coast to the horn of Africa and the southern coast of France. Similarly, according to China's Arctic policy, it is planned to carry out a polar route that circulates around the Korean peninsula, Japan, all of northern Russia and Scandinavia, until arriving in Denmark. The entire project represents the most important work of commercial infrastructure ever created, uniting practically an entire hemisphere.

China has a vision of its project as a nation beyond its current obvious development. For this reason, it has not limited this project to the level of conventional infrastructure. It is also developing a new Digital Silk Road (RSD). This was to be expected, since information may be the most valuable asset in the world today. In fact, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has mentioned that the main opportunity that the creation of the BRI represents is actually being able to increase cooperation on issues of Internet infrastructure, digital economy and cybersecurity. This new route is summarized in a cooperation scheme that closely links the data banks and communications infrastructure of the participating countries with China.

The ambitious project has drawn criticism in the West as there are voices warning of the dangerous potential of RSD. It could go so far as to increase the export of so-called digital authoritarianism and increase the presence of mass surveillance technologies. Despite such accusations, Southeast Asian countries have unanimously accepted the use of Chinese technology to increase the efficiency of their telecommunications networks.

Officially, due to the reduced cost it represents compared to its western counterparts; on the other hand, because the neighboring countries maintain a political dynamic compatible with Chinese authoritarianism, since these governments have historically sought two primary objectives. The centralization of power through the control of the citizen will and the establishment of a capitalism directed by the state and dominated by the elites in power.

China has managed to understand this need and, above all, has been able to see the opportunity it has to become the most influential and powerful nation in the world in this century. You know that neighboring countries, at least those in Southeast Asia, do not have comprehensive privacy, cybersecurity, and data protection laws or policies. Faced with such a lack, China seeks to take advantage of the legal vacuum to approximate its own approach to these issues. So that they can directly influence the legislation on the matter in the countries participating in the RSD.

All this has created a series of complex and new challenges to international security, given the almost certain deployment of Chinese influence in an unprecedented area. The countries receiving these investments will be increasingly dependent on the decisions made from Beijing. Additionally, the control of the databases of millions of users can be analyzed and used by the central power of the Chinese Communist Party. Which could lead to a massive evaluation of the level of alignment of different societies with the political ideals of the Chinese regime.

If these social groups do not present a tolerable compatibility with the fundamental interests of China, or even if they come to be considered as a threat, there is a danger that scenes similar to the arrest of the Uyghur Muslim ethnic group will be repeated. Those who live in northern China and have been imprisoned in political indoctrination camps. Movements of this nature could lead to social instability that encourages the appearance of radical and violent groups, as a way of resisting the growing power of China.

The infrastructure project of the century will not only have an impact on the dependence of an entire hemisphere on China's decisions, but will also promote the norms and ideology of a country that for decades has been opposed in various ways to Western political thought. Over time, the friction between the growing Chinese power and the current Western power establishment will become more and more evident.

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Palacios, Mauricio. “La Nueva Ruta de la Seda.” CEMERI, 25 jun. 2023,