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  • New York University University of Washington New York ...
  • New York University School of Law – 2017-2018

New York University School of Law – 2017-2018

The New Silk Roads: China, the U.S., and the
Future of Central Asia
October 2015
Thomas Zimmerman
The world faces old and new security challenges that are more
complex than our multilateral and national institutions are
currently capable of managing. International cooperation is ever
more necessary in meeting these challenges. The NYU Center on
International Cooperation (CIC) works to enhance international
responses to conflict, insecurity, and scarcity through applied
research and direct engagement with multilateral institutions
and the wider policy community.
CIC's programs and research activities span the spectrum of
conflict, insecurity, and scarcity issues. This allows us to see critical
inter-connections and highlight the coherence often necessary
for effective response. We have a particular concentration on the
UN and multilateral responses to conflict.
Table of Contents
The New Silk Roads: China, the U.S., and the Future
of Central Asia
Thomas Zimmerman
Acknowledgments 2
Foreword 3
Introduction 6
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor 9
Chinese Engagement with Afghanistan 11
Conclusion 18
About the Author 19
Endnotes 20
I would like to thank the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS) for its support during the research and writing of this
paper, particularly Professor Pan Guang and Professor Li Lifan. I would also like to thank Director Li Yihai, and Sun Weidi from
the SASS Office for International Cooperation, as well as Vice President Dong Manyuan, and Professor Liu Xuecheng of the
China Institute for International Studies.
This paper benefited greatly from the invaluable feedback of a number of policy experts, including Klaus Rohland, Andrew
Small, Dr. Wang Shida, and Dr. Shao Yuqun. It also tremendously appreciated the insights of my CIC colleagues, including
Barney Rubin, Sarah Cliffe, and Sabir Ibrahimi. Lastly, I am grateful to all who took the time to speak with me and share their
knowledge over the course of my research.
The New Silk Roads: China, the U.S., and the Future of Central Asia
The New Silk Roads: China, the U.S., and the Future of Central Asia
Dr. Wang Shida
Chief of SouthWest Asia Studies
Institute of South, Southeast Asian and Oceanian Studies
China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations
From January to June 2015, I had the honor of being a visiting scholar at the Center on International Cooperation (CIC) at
New York University. I conducted my research under the supervision of Professor Barnett Rubin, a distinguished and re-
nowned scholar on Afghanistan and Pakistan. As Senior Adviser to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan
in the U.S. Department of State (2009-2013), as well as Special Adviser to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-
General for Afghanistan (2001-2003), Barnett has been extensively involved in policy advising and research on those two
countries and the region. While I was at CIC, Thomas Zimmerman went to China as a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Acad-
emy of Social Science, thus linking the two think tanks through this exchange.
During his time in China, Thomas focused on the Chinese government initiative of "One Belt, One Road" (OBOR). The project
incorporates the "Silk Road Economic Belt" through Central Asia, as well as the "21st Century Maritime Silk Road" in the
Indian Ocean. Thomas was able to meet Chinese scholars and government officials involved in OBOR in order to base his
research on valuable primary sources of information. The conclusions in his paper are based on conversations with Chinese
and U.S. government officials, policy experts, and extensive literature review. Thomas carves out Beijing's perspective on 3
the opportunities and challenges it faces in implementing OBOR, its potential impact on Afghanistan, and the prospects for
cooperation with the United States. Reading the first draft of the paper, I was deeply impressed with how Thomas -- as an
American -- was able to acquire such comprehensive access to information within China, and with his deep understanding
of China's position on such a new and specific issue.
In my view, OBOR is an attempt by the Chinese government to revive the Silk Road of ancient times, which connected
China to Central Asia, West Asia, and Europe by land transportation and to Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East Africa by
ship. OBOR similarly intends to provide a platform that will facilitate more economic interaction among countries along the
modern Silk Road, enabling them to benefit from increased trade. Compared to the ancient Silk Road, however, the nature
of goods that will be traded - as well as the way countries along the route interact - has obviously changed.
In ancient times, thousands of foreign businessmen frequently visited China, bought silk and chinaware, and sold spices
and agricultural products from other countries. By contrast, the China of today is keen to sell bullet trains, passenger planes,
and other manufactured products. Accordingly, it is more than willing to help enhance the infrastructure of the OBOR by
way of its considerable construction capacity and expertise skills. At the same time, China is also keen to sustain its rapid
economic growth by securing energy supplies and natural resources from other countries.
As Thomas highlights in the paper, transportation bottlenecks are one of the biggest barriers to regional economic integration.
In its initial stages, the "Silk Road Economic Belt" is framed as a series of transportation, energy, and telecommunication
infrastructure projects. Take the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as an example. Karakoram Road (KKH), the key
road linking the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China to the northern part of Pakistan, was severely damaged during
several natural disasters in recent years. On January 4th, 2010, a massive landslide 15 kilometers upstream from Hunza's
capital of Karimabad created Attabad Lake, causing the displacement of thousands and inundating over 20 kilometers
The New Silk Roads: China, the U.S., and the Future of Central Asia
of the KKH, including the 310-meter-long KKH bridge. Given the Sino-Pakistan "all-weather friendship," as well Pakistan's
strategic location, China was eager to restore and upgrade the KKH under the framework of CPEC. The work was contracted
by the China Road & Bridge Corporation and was completed in September 2015.
Thomas emphasizes that CPEC faces considerable challenges. First and foremost, the security question is crucial. Most of
the infrastructure investment under the CPEC framework is slated to run through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan,
two of Pakistan's most insecure and politically fraught provinces. Balochistan, where the Gwadar Port is located, poses
particularly significant challenges, as it has seen popular resentment and local opposition to Chinese investments from
separatist movements. For instance, six armed militants stormed Pakistan's Jiwani Airport in Gwadar killing one engineer
and kidnapping another. It is clear both Pakistan and China will need to be aware of, and find sustainable solutions for,
unexpected security challenges that will occur in the process of implementing CPEC.
Second, different political parties must reach an agreement on CPEC's planned route. Political parties in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
and Balochistan initially were unhappy with the plan and criticized the Pakistani federal government's attempts to distribute
the majority of CPEC's resources in Punjab instead of other provinces. During an All Parties Conference in Islamabad in late
May, participants appeared to reach a consensus on the CPEC route. Prime Minister Sharif announced that the western
route of the project, for which funds will soon be released, would be constructed first. He also pledged to take full political
ownership over the project. The western route will undoubtedly face more security threats than the eastern route. However,
the major part of the project under the CPEC framework is based along the eastern route. How to distribute more resources
to the western route remains a big problem.
4 Regarding China's attitude toward Afghanistan, Thomas also provides enlightening analysis and perspectives that are
valuable in understanding the situation. As he rightly points out, Beijing's interest in Afghanistan is directly tied to its
concerns about Xinjiang, because that province is geographically critical to China's efforts of expanding economic ties to
Central Asia. In my opinion, the stability of Xinjiang is the foremost concern for China's Afghanistan policy. As we all know,
hundreds of ETIM terrorists found shelter in Afghanistan, especially under the protection of Al-Qaeda in the 1990s. Some
terrorists were killed, some were captured by the U.S., while some fled into tribal areas with other international terrorist
groups. Thus there remains a severe threat to the national security of China. Frankly, there isn't much economic interest in
Afghanistan, but China is ready to increase its contributions to the reconstruction of Afghanistan by making Afghanistan a
partner in the "Silk Road Economic Belt".
OBOR will contribute to overall regional economic integration, as well as fostering regional peace and stability. The Chinese
have always believed that economic development will wipe out the roots of terrorism. It is hoped the U.S. and China will
find some way of overcoming their long-standing trust deficit and turn the potential of cooperation in Afghanistan into a
reality. Such cooperation would also bode well for possible future joint efforts in other areas.
The New Silk Roads: China, the U.S., and the Future of Central Asia

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