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Talking About The Belt And Road On The Telegraph Today

Finally cracked them.

Wade Shepard on The Independent
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ASTORIA, NYC- I can remember when I went to London for the launch of Ghost Cities in 2015 sitting in a dark pub on a dark rainy day feeling dejected. My publisher asked me to come to London to do two weeks of events and media appearances but when I got there it became clear that they hadn’t exactly had my schedule packed. We did a few incredible events, I did a few interviews, and then I was cut loose. I was on my own — the inevitable reality of the author.

So I put my head down and started trying to arrange some media engagements myself. I sent off emails to all the major papers that didn’t previously do a story on me (when I think about it now I should have just showed up at their offices). One of those papers that I queried was The Telegraph. I clearly remember drinking my beer and scanning their webpage for contact info.

They weren’t interested.

Five years later I get an email from a producer who worked for The Independent wondering if I’d be interested in being interviewed for a video feature that they were doing about the Belt and Road.

I thought of that dark empty bar on that dark rainy day in London and smiled. A little late but I take it.

I was off on a film project last week so we scheduled it for Sunday. I set up my cameras and audio equipment — good video for interviews isn’t generally expected but bad video bothers me. I talked with a pretty rad journalist who actually knew something Central Asia — she studied the region in university. I talked for a while and formulated some takes on the Belt and Road that I haven’t yet expressed in an interview before. It came out today:

Filed under: China, In Other Media, New Silk Road

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3611 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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12 comments… add one

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  • Jack July 29, 2020, 8:28 am

    One point: They talk about the Belt and Road Initiative being introduced in 2013. That timing doesn’t seem correct. I remember the new Silk Road being talked about back in 2011 when I first arrived in China.

    Of course, China has been buying up ports and facilities since the 1990’s.

    I like the points you brought up, but I wonder if the editing had you making views that you don’t necessarily hold? It seemed like a very pro-China piece. I always wonder this when I see clipped together pieces.

    I have so many mixed feelings about this.

    And I do believe that a not insignificant chance of war exists between the US and China.

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    • Vagabond Journey July 29, 2020, 9:30 am

      Yes, the BRI policy was formalized in 2013 but the New Silk Road is much older and is not the same.

      I was way more critical in the whole interview but I felt they left the general tone of what I said in-tact.

      They left in the important part that the BRI hasn’t yet truly been activated yet. As of now, it’s hardly anything at all in physical terms. But the political framework is set up and they seem to be lying in wait for the moment when the physical network is actually needed. Then they can flip it on like a switch. That’s the scary part.

      Put another way, right now China is grabbing the world by the balls but they haven’t started tugging yet. They are setting up their network of leverage.

      They also left in the part about the helpful hand that never releases it’s grip. That’s important as that’s been the primary advancement strategy.

      Xinjiang didn’t make it. Neither did Melaka Gateway or talk about all of the corruption the network has so far produced. However, only a few minutes of commentary could make it in and they had to make it flow with what the other speakers said as well. I think they did a pretty good job. I’d say the tone was moderate.

      It’s also big media so they have limits as to how critical of China they can be. China has been extremely bold about punishing publications that they view as too critical.
      They are also advertising a lot now in Western media. Up until recently the China Daily used to pay them $750k for an insert. Who knows how much or little influence this has? Maybe a little, maybe none at all.

      Through various means, China has also been buying up our media. Forbes is outright owned by China. As soon as that deal went through their editorial policy mysteriously changed. Suddenly, we couldn’t write about politics anymore and all references to the issue in Xinjiang were removed from stories. I had two articles pulled my last month with them for political reasons.

      Hollywood is under China’s thumb as well, but that’s another story.

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      • Jack July 29, 2020, 6:00 pm

        OK šŸ™‚ Next question: What is the difference between the Belt and Road and New Silk Road? What is the political framework of the BRI? My mind is racing with ideas so I’d rather ask you then let my mind fill in details. šŸ™‚

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        • Vagabond Journey July 29, 2020, 8:47 pm

          Hello Jack,

          Good question. The New Silk Road is a collection of various initiatives of many different countries that aim at Eurasian economic integration. The Belt and Road is China’s participation in this broader project. China likes to claim ownership — or at least leadership — of the New Silk Road but that’s really not the case. Even still, their actually on the ground footprint is minimal. Most action is being done by the partner countries themselves, who try to gain leverage by pitting bigger regional powers against each other. Kind of like what Sri Lanka does with China and India or Kazakhstan with China and Russia or some states in Eastern Europe with China and the EU. The trick for the countries in the middle is not to fall too far into the pocket of any one power, which is going to be real tough as they get out of this Covid fiasco. I’m predicting China swooping in and “saving” the under-developed world … and locking them in for the long haul. However, many of these countries are wise to China, and many are still trying to get out from under the thumb of India, Russia, the EU, Saudi Arabia, the US, etc.

          It’s a pretty wild game that’s being played.

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  • Jeffrey July 29, 2020, 11:52 am

    Have you guys listened to or read Peter Zeihan, the geopolitical analyst? He has a new book out called Disunited Nations. His basic idea is that China is in for a world of hurt over the next decade. The CCP might have to ditch the Belt and hit the Road.

    Peter Zeihan on China.

    This is just a clip. You can find longer recent interviews with Zeihan on YouTube. I have no idea if what he says is accurate, but he has a engaging style of delivery.

    In one scenario he lays out, China will break apart into separate Warring Kingdoms, so to speak. That could be pretty wild.

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    • Vagabond Journey July 29, 2020, 9:44 pm

      Hello Jeffrey,

      Thanks for the recommendation. I will check him how. I don’t believe we’ve crossed paths yet.

      As far as his take, I don’t really agree with it. My view of it is that the BRI is China’s lifeline in the event of conflict with the USA.

      But China breaking apart, that could rather easily happen given the structure of their government. Before Xi began purging his opponents I would have said that something like that would more than likely have been inevitable. Check out a map of China’s “mega-regions.” That’s kind of like how I would imagine the divide happening.

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      • Jeffrey July 30, 2020, 12:05 am

        Wade,

        In one way, you have to sympathize with China. They have a lot of neighboring countries to contend with, while in the US we have huge oceans east and west and Canada to the north and Mexico to the south, and that’s it. Not bad at all for us. A nest of trouble for the Chinese.

        So the BRI, as you suggest, is a life preserver they’re stitching together, hoping that it will keep them afloat in the high seas.

        I haven’t read Zeihan’s Disunited Nations yet (budget constraints), but I know that he has a chapter specifically on China. Here’s a fairly recent interview.

        Interview with Peter Zeihan May 2020.

        While you in Ghost Cities in China give your readers both the macro- and micro-views of China (both of which have taught me a lot), Zeihan stays mostly Big Picture. But I still get a kick out of his sweeping claims, even if they’re fanciful in the extreme.

        Yep, I’ll take a look at the mega-regions idea of China.

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        • Vagabond Journey July 30, 2020, 9:46 am

          Cool. Thanks for reading Ghost Cities! Very much appreciated.

          As far as the mega-regions, if China was going to break up I could really see it going along those lines. The very architecture of the plan almost asks for this. The culture in China is regionalized enough … but then you add in the infrastructure and that regionalization becomes physical.

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          • Jeffrey July 30, 2020, 11:38 am

            Wade,

            I’ve lived in China for a few years now and your book cleared up so much that I was struggling to understand. More later on that.

            Here’s a question. Yesterday I was riding around the “new city” are here in Ningbo, which is across the river and east of Haishu, the old center (around Tianyi Guangchang). As I was snapping photos of a huge skycrane, I chatted with a guy connected to the project. He is part of the real estate division of Bo Yang Group.

            I had never heard of Bo Yang or the Bo Yang Group, but the construction site was huge. This guy pulled out his smartphone and showed me all the hyper-modern buildings that were under construction. Super-slick.

            Anyway, I asked him if Bo Yang had any children. He said yeah, a son. I asked him if the son would take over. He paused, and replied, “Maybe, but he’s not as smart as his father.”

            As I was pedaling away, I was wondering if China could devolve into another warlord kind of period, with guys like Bo Yang competing with dudes like Wang Jianlin (founder of Wanda Group, whose wings were clipped last year by the CCP), each with their armies of migrant workers turned soldiers — just hand out rifles instead of shovels. I know, crazy idea, but I considered it as I rode back home.

            Oh, that’s the question: Will China see a return to Warlords within the Mega-regions?

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            • Vagabond Journey July 30, 2020, 12:00 pm

              Yeah, man, those companies are powerful and are completely integrated with government. I could see something like that happening in the event of a colossal political breakdown — especially with the creation of smart cities.

              As for mege-regions, what’s interesting about them is that it’s not only about integrating infrastructure but the political units as well. While this is done to ultimately give Beijing more power over the various regions of China, they are also making the local units potentially more powerful than they’ve ever been before. So instead of having internal political strife with say Chongqing or Guangzhou, they will be facing a massive conglomeration cities and provinces tied together.

              Small chance any of this happens anytime soon, but it will be interesting to watch how this plays out.

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  • Tom July 29, 2020, 9:23 pm

    Very informative. Iā€™m still teachable
    Tom Thorsen

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    • Vagabond Journey July 29, 2020, 9:45 pm

      Tom, This is an excellent comment. I wish more people would describe themselves like that.

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