The Chinese are Coming: First ‘New Silk Road’ Train reaches Iran’s Capital

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In a sign of China’s increasingly powerful role in Central Asia and the Middle East, on Tuesday a Chinese train arrived in Tehran after a 14-day journey. The freight train just used existing rail links to go from China to Kazakhstan, then to Uzbekistan, then Turkmenistan, and thence to the Iranian capital, Tehran. It is a feat that had never been accomplished until yesterday.

Historians argue that the vast expansion of railroads from 1880 and into the early twentieth century in Europe and North America constituted a Second Industrial Revolution. The rails allowed vast increase in industry, commerce, urbanization and population growth, and increased the velocity of the circulation of goods and money. Iran was prevented from having a railroad by Anglo-Russian rivalry until the late 1920s, and because of the rise of the Soviet Union it was cut off from its traditional markets in Central Asia.

So the Second Industrial Revolution may now be coming to Central Asia and the Middle East, courtesy Beijing.


h/t Deutsche Welle

About a third of Iran’s trade is with China, and the two countries have plans to integrate their economies further.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is promoting a policy he calls “One Belt, one Road,” aimed at improving trade and transportation infrastructure between China and its western neighbors. This New Silk Road” is key to the development of northwestern China, which is distant from the southern ports of Shanghai and Hong Kong. (Urumqi is twice as far from Shanghai as from Karachi or Bushehr, ports on the Gulf).

In the medieval period, the Silk Road was an overland route plied by merchants and pack animals, and which even then linked European markets for light luxury goods such as silk with Chinese markets.

There are plans for new high speed rail links through Central Asia on which Chinese goods could be carried to Iran and thence to Europe. The two-week train journey of these goods through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan today was already less than half as long as the sea journey from Shanghai to Bushehr would have been.

Asadullah Askarawladi, the head of the Iran-China Chamber of Commerce, announced a few days ago that China will dedicate $20 billion in new finance to Iran in the coming years.

The train that pulled into Tehran had traversed over 10,000 km.

With the end of international sanctions on Iran because of the successful nuclear deal, Iran and China are seeking to intensify of their economic relationship.

It is planned that the train will not have Tehran as its end point in future, but would go on to Europe through Turkey. (Back in the 70s I once took the train from Istanbul to Tehran, which was considered the last leg of the old Orient Express.)

China is in the course of binding Central and West Asia to itself economically through long term trade deals and building infrastructure to thicken Chinese trade with this region. It seems highly likely that these economic relationships will turn at some point into politics.

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Related video:

Ruptly TV: “Iran: First Chinese train arrives in Tehran as part of New Silk Road Initiative”

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8 Responses

  1. Exhilarating! As Arthur O’Shaughnessy put it.

    For each age is a dream that is dying
    or one that is coming to birth

    Appropriate it comes from the East.

  2. This will be very good for those in positions to take advantage of it. In medieval times, Venice became very rich by forcefully taking control of the Adriatic and eastern Mediterranean, and shipping goods from Asia and North Africa to Europe. Byzantium fizzled out about this time, and the Slavs on the east coast of the Adriatic were not allowed to benifit from the sea traffic.
    A good reason to live another 30 years–to see how the world transforms.

  3. This may be a restoration of historic norms. The age of dominant maritime empires is pretty much the age of Western European and American dominance of the world. During that time ships were the cheapest way to move things. But a lot of freight rail outside of the US is electrified, and that means it can beat shipping. I can’t tell if the locomotive in the video is diesel or electric, but they probably haven’t electrified the whole route yet.

    The bad news: continental empires have rarely been on the cutting edge of democracy or personal liberty.

  4. It is a feat that had never been accomplished until yesterday.

    And, it is not likely to be the last. The Donald will find beating China easier said than done.

  5. Iran has been steadily investing in its rail network since the revolution. Now has links to Pakistan and Azerbaijan, new link to Kazakhstan, new border crossing at Sarakhs, link under construction to Herat in Afghanistan, two links to Iraqi network (one at Basra, one through Hamadan) and mooted link to Armenia as well as improving the link to Turkey. All this as well as much internal construction and improvement. It’s a good gauge of its standing among its neighbours.

  6. The world economy is in a debt induced deflationary spiral. The pent up demand in Iran is one of the few bright spots.

    This is a net positive for everyone.

  7. Nice photo op, but price per ton shipping costs will always be much lower by sea and ships can go to any sea port as market demands change.where as a rail road is set in one place.

  8. @rabrophy **Nice photo op, ** What? Geez. This is,well, as someone else said, exhilarating. What are you, an actuary?

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