Sunday, March 29, 2020

Half the World (2019)

Book Review from the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order by Bruno Maçães Penguin £9.99.

The boundary between Europe and Asia is not clearly marked, unlike those between other continents, so it is hardly surprising that people have long referred to a ‘supercontinent’ termed Eurasia. Nor is it surprising that a region which contains Japan, China, India, Russia and the European Union is likely to play a crucial strategic and economic role in future years. So the general point of this book, written by a former Portuguese politician, is not very original, but it does contain some interesting specific discussions, partly based on a six-month journey that Maçães took around parts of Eurasia in 2015–16.

Events in Ukraine have increased tensions between Russia and the West, leading Russia to closer ties with China, as an export market and a source of investment. Russia will supply natural gas to​ China for a period of thirty years, and the construction of the pipeline has begun. Rather than war being the continuation of politics, as Clausewitz claimed, now ‘Pipelines are the continuation of war by other means’.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative naturally receives a lot of attention here, but there are also references to potential problems. So India’s participation is in doubt, on the grounds of unsustainable debt burdens being created. Things have become more problematic recently, with India not attending the project’s summit meeting held this April, and many calling for less reliance on coal and less emphasis on China as the sole mover behind the Belt and Road. Yet it is also intended to expand the project, with plans in Russia and China for an ‘Ice Silk Road’ across the Arctic, which would give China an alternative sea route to Western Europe and the Atlantic.

Russia is the moving force behind the Eurasian Economic Union, formed in 2015, aimed at free trade and compatible regulations. Its other members are Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia (which, under Russian pressure, abandoned any intentions to join the European Union). As for India, it could become a considerable naval power, helping to defend massive infrastructure undertakings along the Indian Ocean coastline to facilitate trade between India and China.

On his trip round parts of Eurasia, Maçães visited Yiwu, a city two hours by train south from Shanghai. Traders come there from Pakistan, the Middle East and Africa to purchase Chinese goods. It is a big market for toys, among other things, with around 100,000 stalls in total, and has a direct train connection to Madrid. He talked to a Chinese woman and her Indian husband, who met at the market and now sell glass hardware; their daughter is ‘a product of Indian and Chinese collaboration’.
Paul Bennett

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