Will the New Silk Road Help Revive the Islamic Golden Age?

National Geographic's Paul Salopek recently came upon a site in Pakistan's Salt Range where Muslim scientist Abu-Raihan Al-Biruni accurately measured the size of the earth in the 11th century. In it, Salopek sees the revival of the Islamic Golden Age. He characterizes the ancient Silk Road of as "dynamic but collapsed experiment in multilateralism". He thinks the revival of the Islamic Golden Age is linked to "China's 21st century version of the Silk Road". Salopek believes that President Donald Trump's four years in the White House and the COVID19 pandemic have accelerated America's decline and China's rise. Here's how he describes it in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times entitled "Shadows on the Silk Road: Finding omens of American decline on a long walk across Asia": 

"The most memorable archaeological ruins from the Silk Road’s glory years rot atop a hill about 60 miles southeast of Islamabad (the Capital of Pakistan). No monuments or signs mark the Nandana Fort. Few people go there. But it was where, in the early 11th century, the Central Asian scholar al-Biruni became the first person to measure, with astonishing precision, the size of Earth. His calculations, based on brilliant trigonometry, landed within 200 miles of the 24,902-mile circumference of our shared planet". 

Pakistan Postage Stamp Honoring Al-Biruni. Nandana Fort in Background

It was Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi who took Al-Biruni along with him after his conquest of India. Al-Biruni traveled all over India for 20 years, and studied Indian philosophy, Mathematics and Geography. Pakistan issued a postage stamp honoring Al-Biruni in 1973. The stamp has a picture of Al-Biruni with the ruins of Nandana Fort in the background.

China's New Silk Road. Source: China Daily

Salopek found a lot of history of the Islamic Golden Age as he traveled along the Silk Road. Here's a brief excerpt of his Op Ed in the New York Times:

"The Islamic Golden Age of science and art that predated the Italian Renaissance by 400 years was illuminated by Turkic and Persian thinkers from the eastern rim of the Abbasid Caliphate, in what is today Central Asia, western China and parts of Iran. ..... Muhammad al-Khwarizmi, a ninth-century genius who helped formulate the precepts of algebra, has lent his name to the word “algorithm.” A century later, the brilliant polymathic Abu Rayhan Muhammad al-Biruni wrote more than 140 manuscripts on everything from pharmaceuticals to the anthropology of India. (A typical al-Biruni title: “The Exhaustive Treatise on Shadows.”) Probably the most celebrated Silk Road sage of all was Abu Ali al-Hussein ibn Sina, revered in the West as Avicenna, who in the 11th century compiled an encyclopedia of healing that was still in use by European doctors as late as the 18th century. Avicenna’s “Canon of Medicine” accurately diagnosed diabetes by tasting sweetness in urine. Its pharmacopoeia cataloged more than 800 remedies. A millennium ago, Avicenna advocated quarantines to control epidemics. What would he make, I wondered, of the willed ignorance of today’s anti-maskers in the United States?"  

Salopek sees parallels between America's Trumpism and India's Hindu Nationalism. He is just as pessimistic about India as he is about his home country of the United States. Here's what he sees from the top of Nanada Fort ruins:  

 "I climbed a broken fort wall and peered east. Ahead unspooled 17 months of hiking across India, yet another democracy cartwheeling into an abyss of right-wing populism. Riding a wave of Hindu nationalism, one Indian state all but criminalized marriages between Hindu and Muslim citizens".  

From the top of Nandana Fort, Salopek also sees China which he describes in the following words: 

"In the blue distance beyond sprawled China. Its economic output in 2019, according to one report, hit 67 percent of the United States’ gross domestic product. The gap between China and the United States is shrinking as China is the only major economy expected to report economic growth for 2020 despite the pandemic. And brawling with itself at some crossroad truck stop far over the horizon lay my lost homeland". 

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Views: 173

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 9, 2021 at 10:30am

The spatial competition between containerised rail and sea transport in Eurasia

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-019-0334-6

The competition in space between rail and sea transport is of great significance to the integration of Eurasia. This paper proposes a land and sea transport spatial balance model for container transport, which can extract a partition line on which transport costs by rail and sea are equal given a destination. Four scenarios are discussed to analyse the effects of different factors on the model. Then the model is empirically tested on current rail and sea transport networks to identify the transport competition pattern in Eurasia. The location of destinations, the freight costs, and time costs are the three main factors affecting the model. Among them, time costs are determined by the value of a container and its contents, the interest rate, and by time differences between land and sea transport. The case study shows that Eurasia forms a transport competition pattern with a land area to sea area ratio of about 1:2; this ratio, however, changes to 1:1 when time costs are considered. Further, the land and sea transport balance lines are consistent with the theories of geopolitics, which indicate that the same processes may exist in the spatial pattern of geo-economics and geopolitics in Eurasia. According to the balance lines, we get a spatial partition, dividing Eurasia into the land transport preferred area, the land–sea transport indifference area, and the sea transport preferred area. The paper brings a new perspective to the exploration of geopolitical economic spatial patterns of Eurasia and provides a practical geographic theory as an analytic basis for the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative.

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There are some limitations in the case study too. First, it is based on the precondition of using Beijing and Berlin as the destinations, and the current fluctuated values of speeds, goods and freight rates are all set unique. According to the simulation under different scenarios, preferential policies for transportation could be carried out by governments or transport companies in different places, which could further strengthen the practicality of our model. Specifically, some countries (such as India) oppose China’s BRI (Blah, 2018; Pattanaik, 2018). Therefore, we could add evaluations of the strategies for infrastructure construction, of such countries, in the future. Second, container transportation is a complex process. The extent to which the cross-border transportation between countries is frictionless will affect the land transport pattern. Moreover, these factors are difficult to quantify and have not been considered in this paper, such as unequal freight cost rates in different countries, different capabilities and widths of rails, time spent at ports, tariffs, insurance costs and so on, which may also influence actual costs. Third, in not considering the road network, this paper presents a basic possible pattern of land and sea transport balance based on the current railway and maritime networks, which may bias our results. At a strategic level, the results can offer positive suggestions to influence a better approach for transportation. It will, however, be necessary for individual decision-makers to make accurate calculations of the costs of different routes at a micro-level. Additionally, container shipping on the northern sea route is a potential transport corridor (Verny and Grigentin, 2009), it could be included in the future study. Moreover, because of the organisational system and mature development of transport companies, the related data of container transport are easy to obtain, which helps determining the costs and speeds more easily. In contrast, it is hardly to collect datasets of bulk transport. However, the effect of bulk transport may be significant because it is likely to form a large proportion of global maritime trade (J.P.Morgan Asset Management, 2019). This may render some ports more economically viable.

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 9, 2021 at 10:38am

The spatial competition between containerised rail and sea transport in Eurasia

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-019-0334-6

In the future, the BRI will be significant to the integration of economic trade in Eurasia, following the premise that land and sea transport should find a spatial balance. In fact, analysis of the competition and cooperation between land and sea transport can also be of theoretical significance for transport geography. This paper presents a LSTSB model based on the conceptualised Eurasia and simulates different land–sea transport scenarios. We then identify the transport balance lines by applying the model to Eurasia and present the partition of land and sea transport dominated areas in line with the theories of geopolitics.

The main insights are as follows:

Four scenarios based on different locations of destination, different freight costs, different values of a container’s goods and different speeds of transport are simulated using the theoretical model. They show that these basic factors influence the spatial balance lines of transportation. The results indicate that land transport is relatively competitive with sea transport but that this depends on different factors. Land transport may be undervalued at present due to long-term cooperation behaviour between governments or enterprises with maritime companies.

The case study shows that in terms of freight costs, maritime transport has an obvious advantage in Eurasia. The transport spatial balance line divides the Eurasian continent into a land and sea transport competitive pattern with an area ratio of 1:2. However, this ratio changes to 1:1 when we take time costs into consideration. Results show that the Economic Belt on road has economic feasibility and rationality.

Furthermore, the spatially competitive pattern of land–sea transport in Eurasia is highly consistent with geopolitical theories. This paper presents a partition of transport areas based on the calculation of balance lines, showing the land transport preferred area, the sea transport preferred area and the land–sea transport indifference area. The partition shows that the China–Russia–EU region, located in the land transport preferred area and the land–sea transport indifference area, is the key pivot area of integration influencing the current economic geographic imbalance in Eurasia. Further, it can serve as the analytic basis underpinning the necessity of increasing cooperation between China and the EU under the BRI, which is in the land–sea indifference area. Thus, the LSTSB model can bring a new perspective to the discussion of the spatial pattern of geopolitics and geo-economics in Eurasia.

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 9, 2021 at 11:55am

Impact of Transport Cost and Travel Time on Trade under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
Khalid Mehmood Alam


https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jat/2019/7178507/


China is the second biggest economy in the world and almost 40% of its trade in 2016 is transported through the South China Sea. China needs a small, secure, and low-cost path to trade with Europe and the Middle East and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a feasible solution to this requirement. This research analyzes the effect of CPEC on trade in terms of transport cost and travel time. In addition, the study compares the existing routes and the new CPEC route. The research methodology consists of qualitative and descriptive statistical methods. The variables (transport cost and travel time) are calculated and compared for both the existing route and new CPEC route. The results show that transport cost for 40-foot container between Kashgar and destination ports in the Middle East is decreased by about $1450 dollars and for destination ports in Europe is decreased by $1350 dollars. Additionally, travel time is decreased by 21 to 24 days for destination ports in the Middle East and 21 days for destination ports in Europe. The distance from Kashgar to destination ports in the Middle East and Europe is decreased by 11,000 to 13,000 km.

Transportation is the shifting of goods by truck, rail, road, and sea and is reasoned as an important indicator for economic development [1]. Transport has two main parts. The first part represents vehicles that are either van, truck, rails, airplanes, or ships and second part represents the transport infrastructure such as roads, highways, seaways, airways, and railway tracks on which transport runs smoothly. In the recent days, both parts of transportation are considered as an important factor of trade and help in reducing transportation cost and travel time. The selection of transport mode for delivery of goods within less time and minimum cost is important to maximize the profit. Every state tries its best to discover short trade routes that can reduce trade cost and transfer time. To enhance their trade, countries invest in transport infrastructures like roads and rails and adequate transport infrastructure can potentially reduce transport cost and travel time. Transport cost and travel time are considered as the most important among all factors [2].

Shipping industry plays an significant part in the development of trade and about 80% of world trade is transported by the international shipping industry [3, 4]. The import and export of goods on large scale are not possible without shipping [5]. China is the second biggest economy and energy user in the world and safety of the oil supply chain stay the essential idea of China’s strategies [6]. China is importing about 83% of oil supplies by sea, out of which 77% are functioning through the Strait of Malacca, a possible bottleneck for China [7]. There are some factors like China’s regional disputes, pirate incidences, and geopolitics that make the Strait of Malacca as an attentive weakness for China and may stop economic development in case of any unanticipated events [8, 9]. About 60% of world pirate occurrences take place in the Strait of Malacca and presence of the Indian and US armadas in the seaway rises serious security concerns and in case of any unforeseen actions can affect trade and economic supplies of China [10–12]. To overcome these challenges, China wants to get access to deep water through Pakistan. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will link the city of Kashgar in Western China and the Gwadar Port in Pakistan by developing a transport infrastructure network comprising road and rail. Kashgar has great economic opportunities for the shortest land access to the local markets of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, India, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan [13].

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