By Filippo Romeo
This year marks the centenary of the creation of the legendary Trans-Siberian railway of Russia. By an ironic twist of fate, this falls right in the middle of an epochal change in geopolitical and geo-economical scenarios, whose main powers involved are also responding by creating and planning great infrastructure works. There is actually no doubt that in the profiled context the continental infrastructures constitute an essential moment for recovery, able to affect both technological modernisation processes and foreign affairs stability. This is true if one considers a nation’s economic development, and by effect its geopolitical clout on a global scale, depends heavily on ‘voluntary geography’ improvement via implementing a modern, technologically advanced transport infrastructure system able to face and overcome the ‘distance’ factor.
As well as works broadening the Suez Canal and Panama, which surely highlighted the role maritime connections are playing, one must in no way ignore the importance of the land ones, which see the Asian continent as one of the main players. Asia is actually the continent most concerned and involved in these projects foreseeing the creation of Roads, tunnels and railways that should pass it from one line to another. And for some years now China – playing a main role in this process – has got down to creating some.
The economic power developed in the latest periods by the Chinese colossus is actually supported a series of strategic infrastructural projects that are useful in accompanying, protecting and raising the Country’s spread ability. These surely include the great land and sea ‘New Silk Road’ project, devised by Peking and with the main objective of bringing China closer to the rest of the Euro-Asian continental mass, as well as developing the inland zones that are still behind the coast band. There is no doubt that full realisation of such an ambitious project will have weighty geopolitical repercussions if one just considers it aims to link Europe and Asia in infrastructure and economy and at the same time contrast US replacement on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
These routes are split through the middle by the Trans-Siberian, which is weekly passed by tens of freight trains, leaving Moscow to reach the Chinese city of Manzohuli and vice versa, and generating a 700% increase in container traffic coming from China and heading for Europe, according to data provided by the Russian State.
As well as China, the Indian government is also seeing to setting up new transport infrastructures, useful in propelling the Country to an industrial economy. It was recently reported that New Deli is working on developing a vast infrastructure network able to link India to Central-Southern Europe, passing through Iran, Central Asia and Russia, so circumventing Pakistan, a historically rival State, whose geographical position constitutes a heavy obstacle for the Ganges Country. This project would let one save various days’ travel, allowing Indian freights to reach European markets swiftly.
Russia is doing no less: it is still busy creating the Razvite megaproject, which recovers the tradition of Great Plans to promote Russia’s industrialisation in the last century and also aims to recompose the European-Asian continent as the foremost active subject on the worldwide scene.
More in detail, this is the project for a multi-infrastructural corridor, to be created over 20 years, aiming to link via a completely new system the Pacific Coast with the Baltic Sea and Atlantic, involving countries like China and Japan in the East and numerous European states in the West. This corridor will cross the European-Asian continent and will be made up of a mix of rail, road and motorway links, electric lines, cable lines, petrol and gas conducts, and water channels; moreover, the path will be accompanied by the foundation of technological parks and (at least 10) new cities. This project faces ambitious challenges and aims for environmental sustainability. These ambitions will be supported by a technological platform with its terminals in the East, in China and Japan, with lengthenings in South East Asia, aiming to express real change prospects, relating to development and exchange dynamics, like in fact those expressed in its time with the Trans-Siberian and Suez Canal creation. In 2013, Moscow also placed 17 billion dollars to modernise the Baikal-Amur tract of the Trans-Siberian itself, aiming to raise and increase the business exchange volume.
Beyond the lasting mega dilema pinned down by prof. Anis Bajrektarevic as “the (Trans-Siberian/Maglev train of) Heartland or (Mare Liberum of) Rimland?”, this current development should be seen as an opener not a dividing line. No doubt, these projects could be a good opportunity for Europe too, and in particular more so for the enterprise system, including those operating in the technological sector, which could work for modern infrastructure creation, smart cities and technological poles the project foresees.
For Europe, especially the Mediterranean, it could also turn out to be a valuable chance to finalise its infrastructural projects, including the TENT corridors. This completion would make the European transport network more organic and would especially help develop outskirts areas, including the Balkans, via interconnection. Improving transborder connections with this area could indeed favour both its concrete, real stabilisation and integration with Europe’s Eastern part, and work as a bridge to the effervescent European-Asian area and the Pacific which, as is known, are living a period of unstoppable growth and expansion.
Filippo Romeo is the Director of the “Infrastructure and Territorial Development” Programme, IsAG Rome.