BLOG: China’s New Silk Road: Central Asia and the Imperial Legacy of the Great Game [Imperial & Global Forum]

Marc-William Palen's picture
The Lion Eyes the Bear. Political Cartoon from 1878 by Joseph Sawan reflecting Anglo-Russian paranoia in Central Asia.

Tom Harper
University of Surrey

In the vein of its rich history in Central Asia, China’s quest for economic development has seen it return to the region that was once spanned by the Silk Route. While Central Asia has served as the cross roads between Eastern and Western civilisation for centuries, it also once provided the chessboard upon which the Great Powers of the past had battled each other for land and influence. In sum it is one of the most strategic regions of the world, whether it be the Great Game of the nineteenth century or the superpower conflict of the 1980s.

In line with the power politics of the past, the region has seen a new Great Game where today’s strongest nations compete for the region’s natural resources.  With the close of the twentieth century, Central Asia re-entered the spotlight as a result of the War on Terror and, more recently, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (一带一路). In light of these developments, the imperial struggles of the past two centuries take on a new importance, as they continue to influence the perceptions of China’s return to the region. These perceptions, real or imagined, have fuelled the struggles of the Great Powers in the region and China’s involvement is simply the latest chapter in a centuries long struggle. [continue reading at the Imperial & Global Forum]