China transforming the world
While the Americans are preoccupied with creating tensions, inciting wars, building military alliances and selling weapons, China is using its new found wealth to rebuild, reconstruct and transform the world strategically that has caught the Americans and the western powers dumbfounded. Hundreds of nation states would be involved and participating in this new infrastructure development. Ever since the expansion of European and western powers through colonialism and imperialism, the world was built and revolved over old concepts of deep and warm water ports.
The British Empire went all over the world to seize, build and control maritime ports, to control the sea routes for trade and military supremacy. Controlling maritime choke points was the way to extend influence and military power. Other western powers followed but with lesser success. Countries with deep water ports benefitted from international maritime trades with their fleet of ocean going ships. Container ports and VLCCs carrying oil further reinforced the importance of the sea and shipping as the favoured and most important means of transportation other than by air.
China’s strategic concept of One Belt One Road is about to change the world and how international trade and trade routes would be reorganized, revamped, managed and conducted. High speed trains crisscrossing the Asian continent linking Europe and Africa to China, and with the prospect of linking North and South America to Asia by rail was never thought possible but now a reality waiting to happen. Europe and China are already connected.
In one stroke of the pen, shipping and the importance of deep sea ports become relatively irrelevant. Landlock countries in Asia, Africa and Europe could find a new life line for the transportation of goods and services and no longer restrained and limited by the lack of a sea ports. The land routes benefitting from high speed trains are much more efficient in all ways and cheaper in the long run.
The ports that straddled the eastern coast of the Atlantic Ocean, both sides of the Indian Ocean, the western Pacific Ocean, would diminish in their utility for trade. The concept of cutting the Kra Isthmus to save a couple of days is obsolete when weeks could be saved travelling direct between Europe and China, Africa and China, by rail. It is even more important that the Isthmus of Kra remained intact not to disrupt the flow of high speed trains.
Whither the fortunes of the maritime ports in Southern Asia. Singapore in particular will face serious challenges when the land routes are fully operational. And the nightmare for Singapore would be a rail link between West Malaysia and Sumatra and linking direct to Java. Indonesian goods can travel by rail to China and Europe and vice versa. New transportation hubs would sprout from sleepy little towns like Malaysia’s Port Dickson and Dumai on the Indonesian side. The Tuas port could become a white elephant.
The world map of commerce and trade would be totally unrecognizable in another 2 or 3 decades. Fortunes would change for the sea faring ports. New trading centres would rise in Central Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa. The One Belt One Road project when fully developed would see the rise and fall of fortunes of new and old cities and transportation hubs. This is the biggest game changer of the 21st Century.
Some Asean countries are thinking of snubbing China and wanting to opt out of the OBOR project. Is there an opt out option? Sure, if Singapore, or even Malaysia were to opt out, the rail line would end in Thailand and a Thai port would become the new transportation hub and international commercial centre for goods plying from China, East Asia and Europe. That would be the end of the story for Malaysia and Singapore as flourishing trading hubs if they chose to opt out of OBOR.