How does a German car get to China?
Duisburg is the largest inland port in the world. What is “around the corner” for us is quite a long way from China – but due to globalization the world seems to become smaller and more manageable: The “New Silk Road” now connects these two goals.
With the new Silk Road, the distance no longer seems too utopian, even if it is 11,000 kilometers that are covered by train. From China, Kazakhstan, Russia and Poland to Germany.
Even if the “old” Silk Road “only” measures 6400 kilometres and thus less than the new one, the route is still a long one, considering the limited transport possibilities at that time.
The Silk Road has existed since ancient times. It offered not only the possibility to transport goods, but also knowledge, spices, religion and inventions, but also diseases like the plague – the consequences are well known.
Camels were used as a means of transport to bring goods from China to Rome or Venice – and that could take up to two years. The journey was not only long, but also arduous: extreme temperature fluctuations or gangs of robbers made the journey dangerous.
New is not only better, but also longer
The Silk Road as a trade route between Asia and Europe has been in existence for 2000 years; since mainly silk was transported, the name has also been clarified, although it was not defined until 1877 by Ferdinand von Richthofen.
But what is new about the new Silk Road?
Present: China lives up to its status as a major power: China is investing around 1,000,000 euros in the major project to expand the network of trade routes. There is no cultural or traditional intention to revive the Silk Road, there is a very profane reason behind the project: tough, economic calculation and political influence.
It is hardly surprising that Duisport, with the world’s largest inland port, plays a role here. However, some countries, including Germany, have doubts about China’s project: it is feared that the country will not comply with rules, such as those on environmental protection and working conditions at construction sites – and there have been and still are meetings in which such issues are discussed and decided. The focus is on the Chinese metropolis of Chongqing, which is seeking intensive cooperation with Duisport.
The Silk Road has a direct influence on the competitiveness of Europe:
Because the opportunities offered by the new Silk Road make it possible to transport cheap Chinese goods to Europe in a timely manner – which is of course very attractive for companies to remain competitive.
Electronics, textiles, branded goods – freight trains run 20 times a day with these goods; German cars, among others, are delivered back. The advantage: compared to the much used and cheaper, but slow shipping and the fast, but expensive air freight, the transport route via the Silk Road offers an attractive middle way.
In the future, rail systems will be more and more aligned – in future, it will probably no longer be necessary to wait a month for a parcel from China, which means additional competition for domestic trade.
And this is where a major negative factor for trade in Europe comes into play. How can domestic trade, which can hardly keep up with the fast, effective and cheaper production in China anyway, be expected to survive?
It remains to be seen to what extent the new Silk Road will change the global market in the future. The fact is that the next step – the expansion of Chinese innovation – cannot be stopped. The question that everyone has to ask themselves is simply: Are we going along with it, are we opposing it, or are we letting ourselves get overwhelmed?