Book Review: China’s Asian Dream—Empire Building Along the New Silk Road

By Kevin O’Donnell

Many European businesspeople are aware that Rotterdam has become a central hub of the Belt and Road Initiative, with three trains a week leaving Chengdu to make the 15-day trip to the Dutch city, the largest port in Europe. It stands to reason: Rotterdam is ideally situated to connect with the large consumer markets of Germany, France, the UK and points beyond. Everyone knows that.

But what about the more esoteric places we hear about when we glance at CGTN or the papers, places such as Kunming, capital of the poor province of Yunnan, designated as a hub in China’s ‘Go West’ programme?Did you know its vast new airport, opened in 2012, had already handled more traffic by 2015 than Berlin? Or that Khorgos, a small town in Xinjiang, is being groomed to become a distribution hub for Central Asia?

And those countries to the west of China, the not-so-famous ‘stans’ – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan: Westerners may be forgiven for having only a vague idea of the resource wealth and geopolitical significance of these countries. But the Chinese are very familiar with the region and are enticing them into the Belt and Road Initiative with massive investments in infrastructure. It might very well pay for European businesspeople attuned to investment opportunities to learn more about these places, hitherto on the margins of awareness and interest. And Tom Miller’s book China’s Asian Dream: Empire Building along the New Silk Road is exactly the book to bring the savvy businessperson up to speed.

Miller brings the right equipment to the task. Educated at Oxford and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, he is now a senior analyst at Gavekal Research, a global economic research centre.
But he is more than a scholar; he brings a journalist’s perceptive curiosity with him as he visits the dozen countries he writes about. He takes readers through narrow bazaar alleys where vendors sell victuals of
unknown provenance or to five-star hotels where over drinks a government minister explains why China’s wealth attracts his country, but its gravitational pull arouses fear.

China’s Asian Dream is not merely an Anthony Bourdain-style travelogue. Miller, editor of the China Economic Quarterly, skilfully weaves on-the-ground experiences with a view-from-30,000-feet survey
of the motivations and fears that drive all the players in this Great Game – including China, the United States and Europe. After reading China’s Asian Dream you will read about what’s at stake in Myanmar, Vietnam and other Asian countries with fresh understanding– of risks and benefits awaiting in these lands.