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China’s Infrastructure Play

Why Washington Should Accept the New Silk Road

Roadwork: a map of the Belt and Road Initiative in Hong Kong, January 2016. BOBBY YIP / REUTERS

Over the past three millennia, China has made three attempts to project its economic power westward. The first began in the second century BC, during the Han dynasty, when China’s imperial rulers developed the ancient Silk Road to trade with the far-off residents of Central Asia and the Mediterranean basin; the fall of the Mongol empire and the rise of European maritime trading eventually rendered that route obsolete. In the fifteenth century AD, the maritime expeditions of Admiral Zheng He connected Ming-dynasty China to the littoral states of the Indian Ocean. But China’s rulers recalled Zheng’s fleet less than three decades after it set out, and for the rest of imperial history, they devoted most of their attention to China’s neighbors to the east and south.

Today, China is undertaking a third turn to the west—its most ambitious one yet. In 2013, Beijing unveiled a plan

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