By : Kamal Baruah
There are lots of great stories of Caravan that crossed the Old Silk Route for ancient trade connecting Far East with Middle East and Europe with the Red Dragon. The sound of galloping hooves had panicked us. Grandmas are always ready with warm hugs. We have sweet memories of our childhood and also saw our grandmother’s eri cloth of a very fine weave. That contains some secrets of warm fabric which time discovered that the knowledge of sericulture “Assam Silk” namely golden muga, white paat, and warm eri arrived with the Tibeto Burman groups from the Garo Hills of Meghalaya and the Chutiya Kingdom of Assam. Our ancestors have a knack of weaving. Maybe they were right after all they belong to “Thura” community of Burma now Myanmar. So do with North Eastern people originating from Mongoloid community. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Assamese women weave dreams on their looms.”
Although Himalayan Mountain range geographically separated China from India but, trade of Assam Silk passed through the difficult Pangsau Pass of the Patkai Range to Burma, finally getting connected to the main land China. It is the Ledo Road that finally reconstructed as Stilwell Road during World War II. Now much of the road has been swallowed up by jungle. The other side of the Himalayas, the Red Dragon ruled over their vast territories often by military force or by gaining political and economic control of their neighbouring areas since ancient times. The Greeks and the Romans came to contact with China through Silk since 2nd century BCE. The ancient trade network the Silk Road linked the two great civilizations. Later Mesopotamia, Egypt, Africa, Britain and Europe went for trade with Chinese. Beyond trade, the Silk Road legacy exchanged civilization. Another path eventually crossed down into the Indian sub-continent and Buddhism reached China.
The historic Silk Route was established during the Han Dynasty linking the ancient world between 130BCE-1453CE. 6400 km caravan tract originated at Sian followed the Great Wall, bypassed the Takla Makan Desert, climbed the Mountains Pamirs, crossed Afghanistan and finally went on to the Levant (Middle East) across the Mediterranean sea. Silk went west and wools, gold and silver went east through this route. With the downfall of Roman Empire and the rise of Arabian power, the route became unsafe. When the Islamic Ottoman Empire boycotted trade with the west, the Silk Road eventually closed that forced merchants to take to the sea thus initiating the Age of Discovery. Europeans explored and conquered America. Thus Silk Road has significance for the development of the modern world.
With thousands of years of continuous history, China is one of the world’s oldest civilizations. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of Qin dynasty unified the Chinese empire in 221 BC.
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Later a line of hereditary rulers (from 202 BC to 1912) from Han to Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, Jin and Qing dynasties ruled over. Although disputed that China has never invaded but Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) invaded tribes and smaller states under the control of the Manchus, who organised traditional Chinese infantry. The Great Wall of China was built during Ming dynasty (1368-1644) to protect the threat of barbarian invasions from Mongolia.
Trade is a key factor of the economy of China since ancient times. Communist takeover in 1949 and modernization of economy in 1978 by Deng Xiaoping greatly improved efficiency in economic transactions. But time to time, they asserted their control over Manchukuo, Korea, Tibet, Taiwan, Vietnam and also influenced the island territories of Philippines and Japan politically instead of any conflict. President Xi Jinping follows determined imperialist economic policy towards the developing nations of south and west referred as the Bamboo Network (Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam).
Now China has Free Trade Agreements with several nations including Australia, South Korea, Asian, Switzerland and Pakistan. Since 80s, India has rebuilt diplomatic and economic ties with China and now became India’s largest trading partner after US. People Republic of China is well known as global assembly centre for the manufacture of products thereby surpassed the US as the largest trading nation in the world. India faces hurdles to overcome the imbalance of Trade Deficit (-46B US$) with China (Exp 15B US$ Imp 62B US$). India’s trade balance shows negative with most of the top 25 countries except US, UK and Netherland. But with US it is +15B US$, Exp 49B US$ Imp 33B US$.
Despite all good trade relation, Chinese and Indian troops clashed. Ironically the Sino-Indian boundary had never been formally delimited as McMahon Line separated Tibet from India by British against the aggression of Chinese into Tibetan region. The relationship was resulted in military conflicts since 1962, followed by Chola Incident 1967, skirmish 1987 and Doklam standoff 2017 for Sino Bhutanese border. Recently at Nathu La in May 2020, following skirmishes in Sikkim and tensions in Ladakh, the education reformer Sonam Wangchuk, who inspired 3 Idiots, calls for boycotting China products.
Like it or not, we just can’t boycott their products but it’s a reality that India lacks the ability to produce on a large scale. India’s total Export Import data bank (291 US$ B 442 US$ B) shows the true picture of Trade Deficit of – 151B US$. GATT promotes international trade by reducing trade barriers such as tariffs. Also WTO ensures trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible. India’s average bound tariff rate is 48.5%, while its simple MFN average applied tariff is 13.8% only. Should India increase import duties to stop fleeing our capital? To protect the interest of common people, India opens cheap imports from China as our manufacturing industry is still under developed and don’t have the ability to produce competitively. We need to address those issues. We need to capitalise our real strengths instead of shouting slogan on Twitter.
The Middle Kingdom China had once ancient trade Silk Route with the Romans, now they resurrected a new double trade corridor with the west through central Asia, Middle East and Europe. The new Silk Route encompasses Belt and Road Action Plan for land as well as maritime routes covering 68 countries with a huge $900 Billion infrastructure investment. Is Trans-Eurasian trade a new era of Chinese Imperialism? But India vehemently opposed China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which runs through a part of Kashmir. G7 countries from Japan, South Korea and North Korea were also absent from the summit. Napoleon Bonaparte once said about the Sleeping Giant China that they don’t press government affair politically outside their borders but can shake the world, if they would do something. The bottom line is that the Chinese imperialism doesn’t happen overnight.
(The writer is a former Air Warrior and now works for SBI).