In contrast to the secessionist drive of Trumpians and Brexiters, Frankopan shows how nations along the old Silk Road have been busily cultivating cross-border cooperation. A Eurasian Economic Union already reaches from Belarus through Russia to Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, and has engaged in trade talks with Iran. Then there’s “the Bright Road initiative of Kazakhstan, the Two Corridors, One Economic Circle initiative of Vietnam, the Middle Corridor initiative of Turkey, the Development Road initiative of Mongolia” – all echoes, of course, of the biggest connective project of all, China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.
Less a history book than its predecessor, more a digest of recent news, it is shamelessly written for the suits to pick up along with the Economist before the long flight to Shanghai... But Frankopan’s original twist is to move the hinge zone far to the east of where Mackinder pitched it, and to illustrate his theme with a wealth of colourful detail. Frankopan has a sharp eye for startling facts, and no reader will leave the New Silk Roads with her sense of the state of the world unchanged.
China is at the heart of this book, as the only country apparently capable of providing leadership among a fractious group of states and Frankopan makes good use of the dazzling statistics that are still emerging from China, even as the economy slows. In 2017, Starbucks announced that it would open 2,000 stores in China by 2021 – this means a new Starbucks outlet every 15 hours.... One of the slightly dizzying effects of reading this book is realising the sheer amount of change that has taken place globally in just three years and, as the plight of the donkeys being slaughtered for ejiao shows, the evolving Asian century will bring unexpected challenges.
Frankopan’s skill is to ingest vast quantities of information without over-clogging his writing or slowing the pace of his prose. He is also adept at deploying discoveries at the cutting edge of the historical profession... Where the book really comes alive is in its depiction of the economically vibrant but politically stunted central Asian corridor, to which so few Westerners travel... Frankopan is less sparkling on the contemporary foreign policy challenges facing the West and the “great game” in which America and China are already engaged.
...Frankopan’s is an entertaining and carefully researched account of a new Chinese chapter in global history... The book’s weakness is the thing you might not expect from an adventuring historian, namely its lack of a sense of the past. Slap bang up to date, The New Silk Roads manages to bring in events from just a few months ago... But it glances over the deeper historical forces shaping this new era of connectivity... Ultimately, Frankopan admires the audacity of China’s new empire, and remains oddly sanguine about the new world it might create...
It is alarmingly up-to-date, referring to political events in the summer of 2018. This scramble for immediacy robs it of the charm of the original book. Little travel seems to have been involved; the writing is a bit hectic. However, Frankopan has a serious purpose: to demonstrate that while the West is fragmenting and losing its bearings, there is a large chunk of the globe that is busily restoring historical and cultural links, transforming itself into a coherent counterweight...The book, then, is diverting, eclectic and has serious intent. Its thesis that Eurasia is developing a sense of cohesion, largely powered by China’s restless ambition, is a sound one. Yet Frankopan leaves questions dangling. The first is: does China really believe that it can construct a whole new value system, one that celebrates the primacy of Asian values, capable of successfully challenging western liberalism? Or is the Belt and Road initiative at its heart a series of increasingly intricate transactions designed to secure its longed-for global economic supremacy?
The New Silk Roads is a free-standing postscript to Frankopan’s original bestseller. As such, it is not really a work of history, but rather a work of reportage that is in direct competition with a number of other books in the same vein, the best of which are the Portuguese diplomat Bruno Macaes’s The Dawn of Eurasia and Robert D Kaplan’s The Return of Marco Polo’s World... Frankopan’s core thesis is the familiar one that “Asia and the Silk Roads are rising, and they are rising fast”... I enjoyed The New Silk Roads. I learnt a great deal about recent developments in Central Asia and elsewhere. Frankopan is a brilliant guide to terra incognita. But I was not persuaded by its thesis that America and Britain are somehow bungling the advent of the Asian century.
The New Silk Roads picks up where he left off, which is to say that this new book is less a history than a journalistic résumé of world affairs over the past three years. Among the many remarkable factoids and statistics assembled here to reveal the shifting tectonic plates of a new world order, one in particular stands out. As recently as 2001, China’s GDP was 39 per cent of that of the US. By 2016 it was 114 per cent and rising swiftly. The “Asian century” continues apace. Not that the parochial British media, transfixed by the Brexit and Trump horror show, appears to have twigged... If there is a narrative spine to this highly discursive and free-flowing book, it is surely China’s much-vaunted Belt and Road initiative... Frankopan discerns the painful surrealism of a situation in which European businesses must choose between being fined by the US for doing business with Iran, or being fined by the EU if they do not.