While most heads were turned to the East-West transport arteries spearheaded by China’s Belt and Road investments, activity along the lesser known North-South corridors has been slowly gaining momentum. Like their East-West cousins, the North-South routes consist of a bundle of land and sea multimodal corridors and connect South Asia to Northern Europe via the Persian Gulf and the Caspian region. Unlike the China-sponsored Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, however, the development of the North-South corridors follows a more multilateral and multi-stakeholder approach.
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The International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), examined in the first part of this series, has developed slowly but steadily during its twenty years of existence. Although mired by political and financial difficulties, including new sanctions on Iran (and Russia) placed by the Trump administration, the corridor will retain its potential for the actors involved. Today, the INSTC is complemented by two other initiatives: the Chabahar International Transport and Transit Corridor; and the proposed Russia-Pakistan (Ru-Pak) Corridor. The two projects are discussed below, followed by a brief evaluation of the potential impact of the full roll-out of these emerging North-South trade routes.
Descriptions of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) often center on China’s agency in other countries—its investments, loans, and even soft-power. However, Azerbaijan’s Baku International Sea Trade Port in Alat, a retroactively labeled “BRI” infrastructure project, is anything but centrally controlled by China.
What is the reality of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, on the ground? As widespread questions emerge about the true scale and scope of President Xi Jinping’s most prominent foreign policy venture, we followed its route for 23,000km from Italy to China to evaluate its progress.
The first rail connection between Turkey and Georgia is fast approaching completion. When operational, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) line, which extends to Azerbaijan, could integrate all three countries to unlock new trade patterns and shift Eurasia’s economic center of gravity inward. The potential gains are significant, but so are the obstacles in laying the Middle Corridor of the New Silk Road.