The old Silk Road was not only a fixed route, but a constellation of rules, agreements, relationships and institutions that created an integrated economic and political system across Asia. The New Silk Road should similarly consist of much more than just physical infrastructure. A New Silk Road represents a path towards ending the long wars of the past and building a future of regional peace and prosperity. The potential for future Asian integration is real, and the payoffs enormous, as demonstrated both by Europe’s example and by the cases of integration in other regions. The true test, however, will be whether this transformation will extend to all of Asia and benefit all of its inhabitants or widen the already extreme gap between its rich and poor.
Knowledge of the essential elements of the old Silk Road and the blockages to modern Asian integration should inform today’s policies to the region. This requires mapping stakeholders, building coalitions, harnessing existing assets and investing in new structures and systems. This paper identifies the significant institutional features of the old Silk Road and the current baseline conditions that constrain collaborative investment and collective growth. Finally, it explains why advancing such a project would be in the interests of the international community in general, and the region in particular, to strengthen the ability of state, market and societal actors to address ungoverned spaces.