Iran is the key connectivity link in routes through both Central Asia and the Caucasus. Photo: iStockphoto/Getty
Iran is the key connectivity link in routes through both Central Asia and the Caucasus. Photo: iStockphoto/Getty

Edward Said’s 1978 book Orientalism is typical of modern Western portrayals of the East, as an enigmatic world that has lagged behind the West and is faced with numerous internal struggles. This perception of the Orient is, though, generalization based on false assumptions and stereotypes perpetuated by some media outlets in the West that have occupied the mind of the average Westerner.

It is time this image is reconsidered, particularly with the rise of Iran as a strong power in the Middle East and beyond, on one hand, and the rise of China as a superpower not only in Asia but also in the world on the other hand.

Iran and China are two major players in today’s Asia. Their ties are not limited to the contemporary age, though. Ancient Persia and China were always two significant countries, with relations dating back to ancient times and the Silk Road serving as a major conduit for cultural and economic exchanges.

Today, the Chinese government, as a part of its development strategy, is taking a bold step to revive and expand the ancient Land Silk Road as well as the Maritime Silk Road. The project known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road is an attempt to develop infrastructure through investment in countries across Europe, Asia and Africa, an overarching network of roads that makes passage between countries easier and faster.

The overland routes comprising the Silk Road Economic Belt and the sea routes, also known as the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, are a colossal undertaking that will affect connectivity networks in the region and on a global scale.

The countries in Central, Eastern and Western Asia have a lot of similarities in terms of culture, customs, traditions and even language. Turkic-speaking peoples are scattered across vast areas along the Silk Road, particularly Turkey, Azerbaijan, northern parts of Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and even the western part of China. This intrinsic capacity can help the countries along the Silk Road build more constructive ties, and the BRI has the potential to connect peoples living in these countries and regions and create a flourishing ground for work in many areas, particularly tourism.

The Asian leg of the BRI covers several countries in Central Asia, with one of its branches crossing Iran. Both China and Iran are taking advantage of this development project. Aside from mutual economic transactions, the project helps the two nations get into closer touch and deepen their relationship.

Despite the US violation of the nuclear agreement, an action aimed at destabilizing Iran and creating subsequent problems, the Islamic Republic of Iran is an island of stability in the Middle East today and is paying more attention to the tourism sector as a way to enhance its economic growth.

Given the historical ties between Iran and China, the BRI will provide unprecedented opportunities, not only for economic transactions between the two countries, but also to build bridges between them and pave the way for their peoples to deepen their cultural ties by boosting tourism and establishing cultural hubs.

Iran and China, together with other countries in the region, can create a sphere of power in Central Asia if they find more common ground for cooperation with each other. One of these grounds is the tourism industry, which will benefit both sides.

To this end, tourism officials, both in Iran and China, should enhance mutual collaboration and work on factors that can facilitate and improve travel between the two countries. It should also be noted that China’s open-to-the-world foreign policy is conducive to this grand goal.

Saeed Bazkhaneh is a postgraduate student of North American Studies at the Faculty of World Studies of the University of Tehran and founder of the Iranian Farn. His area of interest is Ethnology and Anthropology. He believes that cultural exchange will place the Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries on a more stable and constructive footing. Cultural affinity provides grounds for a collective action which will be conducive to further collaboration in different arenas and will foster ties among the region's nations in terms of commerce and tourism.

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