St Andrews student completes 10,000 mile project

The team outside the Chinese Embassy in London before embarking on the trip.
The team outside the Chinese Embassy in London before embarking on the trip.

A St Andrews student has completed a unique project which has taken him 10,000 miles across Asia over two months.

Charles Stevens (21), a history student at the University of St Andrews, founded the New Silk Road Project, which aimed to explore China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

The $4 trillion scheme is one of the largest infrastructure projects ever, with construction developments in 68 countries.

Steven and a small group covered 18 countries during their project, speaking to academics, politicians and the public along the way, gaining a better understanding of this enormous scheme.

The team completed the project last week and are now in the process of turning that raw material – more than 45 interviews, 20 meetings, visits to two dozen construction sites – into pieces which will be uploaded onto their website – www.thenewsilkroadproject.com – and YouTube.

“It went very well,” said Charles. “We think by the end of it we will have compiled the most geographically comprehensive and authoritative set of interviews from academics, strategists, and politicians on the BRI.

“Now we’re going to working for the next couple of months of those interviews, editing and publishing them.

“We got some really good material – first hand insight into the initiative.

“What we found is how enthusiastic everyone is about the initiative. In particular some of the stuff going on in the Caucasus region and in Georgia.”

While Charles said the response from the various countries involved in the BRI had been enthusiastic, there were mixed feelings about the increase in Chinese influence and investment.

“In some places this has been very positively received,” he said.

“In other places it is fostering an increase in suspicion.

“It has been portrayed as this global and coherent strategy. In reality there are a lot of differences between the various countries.”

Charles said the highlight of the trip was getting to travel through the “amazing places, seeing all these cultures”.

He added: “But we only finished a week ago so the experience is still very visceral.

“It’s a bit like coming back from a great stag do – you remember having a great time but not what happened.

“It was an amazing experience – incredibly busy.”

Among his personal highlights from the trip, Charles mentioned having to spend a night in the car when in the Kazakhstan countryside, with the sunrise waking the group up.

He also recalled a visit to Turkistan, a city in Kazakhstan where Tamerlane erected a huge tomb over his grave.

Charles says he hopes the work that has been conducted by the team on the BRI, which is due to be completed in 2049, can be updated and improved upon in the future.