TIME North Korea

Activists Cross Demilitarized Zone Between North and South Korea

The group wants to promote peace and reconciliation between the two sides

An international group of female activists crossed the border between North and South Korea on Sunday to promote peace between the two countries, which have yet to sign a peace treaty 60 years after the Korean War ended.

The group of about 30 women, WomenCrossDMZ, was taken by bus across the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), CNN reports, which was created by a 1953 armistice that halted, but never ended, the Korean War. The crossing was sanctioned by both sides, and included feminist Gloria Steinem and Nobel laureates Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland.

Several groups have criticized the march, arguing that the women should have crossed the North Korea–China border, which is more dangerous than the DMZ. Others called the crossing “empty,” blasting the activists for allowing North Korea an opportunity to cover up its record of human-rights abuses.

Read next: Gloria Steinem’s North Korea Peace Walk Draws Ire Despite Lack of Any Better Ideas

[CNN]

 

TIME Ireland

This Woman Proposed to Her Girlfriend Just Moments After Ireland’s Gay Marriage Vote

It's the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage through popular vote

One Irish couple wasted no time after the country became the first in the world to legalize gay marriage through popular vote.

Billie, 41, proposed to her girlfriend of six years, Kate Stoica, 26, in Limerick, Western Ireland on Saturday, just minutes after the referendum was passed, Mashable reported. Watch the video of the proposal below:

Read next: 20 Other Countries Where Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal Nationwide

[Mashable]

TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. Defense Chief Questions Iraq’s ‘Will to Fight’ ISIS After City’s Fall

"The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said

(WASHINGTON)—The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’s takeover of Ramadi is evidence that Iraqi forces do not have the “will to fight,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said, in the harshest assessment yet from a high-ranking Obama Administration official of Iraqi fighters and the loss of the provincial capital.

Iraqi forces outnumbered their opposition in the capital of Anbar province, but failed to fight and pulled back from the city in central Iraq, Carter said on CNN’s “State of the Union” which aired Sunday. The Iraqis left behind large numbers of U.S.-supplied vehicles, including several tanks.

“What apparently happened is the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered,” Carter said of the Iraqi forces. “In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. That says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight [ISIS] and defend themselves.”

The fall of Ramadi last Sunday has sparked questions about the effectiveness of the Obama administration’s approach in Iraq, a blend of retraining and rebuilding the Iraqi army, prodding Baghdad to reconcile with the nation’s Sunnis and bombing ISIS group targets from the air without committing American ground combat troops.

Carter defended the use of U.S. airstrikes as an effective part of the fight against ISIS but said they are not a replacement for Iraqi forces willing to defend their country.

“We can participate in the defeat of ISIL,” he said, using another acronym for ISIS. “But we can’t makeIraq … a decent place for people to live — we can’t sustain the victory, only the Iraqis can do that and, in particular in this case, the Sunni tribes to the West.”

The Pentagon this past week estimated that when Iraqi troops abandoned Ramadi, they left behind a half-dozen tanks, a similar number of artillery pieces, a larger number of armored personnel carriers and about 100 wheeled vehicles like Humvees.

Over the past year defeated Iraq security forces have repeatedly left behind U.S.-supplied military equipment, which the U.S. has targeted in subsequent airstrikes against ISIS forces.

Carter did not discuss any new U.S. tactics in the fight against ISIS.

TIME Ireland

Dublin Celebrates Through Tears as Same-Sex Marriage Vote Makes History

“This is the first time I’ve felt like an equal citizen"

Ireland made global history on Saturday by becoming the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage through popular vote—sending thousands of people out into the streets of Dublin to celebrate as a sea of emotion engulfed the city.

Bearing rainbow flags and smiling through tears, gay and straight Dubliners joined together to hail the news that an overwhelming 62.1 percent of voters had said “yes” to gay marriage, in a referendum that many in Ireland called a “test of equality” and the “test of a true republic.”

Robert Stevenson, 62, who is from Dublin but now lives in the U.K., spoke through a convulsion of tears as he recalled how he was “suicidal” as a teenager and lost several friends to suicide because they were “filled with self-loathing” because of their sexuality.

“This is the first time I’ve felt like an equal citizen; I just can’t talk,” Stevenson said.

The vote was all the more striking because Ireland is a predominantly Catholic country. Many citizens have rejected the church’s influence in recent years, following a spate of revelations about child sexual abuse as well as the church’s history of cold treatment of gay people and women who got pregnant out of wedlock. Some saw the “yes” vote as a dismantling of Catholic rule in the country.

“It was the Catholic Church that rejected me, I didn’t reject it,” Stevenson said. “My mother is still part of it but I can’t be.”

He added that he would never forget “living in fear” in the ’60s and ’70s.

“I remember in this country people being beaten to death for being gay back then,” he said, “and I think of people being beaten to death in other countries now. After this moment, I have the privilege of being an equal citizen in my own country…and that is just wonderful.”

For several months, the Irish have been debating whether to bestow full equality on all citizens regardless of sexual orientation by changing the constitution to allow couples of the same sex marry. The overwhelming sentiment and emphatic vote in favor—over 70 pecent in some Dublin constituencies—reflects how Ireland has come a very long way from the country it once was.

In the middle of the cheers and impromptu renditions of the Irish national anthem on Saturday, 28-year-old Edward Smith, fought back tears.

“It’s about equality—it’s not just about the LGBT community; this is a huge leap forward for a tiny country in becoming a secular state,” he said.

“I always wanted to get married, and thought I’d have to go away,” he continued. “I never thought this would happen for me. The church in this country had no right to interfere in this referendum and people realized this; their campaign was ludicrous and hypocritical.

“After all, the church was responsible for so much that went wrong here; priests in this country were allowed to rape children, the Catholic Church sold babies belonging to unmarried mothers. I think the revelations about the church helped the ‘Yes’ side.”

Smith’s partner, 24-year-old Muiris O’Connell from rural Limerick, was also deeply moved by the vote.

“I hated myself all through my teens,” O’Connell said. “I’m from the middle of the country where being gay was almost unheard of and I never felt comfortable being myself. This referendum brought back so many memories; I always tried to neglect the truth and when I did think about myself, I always said, ‘I’m never going to have a normal life.’

“Today just proves that I can,” O’Connell continued. “Today is the definition of what a republic is; it’s Irish men and Irish women right around the country saying, ‘we love you.'”

Many in the Dublin crowd on Saturday were straight supporters of the law change who were thrilled by the vote.

“I raised generation who made this happen; I’m so proud of them” said 64 year old Breda Griffin from Dublin, who was with her husband and their 25-year-old daughter. “For over 20 years I’ve always fought for equality and rights for people outside the fold—whether they were gay, unmarried mothers or illegitimate children—anyone that wasn’t seen as normal

“But it’s this generation that has delivered and I couldn’t be prouder; I just couldn’t be happier.”

As the vote tallies came in and a “yes” vote became a foregone conclusion, 24-year-old Conor Galvin was at work at his computer, “trying not to cry,” he said.

“It was incredible; I have three siblings and one of my sisters is also gay. My Mum tagged us all in her Facebook status, saying “now I get to wear four hats.”

“There are just no words,” he said.

TIME El Salvador

Salvadorans Celebrate Beatification of Slain Archbishop Romero

Pilgrims carry a portrait of Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero to Romero's beatification ceremony in San Salvador, El Salvador
Moises Castillo—AP Pilgrims carry a portrait of Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero to Romero's beatification ceremony in San Salvador, El Salvador, on May 23, 2015.

He was declared a martyr for his faith this year by Pope Francis

(SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador)—Huge crowds filled a square in the Salvadoran capital Saturday for a ceremony to beatify Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was cut down by an assassin’s bullet 35 years ago and declared a martyr for his faith this year by Pope Francis.

It is the first step toward possible canonization, although many of the 260,000-plus faithful expected at the Savior of the World Plaza already credit him with miracles and refer to him as “Saint Romero of the Americas.”

Delegations from parishes all over the nation, many of them bused in from the countryside, filed into the square carrying white and yellow flags of the Roman Catholic Church.

“They can kill the prophet, but not the voice of justice,” intoned pilgrims from Our Lady of the Assumption in a suburb outside San Salvador.

“His words will remain for eternity,” said Marlene Sanchez, 26.

In life, Romero was loved by the poor, whom he defended passionately, and loathed by conservatives who considered him too close to left-leaning movements in the tumultuous years ahead of El Salvador’s 1980-92 civil war.

Romero was celebrating Mass in a cancer hospital chapel on March 24, 1980, when he was shot through the heart by a sniper who apparently fired from a car outside. The day before, Romero had delivered a strongly worded admonition to the U.S.-backed military to stop repressing civilians.

The trigger man has never been identified, and no one has been prosecuted for the killing. Alleged paramilitary death squad leader Roberto d’Aubuisson, who was named by a U.N. truth commission after the war’s end as the mastermind of the assassination, died in 1992 having maintained his innocence to the end.

Romero’s beatification was held up for years by church politics until Pope Benedict XVI “unblocked” the case in late 2012, after it was determined he had not been an adherent of revolutionary liberation theology as many claimed.

Saturday’s ceremony constitutes official church approval of Romero’s legacy, even if some conservatives in the Vatican and Salvadoran society still view his memory with distaste.

“The beatification … is a cause for great joy for Salvadorans and for those of us who rejoice at the example of the greatest children of the church,” Francis said in a statement. “Monsignor Romero, who built peace from the strength of love, gave testimony of the faith with his life, committed to the very end.”

U.S. President Barack Obama, who visited Romero’s tomb in 2011, called him “an inspiration for people in El Salvador and across the Americas.”

“He was a wise pastor and a courageous man who persevered in the face of opposition from extremes on both sides,” Obama said. “He fearlessly confronted the evils he saw, guided by the needs of his beloved pueblo, the poor and oppressed people of El Salvador.”

Cardinal Angelo Amato, the prefect of the Vatican’s saint-making office, began the ceremony in the late morning beneath a 60-foot-tall (18-meter-tall) monument depicting Christ atop a white pillar and blue globe. An urn held the shirt that Romero was wearing when he was shot.

Officials closed off about 2 square miles (5 square kilometers) of streets nearby to accommodate the crush of pilgrims and the hundreds of vendors selling commemorative T-shirts, key chains, bags, bracelets and coffee cups for $2 to $5 as well as copies of documentaries and movies inspired by Romero’s life.

Authorities set up 27 giant screens for the benefit of those far from the stage and deployed 3,700 police and soldiers to provide security. Hotels in the capital were at capacity, and officials predicted the event would generate $31 million in economic activity.

Celebrations were planned in Los Angeles, which is home to about 360,000 people of Salvadoran origin. Many of them arrived in the 1980s fleeing the Central American nation’s civil war, in which at least 75,000 people died and 12,000 more disappeared.

Also Saturday, tens of thousands of people gathered in the central Kenyan town of Nyeri to attend the beatification ceremony of Sister Irene Stefani, an Italian nun who worked for many years in the East African nation.

Stefani, who belonged to the Consolata Missionary Sisters, first came to Kenya in 1915 and died there in 1930 at the age of 39, according to a website dedicated to her beatification.

In her case, beatification comes after official verification of a 1989 miracle in Mozambique — a country Stefani never visited — that was attributed to her.

The miracle reportedly happened when a group of about 270 people in danger of death prayed to Sister Irene “and the little water in the baptismal font, measuring between four and six liters, was multiplied to enable them to drink and wash for four days, before help arrived from outside,” Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reported, citing a priest in charge of Nairobi’s Consolata Shrine.

TIME Ireland

Chris O’Dowd Had No Doubt Ireland Would Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

He said a "yes" vote is a sign Ireland "is escaping the clutches of the Catholic Church, finally"

Before Ireland voted to legalize same-sex marriage on Friday, TIME asked the Irish actor Chris O’Dowd how he thought the country would vote in the historic referendum. “I think it’ll pass pretty easily, which is great,” he replied.

He also said that if same-sex marriage was approved, then “it’s a sign that Ireland is progressing with the rest of the world and is escaping the clutches of the Catholic Church, finally.”

Read the rest of the interview in the May 18, 2015 issue of TIME.

TIME Ireland

20 Other Countries Where Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal Nationwide

In light of Ireland voting to legalize same-sex marriage, here is a list of other countries where same-sex couples can marry

Ireland just became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by a national vote—rather than through legislation or the courts.

Here is a list of 20 other countries where same-sex marriage is legal nationwide and the year it was approved (Mexico and the United States are not included, since they only allow same-sex marriage in certain jurisdictions):

The Netherlands (2000)

Belgium (2003)

Canada (2005)

Spain (2005)

South Africa (2006)

Norway (2009)

Sweden (2009)

Argentina (2010)

Iceland (2010)

Portugal (2010)

Denmark (2012)

Brazil (2013)

England and Wales (2013)

France (2013)

New Zealand (2013)

Uruguay (2013)

Luxembourg (2014)

Scotland (2014)

Finland: (signed 2015, effective 2017)

TIME Ireland

Ireland Votes to Legalize Gay Marriage in Historic Referendum

"It's a very proud day to be Irish"

(DUBLIN)—Irish voters backed legalizing gay marriage by a landslide, according to electoral figures announced Saturday—a stunning result that illustrates the rapid social change taking place in this traditionally Catholic nation.

Figures from Friday’s referendum announced at Dublin Castle showed that 62.1 percent of Irish voters said “yes.” Outside, watching the results announcement live in the castle’s cobblestoned courtyard, thousands of gay rights activists cheered, hugged and cried.

The unexpectedly strong percentage of approval surprised both sides. Analysts and campaigners credited the “yes” side with adeptly using social media to mobilize first-time young voters and for a series of searing personal stories from Irish gay people to convince voters to back equal marriage rights.

Ireland is the first country to approve gay marriage in a popular national vote. Nineteen other countries have legalized the practice.

“We’re the first country in the world to enshrine marriage equality in our constitution and do so by popular mandate. That makes us a beacon, a light to the rest of the world, of liberty and equality. So it’s a very proud day to be Irish,” said Leo Varadkar, a Cabinet minister who came out as gay at the start of a government-led effort to amend Ireland’s conservative Catholic constitution.

“People from the LGBT community in Ireland are a minority. But with our parents, our families, or friends and co-workers and colleagues, we’re a majority,” said Varadkar, who watched the votes being tabulated at the County Dublin ballot center.

“For me it wasn’t just a referendum. It was more like a social revolution,” he added.

Michael Barron and Jaime Nanci, a gay couple legally married in South Africa five years ago, celebrated with friends at the Dublin City counting center as the reality sank in that, once Ireland’s parliament passes the complementary legislation, their foreign marriage will be recognized in their homeland.

“Oh.My.God! We’re actually Married now!” Nanci tweeted to his spouse and the world, part of a cavalcade of tweets from Ireland tagged #LandslideOfLove.

Political analysts who have covered Irish referendums for decades agreed that Saturday’s emerging landslide marked a stunning generational shift from the 1980s, when voters still firmly backed Catholic Church teachings and overwhelmingly voted against abortion and divorce.

“We’re in a new country,” said political analyst Sean Donnelly, who called the result “a tidal wave” that has produced pro-gay marriage majorities in even the most traditionally conservative rural corners of Ireland.

“I’m of a different generation,” said the gray-haired Donnelly, who has covered Irish politics since the 1970s. “When I was reared up, the church was all powerful and the word ‘gay’ wasn’t even in use in those days. How things have moved from my childhood to now. It’s been a massive change for a conservative country.”

Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Labour Party leader Joan Burton, said Ireland was becoming “a rainbow nation with a huge amount of diversity.” She said while campaigning door to door, she met older gay people who described how society made them “live in a shadow and apart,” and younger voters who were keen to ensure that Irish homosexuals live “as free citizens in a free republic.”

The “yes” side ran a creative, compelling campaign that harnessed the power of social media to mobilize young voters, tens of thousands of whom voted for the first time Friday. The vote came five years after parliament approved marriage-style civil partnerships for gay couples.

Those seeking a “no” outcome described their defeat as almost inevitable, given that all of Ireland’s political parties and most politicians backed the legalization of homosexual unions.

David Quinn, leader of the Catholic think tank Iona Institute, said he was troubled by the fact that no political party backed the “no” cause.

“We helped to provide a voice to the hundreds of thousands of Irish people who did vote no. The fact that no political party supported them must be a concern from a democratic point of view,” he said.

Fianna Fail party leader Michael Martin, a Cork politician whose opposition party is traditionally closest to the Catholic Church, said he couldn’t in good conscience back the anti-gay marriage side because “it’s simply wrong in the 21st century to oppress people because of their sexuality.”

Some in Martin’s party — the perennial heavyweight in Irish politics but decimated since its ouster from power following Ireland’s 2010 international bailout — did privately oppose the amendment, but only one spoke out in favor of the “no” side.

John Lyons, one of just four openly gay lawmakers in the 166-member parliament, waved the rainbow flag of the Gay Pride movement in the Dublin City counting center and cried a few tears of joy. He paid special credit to the mobilization of younger voters, many of whom traveled home from work or studies abroad to vote.

“Most of the young people I canvassed with have never knocked on a door in their lives,” Lyons said. “This says something about modern Ireland. Let’s never underestimate the electorate or what they think.”

TIME Holidays

How Countries Around the World Celebrate Memorial Day

Beyond hot dogs

Americans will break out the flags, hot dogs and red, white and blue apparel to celebrate Memorial Day on Monday. But while they aren’t all on the same date, countries around the world have their own days and traditions to commemorate fallen soldiers.

Here’s how five other nations celebrate their versions of Memorial Day.

Australia and New Zealand—Anzac Day

Anzac Day, April 25, is the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the World War I. The day begins with commemorative services at dawn, followed by marches of former military men and women. People also play two-up on Anzac Day, a gambling game that involves betting on which way pennies will land on the table that was often played by Australian soldiers in World War I.

The Netherlands—Dodenherdenking

Dodenherdenking, which means “remembrance of the dead” in Dutch, is held every year on May 4, and celebrates all civilians and military members from the Netherlands who have died in conflicts since World War II. The main ceremony of the day is observed in Amsterdam at the National Monument on Dam Square, attended by the royal family. At 8 p.m., two minutes of silence are observed throughout the country; even public transportation is halted.

England—Remembrance Day

Celebrated on Nov. 11, Remembrance Day marks the end of fighting in World War I. It is celebrated throughout the British Commonwealth, but in England, the British Royal Family assembles outside for two minutes of silence beginning at 11 a.m. Poppies have become the symbol of the day in England; wreaths of them are laid at war memorials and small artificial ones are worn on clothing.

Belgium—Armistice Day

Belgium also celebrates the end of World War I on Nov. 11. The nation holds a Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres. The Last Post was a bugle call played by armies to mark the end of the day, and it is now used by the country to remember fallen soldiers. At the end of the ceremony, people lay wreaths of poppies and the flowers are released from the top of the gate.

Germany—Volkstrauertag

After a brief period when the Nazi propaganda machine changed Germany’s day of remembrance to a day of hero worship, the nation went back to celebrating Volkstrauertag as a solemn honoring of the dead. Celebrated on whichever Sunday falls closest to Nov. 16, on Volkstrauertag the President of Germany gives a speech alongside the Chancellor, the cabinet and the diplomatic corps. The national anthem and the song “Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden” (“I had a comrade”) are played in the national ceremony, and in local provinces veterans often march from their churches to war memorials.

TIME China

New Silk Road Could Change Global Economics Forever

camel-caravan-silk-road-china
Getty Images

China and much of the world is intent on developing the largest economic development project in history

Part 1: The New Silk Road

Beginning with the marvelous tales of Marco Polo’s travels across Eurasia to China, the Silk Road has never ceased to entrance the world. Now, the ancient cities of Samarkand, Baku, Tashkent, and Bukhara are once again firing the world’s imagination.

China is building the world’s greatest economic development and construction project ever undertaken: The New Silk Road. The project aims at no less than a revolutionary change in the economic map of the world. It is also seen by many as the first shot in a battle between east and west for dominance in Eurasia.

The ambitious vision is to resurrect the ancient Silk Road as a modern transit, trade, and economic corridor that runs from Shanghai to Berlin. The ‘Road’ will traverse China, Mongolia, Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Germany, extending more than 8,000 miles, creating an economic zone that extends over one third the circumference of the earth.

The plan envisions building high-speed railroads, roads and highways, energy transmission and distributions networks, and fiber optic networks. Cities and ports along the route will be targeted for economic development.

An equally essential part of the plan is a sea-based “Maritime Silk Road” (MSR) component, as ambitious as its land-based project, linking China with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea through Central Asia and the Indian Ocean.

When completed, like the ancient Silk Road, it will connect three continents: Asia, Europe, and Africa. The chain of infrastructure projects will create the world’s largest economic corridor, covering a population of 4.4 billion and an economic output of $21 trillion.

Politics and Finance:

The idea for reviving the New Silk Road was first announced in 2013 by the Chinese President, Xi Jinping. As part of the financing of the plan, in 2014, the Chinese leader also announced the launch of an Asian International Infrastructure Bank (AIIB), providing seed funding for the project, with an initial Chinese contribution of $47 billion.

China has invited the international community of nations to take a major role as bank charter members and partners in the project. Members will be expected to contribute, with additional funding by international funds, including the World Bank, investments from private and public companies, and local governments.

Some 58 nations have signed on to become charter bank members, including most of Western Europe, along with many Silk Road and Asian countries. There are 12 NATO countries among AIIB’s founding member states (UK, France, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Denmark, Iceland, Spain, Portugal, Poland and Norway), along with three of the main U.S. military allies in Asia (Australia, S. Korea and New Zealand).

After failed attempts by the U.S. to persuade allies against joining the bank, the U.S. reversed course, and now says that it has always supported the project, a disingenuous position considering the fact that U.S. opposition was hardly a secret. The Wall Street Journal reported in November 2014 that “the U.S. has also lobbied hard against Chinese plans for a new infrastructure development bank…including during teleconferences of the Group of Seven major industrial powers.

The Huffington Post’s Alastair Crooke had this to say on the matter: “For very different motives, the key pillars of the region (Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan) are re-orienting eastwards. It is not fully appreciated in the West how important China’s “Belt and Road” initiative is to this move (and Russia, of course is fully integrated into the project). Regional states can see that China is very serious indeed about creating huge infrastructure projects from Asia to Europe. They can also see what occurred with the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), as the world piled in (to America’s very evident dismay). These states intend to be a part of it.”

Buttressing this effort, China plans on injecting at least $62 billion into three banks to support the New Silk Road. The China Development Bank (CDB) will receive $32 billion, the Export Import Bank of China (EXIM) will take on $30 billion, and the Chinese government will also pump additional capital into the Agricultural Development Bank of China (ADBC).

The U.S.: Unlikely Partner on the Silk Road:

Will the U.S. join the effort? If the new Trans-Pacific Partnership (that pointedly leaves out both Russia and China, two Pacific powers) is any indication, U.S. participation seems unlikely and opposition all but certain.

But there’s no good reason that America should sacrifice its own leadership role in the region to China. A project as vast and complicated as the Silk Road will need U.S. technology, experience, and resources to lower risk, removing political barriers for other allied countries like Japan to join in, while maintaining U.S. influence in Eurasia. The Silk Road could enhance U.S. objectives, and U.S. support could improve the outcome of the project.

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal argues that the U.S. proposed trade agreement and China’s sponsored Silk Road project are complimentary, with the trade agreement aimed at writing rules for international trade, while the Chinese aim at developing infrastructure is necessary for increased trade.

Initial Project:

A look at the first project, currently under development, provides a good example of how China plans to proceed.

The first major economic development project will take place in Pakistan, where the Chinese have been working for years, building and financing a strategic deepwater port at Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea, that will be managed by China as the long-term leaseholder.

Gwadar will become the launching point for the much delayed Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline, which will ultimately be extended to China, with the Persian section already built and the Pakistan-Chinese section largely financed and constructed by the Chinese.

The pipeline is also set to traverse the country, following the Karakoram Mountain Highway towards Tibet, and cross the Chinese western border to Xinjang. The highway will also be widened and modernized, and a railroad built, connecting the highway to Gwadar.

Originally, the plan was to extend the pipeline to India, with Qatar joining Iran as natural gas suppliers, forging what some considered a “peace pipeline” between India and Pakistan, but India withdrew, under pressure from the U.S. along with its own concerns over having its energy supplies dependent upon its adversary, Pakistan.

India’s Counter:

Not surprisingly, India, a U.S. ally, countered China’s initiative with one of its own, announcing a new agreement to build a port in Iran on the Arabian Sea, only a few hundred miles from Gwadar, bringing Iranian energy to India via Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.

Although it would offer an alternative to the Chinese-backed Gwadar initiative, the U.S. warned India not to move ahead with the port project before a final nuclear agreement between Iran and the West is actually signed.

Both the Chinese and Indian projects are clearly in defiance of international sanctions on Iran, but both countries appear unconcerned. The Chinese could also be accused of a ‘double dip’ sanctions violation, given the immense and continuing trade deals it negotiated with Russia.

The rest of the business world is sure to follow, or risk losing out in what is certain to be a new “gold rush” towards Asia in a world still struggling with the lingering effects of the great recession. And New Delhi pointed out the harsh truth: American energy companies are also trying to negotiate deals with Iran. Following on the heels of the U.S. visit, the German mission is due in Tehran soon, with the French beating everyone to the punch in an earlier visit.

What then of sanctions? Sanctions only work in a world united behind them. If a large part of the world chooses to ignore sanctions, they become unenforceable.

Conclusions:

China and much of the world is intent on developing the largest economic development project in history, one that could have dramatic ripple effects throughout the world economy.

The project is expected to take decades, with costs running into the hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions. What that will mean for the world economy and trade is almost inconceivable. Is it any wonder then, that the world’s largest hedge funds, like Goldman Sachs and Blackstone, are rushing to market new multi-billion dollar international infrastructure investment funds?

No doubt a project as large and complex as this is likely to have failures, and is certain to face many western geopolitical obstructions. Assuredly, the “great game” will continue. Look no further than U.S. President Barack Obama, who also senses the urgency. “If we don’t write the rules, China will write the rules out in that region,” he said in defense of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In a world where economic growth is tepid, with Europe still struggling with the aftermath of the global recession, along with China’s growth slowdown, where else could a project that promises so much opportunity be found?

It’s a good bet that giant iron mining companies like Vale, that have seen their business fall to a thirteen-year low, are currently busy figuring how much steel goes into construction of a new, high speed 8,000 mile railroad. If the project is successful, it could very well spark a boom across the entire depressed international mining, commodities, and construction sectors.

Consider how many jobs could be created in a decades-long construction project that spans a huge region of the world. In practically every sector, the prospects are enormous for a revival of trade and commerce.

The ancient Silk Road increased trade across the known world, but the Road also offered far more than trade. One of its least anticipated benefits was the widespread exchange of knowledge, learning, discovery, and culture.

Beyond the riches of silks, spices, and jewelry, it could be argued that the most important thing that Marco Polo brought back from China was a famous nautical and world map that was the basis for one of the most famous maps published in Europe, one that helped spark the Age of Discovery. Christopher Columbus was guided by that map and was known to have a well-annotated copy of Marco Polo’s travel tales with him on his voyage of discovery of a new route to India.

For the world at large, its decisions about the Road are nothing less than momentous. The massive project holds the potential for a new renaissance in commerce, industry, discovery, thought, invention, and culture that could well rival the original Silk Road. It is also becoming clearer by the day that geopolitical conflicts over the project could lead to a new cold war between East and West for dominance in Eurasia.

The outcome is far from certain.

Coming in May, Part 2: Cold War or Competition on the New Silk Road.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

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