Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has been derided for mentioning “One Belt, One Road” 48 times during his policy address this month, giving many people the impression that he was not paying enough attention to local issues. However much one dislikes Leung, it probably wouldn’t hurt Hong Kong to position itself as a nub of some kind along the “One Belt, One Road”, an abbreviation of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road.
The name of this ambitious transnational economic and trade framework proposed by Beijing recalls the historical silk roads that for millennia connected imperial China to the outside world. While the ancient overland and maritime silk roads are well-known, less talked about is the Tea Horse Road, in southwest China, so named because of the ancient trade of Tibetan ponies for Chinese tea.
Several routes of the Tea Horse Road linked the bountiful Sichuan Basin and tea-producing Yunnan to Lhasa, in Tibet, and from there to Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and so on, before reaching the Indian subcontinent. There was another route that crossed what is today northern Myanmar to reach the Bay of Bengal.
Just as silk wasn’t the only commodity traded on the silk roads, the Tea Horse Road also saw the exchange of other goods such as salt, precious metals, furs, animal hides, textiles and medicines, as well as the movement of peoples, religions and cultures. The Tea Horse Road was in operation right up to the mid-20th century.