Everyone is talking about China as the raising superpower, with growing voices of China as a threat to the United States. There is not doubt that if China’s economic course continues, it will be a regional than global challenger to the U.S.
But what is generally never discussed or even ignored is China’s geopolitical challenges.
(Map showing major countries surrounding China)
China is Surrounded?
- To the East, there is China’s Japan (its archrival) and South Korea.
- In the North, there is Russia, a weakened state, but may revive in the future.
- To the West, there is a raising India, that may align themselves with the rest of the Anglosphere.
- To the South (technically the southeast), there is some space for China to maneuver though the region borders Australia.
Look past the landmasses and to the oceans, we see that in the Indian Ocean, critical for energy supplies from the Middle East, the United States remains dominant. This is one reason why China will have to create a blue-water navy and why it is building a port in Gwadar, Pakistan.
There is also Japan’s navy to contend with, which packs quite the punch. Keep in mind that Japan’s military has one hand tied behind its back because of the Constitution, which may change in the intermediate future. Indeed, China and Japan are now in a diplomatic spat – with China asking Japan to “explain” its military posture and Japanese FM calling China a threat. China raise to power is being met by hawkish nationalism in Japan.
There are at least three conclusions to derive from the map:
1. If you look at the map, the idea of containment of China by a US-Japan-Indian plus Russia group almost appears possible. I find this idea of “containing China” utterly dubious, but the map demonstrate that some natural constraints to China’s power.
Perhaps if China was still a closed economy, containment would be possible, but too much money is at stake for anyone, even Americans, to ignore.
2. Surrounded by such major states, we would expect China to be insecure in its own neighborhood. After all, there are US bases in Japan, Korea, Guam and formerly in Uzbekistan, along with US-India military cooperation. Is there a Chinese military base in Mexico?
So when we hear of China’s growing influence in the world, just remember China’s neighbor to better appreciate its own regional challenges.
3. If China ever aligns with one of its major neighbors, the U.S. will truly have a big worry on its hands. India, Japan and S. Korea are not possible partners at this point, but Russia (despite its fear of the Yellow Scare) is a potential partner.
Like China, Russia has been criticized for its lack of democracy, transparency and human rights; such criticisms, may drive the two to uniting. Indeed, if Russia follows a “Primakov Doctrine” of seeking a multi-polar world, it follows that Russia should help prop up China to challenge the U.S.
China would supply the capital and discipline, while Russia would provide access to its military technology and raw commodities. On a lower level, this is already happening, but a full blown alignment has yet to happen any time soon.