China´s New Silkroad and the control of the world island Eurasia: Has the CCP read more Zuozhuan or Mc Kinder?
In his article “How China Sees the International Order: A Lesson from the Chinese Classics “ at War on The Rocks, David K. Schneider claims that Chinese state craft, strategy and perception of the international anarchic order is more originating form classical thinking of the Spring, Autumn and Warring States period of Chinese history and the classic book Zuozhuan than only in Sun Tzu or the strategems.
John Sullivan in his article “Trapped by Thucydides? Updating the Strategic Canon for a Sinocentric Era” is already critizising the Western categories of thinking as Harvard professor Graham Allison´s term Thucydides trap”which dominates the mainstream discussion in the USA. The better approach to Chinese strategic and military thinking was reading the Zuozhuan:
“The lessons from the Zuozhuan imply that great-power permanence rests on two pillars: internal domestic stability and skillfully managed alliances. Despite China’s impressive economic and military growth, its domestic support remains brittle and it struggles to formlasting and mutually beneficial partnerships. Although the United States has traditionally been relatively strong in these two areas, since at least the turn of this century, the bases of these pillars have eroded quickly. If America hopes to avoid a zero-sum conflict with China over the fate of the international system, it would be prudent to begin repairing and strengthening these supports.”
This debate had been held recently between John Mearsheimer and Kishore Mabubhani, as well as by Parag Khanna in his book The Future is Asian. Mabhubani and Khanna think that China in the future won´t copy the USA and classic superpower features, but orient more to a traditional tribute system comparable to earlier dynasties in a new form and according to Chinese classical writings. Mearsheimer as masterbrain of the new offensive realism thinks that China will behave like every other superpower before and that not classical writings, Sun Tzu or esoteric Far East philosophical thinking , Go playing or alleged Chinese wisdom would shape its future behaviour, but the brute force of realism. Kishore Mabubhani,Parag Khanna , John Sullivan,David K. Schneider, the greatest China admirer and alleged real politican and historian of all times Henry Kissinger (and his friend Helmut Schmidt and Lee Kuan Yew) and other culturalists claim that the Chinese history and its classical writings are the roots of understanding of the future form of Chinese expansionism and that China doesn´t want to be a neocolonial or neoimperialist power as the West, the Europeans or the USA was and is, that China was adopting another pattern for a peaceful rise as warrior states like the Western powers and who wouldn´t understand that was historical ignorant, cultural uninformed and a primitive cowboy- Gung ho-culture barbarian with no sense and deeper knowledge about the oldest civilization.
John Mearsheimer and other offensive realists and US politicans however think that this is not important, that you cannot compare ancient with modern China and superpowers and that there will be no peaceful rise, that all this talk about it and culturalist approaches are just propaganda and camouflage by the CCP to blind naïve Westerners and to appease them as China did before, play with their fear to be portrayed as an cultural illiterate, but that China will behave like the USA if is getting strong enough, at latest in 2049., at the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People´s Republic of China.On the one hand one has to be a little cautious when people think of a certain era of Chinese history as the actual classical China and the eternal source of today’s Chinese state craft, on the other hand, different periods are often cited as style-forming as this is also a little bit speculative, and thirdly, there is often no empirical reference to the curriculum of today’s Chinese state leaders and their factual politics. And Chinese thinking, if there is 1, was also influenced by other periods and other authors and even Western ways of thinking and might be more syncretical and might change again due to new historical events. And Zuozhuan as Mearsheiemr´s offensive realism as realism and neorelaism have also the minimal common denominator of an anarchic state order.
However we want to introduce in this discussion the article Washington’s Delusion of Endless World Dominion China and the U.S. Struggle over Eurasia, the Epicenter of World Power by Alfred Mc Coy who claims that the USA had with their War on Terror a lost war at the edge of Euurasia and not about the control of Eurasia and would experience like the British their decline like after the lost Suez war experience which now was China´s pursuit of the conztroll of Eurasia by Xi Jinping and the Belt and Road Initiative: The Chinese did understand Anglosaxon geostratgeists like Mc Kinder and his theory about the role of Eurasia as the heartland and world island better than the existing US politicans:
“Despite its name, the Global War on Terror after 2001 was actually fought, like the Cold War before it, at the edge of Eurasia. Apart from the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Air Force and CIA had, within a decade, ringed the southern rim of that landmass with a network of 60 bases for its growing arsenal of Reaper and Predator drones, stretching all the way from the Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily to Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam. And yet, in that series of failed, never-ending conflicts, the old military formula for “containing,” constraining, and dominating Eurasia was visibly failing. The Global War on Terror proved, in some sense, a long-drawn-out version of Britain’s imperial Suez disaster.
China’s Eurasian Strategy
After all that, it seems remarkable that Washington’s current generation of foreign policy leaders, like Britain’s in the 1950s, is so blindingly oblivious to the geopolitics of empire — in this case, to Beijing’s largely economic bid for global power on that same “world island” (Eurasia plus an adjoining Africa).
It’s not as if China has been hiding some secret strategy. In a 2013 speech at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University, President Xi typically urged the peoples of Central Asia to join with his country to “forge closer economic ties, deepen cooperation, and expand development space in the Eurasian region.” Through trade and infrastructure “connecting the Pacific and the Baltic Sea,” this vast landmass inhabited by close to three billion people could, he said, become “the biggest market in the world with unparalleled potential.”
This development scheme, soon to be dubbed the Belt and Road Initiative, would become a massive effort to economically integrate that “world island” of Africa, Asia, and Europe by investing well more than a trillion dollars — a sum 10 times larger than the famed U.S. Marshall plan that rebuilt a ravaged Europe after World War II. Beijing also established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank with an impressive $100 billion in capital l and 103 member nations. More recently, China has formed the world’s largest trade bloc with 14 Asia-Pacific partners and, over Washington’s strenuous objections,,signed an ambitious financial services agreement with the European Union.
Such investments, almost none of a military nature, quickly fostered the formation of a transcontinental grid of railroads and gas pipelines extending from East Asia to Europe, the Pacific to the Atlantic, all linked to Beijing. In a striking parallel with that sixteenth century chain of 50 fortified Portuguese ports, Beijing has also acquired special access through loans and leases to more than 40 seaports encompassing its own latter-day “world island” — from the Straits of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, around Africa, and along Europe´s extended coastline from Piraeus, Greece, to Zeebrugge, Belgium.
With its growing wealth, China also built a blue-water navy that, by 2020 already had , 360 warships, backed by land-based missiles, jet fighters, and the planet’s second global system of military satellites. That growing force was meant to be the tip of China’s spear aimed at puncturing Washington’s encirclement of Asia. To cut the chain of American installations along the Pacific littoral, Beijing has built eight military bases on tiny (often dredged) islands in the South China Sea and imposed an air defense zone over a portion of the East China Sea. It has also challenged the U.S. Navy’s long-standing dominion over the Indian Ocean by opening its first foreign base at Djibouti in East Africa and building modern ports at Gwadar, Pakistan, and Hambantota, Sri Lanka, with potential military applications.
By now, the inherent strength of Beijing’s geopolitical strategy should be obvious to Washington foreign policy experts, were their insights not clouded by imperial hubris. Ignoring the unbending geopolitics of global power, centered as always on Eurasia, those Washington insiders now coming to power in the Biden administration somehow imagine that there is still a fight to be fought, a competition to be waged, a race to be run. Yet, as with the British in the 1950s, that ship may well have sailed.
By grasping the geopolitical logic of unifying Eurasia’s vast landmass — home to 70% of the world’s population — through transcontinental infrastructures for commerce, energy, finance, and transport, Beijing has rendered Washington’s encircling armadas of aircraft and warships redundant, even irrelevant.
As Sir Halford Mackinder might have put it, had he lived to celebrate his 160th birthday last month, the U.S. dominated Eurasia and thereby the world for 70 years. Now, China is taking control of that strategic continent and global power will surely follow.
However, it will do so on anything but the recognizable planet of the last 400 years. Sooner or later, Washington will undoubtedly have to accept the unbending geopolitical reality that undergirds the latest shift in global power and adapt its foreign policy and fiscal priorities accordingly.”
I am always a little cautious about culturalistic historians and sinologists who think that today’s thinking and acting of the CPC can be reduced to one or three classic writings or Go and Chinese chess.. In my opinion, the CPC also has at minimum also read the writings of Mc Kinder and Brzezinski’s Chessboard on the meaning of Eurasia, the Heartland and the World Island and anticipate more than Sun Tzuor the strategems or the Zuozhuan. Probably educated elite Chinese know and have read all these writings together and also other writings like Homer Lea´s The Day of the Saxons and appreciate Mc Kinder or Brzezinski maybe more than the Anglosaxon politicans appreciate the writings of their own geostrategists or multiculatarl postmodernist students of postcolonial and gender studies.
The CCP cadre elite also thinks in holistic and comprehensive ways and with the exception of very binary politcical views on liberal freedom and universal human rights, they often think dialectical or as Oskar Weggel claims think not that much in binary „either/or-neiteher/nor“, but more in syncreitc and holictiuc „as well as“- categories and make synthesis.
Another feature of the CCP since Deng Xiaoping was thathe switched back to scientific socialims, that not „red revolutionaires instead of experts“ controlled the CCP, but that engineers, scientfic academics and technological and economic experts were given high-ranking positions in the party and the state institutions. Sinvce Deng the CCP also had empirism and psoitivism as its leading guidelines. When Deng proclaimed the 4 modernizations, he started with small projects at the countryside and the CCP evalutated the practical results which were positive. Then they gradually enlarged the projects and experiments at the country side and then to other sections of economy. But it was an empiristic and gradual experiment approach which would have been corrected anytime if the results hadn´t met their hoped-for targets.And the experience the PLA made in the Korean war or with the penal expedition against Vietnam as well as the shock of the Golf war and the US RMA 1990 made the CCP rethink its military modernization in practical ways. On the other side the CCP sees how the USA fought desatsrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, supported regime changes which brought instability and failed states, gigantic US debts and a political backlash in the USA and The West and it is liekly that the CCP learns its lessons from wrong statecraft and military interventionism. In this sense it is unlikely that the CCP will behave like the USA as at the moment it has not yet the gloabl cpacity, but to expand its influence moreby a comprehensive peaceful rise. However in the Indo-Pacific and about Taiwan, the South China and East China Sea the CCP could cross a red line with ist arssertivness.On the other side there are China hawks on the US side as Heritage thinker Larry Wortzel who think about provoking China about Taiwan to get it in a conflict which could desatbilsie and punish the CCP and make clear that the US is the dominant power in the INdo-Pacific. At the moment the CCP prepares for a „protacted war“ in economic, social and military sense, but still wants gradually and peacefully expand. And with the polarization in the USA and its possible destabilisation from within, the CCP sees also the chance that the USA will be preoccupied with their own internal problems which CHina can use for its own foreign policy expansion. However, as the CCP wants in 2049 a wolrd class army taht could act globally as the USA, she will try to perfrom a low profile as the culturalist China admirer prophecy. Wolf warrior diplomacy at best, but no foreign interventions. The CCP still hopes that the USA will decline and retreat and that China will fill the Euraisan and INdo-Pacific vaccum gradually and that the USA is forced to accept that in a peaceful way. With the possible exception of Taiwan.
Another question is whether the CCP remains that empirical and pragmatic or whether the transfromation from a collective party dictatorship to a 1 man dictatorship for life time and Xi Jinping thoughts in the constitution and as ideological guideline will create a more ideological, natioalist hybris and abolish the more pragmatic and unideoligical empirism and gradual rise of China. Maybe then not the Zuozhuan or any writing is the guideline, but only the 1 Xi Jinping tought which accepts no critisim and correction. And it is also interesting that till now many sionlogist have not yet analzed what the Xi Jinping thoughts are.
Therefore till now you have influence from China´s history and its classic writings and experiences , Western writings, history and experiences and pragmatic emprirism. It could be possible that the New Silkroad is a sort of Mc Kinder with Chinese Zuozhuan characteristics as was Mao´s or Deng´s communism a socialism with Chinese characteristics. And another question was if the Emperor´s of the old Silk road have ot been Chinese Mc Kinders who wanted also not only wanted to control the Middle Kingdom, but also the Euarsian heartland tthey knew at their times by a tribute system.Maybe Mc Kinder´s thinking is more Chinese than he ever imagined.
The Belt and Road Oinitiative wants to establish control over Eurasia The West has nothing like that and Japan’s and India´s half-hearted Asian-African Economic Corridor makes slow progress because the US is not clearly positioning itself in scu geopoltical mega projects at the moment. After all, former German Vice chancellor and head of the Atlantic Bridge Sigmar Gabriel and US diplomat Emmmerson have now proposed a transatlantic silk road for Eurasia and Africa. But paper is patient and till now the US administration speaks of a US infrasturcture project only for the USA, but not for Eurasia and even the US project is not for sure. However the merger by a Candian railway company seems to promtze an intergrated railway system between the NAFTA states:
“Railroads Strike a $25 Billion Merger
Canadian Pacific agrees to buy Kansas City Southern in deal that would link the U.S., Canada and Mexico
.”Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. agreed to acquire Kansas City Southern in a transaction valued at about $25 billion that would create the first freight-rail network linking Mexico, the U.S. and Canada.
The combination, which faces a lengthy regulatory review, is a long-term wager on an interconnected North American economy. The three countries are reopening at different speeds aftethe Covid-19 pandemicr disrupted supply chains and upended global trade. Rail volumes, which plunged last year, have rebounded thoughbacklogs at Californian ports have delayed imports from Asia and stalled some U.S. factories.
It marks the third major U.S. railroad that the Canadian company has targeted in its quest to create a transcontinental network. Canadian Pacific abandoned the two prior efforts—in 2014 and 2016—amid resistance from the takeover targets themselves as well as opposition from rivals, shippers and U.S. regulators.
Keith Creel, chief executive of Canadian Pacific, said lessons were learned from the failed bids. He expects Kansas City’s support for the proposed merger and said the lack of rail-line duplication between the two companies will minimize potential regulatory concerns. “You have two like-minded companies that are committed to this and see the value,” he said.
Patrick Ottensmeyer, CEO of Kansas City, said the new US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, which replaced Nafta in July 2020, creates a unique opportunity to ship freight through the three countries as their economies recover from the pandemic.”
However, it is not an Eurasian infrastructure project as China´s BRI, not even a new Panamerican Silkroad with Latinamerica. The question is if the USA and the West still have the ifnacial resources and the political will to fund and initiate such a Western BRI or let China control Eurasia.