John Mauldin's "Geopolitics of China" (p.s. based on Stratfor's analysis) is a very good treatise on "what China want", starting with its geopolitical constraints, to what it logically needs and matches with what historically (and even today) China's (geopolitical and) strategic goal is.
- "The only thing that's crystal clear about China is the need to look long term, at the underlying forces that don't change day by day. Nobody does this better than my friend George Friedman and his team at Stratfor. Their geopolitical focus filters out the noise in the popular press and concentrates on the real drivers behind national policy. This is especially critical for a market like China, where traditional financial statement analysis is impossible and profit motives just don't apply."
I have a few notes but these do not change the key theme and flow of Mauldin's analysis. So please go read it, judge for yourself before coming back for my notes below.
- The map (above) is not entirely accurate for those who know the geographies. e.g.among places excluded in the "island" are Xian which is part of the "China proper", historically, politically and demographically, and a number of other locations such as Liaodong penisular. If Mauldin reads historically maps of China he would probably recognize that both the NW of Korea (i.e. NW coast down to south of Pyongyeong) was included into the Chinese empire until late Ming) and North Vietnam formed part of "geopolitical China". The real both is the mountains of southern Vietnam (Ho Chi Ming path) and the more mountainous East/SE Korea (Silla, Paekchi) -- referencing the historical map of Han/Tang/North Song dynasties would fill the gaps in Mauldin's "China as an island" argument. China was really defended by naturally barriers from all sides with the technology a couple hundred years ago -- e.g. This East Han map (from jp.wiki.org) where Han expanded wherever it could constrained only by geography
- The geographic barrier is best illustrated with this East Han map. As Mauldin discussed, we have the Gobi to the North, Tibet to the South West and central Asian desert to the West, plus the Himalayas beyond Tibet and the tropical rain forest and mountains to the SWS. The only area that Han had not explored is the Northeast (later known as Manchuria), where the Liao (Chitan), Jin and Qing (Manchu) were based. Today inner Manchuria became part of China are the Han China was conquered by the Manchus around 1644
- Mauldin said "It is important to understand that over a billion people live in an area about half the size of the United States." the more precise measure if perhap 1/3 the size of USA. This makes China's population density (over useful land) perhaps 7 time higher than US perhaps 20% of land in US is also desert like Gobi, so 3/(1/3)x80%=7)
- "However -- and this is the single most important fact about China -- it has about one-third the arable land per person as the rest of the world. This pressure has defined modern Chinese history -- both in terms of living with it and trying to move beyond it." -- understanding this will help one understand why the PRC leaders often talked about survival as one key elements of 'human right", they are serious about this, historically many people die (in fact, famine was commonplace in Chinese history) whenever there was upheaval (and vice versa)
- As mentioned above, historically the "buffer zone" would include Vietnam and NW Korea -- both people were very much sinicized, culturally advanced and often friendly to (pay tribute to) the Han China. As a matter of fact, they used Chinese character until very recently
- It should also be noted that historically China was often "forced" to expand, notably the westward exploration in Han (and also Tang) was forced on by Mongolian (Hun/Turk) invasions. "Chinese strategy remained constant: the slow and systematic assertion of control over these outer regions in order to protect the Han from incursions by nomadic cavalry." I should add that Han China had been satisfied with the "East Han order" for almost 2000 years and the major change in territory was complete by the Manchurian. Expansion had ceased to be part of the strategic objective for Han China after early Tang, parhaps because of the Confucius doctrine and just arrogance (despise the culture/wealth/resources of the neighboring countries)
Mauldin then went on to assert that China has 3 geopolitical imperatives
- Maintain internal unity in the Han Chinese regions.
- Maintain control of the buffer regions.
- Protect the coast from foreign encroachment.
#1 explains why presnt day PRC was so obsessive on Taiwan, #2 expalin Xinjiang and Tibet. While Maudlin was discussing about Mao's strategy, I should also add that Mao made a point not to build infrastructure (to isolate China from external invasion) in the buffer areas and located all the strategic industries deep into the mountains (again, to be more defensible)
- "Although Taiwan presents no immediate threat, it does pose potential dangers that China cannot ignore."
Maudlin was right on when he commented on the implication of the Korean war, "From the Soviet point of view, fighting between China and the United States was the best thing imaginable. But from Stratfor's point of view, what it demonstrated was the sensitivity of the Chinese to any encroachment on their borderlands, their buffers, which represent the foundation of their national security" Yes, Soviet managed to play China against the US and thwarted China's development for about 30 years. But this eventually led to the Sino-Soviet split and Nixon's visit. And the rest was history (without China US could still win the Cold War as that is inevitable, but it could take a couple more decades).
Maudlin discussed about the premise in which China feels the threat from US Navy. However, as Maudlin concluded, such a concern is only economical, to achieve such objective US needs only to stop trading with China (rather than a blockade). In other word, there is no reason for US to blockade China. The real objective of China's naval aspiration (or that to prepare against a sea blockade on the east), is Taiwan. The only reason US may impose a blockade to China is if war breaks out in Taiwan. PRC does not like that idea.
Finally, one piece of good news (vs Maudlin's concern in his concluding paragraph that the rift between coastal and interior China could destabilize and perhaps lead to catstrophic results in China), is that modern technology has greatly shortened physical distance, to such an extent that the distinction between coastal and interior China are much blurred after China completed it new road network at the turn of the century. As of today, we have already witness strong growth in the interior (and migration of factories from coastal to interior). Meanwhile, as China's economy grows it becomes more frequently a customer of the good it produces itself, which aleviates the dependency on export. What China needs is to toe the line carefully and buy time to become less vulnerable to external economic turbulence. The 2008 recession is the biggest test it has to cope with.