Our Bob has an article in the International Herald Tribune on, well, the geography of Chinese power. The article appears below, abridged — click the link for the full story.
Today China’s ambitions are as aggressive as those of the United States a century ago, but for completely different reasons. China does not take a missionary approach to world affairs, seeking to spread an ideology or a system of government. Instead, its actions are propelled by its need to secure energy, metals and strategic minerals in order to support the rising living standards of its immense population…
North of Mongolia and of China’s three northeastern provinces lies Russia’s Far East region, a numbing vastness twice the size of Europe with a meager and shrinking population and large reserves of natural gas, oil, timber, diamonds and gold.
As with Mongolia, the fear is not that the Chinese army will one day invade or formally annex the Russian Far East. It is that Beijing’s demographic and corporate control over the region is steadily increasing.
China’s influence is also spreading southeast. In fact, it is with the relatively weak states of Southeast Asia that the emergence of a Greater China is meeting the least resistance.
There are relatively few geographic impediments separating China from Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, and China continues to develop profitable relationships with its southern neighbors. It uses Asean (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) as a market for selling high-value Chinese manufactured goods while buying from it low-value agricultural produce.
Central Asia, Mongolia, the Russian Far East and Southeast Asia are natural zones of Chinese influence. But they are also zones whose political borders are not likely to change. The situation on the Korean Peninsula is different. No one really expects China to annex any part of the Korean Peninsula, of course, But although it supports Kim Jong-il’s Stalinist regime, it has plans for the peninsula beyond his reign…
So can the United States work to preserve stability in Asia, protect its allies there, and limit the emergence of a Greater China while avoiding a conflict with Beijing?
Strengthening the U.S. air and sea presence in Oceania would be a compromise approach between resisting a Greater China at all cost and assenting to a future in which the Chinese Navy policed the first island chain. This approach would ensure that China paid a steep price for any military aggression against Taiwan.
Still, the very fact of China’s rising economic and military power will exacerbate U.S.-Chinese tensions in the years ahead. To paraphrase the political scientist John Mearsheimer, the United States, the hegemon of the Western Hemisphere, will try to prevent China from becoming the hegemon of much of the Eastern Hemisphere. This could be the signal drama of the age.