China and the heartland of Eurasia

China's Ancient Silk Road

China’s Ancient Silk Road

China's New Silk Road

China’s New Silk Road

A century ago, the world was dominated by the great naval powers—Great Britain, above all, plus other western European countries, the USA and Japan.

But in 1904 a geographer named Sir Halford Mackinder warned that this was going to change.   He said the advent of the railroad made it possible to unify the interior of Eurasia—what he called the Heartland—and create a base of power that the British, American or other navies could not reach.

mackinder_natural_large“Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island [that is, Europe and Asia],” he said.  “Who rules the World Island commands the world.”

Today the leaders of China are making that vision come true.  As the second map above shows, they are extending their access to the resources and markets of Central Asia, Russia and Europe.

Unlike the USA, the Chinese leaders don’t seek military dominance except in their immediate geographical area.  Overseas military colonization and conquest is not the historic Chinese way.  The historic Chinese expectation is that the rest of the world will come to them, and pay tribute.

The Chinese strategy has a military component, but it is based mainly on investing in infrastructure.  Step-by-step, this investment adds to their power.   American projection of military force drains our power.

I think we Americans should learn from the example of the Chinese.  Instead of trying to dictate the politics of the Middle East and encircle Russia and China with military alliances, our government would do better to build up our own long-range strength, by investing in infrastructure, education, scientific research and industrial development.

It should go without saying that we need to protect ourselves from military attack, espionage, cyber-warfare and economic penetration, but that is different from going around the world looking for trouble.

The United States is well able to flourish in a world of other strong countries, but we don’t make ourselves strong by a futile effort to undermine China’s strength.


The Geopolitics of America’s Global Decline by Alfred McCoy for TomDispatch (via the Unz Review)   I disagree that China’s rise is a necessarily a problem for the United States, but this is an excellent article.

U.S. wakes up to New (Silk) World Order by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.  Pepe Escobar has been writing about the economic integration of Eurasia for years now, with great insight.

Why China has the upper hand in the South China Sea by Barry C. Lynn for Reuters.   The reason China has the upper hand is that the USA depends on China for vital manufactured goods, while China has no need of U.S. goods.

“One Belt, One Road” May Be China’s One Chance To Save Collapsing Economy by Tyler Durden for Zero Hedge.

For American pundits, China isn’t a country, it’s a fantasyland by James Palmer for the Washington Post.  I guess I’m one of those pundits, since I have no first-hand knowledge of China.  James Palmer points out that China has serious problems, and its grandiose plans may fail.  Just because something is drawn on a map doesn’t guarantee it will happen.  But if China fails, that doesn’t in and of itself make us Americans any better off.


Click on the maps to enlarge them.

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3 Responses to “China and the heartland of Eurasia”

  1. peteybee Says:

    “Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island, Who rules the World Island commands the world.”

    … seems very dramatic, like almost a caricature of something my imaginary stereotype of a late 19th century Englishman would say just to sound smart.

    The glaring counterexamples are the USSR, which for a time mostly ruled most of the heartland but did not rule the world, and both the US and UK, which for a time mostly ruled most of the the world but did not rule the heartland.

    But I suppose it makes little difference whether or not it is actually true, just whether or not our policy makers think it is true.


  2. philebersole Says:

    Certainly Mackinder was premature in asserting that the era of sea power was coming to a close. Command of the seas was vital to the Anglo-American alliance in the two world wars. And U.S. power is based on command of the seas and of the air.

    But I think his prediction may be coming true at last. Russia historically was invulnerable to invasion from outside the Heartland area. Today China and Russia are both outside the reach of American sea and air power.

    I think the coming together of China and Russia can create a new center of world power which the rest of the world will have to reckon with.

    I agree that these two countries will not “command the world” in the sense that their soldiers will occupy Europe and North America, but I do think China is on the way to becoming a nation that the rest of the world, including the USA, will have to reckon with in making decisions.

    I don’t think Russia in the long run will be an equal partner with China. Rather Russia and Central Asia will become resource hinterlands of China.

    But I don’t claim to be able to predict the future. In a long time, my beliefs about what the future will bring have been more often wrong than right. Certainly I could never have foreseen the world of today 25 years ago.


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