Session 4: "China’s Western Horizon" (Book Club)
Let me open first by thanking all of you for coming. I'm really glad that this effort at a virtual book club came together. It was a bit of an experiment. I hope you have all had a chance to really hear from some of SAIS's most interesting speakers on topics related to the book.
Friends of mine and colleagues, Josh, and Carla, and Vali, all of whom really know their stuff, both from an academic perspective and also from a more policy-oriented perspective. I also hope you've had a chance to interact with some of your fellow book club members. I hope that something like this will prove to be a model either for SAIS or for Hopkins more broadly, something to consider for other faculty books because we are always looking for opportunities to expand our audiences and to reach out to people, both current students, but also former students, alumni, the broader community and so on. Now, today, what I want to do is open with a bit of overview and something of a synthesis. I imagine that most, if not all of you, have read most, if not all of the book by this point. But if you haven't, this will also be a chance to kind of pull it all together, and then we can take it from there. So, as I hope most of you have figured out,
the book has basically four aims. And, very briefly, I want to consider what China wants and what it's trying to do in continental Eurasia. I want to better understand that what the States of continental Eurasia themselves, what they want, what their interests and what their aims and aspirations are with respect to China. I want to assess then how these... The third thing would be to assess how the, say push of Chinese interests and the pull of regional interests add up, and how that interactive effect really is likely to play out mainly from the perspective of the United States, although I think folks elsewhere could also get something out of that analysis. Then, in the end, and in particular in chapter six, I want to consider
the broad strategic options that are available to the United States in policy terms for how we might best respond to all of what is unfolding. Now, what I think the book's greatest, if I had to put my finger on what the book's greatest contribution is, at least in an analytical sense, is this point about how, precisely how Eurasian states themselves matter to what is unfolding in the region. And, as I have said in a number of other talks, it's the agency, so to speak, the capacity for independent action, interests and aspirations of these states that really too often gets overlooked in a lot of the conversations about what's happening in the world. Too often,
we focus either on what the United States wants or what China wants, and see the rest of the world as a kind of a vacuum or a playground for these great power aspirations or competition. And, the reality is that what the local states want and what they're trying to do really matters a great deal. Now, at times, I've described the region, and in the book, at one point I described the region as something like a coastline meeting the incoming waves of Chinese influence, particularly economic, but other influences as well. And, I suggest that at times that incoming wave
of Chinese influence will find kind of welcoming inlets, where it can exert itself. And, at other times, it will find jagged cliffs, where it's being pushed back kind of violently. But even this image isn't entirely correct, because it's not just that the states of the regions set the scene for Chinese action, but that these states are also turning China to their own purposes, or at least attempting to turn China to their own purposes. At times, their purposes actually have
very little to do with China, at least at the beginning. They have their own local, domestic, regional aspirations, and they want to see how they can use China to advance these. Now, as you probably know as well, the book tries to simplify this story in a number of ways. I don't try to tell a comprehensive encyclopedic version of what is happening throughout the region. Instead, I try to narrow the focus to several important actors, and principally Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Iran, for reasons that I think should be relatively clear, but namely, they're important to China, and they are also important players in each of their sub-regions. So, it's that significance that drew me to each of them. Then what I try to do again, in a kind of,
a move to simplify what is otherwise a very complicated regional story, is ask two basic questions: What's happening locally within each one of these states in terms of domestic political economy and China's role in that? And, what's happening between the states of each sub-region? You might call that a regional geopolitical competition, and how's China playing into that. So, if we step through each of the regions very quickly, we can see and ask these two questions. If we look at South Asia again, it's Pakistan where I'm focused, and we see that China's role, often kind of related to the ChinaÐPakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC is having what I describe as a mixed effect on Pakistan's domestic political economy. So, while it is true that China is helping Pakistan to address some economic needs at home, in particular building out its energy infrastructure, which is important, it is simultaneously, I think, exacerbating some of the existing conflicts within Pakistani society. And, it is contributing, I think in, in some increasingly troubling ways, to an illiberal tendency or slide within Pakistan's politics. That is a way from more open political debate
and discussion, and toward a more closed system, political system, with the dominance of the army reasserting itself. So, that's the domestic side. Simultaneously, at the regional level, where the principal storyline that I tell is the story of competition and long-standing competition between India and Pakistan. We see that China has equities or interests in both states. But, that by moving into Pakistan in a more significant way with CPEC and other
types of cooperation, this seems to be emboldening Pakistan, potentially in some ways that lead it to take more risks in its dealings with India, and it also seems to be making India nervous and feel increasingly worried about China's role in the region. And, I think we're already beginning to see some of the consequences in terms of both direct India-China competition, and conflict, even militarized conflict. And, increasingly high tensions between India and Pakistan. That's worrisome. Shifting to central Asia, again, it's a mixed story of political economy when we focus on Kazakhstan, the largest state in central Asia. Clearly China has bailed out Kazakhstan's elites
economically in some important cases, including in the global financial crisis, or after that crisis. There are also some opportunities that China is getting involved in, in terms of new infrastructure and investment, places that I had a chance to visit, like the Khorgos dry port and Free Trade Zone along the Kazakhstan-China border. But, some of these opportunities may themselves benefit again, a narrow elite among the Kazakhstani society, or within that society. There is, I think recently, a thorny and negative in many ways, public response to China's increasing involvement, which is related to an underlying latent, what you have to call Sinophobia, and also increasing concerns among ethnic Kazakhs, especially, but the population more broadly about China's treatment of Uyghurs inside of Xinjiang in China and ethnic Kazakhs in China as well. So,
this is already making for a challenging politics in Kazakhstan, where the elite know that their bread is being buttered by Chinese projects, and the mass public is increasingly worried about the consequences: the broader social, political, and economic consequences of increasing Chinese involvement in country. And that, challenging politics, I think, has the potential to get worse in the context of a serious leadership transition that may be looming in the future. Regionally, I think, again, there are mixed interest that China is pursuing in central Asia. It's simultaneously eager to countries like Kazakhstan, and to stay on the good side with Moscow, with Russia. And so far, what it is doing is playing a soft game, trying not to upset Russia as it gets more deeply involved in the region and claiming to play the role of the economic partner, but not to take Russia's pride of place as the principal political partner, or even a security partner. However, over time, I'm concerned, or I think it's worth considering that China will likely displace Russia in these areas as well, or at least there's very real potential for this, as it increases its arm sales in the region, and as it builds out its own capacity to be involved as a military player and a security partner throughout the region. And then, the question
will be: how will Russia respond to this as its traditional place of dominance and the region will be threatened increasingly by China? Will Moscow sit idly by, or sit by, or be distracted by its other competition and frustrations, anxieties with the West, and especially the United States, while China presses its advantage throughout central Asia, or will it attempt to reassert itself in central Asia? This remains to be seen, but it's clearly a potential point of friction between China and Russia. And then finally, in the Middle East, again, a domestic political economy story in which the elites, and particularly the principal players who are in charge of Iran see the value of a closer connection with China, see that China is the principal demand source for energy from Iran, principal buyer of their oil, and principal supplier of manufactured goods, and that this has bailed them out in the face of international sanctions. But that the public is increasingly worried about what this means for the regime's repression of opposition forces, including through the use of high-tech tools of surveillance, censorship, and propaganda. Geopolitically, China in the Middle East finds itself courted, not just by Iran, who seeks as I say, to have a close relation to China, but also by the Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia who also see China as an important buyer of energy and also a potential and increasingly important seller of technologies, investor in their own development schemes, and in some cases, even seller of sensitive military equipment, including missile technologies that they can't get from elsewhere. And so the question here is, with both
Iran and Saudi Arabia, in a sense, courting China, Beijing has the luxury not to have to choose between these two suitors. But it will benefit, I think increasingly from their vulnerabilities in the form of finding an easiest support source of cheap and reliable energy, but also increasing opportunities for influence in the Middle East, which has, as all of you know, traditionally been an area of greater US presence and influence. So, that is changing. Now, when you pull all these pieces together, you can say economically, throughout continental Eurasia, what you're seeing is states increasingly being pulled into China's orbit. There are issues related to what you might call lock in of Chinese standards, of Chinese technologies, which by extension means the locking out of, or the reduction of a level playing field for other competitors in this region, including American and Western European competitors. And, you're also seeing questions in the region itself about whether Chinese investment trade and economic influence are actually beneficial for the interests of local people in terms of economic growth, their economic growth, job opportunities and environmental conditions among other things. These are questions that we're seeing increasingly come to the fore.
Politically, I think this is a part of a broader story in the region. What we're seeing is something that has elsewhere been described as authoritarian surge. Perhaps not quite so much that, because this is already a region that has generally been ruled by strong men, but what we can say is that, as China gets more and more involved politically, there's less and less reason to be hopeful, or to have aspirations about a more democratic or liberal turn or reform in this region. There's no reason to anticipate that Beijing would support that or engender that with its own actions. To the contrary, as I've said, its involvement, particularly in the area of technology and telecommunications has the potential to be more repressive and illiberal than anything else. Now, this doesn't necessarily translate into Chinese domination, or in any sense control over these countries, I think we should be clear, because the leaders of these states are themselves jealous guardians of their own territorial sovereignty, and they want to be able to run their own states as they see fit, and not to be told what to do by the Chinese. So, less liberal if not necessarily Chinese dominated. And then finally,
on the military and security front, I think we, as I said before, are likely to see a greater Chinese role across military sales and also training and equipping of local military forces, perhaps even over time displacing Russia in this respect. But we are also seeing the potential to China's greater involvement in the region is actually fueling, or at least keeping alive regional conflicts and competition, say between India and Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia and Russia, in ways that are ultimately potentially dangerous. AND, at the same time, China is increasingly able to project its own military footprint further westward. So, it is possible to see simultaneously, the evolution of greater regional turmoil and greater Chinese military influence and access. So, China's role in the region need not be pacifying. It may actually create more tension, but simultaneously, allow for more access. And,
in some ways, and I will leave it here, this shapes up to be the worst of all possible worlds from a US perspective, because you can see an extension of Chinese economic, political, and military influence in ways that will make China a more capable competitor with the United States over time without seeing the benefits of prosperity necessarily, or widespread prosperity, or peace and stability across this already pretty messy and difficult region. So, I hope I've been able to give you a broad sense in a relatively short period of time and, I hope you've enjoyed the book so far. I'm happy to take questions of any and all types related to anything I've just said or anything that you've read in the book that was troubling, or interesting, or confusing, or anything that's happening in terms of an evolution. Good question. So, you're absolutely right. This is an issue as rail lines come up to China's border and then pass into areas of the former Soviet Union; you do have a gauge shift. What has happened in instances that I'm familiar with, so for instance, I mentioned this
Khorgos dry port and area where cargo comes in from, principally, still from the Chinese side, it is taken off these... The shipping containers are taken off of the narrower Chinese gauge and then placed on via a gantry crane placed onto the wider former Soviet or Russian gauge, and then quickly moved on. It seems like, what I at least have seen, is an investment in the capacity to shift the gauge quickly and efficiently as it crosses the border more than to build out the narrower Chinese gauge across the region. But I would anticipate there might be some of that as well. There's a broader point, I think, that you're getting at, which is how will, or how is Russia responding to infrastructure developments, including in central Asia that are deprioritizing what has traditionally been an infrastructure, a regional infrastructure that has effectively always flowed into and out of Russia. This is not just the trains,
but also the pipelines. And, the answer is that it basically gives Russia a great deal less leverage over regional energy markets than it would otherwise have, including in the gas sector. And also, this will likely be more and more the case in the rail and transportation sector as well. So, if you're a Russian looking to, in a sense, control for both political and economic reasons, and possibly even security reasons, including moving troops quickly across territory, then this would be something somewhat worrisome to you.
But my earlier point was that right now, Russia is too consumed with its competition with the United States and the West to be giving a great deal of thought to this. As far as I can tell, for as long as Putin remains the man in power, and for as long as his tensions, certainly over Ukraine and otherwise with us persist, this is likely to continue. So, in other words, Russia's eye is not on the ball in central Asia right now, it's on the ball in Europe and the West and that allows China a pretty wide range and latitude for its action. But great question.
I think that's great and generally correct reading, in terms of the word that I tend to use is opportunistic, where situations or openings present themselves, China has increasingly been capable of taking advantage of them, and that it looks more that way than China forcing itself on unwilling partners. However, two caveats to that. One is, it kind of looked more that way in Southeast Asia as well about 10 or 15 years ago. And China looked basically, and this was in the early 2000s, at the time when
I was working at the state department, we would frequently hear from Southeast Asian States that, you know look, China's wonderful. They're proposing win-win opportunities for all of us. You, the United States, is in the post 9/11 period. You're fixated on security issues, and especially terrorism issues. Why don't you get your heads out of that and back into opportunities you know where everybody can get ahead like the Chinese are? It was a charm offensive coming out of Beijing that was quite effective, but in the past few years, what we've seen is, at least in some of Southeast Asian states, increasing concern about China looking more aggressive, about China looking to try to dominate them or to push them around, and that has led, including countries like Vietnam, hardly a longtime friend of the United States, has led them though to look elsewhere. How can we attempt increasingly to balance China and China's influence rather than bandwagon with China? And so, one of the open questions in continental Eurasia is whether China will manage that act of being opportunistic and seeming to be a very meager, but also kind of light touch partner. Whether they can maintain
that long enough to win over true partners in the region or whether they will be seen as, I think, I would say increasingly they have been in Southeast Asia as somewhat more aggressive. And, you know the story of the post-COVID moment has been revealing and troubling on that front, because China's messaging out of Beijing has been awfully nationalistic and pushy, and has caught a number of outside players by surprise, and has led a number of them to be more worried about the way that China renews its power and influence, and whether they need to be more wary and find opportunities for balancing. That's how things are evolving. We'll just have to watch, but I think, historically, and in many important ways, it's been better to see China as opportunistic than as a grand strategic empire in the making, looking to assert itself in dominant ways, but rather to seize opportunities as they avail. I'm going to have to say that I wish I could tell you more É and I've tried to follow it, but I really É Kyrgyzstan is not a country that I focused on either in this book and it hasn't been a centerpiece of my other research. So, I feel like I need to be careful. What I would say is
that it is a country in central Asia that has experienced multiple bouts of kind of euphoria, political turmoil, change, but ultimately without change that is still steeped in a kind of depth of corruption and mismanagement that ultimately alienates each successive government from its people. I'm worried that, that pattern is reasonably likely to persist. But aside from that, I think it seems like it's still a moving target in terms of understanding the story, and we'll have to wait and see how it plays out. I'd like to be more optimistic than that. With respect to China though, I think Kyrgyzstan is also a country where you've seen a degree like in Kazakhstan, but maybe even more so a degree of skepticism about China's role and what China is actually up to, and the Sinophobia that is widespread and publicly held. So, I don't anticipate that to change. And, then the question will be, whether any new government that actually stays in power would actually open more doors to China than what we've seen in the past. There, I simply don't know the answer at this moment, but it's a good question. I wish I could
give you a better take on that. And, Kyrgyzstan is one of the countries in the region that, if I were to write ... I've been talking to people about the possibility of onward research, where I would try to pick up on some of the countries that I wasn't able to focus on, and either do some of the work myself or bring in other scholars to focus on those and ask similar questions. This is one of the ones I'd want to focus on. So, thanks.
So, there is a good debate on this question, whether China, and this is true in central Asia, but in other parts of the world as well, does Beijing, to put it bluntly, prefer to work with illiberal authoritarian states? Or, does it just find itself working with them frequently? And, beyond that, maybe even more interestingly, does it see part of its mission in reinforcing the authoritarian capabilities and tendencies of these partners? And I think that one answer I would have is I don't think that China is entirely agnostic, but I do think that it is more opportunistic than close-minded about who it will work with in other states. That is look, it's willing to work with Greece or other at times European democracies. In fact, I think in some ways, it's been, in the past, would be willing to work with India. It's willing to seek investment opportunities
where it can find them. But it sure doesn't shy away from the opportunities, both for straight up influenced via bribery and other underhanded means that present themselves in authoritarian systems often even more so than in democratic ones. It also seems to like, that is Beijing seems to like, or at least believe that it is easier to work with what it thinks as more stable, longstanding regimes. And it is nervous, and in some ways, for a good reason, it's nervous about the prospect for political change that is brought about by regular elections, because it's been stung by democratic elections, where it thought it had good ties with the leaders of the country, say the PML-N government in Pakistan, and then that government gets swept out of power, and in some ways unexpectedly. A year earlier, nobody was really predicting that and now they have to build up new ties with the new government in power. Beijing doesn't like that. They also don't tend to believe, and this would be the last point here, they don't tend to believe as many of us in the United States do, about the inherent dangers of illiberal closed regimes. If
I look at these regimes, I'd say they suffer from the potential of fragility, that if one man dies, all bets are off. That looks to be fragile or worrisome to me, but from China's perspective, I think they see things quite differently. They see that as more manageable, more control, and if such a thing were to happen, they can find their way out of it. Whereas democracies are messy
and more challenging to work with. I know I said that was my last point, but just in terms of China's willingness or eagerness to support the illiberal behavior of these states, there, I would say, I'm not sure that this is so much a considered or was a considered policy by Beijing, but they have definitely seized upon it, not just in terms of the sales of technology for controlling the internet, for instance, in Iran, but also inviting leaders and managers and mid-level officials to China to learn how to make better use of these kinds of tools and technologies, in many cases, to repress their own population. So, I think increasingly, they're, even if they may not have originally started there, they may be heading there. And, even if they don't think that the Chinese communist party system per se, is the best system for all other countries, they definitely have no preference for democracy. And as I say, see some value in authoritarian illiberalism. Hopefully, I covered the game there. Thank you. Absolutely. I think that my short answer would be yes. To expand upon this, look,
China has been accused. I am trying to remember the specific case, it was in Africa, of building a parliament building that included enormous capacity for surveillance of what was going on, basically tapping every line within it. And you know, this isn't terribly surprising. More broadly when you build your fiber optic principle, fiber optic network cabling system, say through Pakistan and onward to Africa under sea, and then back to China, you are definitely creating opportunities for the Chinese to have greater access and to make sense of what you're doing. There are also a number of stories out there about how China is developing its facial recognition capabilities through use of big data collected from places like Central Asia. And you can imagine what that will mean for their capacity to make sense of things. There's concern about the so-called smart cities,
which China is investing in, which will have cameras and other types of surveillance capacity throughout them, which is simultaneously being billed in some exciting ways as a means to make these cities more efficient, more effective, to move people around to make it much more pleasant to live there and to crack down on security threats, including common criminality. But the gift of all of that data to China is worrisome both in terms of Beijing's capacity, potentially to find out what's going on in its neighborhood and to use that to its advantage. But also, for those who are more broadly worried about the kind of big data competition between China and the United States.
There are those who will say data is power, and the more access to more data from more sources, say across continental Eurasia, (and you have enormous populations that their data will come streaming into China,) the more capacity then you have potentially to harvest that. Not so much in the security ways that you're describing, but maybe in commercial ways that would enable Chinese companies active in big data to make better sense of it, and therefore be more competitive and provide better services that will out-compete European or American or other services. So, these are some of the ways that China's greater involvement in technology in the region can really play to its advantage over time. Great, tough one. Just on the Vietnam story, the more that I talk to people who are looking at China's involvement again, in Southeast Asia, but in other places as well, Latin America, Africa, the more that I see certain similarities emerging. Some of this should be obvious to us, right? It's not surprising that Vietnam is, as I say, a jealous guardian of its territorial sovereignty.
We learned that the hard way. Vietnam doesn't want to be told what to do. But that should play out in ways that actually have greater consequences now for their dealings with China, who they see as their principal threat to that sovereignty or regional autonomy of action, and have less to do with us, which they see as now a distant player and much less of a direct threat to that. That changes the calculation in important ways. And that's part of what, just to expand on this a little bit, that's part of the opportunity that I see for the United States in this competition with China. In many ways, we can try to regain something that we have
lost in important parts of the world, which is an attractive power of looking like an unthreatening, and somewhat more distant player than we did. Certainly, than we did in the post 9/11 era, where we seem to be everywhere all the time and in everyone's business. And that engendered a certain degree of pushback just naturally, because these states simply did not want us to be present there.
China is increasingly involved. So, China is the one that looks more threatening. That plays to our competitive and strategic advantage. Now, on your other question, China is absolutely an unusual, and in terms of the US competition, now a unique competitor in terms of its economic heft and significance as compared to what we dealt with in the Cold War, where you know the Soviet Union hamstrung itself economically by its own choice of economic system and was less of a real competitor in that way. Whether or not that's the case, the military tool for responding to that is a pretty blunt instrument, so to speak. Among other things, we have to also remember that, even as China is a military or a strategic competitor with us, and increasingly an economic competitor, they also own an enormous amount of US debt. They also are a huge trading partner with us, an investor, and an engine of global economic growth, and an anchor in better times and important ways to global economic stability. We're in the same system. We cannot attack the Chinese part of that
system without also inflicting enormous costs on ourselves. We can't attack it militarily, and even when we attack it politically and even economically, say through our trade war with China, we all suffer. Sometimes that may be worth it. May be worth paying that price for specific and narrow purposes. But we do have to be careful about that. That's what makes this looming competition with China so much more complicated and challenging than anything we faced, I would say, during the Cold War, because it is not just a question of a straight up competition of two separate economic and social political blocks. But, it's a question of competition while we are also more firmly integrated in important ways than we've ever been. So, we have to keep that in mind in terms of the kinds of tools that we choose. I want to draw the direct connection between the transpacific partnership and what's happening in central Asia per se, because transpacific partnership had more to do with Asia Pacific and some of our principal trading partners there, like Japan.
It also included some Western hemisphere partners. So, there was a broader block trade effort that I do believe was a mistake to have withdrawn from for multiple reasons, but the main one being because it was seen in the region among our friends and our allies and our partners, as the principal face of American economic leadership in Asia. That was our main tool and by seeking to further it, but then having to back or dropping out of it, we looked like we just completely fumbled the ball in ways that created some deep anxiety about American leadership, and then have in the subsequent period, as we've seen China successfully be a part of its own regional trading schemes, have allowed China to sort of, not entirely steal that mantle from us, but it makes us look silly, divided, weak, and unsure of ourselves as a leader in the region. Other states in the region have moved on without us to confirm that now Ð what is it Ð to confirm the now, the CPTPP without us. That's not a good look for us either. The challenge of course, is all of you I'm sure know, is that the American political system wasn't an easy sell on TPP, and it's not going to be easy even under a Biden administration to reverse that. So, we've got
a problem in that one of our traditionally most powerful and effective tools that is trade promotion, regional trade promotion, global trade promotion is no longer one that we see a unified American consensus behindÉ in either party and that again, is a real detriment to our capacity to show leadership in Asia and elsewhere. So that's my real concern there. Okay. Well, central Asia and Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan, in particular are not excited about the long-term reality of climate change and shifting toward renewables and so on. This quite clearly isn't the direction that they would choose to go, and like countries like Saudi Arabia, this is the thing that really, they need to be coming up with long-term economic diversification schemes that would enable them to effectively trade their current hydrocarbon wealth and buy with that greater capacity in other fields, whether it's industry or services or something else, entirely. And if you look at, again, if you shift to the Saudi case, you look at vision 2030, there are a lot of problems with it, but at its core, that's precisely what the Saudi regime is attempting to do, is to rapidly create opportunities, job opportunities and to build out technologies, and carve out a space for the Saudi economy that is not so utterly dependent on its hydrocarbons.
To do that by again, trading its current hydrocarbon wealth or some considerable portion of it for greater investment that will jumpstart this other more diversified economy. The trouble is all of these countries, in terms of governance and capacity to manage this really tricky, difficult diversification scheme, it's just not shown itself to be there yet. The Saudis are more likely, for instance, than Kazakhstan to manage it, in the sense that they have greater wealth. They've managed to find themselves more partners overseas, but even they don't seem to be moving nearly as effectively as one might hope, I suppose, principally for governance reasons. The current Saudi government has all the problems that I'm sure all of you are aware of, especially of attracting Western firms and technology at the moment.
But coming back to central Asia, one of the things that Kazakhstan is certainly looking at, and you'd have to look to some of the others as well, is this notion of seeing itself as a land corridor. That's why these stories for trade and transit, not just for pipelines, so that's why these stories of building out of train lines and so on, and highways to create opportunities for the region to be this land corridor for Chinese trade, all the way to Western Europe is something that they're looking at eagerly, because that's something they think they know how to do, or at least they can find others who know how to do it to help them build it, and then to manage and then to profit from. Whereas the other things are really more human capital intensive, requiring training and education and massive investments in their own people that take more time and that are harder to pull off, and that so far they haven't been terribly successful at. But yeah, it's a huge problem. That's the kind of thing that's on their minds
long-term, long-term. Great question. I like that question a lot and it's something that I've thought a little bit about, but not at great depth. Part of what I like about it is that, when the Chinese approach these other states, and I do mention this in the book. You're right, the book has an interest-based argument, sometimes realize not always, but I can certainly see that. But when the Chinese approach these other states, whether it's in central Asia or the Middle East they, they talk about history. They talk sometimes about even being the oldest,
thousands of years of civilizational experience, say when they approach Iran, and shared deep history that both sides should understand. Part of me is quite skeptical about this narrative. I think some of that comes through in the book. I mean, some of the narrative is clearly just constructed out of thin air, or if not out of thin air, it's re-imagined in some pretty radical ways that suggest an earlier history that just doesn't really match up with the reality. But there is still a reason why Chinese leaders try to evoke, and also regional leaders try to evoke these narratives because they know they have some appeal. You also see the opposite, for instance, in Iran sort of frustrations with outside influence being likened to periods of imperial involvement, say of Russian imperial wars and domination, suggesting that Iran is being taken over, or in Pakistan, or in India talking about the East India Company and the past experience of effectively a history of economic colonialism, that maybe China is exploiting them in similar ways. So, history is resonant certainly in the region, and it is
certainly a tool which all sides seek to deploy to convince themselves at some level, but also maybe more importantly, their publics, that what they're doing in terms of partnership with China is, not only good in an interest-based way, but is natural and is a kind of a bringing to fruition a deeper history and kind of coming back home to the Silk Road. Again, in a way that historically, is, my view which is completely wrong-headed, I mean, because this Silk Road, or whatever is happening now in terms of regional economic integration is entirely different from the original Silk Road. This mythology is still powerful. So, I think you're right to mine these questions, to try to look for more, to try to better understand which types maybe of narratives are more effective, which ones have holed out the possibility for danger, because like the British East India Company narrative is one that's really evocative in say a country like Pakistan, and puts China in a bad spot. So, it can be powerful both as a mobilizer to work more closely with China and then potentially as a mobilizer to raise questions or skepticism about what it means to work with China. Yeah, fascinating topic. Thanks for the question. Right, so first of all, thanks for the question, good to hear from you and yes, Professor Lampton has a great new book, "Rivers of Iron." So, you can have a look at that. Railroads and Chinese
Power in Southeast Asia, and you're absolutely right that it has a complimentary sort of line to it in terms of stressing the agency of local players. It's not China dreaming up new rail lines in Southeast Asia and imposing them on the region. It's more the region having existing plans and all kinds of aspirations, and China using and playing into that with its own opportunistic take. Okay. Yes, definitely read that. Also, if you're curious, what else is on my desk? "The Emperor's New Road," which you may want to take a look at as well. I'm shilling for other people's books. Here's one I haven't read yet, but somebody's coming to speak at SAIS as well, "To Rule Eurasia's Waves" by Geoffrey Gresh. So, lots out there on similar topics.
Let me just wrap up by saying, to answer your question, yes. The United States, Japan, others have come forward with their own infrastructure, agendas, new institutions, in some cases, actually new resources to compete with in a sense the belt and road initiative from China. My first response to all of this is I understand the impulse, but I am generally worried that it is not the correct way for us to respond to China in a global competitive sense. In other words, we have developed, over decades now, really generations of professionals, a sense as to what we think is likely to be successful in terms of infrastructure, investment, and how to do it. We have also learned, through hard experience, how to waste billions, if not trillions of dollars doing infrastructure the wrong way in lots of countries around the world.
We do not need to ape or mimic Chinese efforts and relearn these lessons. We should probably stick to what we know, and what we know is that good quality infrastructure is often less about the dollar amount and more about the governance and institutional structures that help to maintain whatever it is that's being built, and make the most of it once it's been built. If you don't have those things in place, then you can build all kinds of stuff and it will fall apart pretty quickly, and it will also earn you the ire kind of, rather than the admiration of local states where you built it. So, we don't need to go down that path, and I hope we don't. Now, the Japanese are doing a lot and you mentioned them, I think for good reason, because they're doing a lot with a lot of money, but also at high quality, and that's at the core of their message, but that's not a new message out of Japan. I'd say stick with that, continue to do those things,
continue to believe that we actually know what we're doing to have that confidence that we and our partners actually do infrastructure well and more wisely than we think the Chinese do. Perhaps beef it up in certain critical areas where we do see needs. There is a crying need for more infrastructure. That's why, in many ways, this is popular, so there may be more that we could do. The institutions that we've begun to build in the States are probably adequate to do that maybe a bit more. But the most important thing I would conclude with is, do not allow the infrastructure
story to distract us from the broader set of activities that China is undertaking and the challenges that it poses to these regions and to the United States in terms of long standing Chinese, sorry, US interests, and influence, and activities, and relationships are not just being threatened by Chinese infrastructure, but by the other types of things that I try to describe the book, and these things go hand in hand. And so, if we become too fixated, as I think the debate has often been, on the infrastructure story, we're missing the political story, we're missing the economic story, where in fact, we have other tools that the Chinese don't have. We have both appealing opportunities for cooperation in science and technology, or education or so on, and we have resources including in the defense and security sector that are also quite appealing to these partners. That are even better than what the Chinese have
on offer. And so, we have tools and powers and capabilities that we shouldn't overlook, or be too unconfident about, which I think we have been in recent years. I hope we play to our strengths and we emphasize our relations with our partners, first and foremost. So, I think we've come past the end of our time. I apologize. Thank you for your indulgence of an extra six or seven minutes, and great to see all of you, some familiar faces and otherwise.