Session 4: "China’s Western Horizon" (Book Club)

Session 4:

Show Video

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.

2021-02-13 19:49

Show Video

Other news