Savvy geographer and writer Robert D. Kaplan has had his eyes on developments in Central Asia since he published his influential essay and book, The Coming Anarchy, in the middle 1990s. Since that time a quiet but intense rivalry in Central Asia between China and Russia has grown ever warmer.
The larger Chinese goal is to dominate Eurasia, which means relegating Russia to a second-tier power… President Vladimir Putin’s compulsion to challenge the West — while China under President Xi Jinping is quietly on the march all around him — demonstrates his strategic shortsightedness at a time of Russian economic vulnerability.
Unheralded, China seems to be winning the “quiet war” between the two largest Asian nuclear powers. China has only one seacoast — vulnerable to multiple chokepoints. Most of Russia’s seaports are frozen over much of the year. Consequently, the largely economic battles between the two would-be superpowers take place largely on the great Asian land mass.
China and Russia share a land border of more than 2,600 miles, an interminable stretch of birch forest separating mainly the Russian Far East from Chinese Manchuria, whose particulars were formally agreed upon only in the last decade… China is vanquishing Russia in Central Asia. In the last decade, the China National Petroleum Corporation has become Central Asia’s main energy player. China pumps Kazakh oil to Europe and also to China through a pipeline, and the Chinese transport natural gas from Turkmenistan to western China. Chinese money has also been coursing through Central Asia to build power grids and transportation infrastructure, altering the landscape and forming the backbone of the One Belt, One Road plan. __ Robert D. Kaplan
China has copied most Russian / Soviet weapons systems, and is currently selling these reverse-engineered arms at cut-rate prices on world markets — in direct competition with Russia. At the same time, Russia is selling some of its best weapons systems directly to China’s enemies and potential enemies — such as Indonesia, Vietnam, and India.
Just like Russia, China is its own worst enemy. Excessively autocratic and wildly corrupt, leaders of both nations too easily forget how quickly government support can erode among the people who actually keep things going. Both China and Russia have suffered a number of governmental collapses and near-collapses over the past 100 years, and it is unlikely that this deadly turbulence has been truly quelled for either one.
China can be stopped only by its own internal demons. … China’s autocracy, precisely because of its successes, could face a crisis of legitimacy as social, ethnic and religious tensions intensify in both Han and Uighur areas, especially in the event of any further slowdowns in economic growth that thwart the rising expectations of its people. That’s why the ultimate success of One Belt, One Road will be determined less by what happens in Central Asia and elsewhere than by what happens inside China itself. __ NYT
How ironic that the underlying mechanism for One Belt One Road (OBOR) is the same problem that could pull the props out from under the dragon’s ruling classes — profligate and unsound debt. And how queer that Putin is finding himself outflanked in the east and south just as he had been stirring blood-feud feelings among his formerly friendly neighbors to the west. No matter what the media and your eyes are telling you, the “turtles all the way down” scheme of Potemkin expansionism being practised by both players, is quite unsound over the long term.
Sticky situations can develop very quickly in this great game. Always look beneath the surface facade whenever possible, if you wish to anticipate next moves.