Robert D. Kaplan on the Russia – China Rivalry

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.

__ NYT

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.

This entry was posted in China, Russia and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Robert D. Kaplan on the Russia – China Rivalry

  1. bob sykes says:

    “his formerly friendly neighbors to the west” Good grief! Doesn’t Kaplan know anything of the last 200 years of European history? Actually he doesn’t.

    Kaplan is an ignorant, war-mongering neocon. It was his wife that instigated and paid for the coup d’etat that removed Ukraine’s only legitimate, democratically elected president and that installed the current junta and let loose the paleo-Nazi militias that terrorize Poroshenko. The ugly fact is that it is the neocons who control our foreign policy that have been trying to tear down the Russian government and economy and who have driven Russia into their current relationship with China.

    (It is almost certain that it was the neocons who instigated the failed coup against Erdogan, which has destroyed the southern flank of NATO.)

    Every Russian President starting with Gorbachev and proceeding through Yeltsin, Medvedev and Putin has called for a united Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok (Putin’s phrase). All of them wanted Russia in both the EU and NATO. It is the US that prevented all of this, in thrall to our war-mongering neocons. It is the US that has brought war to Eastern Europe and threatens war in East Asia.

    No doubt China’s dream is to unite all of Eurasia under its control, and Xi has offered Putin a full alliance in order to further that dream. Putin is still resisting, still hoping for sanity in Washington. If Xi achieves China’s dream, it will be with a strong assist from the US, a suicidal US.

    The great irony, of course, is that while the neocons trumpet the imminent debt-driven collapse of both China and Russia, it is the US that is collapsing under debt. It is the US that has been stripped of its tax-producing industrial base by neocon enthusiasm for open borders, unlimited immigration, free trade, off-shoring, and debt. And it is the US, whose poorly trained, badly maintained, under financed military that faces imminent, catastrophic military defeat everywhere.

    • alfin2101 says:

      This part of your comment is likely correct on its surface — and on topic: “No doubt China’s dream is to unite all of Eurasia under its control… ” The rest is something else. 😉

      I would never accuse you of plagiarism, Bob, but it seems we have heard all of this before somewhere.


      People are paid excellent money (excellent for Russia today) to post endless paragraphs across the internet — almost word for word the same as your unfalsifiable opinions above. Coincidence? Probably. But not provable one way or another.

Comments are closed.