To the extent that any nation has a grand strategy, China surely does. The vision is no secret: Xi Jinping vows to make China great again. This resonates deeply: Since imperial decline in the First Opium War (1839 to 1842), every Chinese leader has sought the same, with broad popular support. Xi’s strategy for a modern China of unprecedented power and influence requires recapturing lost glories at home and abroad. It clearly entails reincorporating Taiwan, together with other unresolved island and maritime claims. China’s history and geography suggest that it now faces short-range opportunities and long-range challenges. China’s strategy thus has a broadly-defined arc that the United States should address with a strategy of “competitive coexistence” to safeguard American interests sustainably amid increasing Chinese assertiveness.
For ASPI’s 2019 conference, ‘War in 2025’, I was asked to identify the geopolitical realities that will shape the world of that year. Here I outline some of the strategic constants which—barring major catastrophes—will still most likely be in place in six years’ time.
In January 2018, the elegant Bozar theatre in Brussels was the backdrop to a People’s Republic of China video montage of key historic events on the occasion of the Chinese New Year Gala. While a Chinese singer on stage belted out a patriotic song, a large screen behind her displayed an enormous Chinese flag flying in the wind followed by film footage of key milestones including China’s first nuclear detonation, admission into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the launching of its first aircraft carrier. Members of the audience, which included diplomats, European officials, and military representatives, collectively caught their breath while watching. It’s not that they were impressed, although they might have been. They were aghast. China’s military might, growing economic power and technological advances, have served as a wake-up call to many policymakers in Europe. Brussels’ rather outdated “missionary” narrative of helping to shape and influence China according to their policy preferences was clearly not how the future was going to unfold.
With Iran and Afghanistan as neighbors, Turkmenistan is often overlooked due to its proximity to geopolitical hotspots. Recent measures by its government to restrict emigration may seem peculiar without greater context on the challenges facing the country. Economic mismanagement and issues in securing the country’s border against the Taliban and the Islamic State (ISIS) and affiliated groups are just some of the signs that without a change in approach, there is a risk of a destabilization in the country. With endemic corruption, systemic flaws, and a totalitarian leader, the impact of larger failings in Turkmenistan could have potentially significant geopolitical repercussions.
Global powers show renewed interest in the Indo-Pacific region, but should resist piling on with geopolitical intentions
The 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore might as well have been renamed the “Indo-Pacific Dialogue.” In the plenaries and the panels, in the Q&As, corridors, and coffee breaks, not even the imminent Trump-Kim summit hosted by Singapore could compete with the “Indo-Pacific” among the attendees. Although the toponym itself is old, its sudden popularity is new, reflecting new geopolitical aspirations for the region.