- Super Continent: The Logic of Eurasian Integration by Kent E. Calder
The geographic center of Eurasia may or may not lie in Chinese territory—a village outside of Ürümqi, Xinjiang competes for that claim with Kyzyl, capital of Russia's Tuva Republic—but China's rising economic and diplomatic ambitions place it at the geopolitical center of "the logic of Eurasian integration" in Kent E. Calder's Super Continent. Of course, the largest continent, encompassing 36% of the globe's landmass and 70% of the human population is already "super" by many definitions, but Calder's point of comparison is the transcontinental linkage by rail and canal that activated North America as a global economic powerhouse in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: now, streamlined logistics, the targeted development of infrastructure (much of it associated with China's Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI), and a rising paradigm of "distributive globalism" could spur equally transformative results at national, regional, and global scales.
Calder professes a lifelong fascination with "the expanses of Eurasia … exotic, foreign territory, and much of it off-limits to American citizens" in his childhood, "a world of fragile regimes whose demise" in the latter twentieth century "opened up intriguing new worlds" (p. ix). In prior books he explored the implications for American interests of the political and economic transformations underway from East Asia to the former Soviet Union, with The New Continentalism (2012) foreshadowing Chinese President Xi Jinping's announcement of the BRI in 2013. Calder introduces Super Continent as a sequel to The New Continentalism, but the political landscape of 2019 has changed unpredictably from 2012, both with the rapid expansion of China's BRI to global scale and with the abrupt American retreat from multilateral diplomacy under the present administration in Washington. Calder is hardly in the alarmist camp of authors like Ted Galen Carpenter (America's Coming War with China, 2005)—this book is replete with qualifiers like "a nascent Eurasian Super Continent could quite plausibly loom large" (p. 231)—but his descriptions of China's moves to eclipse U.S.-backed international institutions and norms are frequently framed in ominous terms: "China looms," leading the world to a "fateful era," "raising the specter of historic transformations … that are only dimly and vaguely understood" (p. 184). This book serves to remind anyone who may be listening in Washington that economic and political linkages across Eurasia continue to develop at an accelerating pace, with or without American participation, and that a return to collaboration with traditional allies and rising economies alike offers America's [End Page 287] best hope for extending the Bretton Woods era of global trade under "abstract, transparent norms" (p. 236).
After setting the stage with a discussion of the Silk Road across Asia through ancient times, the historical shift to maritime trade, and more recent developments—"critical junctures"—in various Eurasian nations, Calder devotes a chapter each to China, Southeast Asia, Russia, and "The New Europe," laying out those countries' and regions' respective interests, strengths, development strategies, and opportunities at stake in developing continent-spanning transportation links, whether by land or sea. Invariably, each chapter's discussion returns to China: the impact of the Belt and Road Initiative; new rail, pipeline, or port projects funded by Chinese-backed development banks; the relationship between the countries' leaders (Calder documents seemingly every time Xi Jinping has met Vladimir Putin). Within Southeast Asia, Calder highlights the Singapore-Kunming Rail Link network, a project touching nearly every country in the region while giving China multiple avenues of access to markets and ports on either side of the Strait of Malacca. Similar logic appears behind China's support for the Land-Sea Express Line running north from Athens through the western Balkans, offering an alternative to the European Union's proposed route to the east and cementing economic ties forged in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis.
Calder characterizes China's preferred bilateral development strategy as "distributive globalism." Chinese loans fuel...