- Local Interests, Chinese Ambitions, and an Intelligent American Response
In his book China’s Western Horizon: Beijing and the New Geopolitics of Eurasia, Daniel S. Markey, a distinguished senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), examines China’s relations with continental Eurasia via case studies on Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Iran, which are mired by domestic complexities and difficult relationships between these states and their regional adversaries. China’s Western Horizon is rooted in Markey’s academic and professional pedigree. Markey served as part of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff from 2003 to 2007. His years of academic research and instruction along with his experience as a practitioner shaping and implementing US foreign policy substantiate the book’s arguments with deep knowledge and analytical rigor.
Markey’s principal contribution to the dialogue on China’s growing influence is his emphasis on the often-overlooked role that China’s immediate neighbors have in shaping Beijing’s actions and ambitions. He begins the book with a question and a tentative answer: will China’s growing presence in Eurasia (encompassing the Middle East, South Asia, and Central Asia) prove to be stabilizing or destabilizing for the region? Based on Beijing’s pattern of behavior toward its neighbors, Markey asserts that China’s involvement is more likely to exacerbate existing geopolitical and political-economic fissures than to ease them.
Analytically, China’s Western Horizon addresses three major topics. First, he refines the existing literature on Chinese non-interference in the region, terming China’s strategy one of “creative involvement.”1 Second, as China “creatively involves” itself in the region, Markey highlights how Beijing is increasingly running headlong into ongoing conflicts (India versus Pakistan, Saudi Arabia versus Iran), as well as into the regional interests of other regional stakeholders, such as Russia. Last of all, Markey considers how China’s intention in the region—leveraging [End Page 181] economic statecraft to become indispensable in continental Eurasia and the world—is often hindered by domestic pressures within its Eurasian partners. Analysis along these three themes weaves throughout the case studies. Markey recurrently highlights the agency these states have in engaging China. Each state on China’s periphery possesses a distinct relationship with Beijing; each informed by its own domestic political and regional imperatives, punctuated by mistrust rooted in history and exacerbated by socioeconomic cleavages, and guided by unique strategic calculations.
Markey opens the book by setting up China’s Eurasian ambitions. He then explores each of the three cases in turn. At the end, Markey lays out five strategies the United States can employ vis-à-vis China’s Eurasian ambitions—all impressively distinct despite falling along the same accommodation-competition spectrum. Markey explains that China is finding it increasingly difficult to pursue its own objectives in Pakistan without taking on greater diplomatic liabilities vis-à-vis India.2 Moreover, Pakistan’s internal environment is rife with sociopolitical fractures. Against domestic and regional complexities, China lacks both the capacity and willingness to constructively influence political outcomes. Markey is convincing in his argument that China is destabilizing Pakistan and South Asia as it self-interestedly engages with and empowers local elites (politicians and the army), alienates the Pakistani masses by perpetuating circular debt that cripples Pakistan’s energy sector, and assists the illiberal Pakistani regime with surveillance exports.
In the emerging border city of Khorgos, Markey explains that Sino-Kazakhstani trade and investment bring promise as well as shortfalls, as growing Russian suspicion and discomfort in China’s engagement fester in the background.3 As in Pakistan, we see China’s involvement in Kazakhstani domestic politics enriching local elites while often enflaming public resentment, although Kazakhstan differs from Pakistan with its added concern of succession vacuum. Internal deficiencies and external challenges portend a grim outlook for Kazakhstan and Central Asia. While Beijing holds the economic cards, it has limited political leverage in Central Asian domestic and regional political outcomes.
In the Middle East, China precariously balances its interests between Iran and Saudi Arabia.4 Similar...