With Michael Clarke, National Security College, Australian National University
Much ink has been spilt over the past two decades debating the impact of the ‘rise’ of China on the international relations and strategic environment of Asia. Geographically, the dominant focus within these debates has been on the Asia-Pacific geopolitical space. China’s increasing material power, and consequently its growing strategic and economic footprint, has however also been felt along its extensive Eurasian continental frontier. In fact China’s Eurasian frontiers have emerged as a major factor in Beijing’s foreign policy through President Xi Jinping’sOne Belt, One Road (OBOR) strategy.
This paper argues that the OBOR is ultimately based on two core factors. First, the OBOR can in part be seen as China’s response to the “pivot” or “rebalance” to Asia under U.S. President Barack Obama and to Russia’s relative decline in Central Asia. Second, the OBOR is as much about Beijing’s domestic concerns as it is about its grand strategy priorities. Of major concern here is China’s hold on its major and often restive Eurasian frontier regions, such as Xinjiang. While the relative decline of U.S. and Russian influence in Central Asia has provided Beijing with strategic opportunities to expand its reach, the intensification of Uyghur opposition to ongoing Chinese rule since 2008 has underlined for Beijing the need to accelerate the economic development/modernization of these regions as the primary means of achieving their integration into the modern Chinese state. Geopolitics and domestic state-building imperatives are thus interwoven in Beijing’s Eurasian pivot.
Dr. Michael Clarke is Associate Professor and Graduate Convenor at the National Security College, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU. He has written extensively on the history and politics of Xinjiang, Uyghur separatism and terrorism, and Chinese foreign policy in Central Asia in a variety of academic publications, while his journalistic writing on these topics has been published by the Wall Street Journal, CNN, The National Interest and The Diplomat. He is also the author of Xinjiang and China’s Rise in Central Asia – A History (Routledge 2011), co-editor (with Anna Hayes) of Inside Xinjiang: Space, Place and Power in China’s Muslim Far North-West (Routledge 2016), and co-editor (with Douglas Smith) of China’s Frontier Regions: Ethnicity, Economic Integration and Foreign Relations (I. B. Tauris 2016).