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Annexation

[ 17 ] November 4, 2010 |

In light of growing disquiet about Chinese intentions and capabilities in the Pacific among US security types, it’s worth taking note of this fairly alarmist Russian analysis:

This brings [Aleksandr] Khramchikhin back to China.  He has previously written some fairly alarmist pieces about the potential Chinese threat to Russia, so this time he focuses on the possibility that China would attack Kazakhstan. This seems to be a sufficiently fantastic scenario that it could be dismissed out of hand, but instead he argues that China would easily win such a conflict while absorbing Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan with minimal effort. This means that Russia would have to come to Kazakhstan’s assistance or face the prospect of a 12,000km border with China stretching from Astrakhan to Vladivostok. (I’m not sure what happens to Mongolia in this scenario, but I assume it’s nothing good.) And at this point, Khramchikhin argues that Russia might as well capitulate on the spot.

A couple of thoughts:
1. This scenario is fascinating in that it very nearly mirror-images US concerns about Chinese expansion into the Pacific. It doesn’t include any nonsense about reputation and resolve (“If we allow the Chinese to seize Taiwan, then the Japanese and Indians will be forced to accommodate themselves to the reality of Chinese hegemony etc. etc.”) but otherwise it’s quite similar in tone. I guess that everybody has to come up with a reason why they should get paid.

2. In mild, brief defense of US analysts on the subject, I do think that a move to the Pacific is more likely than the conquest and annexation of Kazahkstan.  I’m pretty sure that the PRC does actually kind of want Taiwan, and I’m not certain at all that it would want Kazahkstan even if someone were selling at bargain basement prices.  I would also think that as a future grand strategy the Athenian sea-focused empire makes more sense in the modern context than the Spartan land-focused; nationalism and the expanding material and intellectual tools available to insurgency have made land based empire prohibitively expensive, which the Soviet Union discovered to its dismay.

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Comments (17)

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  1. Dan Nexon says:

    There’s a significant domestic literature in China that could only be described as “lebensraun” in character. The major available spaces identified in that literature are in the Russian Far East and Central Asia, both of which China has T’ang era claims to. Russians pay attention to this stuff.

  2. ajay says:

    nationalism and the expanding material and intellectual tools available to insurgency have made land based empire prohibitively expensive, which the Soviet Union discovered to its dismay.

    Well, a Chinese point of view might be different; their land-based empire is going just fine, with only minor outbreaks of dissent (the Uighurs, etc).

  3. fluffytuna says:

    Do Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have any significant carbon fulel resources?

  4. The notion of a Chinese annexation of Central Asia is indeed rather insane. Kazakhstan’s oil and gas is a mighty prize indeed, but its far simply just to buy it from them. There’s also the little matter of several million ethnic Russians in northern Kazakhstan who would neither take kindly to occupation or be ignored by Moscow if they looked for help.

    As for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – unless China is facing massive deficiencies of Cotton, ethnic tensions and Islamic fundamentalists, I don’t see what China would actually see itself gaining through annexation.

    • ajay says:

      Indeed. It is a long old way from the Chinese border to the Caspian coast, and the road and rail grids are poor to nonexistent. You’ve got some big mountains to cross, and a desert. You’re taking on a population of 30 million or so (assuming you take Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan on the way) so you’ll need about 600,000 troops just for occupation duties. And then there’s those 1,000 Kazakh tanks to worry about.

      You’re three thousand miles or more away from your industrial base. In terms of scale, you’re basically advancing twice as far into the Eurasian steppe as Hitler did. And look what happened to him!

      • John F says:

        you’re basically advancing twice as far into the Eurasian steppe as Hitler did. And look what happened to him!

        China has a manpower edge to top all manpower edges- 600,000 occupation troops- if they actually wanted to forcibly occupy someone- piece of cake for them- that’s equivalent to us hauling up 150k- and they wouldn’t have even the ineffectual level of internal oppo the US did, hell they could easily do 2-3 times that before internal dissent would become an issue

        • ajay says:

          I beg to differ. 600,000 troops is more than a third of all PLA ground forces. Though admittedly a lot of them would be PAP – but that’s still about half the entire PAP committed to occupation duties. And they aren’t exactly sitting around doing nothing right now – and they certainly would be active in the far west if China started occupying other Muslim countries. And none of them can speak Kazakh, I would bet, and very few of them speak Russian.

          Good luck supplying them, too, over those two (2) main roads.

          • John F says:

            I beg to differ. 600,000 troops is more than a third of all PLA ground forces.

            now

            Good luck supplying them, too, over those two (2) main roads.

            again, that’s “now”
            Germany had 100,000 troops less than 10 years before the Great War resumed
            – we’re speculating upon a future time when China might decide to annex some of it’s neighbors- that’s not now or even 2012-
            look at the transportation infrastructure China has NOW compared to 2000 or 1990- verrrry different

            they may have 2 main roads now, but 10 years from now they may have 3 or 4 or 5 and rail connection boosted as well- and the PLA could certainly expand its reserves well north of 5 million without breaking a sweat

  5. John F says:

    Unless the Chinese regime is facing some form of existential crisis I can’t see them annexing anyone/where by force- and if they are facing such a crisis the target is going to be Taiwan- period- just as the 80s Argentine Junta targeted the Malvinas.

    What’s scary is that if the regime is facing just such an existential crisis- there are “hawks” here who would advocate [forceful] US intervention just for the sake of giving a “shove” to said regime

  6. wengler says:

    The current CCP is way too conservative to even entertain these ideas. Obviously their economy would have to crater first, and even then there would have to be a major shakeup at the top.

    I really still don’t think they would attack a nuclear power though. Taiwan is the most logical target when it concerns national pride. And by then the promise of American protection will probably be much less an obstacle.

  7. shah8 says:

    China is essentially a light-fascism government. Fascism is extremely expensive as a political movement because it relies paying off people at the top and lots of thugs on the bottom. So in its way, Chinese political dynamics will push it towards wars-for-profit like any other powerful country.

    It is unlikely that Chinese authority really wants the interior countries very much. SE Asia and eastern Africa are vastly more important. I think subsaharan africa will become very important in the near future, about 5-10 years hence, because it’s really the only large area with real productive growth/potential profits from building stuff rather than maintaining instability for the purpose of raw materials extraction. I also think that military power projection and financial power projection will weaken as resource supplies needed for such things like gasoline becomes prohibitive/coercion needed for cheap rim countries raw materials becomes difficult.

  8. Nathan says:

    Although most people have raised good reasons why China probably wouldn’t invade Kazakhstan, we probably would have all raised similar reasons why they wouldn’t have annexed Tibet or invaded Vietnam back in the day as well.

    Either way, Peace, here’s hopin’.

    • John F says:

      we probably would have all raised similar reasons why they wouldn’t have annexed Tibet or invaded Vietnam back in the day

      1: They think Tibet is and was part of China, even the most extreme Chinese nationalists do not believe Kazakhstan ever was or should be part of a “greater” China,

      2: The annexation of Tibet and their attack on Vietnam did not particularly bother let alone threaten any nuclear armed rival at the time.

      3: Tibet and Vietnam do not have OIL.

      A Chinese attack on Kazakhstan would be like Japan’s conquest of Singapore and Malaysia or Germany’s conquest of the Ukraine and attempted conquest of places like Chechnya- and act of a militaristic regime that’s become completely unhinged- and somehow I don’t think even Hitler or Tojo would have launched an attack if facing likely nuclear reprisal. (OK maybe Hitler would call someone’s “bluff”)

  9. tequila says:

    The Chinese also did not attack North Vietnam with the intent of conquest. It was principally a (failed) way of lessening Vietnamese pressure in the Khmer Rouge.

  10. […] right-wing whose foreign policy thinking is dominated by paranoid fantasies, Robert Farley offers this account of Russian thinking about Chinese plans to conquer Central Asia: This brings [Aleksandr] […]

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