Beijing’s race for the Eurasian heartland

China switched to a counter-attack mode in 2015, focussing on extending the influence of Silk Road nations

t is possible that amid the turbulence and violence radiating from West Asia and impacting large parts of the globe, especially Europe, the world’s focus may have been diverted from a game-changing development — China’s remarkable riposte to the ‘Pivot to Asia’ doctrine of the Barack Obama administration.

Equally significant has been Beijing’s partnership with Moscow, which flowered in 2015. The strategic partnership of the two established nuclear weapon powers is well on course to structure a paradigm shift that could disperse global power into channels of multipolarity.

In the year gone by, China, the world’s second-largest economy, had answers to everything thrown at it by the U.S. — the known “global hegemon”.

Pacific-centred deterrents

If the Americans focused on their Asia pivot — a doctrinal shift, geared toward the containment of China through the concentration of forces in the western Pacific — the Chinese did not waste any time in building a credible Pacific-centred nuclear and conventional deterrents in 2015. This has included reinforcement of its nuclear second-strike capability by mounting JL-2 missiles, with a range of 7,350 km, on its JIN class submarines.

Russia was a major partner in building the Chinese military deterrent. Beijing concluded with Moscow a decisive S-400 air defence deal. The contract nullifies threats by fighter jets or ballistic missiles by the U.S. or Japan if batteries of the S-400 missiles are deployed on the mainland or China’s artificial islands, built atop coral clusters, in the South China Sea. After protracted negotiations, the Russians are also supplying Su-35 fighter jets to China. The acquisition of 24 Su-35 planes would greatly extend China’s reach over the South China Sea. Su-35 planes, capable of taking off from short runways, will cover a large footprint if deployed from China’s newly developed artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Energy cooperation

The bonding between China and Russia is being reinforced through an extensive energy relationship. With smog resulting from coal-fired power plants choking Beijing and its surrounding industrial belt, China is trying to beat the clock by turning to clean energy in the form of natural gas, nuclear, and renewable energy. That’s where Russia’s frozen Siberian zone, sitting across untapped mega-reserves of oil and gas, comes in. China has already signed a $400 billion import deal that would funnel gas in copious quantities for the next 30 years through the Power of Siberia pipeline.

A similar undertaking is expected shortly though the western Altai route, thus making Moscow Beijing’s core energy security partner. Both China and Russia are working together on undermining the hegemony of the U.S. dollar. The two have already accelerated trading in the Chinese yuan and the Russian ruble. The currency swap tool has significantly eased pain inflicted upon Moscow through sanctions imposed after the crisis in Ukraine.

Trading in local currencies, exemplified by the two partners, is now being reinforced in an institutional manner by two powerful non-western financial entities — The New Development Bank (NDB) of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) grouping and the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Restructuring the economy

As Western markets still remained trapped by the impact of the 2008 economic crisis, China in 2015 took major steps to restructure its economy through mega-investments in Eurasia under its Belt and Road initiative. Instead of pitching its jaw-dropping financial reserves in U.S. treasury bonds, China has decided to plough large amounts of its surplus funds in building railways, highways, industrial parks, and cyber-cities along the Silk Road Economic Belt, one that stretches from Xian in the East to Europe in the West.

A $40-billion Silk Road Fund, the AIIB, the NDB of the BRICS, and China’s own state-run “policy banks” will provide the liquidity so that, instead of depending on the West, “new growth engines” are established along the New Silk Road.

China has been conscious that its Belt and Road initiative can more easily fly if it has the cooperation not only of Russia, which will take care of the western flank, but also of its eastern, South Asian flank, through a simultaneous engagement of India and Pakistan as well. Over the past year, China has brought India on board the Eurasian platform by partnering it in major initiatives to transform the international financial architecture. Far from being intimidated by the U.S., China switched to a bold counterattack mode in 2015, focusing on extending the collective influence, with Russia as the core partner, of the Silk Road countries along the Eurasian corridor. In causing a structural breach of uniploar world, China and Russia have set the stage either for a new cold war or a more harmonious multipolar world, provided “exceptionalist’ America agrees to a strategic realignment.

Ironically, China over the past year was deepening its stakes in the geographic swathe long identified as pivotal by British geopolitical analyst Halford John Mackinder as the “heartland”, one that stretches from the Volga to the Yangtze and from the Himalayas to the Arctic.

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