Q&A With Robert Kaplan on China

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GIDEON ROSE: Hi, everybody. It's Gideon Rose, the managing editor of Foreign Affairs, here. We are delighted to have with us Robert Kaplan, the author of a major new piece in our May/June issue, "The Geography of Chinese Power." Bob is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a correspondent for The Atlantic and has a new book out, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, which will appear in the fall.

Let's get right to it. You all know who our author is; that's why you're here. So for those who haven't read the article -- those few people living under a rock somewhere -- can you just summarize briefly what the gist of the piece is? And then we can discuss further some of the issues it raises.

ROBERT KAPLAN: Sure, Gideon. We've been reading a lot about China, about China holding so much of our debt, about -- you know -- all these problems the U.S. has in their bilateral relations with China over global warming, over China's support of authoritarian regimes in Burma, in Sudan, and all that. But one thing that's the most obvious thing that nobody writes about is Chinese geography; in other words, what does the map say about China?

That's what this piece is all about. And it's got several themes. Whereas Russia is north of the 50th degree of parallel and is in the frigid Arctic zone for the most part, China is a temperate-zone power that harnesses a lot of the mineral and energy wealth into Central Asia as well as having a long 9,000-mile frontage in the temperate and subtropical zones on the Indian Ocean.

And this gives China tremendous advantages. China is also -- as a rising power, it is through demographics, aggressive corporate practices, signing border agreements and trade practices, it's expanding its zone of influence into contiguous zones: into the Russian Far East, into Mongolia, into Central Asia, into Southeast Asia. And it is building ports or helping to build ports along the Indian Ocean. It's taking steps with its navy that will secure for China at least partial control of the South China Sea, of the East China Sea.

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