China’s Western Horizon: Beijing and the New Geopolitics of Eurasia
By Daniel S. Markey
Oxford University Press, 2020, 336 pp.
Protecting China’s Interests Overseas: Securitization and Foreign Policy
By Andrea Ghiselli
Oxford University Press, 2021, 304 pp.
These deeply informed books challenge the view that China’s growing economic influence around the world will inevitably lead to Chinese political and military domination. Markey demonstrates that in Iran, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan, China seeks energy resources, more secure transport routes, and deference to its repression of the Uyghurs. But Beijing shows little interest in intervening in other countries’ domestic problems or in solving its partner states’ conflicts with their neighbors. To be sure, the Chinese presence reduces U.S. influence and buttresses authoritarian regimes with diplomatic support and new surveillance technology. But the partner governments themselves—and neighboring regional powers, such as India, Russia, and Saudi Arabia—are keen to set limits on Chinese influence. So China’s rising presence in continental Eurasia is unlikely to lead to anything resembling hegemony.
Ghiselli focuses on the Middle East and North Africa, where Chinese state-owned enterprises have invested heavily without fully understanding the political risks. In places such as Libya, Sudan, and Yemen, Beijing eventually had to provide protection when insurgents threatened Chinese personnel and assets. But so far, China has limited itself to “military operations other than war,” such as participation in UN peacekeeping missions and multilateral antipiracy patrols, the deployment of private security contractors, and crisis-driven evacuations. The policy debate at home suggests that Beijing remains committed to the principle of intervening only under UN mandates and with the permission of local governments. Instead of pushing for permanent bases in many places abroad, the Chinese military prioritizes challenges closer to home, such as Taiwan. If China were nonetheless to try to expand its military footprint globally as its interests and capabilities increase, these books show that the process would not be easy.