JANUARY 4, 2016
The sharp decline in Chinese stock markets on Monday is a reminder of two things. The first is the continued fragility of the Chinese market. The second is that any economic dysfunction has political implications, both in Chinese domestic and foreign policy. This, in turn, will affect Chinese economic performance. It is essential, therefore, to understand Chinese national strategy.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been portrayed as an increasingly aggressive country prepared to challenge the United States. At the same time, aside from relatively minor forays into the South and East China Seas, China has avoided significant involvement in the troubles roiling in the rest of Eurasia. There is a gap between what is generally expected of China and what China actually does. To understand what China’s actual national strategy is, it is helpful to follow the logic inherent in the following five maps.
Let’s begin by defining what we mean by China. First, there is the China we see on maps. But there is also the China inhabited by the Han Chinese, the main Chinese ethnic group. Maps of the Chinese state and the ethnic group would look very different.
Han China is surrounded within China by regions populated by what are essentially other nations. The four most significant are Tibet in the southwest, Xinjiang in the northwest, Inner Mongolia in the north, and Manchuria in the northeast. The first three are recognized by Beijing as autonomous regions while Manchuria is a larger region made up of three northeastern provinces. Obviously, there are Mongolians who live in Han China and Han Chinese who live in Inner Mongolia. No region is homogenous, but these four regions, with the limited exception of Manchuria, are not dominated by ethnic Han Chinese. About half the territory of what we consider China actually consists of Han Chinese people.