June 05, 2014

China's Budding Ocean Empire

By Robert D. Kaplan

I am flattered by Nilanthi Samaranayake’s lengthy and respectful treatment of my March 2009 Foreign Affairs cover story about the importance of the Indian Ocean, on the article’s fifth anniversary. It is also five years since I published “Pakistan’s Fatal Shore” in The Atlantic (May 2009), an eyewitness account of several thousand words about my visit to the port of Gwadar in Balochistan. Samaranayake writes that Gwadar has not turned out to be the commercial success that my Foreign Affairs article intimated it would be. But in that Atlantic article, I provided a deeply reported summary of Gwadar’s very problems: something for which there was simply no space in my wide-ranging Foreign Affairs article, whose job it was to articulate a general theory of a vast region of the globe. In fact, in subsequent works, Monsoon (2010), The Revenge of Geography (2012), and Asia’s Cauldron, published this year, I have had the space for a full-bodied treatment of power rivalries in the Indo-Pacific. It is these works taken together that represent my thinking on the Greater Indian Ocean, which includes the South China Sea as an antechamber.

So let me summarize some principal themes of these works, to go along with Samaranayake’s many good points:

China is starting to build a commercial empire-of-sorts throughout two oceans—the Western Pacific and the Indian...

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