2012-03-07 (China Military News cited from George Friedman and by marketoracle.co.uk) — Paramount among them is the maintenance of domestic security. Historically, when China involves itself in global trade, as it did in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the coastal region prospers, while the interior of China — which begins about 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the coast and runs about 1,600 kilometers to the west — languishes. Roughly 80 percent of all Chinese citizens currently have household incomes lower than the average household income in Bolivia. Most of China’s poor are located west of the richer coastal region. This disparity of wealth time and again has exposed tensions between the interests of the coast and those of the interior. After a failed rising in Shanghai in 1927, Mao Zedong exploited these tensions by undertaking the Long March into the interior, raising a peasant army and ultimately conquering the coastal region. He shut China off from the international trading system, leaving China more united and equal, but extremely poor.
China’s second strategic concern derives from the first. China’s industrial base by design produces more than its domestic economy can consume, so China must export goods to the rest of the world while importing raw materials. The Chinese therefore must do everything possible to ensure international demand for their exports. This includes a range of activities, from investing money in the economies of consumer countries to establishing unfettered access to global sea-lanes.
The third strategic interest is in maintaining control over buffer states. The population of the historical Han Chinese heartland is clustered in the eastern third of the country, where ample precipitation distinguishes it from the much more dry and arid central and western thirds. China’s physical security therefore depends on controlling the four non-Han Chinese buffer states that surround it: Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet. Securing these regions means China can insulate itself from Russia to the north, any attack from the western steppes, and any attack from India or Southeast Asia.
Controlling the buffer states provides China geographical barriers — jungles, mountains, steppes and the Siberian wasteland — that are difficult to surmount and creates a defense in depth that puts any attacker at a grave disadvantage.
Today, China faces challenges to all three of these interests.
The economic downturn in Europe and the United States, China’s two main customers, has exposed Chinese exports to increased competition and decreased appetite. Meanwhile, China has been unable to appropriately increase domestic demand and guarantee access to global sea-lanes independent of what the U.S. Navy is willing to allow.