China’s string of pearls – into Europe?

Here is a fascinating discussion between Author Robert Kaplan and STRATFOR founder and CEO George Friedman about the directions of China’s naval build-up and where it is going.

The discussion is mainly pitched at what this means for the USA, but around minute 27 there is an interesting moment when Kaplan tracks the famous ‘string of pearls’ from Burma via Sri Lanka to Gwadar and the Gulf, and continues to point out  that China ‘is also building ports in Greece and Croatia in the Eastern Mediterranean’.

Their different views are illuminating. Kaplan is more alarmed, especially about what this means for the USA. This is because he mostly looks at what happens if you extrapolate from China’s recent trajectory of growth and assertiveness. Friedman puts it into a wider context and draws attention to the precariousness of China’s economy and its dependence on the health of foreign consumer markets like Europe. He forecasts that China is headed for a pause, at best, or maybe a contraction, which will potentially slow its expansionary capability. But he is also warning that it is this economic vulnerability, among other factors, makes China ‘unpredictable and insecure’.

There is an interesting change of tone in the closing minutes when Friedman talks about the significance of Japan in all this. Kaplan seems to parry with a comment on Japan’s ‘emasculated’ political class,  but Friedman comes back with a point you feel he has given some thought to – ‘its political class can be replaced’. It would be a chilling phrase out of context, but his unmistakable admiration for Japan shines through and just bathes it with warmth. He goes on to list Japan’s notable advantages (implicit comparison with what he just said about China’s present and forthcoming challenges) and stresses its record of making rapid adjustments when needed.

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