Beijing’s strategy: Conquering the Heartland

Long time ago, Mackinder gave his heartland theory while keeping the geography of the world in his mind. Soon as the international politics changed its dimensions, new states emerged and a new system was formed to govern the international system and the “heartland theory” lost its significance. The strategist begun to declare it as a myth or an ancient false story. But now look around and international actors can observe China applying Mackinder’s Heartland theory and Nicholas Spyman’s “Rimland theory” on the global politics. According to these two theories, the world’s most important part is Eurasia and the world is divided into 3 islands an offshore island, and outlying island and the world island. The islands of Japan and Britain are the offshore islands. Islands of America and Australia are outlying islands and the world island is “Central Asia along with few parts of Eurasia”.

Mackinder believed whoever commands the heartland will rule the world as it’s the most resourceful part of the world; Central Asia opens the trade routes of the world for any emerging global power. On the other hand, Nicholas Spyman’s states that whoever Commands the heartland commands the Rimlands that’s the sea routes of the world Island. The Eurasian Rimland is bordered by Atlantic Ocean from the West, Pacific Ocean from the East, Arctic Ocean from the North and Mediterranean Ocean along with Indian Ocean from the South. In ancient history Mongol’s ruled the world by capturing heartland of the world.

In the contemporary world, China is the international actor that is aiming to control the heartland and Rimland of the world starting from the South Asian regions. It is evident from the mega-infrastructural and economic projects of China for the desperate and crumbling economies of the South Asia and Central Asia. That includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, SriLanka, Iran, Tajikistan; Uzbekistan entering the Middle East and whole of Central Asian Markets will be open for the emerging Super-Power China crushing the interests of United States in South Asia and in Central Asian region. China has been following the Heartland and Rimland theories by using the “debt-trap policy” for the developing states.

Let’s dig in to this; China has initiated a US$60 billion project in Pakistan named as CPEC. This project is one small projection of the gains project of Belt and Road initiative. China has been increasing its sphere of Influence in Afghanistan via Pakistan. Afghanistan provides the shortest route to China between Central Asia and South Asia, serving as a gateway to China to the Arabian Sea. Afghanistan is included in the BRI project which is quite evident as Afghanistan is in desperate need of economical assistance from major power but not from the Western powers. China is strengthening its foothold in Afghanistan and is eradicating the US influence in the region slowly but surely. China has initiated working in the Amu Dary Basin Oil and also initiated the mining under the project named as “Mes Aynak Copper Mine” near Kabul. If Afghanistan joins BRI, it will provide an air corridor to connect the two states. China also aims to launch the “North-South Railway Corridor” via Afghanistan. This project will connect Kunduz to Torkham. Along with this China aims to start functioning on the “five national railway project” that will provide the fastest train route from China to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a totally shattered state and is desperately looking towards other states to come for its help. China has the potential to play the role of peace-maker in the Afghan society this will benefit China in controlling the security situation in the Uyghur province by blocking and securing the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan along with access to trade routes to boost their economy. After the withdrawal of United States from Afghanistan, the next key player might be Russia and China to play their game through the barren lands of Afghanistan by exploiting their needs.

China has also launched “Digital Silk Road fiber optic” project in Afghanistan and has also pledged to provide them immense support in infrastructural developed. Apart from China, Afghanistan also needs Pakistan to increase its trade on the quickest sea route shared by both. Through this it can be said that China is aiming to bring peace through economic interdependence. China has been playing an active role as a foreign investor and aid donor for the war-torn nations. By enhancing the regional trade and creating the economic cooperation among states, conflicts might end in the flaming South Asia and Afghanistan.

Beijing is aiming to form the “Pamir Group” for enhancing the economic trade via sea and land routes of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It will be a golden opportunity for China as it will connect the Central Asia to the Northern Silk Routes that includes Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and other states. The 3,000 km CPEC begins at Kashgar and ends at Pakistan’s Gwadar Port connecting 21’st Century Maritime Road to the South. China is gradually becoming a Eurasian land power and Rimtime Maritime power on the globe. This is leading towards gaining power over the Heartland by easing relationship with Russia. It will allow China to have strong influence over the maritime and the land trade routes of the World Island, it will allow China to get connected with Asian markets to Western Europe through Central Asia.

 China’s focus on Iran and Afghanistan reveals its future aims for the regions. Iran’s new economic agreements with China over Chabahar port allows China to control the trade routed between Iran and Afghanistan, and will also connect European markets with Turkey. The port will provide less costly and more speedy trade routed to Beijing.

China is very close to signing the project of approximately US$600 billion in Iran. A state that is already suppressed and economically damaged by sanctions from the world will tilt towards China for economic assistance. China is aiming to construct transport routed for trade between Iran and China this will link Tehran with Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang province. Iran-China strategic Partnership will provide china to access the Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea to use them for trading over the sea. If the project is completed then it will connect China with the trade routes of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.  China is investing in Iran with a big heart, the $280 investment petrochemical industry of Tehran, and the “Tehran- Qom-Isfahan high-speed train project” will defiantly give an upper hand to China in controlling the world trade via these routes.

China is unhurriedly aiming to capture the Heartland of the world that will open the gates for them to command the whole world but it will be Herculean task for China not a piece of cake.  The world forgot about the Heartland and Rimland but Beijing remember it and are also acting upon this theory to fulfill their dream of dominating the world by capturing the trade routes.

Sojla Sahar
Sojla Sahar
The writer is a student of Peace and Conflict Studies at NDU Islamabad. She has been writing for various newspapers and has keen interests in Middle East affairs, Afghanistan, religious and ethnic conflicts, Foreign policy of Pakistan and Conflict resolution/ Management.