Thursday, March 5, 2020

Daniel Markey's "China's Western Horizon"

Daniel Markey is a senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He also serves as the academic director of the SAIS Global Policy Program. He teaches courses in international politics and policy.

Markey applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, China's Western Horizon: Beijing and the New Geopolitics of Eurasia, and reported the following:
Page 99 of China’s Western Horizon catches the reader at the beginning of a discussion about the nature of politics in Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth-largest country by landmass, whose vast steppes run from China’s western border to the Caspian Sea.

The “Page 99 Test” is not a complete flop, as one core argument of the book is that if we want to think carefully about how China’s growing wealth and power are likely to influence its western neighborhood, we really have to understand the internal politics of those neighbors.

As page 99 explains, Kazakhstan’s politics are defined by patronage networks with deep historical roots. In countries like Kazakhstan, leaders “distribute state resources to their associates and receive political loyalty in return.” Although Soviet rule brought considerable change to Kazakhstan, Moscow ultimately chose to reinforce existing patronage patterns, entrusting the region to local strongmen. And after Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991, its leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, successfully placed himself at the center of these networks rather than building “modern, impersonal institutions of state.”

This point is critical to understanding how Kazakhstan works today, not least because Nazarbayev was born in 1940 and will not live forever. His death could lead to “a messy period of jockeying for political power.” One question the book goes on to consider is whether a post-Nazarbayev period would open the door to greater Chinese political influence. Whereas Nazarbayev has been adept at striking a balance between Russia and China, his successor will almost certainly have a tougher time.

So Page 99 offers a window into one aspect of the book, but it misses a lot as well. In addition to dissecting the domestic politics of Kazakhstan, China’s Western Horizon delves into the wider geopolitics of Central Asia, and especially the shifting balance of influence between traditionally dominant Russia and increasingly powerful China. Beyond that, the book offers a similar assessment in South Asia, with a focus on China’s influence inside Pakistan and its evolving consequences for Pakistan’s hostile relationship with India. Moving westward, it describes China’s deepening ties with both Iran and Saudi Arabia and contemplates how those entanglements are likely to play into the oil-soaked and bloody politics of the Middle East. Finally, page 99 offers not a hint that the book will pull all of these developments together and evaluate their consequences for the United States and its global competition with China, the topic of the book’s final chapter.

That said, a reader would get the general gist of China’s Western Horizon from reading its blurb. Page 99 would complement that with a sense of how the book unpacks the politics of the region, makes sense of considerable complexity and history for readers who may come to the story with little or no prior background, and tells a detailed story that never loses sight of the bigger picture.
Visit Daniel Markey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue