The Diplomat on July 16, 2015, published an interview by Rafal Tomanski of Robert D. Kaplan. He is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a contributing editor atThe Atlantic. He is also the former chief geopolitical analyst at Stratfor and was a member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. He is the author of many books, including Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and The End of a Stable Pacific and the forthcoming In Europe’s Shadow.
Following a speech on Asia at the Polish parliament on July 9, he spoke with Rafał Tomański. Excerpts below:
Do you think that the age of the Asia is coming?
I don’t believe that’s that simple. Asia can go through a big shock. If the Chinese economy was to implode – which I don’t believe, but it might happen – Asia would suddenly matter less. Such an implosion of the Chinese economy would affect Asian countries much more than it affects Europe and the United States.
Excluding the implosion of Chinese economy, what do you think could surprise Beijing most? They seem to expect everything.
And they seem to have a plan for everything. Everything is very planned out and calculated. One thing I didn’t mentioned in the lecture was that Chinese aggression is much more elegant and sophisticated than the Russian aggression.
What do the Chinese do? They’re sending an oil rig into Vietnamese waters. Than they get a lot of criticism and they pull it back. They don’t use their navy; they send their coast guard to make territorial claims. It’s all very elegant. Designed to be a page three story, not a page one story. Very insidious.
In a long run, the ability of the United States to contain China may actually be more challenging than to contain Russia…What can surprise them? We mentioned the economy. I think that the stock market [surprised] the leadership. I think real dramatic insurgency and unrest in the West with the Uighur Muslims could really surprise them.
So approaching the aggressor might be more surprising than a retreat?
Right. That’s the opportunity, the moment of surprise. Another element and not even a surprise is the moment the North Korean regime collapses. Kim Jong-un is assassinated by somebody in his inner circle or something. That would be like a wreck; like implosion and chaos. That’s not a surprise but a Chinese nightmare for years already.
…you mentioned the Indian Ocean as a place for the future, particularly since relative to the Pacific, it has few institutions and less of a major power presence. How do you see this playing out?
First of all, the Indian Ocean is unique. There are no superpowers along it. United States and Europe are not there, it’s sort of a metaphor of a world in the future. It will be a much more fragmented global world. The Indian Ocean has also parts within it that create their own sort of systems, conflicts and security. You have the Bay of Bengal,..You have the Arabian Sea which is essentially the greater Persian Gulf and the Red Sea which is a sort of a maritime Middle East.
The Indian Ocean is still somewhat fragmented, but that’s technology that makes the world smaller, these two sides are going to fuse together.
Rafał Tomański is a regular contributor to Rzeczpospolita daily, a Polish national daily. He graduated from Warsaw University he writes books on modern Japan and on Asian affairs.