The Island of China
Stratfor regularly mentions in its China coverage that China is "an island." This is not literally true, of course, but it's a useful way to think about the country and its geographic situation.
China shares land borders with 14 other nations, and yet it is among the most geographically insulated countries in the world. That is because the vast majority of those borders cut across mountains, jungles and deserts -- areas that are difficult to traverse. These geographic features form an outer frontier that both protects and contains China. The county is riven with internal divisions, the most important of which separates the nation into two parts: the Chinese heartland and the buffer regions surrounding it. More than a billion people -- the vast majority of the population -- live in the heartland in China's central, eastern and southern regions, an area less than half the size of the continental United States.
For most of China's history it has been largely insulated and inward-looking, but for the past 150 years (and especially since its economic opening to the West in 1979), China has struggled with tensions between the coast and the interior. Access to ports and international trade allowed the coasts to become richer as the mainly agricultural and far more populous interior remained poor.
Throughout China's history, this urban-rural disparity -- which more recently has taken the form of a coastal-inland disparity -- has periodically grown so great that entire regions have broken away from central control, leading to civil war, the collapse of the ruling regime and its eventual replacement by a new one. This cycle was most recently seen following Mao Zedong's rise to power after the Communist victory in 1949. Despite technological advancement and unprecedented economic growth, Beijing has not yet escaped this historical pattern of central control devolving into chaos.
Mainstream media reports might lead one to believe that China is an unstoppable economic juggernaut destined to overtake the United States. But in fact, China's situation is far more precarious and unstable than typically portrayed, which Stratfor highlights in its frequent analyses on the country's economic transformation, unrest, labor issues, regionalism and migration patterns in the country.
By viewing China as an island consumed with its own internal divisions, its actions begin to make more sense.
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