Robert Kaplan looks at China through the lens of geography:
China is big in one sense: its population, its commercial and energy enterprises and its economy as a whole are creating zones of influence in contiguous parts of the Russian Far East, Central Asia and Southeast Asia. But Chinese leaders themselves often see their country as relatively small and fragile: within its borders are sizable minority populations of Tibetans in the southwest, Uighur Turks in the west and ethnic-Mongolians in the north.
It is these minority areas—high plateaus virtually encircling the ethnic core of Han Chinese—where much of China’s fresh water, hydrocarbons and other natural resources come from. The West blithely tells the Chinese leadership to liberalize their political system. But the Chinese leaders know their own geography. They know that democratization in even the mildest form threatens to unleash ethnic fury.
Because ethnic minorities in China live in specific regions, the prospect of China breaking apart is not out of the question. That is why Beijing pours Han immigrants into the big cities of Tibet and western Xinjiang province, even as it hands out small doses of autonomy to the periphery and continues to artificially stimulate the economies there. These policies may be unsustainable, but they emanate ultimately from a vast and varied continental geography, which extends into the Western Pacific, where China finds itself boxed in by a chain of U. S. naval allies from Japan to Australia. It is for reasons of geographic realpolitik that China is determined to incorporate Taiwan into its dominion.