Original Interview can be found here
I read through this and thought his analysis was good. Here are my thoughts in response. China has a long memory, they remember the Silk Road days and are seeking to overlay a trade network that reduces the tyranny of distance for overland trade.
From my own studies, I think you also have to look at what made Rome great. The Roman road system provided enormous interconnectivity throughout the peninsula as well as the European continent. Its primary use was not economic but military. The legions securing access to resources, not trade by itself, is what kept Rome great. Once Rome secured the Med militarily, they ran a packet line of ships from Egypt’s breadbasket to Rome which sustained the capital well beyond what its local resources could provide. The economic benefit was a boon. As I hear more and more about China’s inland infrastructure, I think the trade is valid. However, I see a military infrastructure being built out.
Since I was introduced to general geo-political theory on China by Zeihan, I’m somewhat hopelessly anchored there. Looking seaward, China’s in a rough neighborhood. Controlling Formosa is an imperative because it functions like a barrier island for mainland China from the sea. Regaining it will be hard, amphibious landings are expensive and China has no sustained experience in expeditionary warfare or military logistics outside of the mainland. Japan had been at war for years (in China) before it attacked Pearl Harbor. The Japanese were good at it by then. Russell discusses Chinese trade with neighboring countries but seems to not account for the historical bad blood between many of these sovereigns. Old habits die hard.
I think he’s right that China is offering an attractive alternative currency, trade system and technology to their neighbors. Since this is a primarily economic discussion, he doesn’t say much about the role of the politics and ideology when it comes to international trade.
His comment that empires fail very slowly and then fail quickly is accurate. The Romans, Byzantines, Turks, French, British, etc. all had long runs that degraded for a while then when caput pretty quickly. These were all massive expeditionary empires which reigned internationally. They held territory and defended it diplomatically, economically, and militarily for centuries. China controls no land militarily outside of its own borders. What he doesn’t mention is how quickly the countries ruled by strongmen or ideologies have failed in history. Particularly when those institutions are atheist and actively anti-religious. The best example of ideological failure that I can think of is the dechristianization of France during French Revolution. If citizens didn’t comply with the revolution, they were beheaded. Eventually the fury consumed Robespierre himself. People are sinful and self-interested which quickly becomes a wicked combination. The basis of the French revolution was an enlightenment informed replacement for the Gospel which sought to govern. Lenin and Stalin found similar fates. Anti-Religious governments become embalmed in their own greed and lust for power and are incapable of metabolizing shifts in thought and ideology. In simple engineering terms, the stiffer a material is, the more likely it is to shear in catastrophic failure.
Chinese ideology is becoming less flexible. The Deng Xiaoping days of openness and rule by committee seem to have passed. Xi Jinping appears to have consolidated power as a shrewd and ruthless strongman. Robespierre, Stalin, would have salivated over Xi’s oppression technologies and capabilities. Without technology and the ability to stabilize the countryside, the PRC doesn’t last very long. The Gulag Archipelago was a catalyst that tore down the Soviet Regime. Its only a matter of time before it happens again. Look at Nazi Germany, this was racial supremacy at its worst in the European continent. The Han Chinese are no different. The longer they drink their own bathwater of their own Heavenly Destiny to rule, the more agitated their own citizens will get (like the Uighers, Mongols, etc.—don’t poke the Mongols BTW) Additionally, their neighbors will do what they can to destabilize an ascendant China who has a supremacy complex.
In my opinion, whenever the fall happens, it will be swift.
Or this could all be heresy.