Like Fareed Zakaria, Khanna is a former insider at the Council on Foreign Relations, so his views tend to reflect those of the Eastern Establishment, which makes them significant. The bird told me about Khanna because Khanna thinks we are entering a new Middle Ages, rather than Fukuyama's End of History. And if this is the Middle Ages, that makes Central Asia very important again--no doubt because it was named as such by Sir Halford Mackinder, author of the "Pivot Point" theory of world history, where control over center of the Eurasian landmass would lead to control of the world. And Khanna seems to think that control is headed towards--China, as he explained in an excerpt from his book published in The Guardian (UK):
It is difficult to find a westerner who does not intuitively support the idea of a free Tibet. But would Americans ever let go of Texas or California? For China, the Anglo-Russian great game for control of central Asia was neither inconclusive nor fruitless, something that cannot be said for Russia or Britain. Indeed, China was the big winner.
Boundary agreements in 1895 and 1907 gave Russia the Pamir mountains and established the Wakhan Corridor - the slender eastern tongue of Afghanistan that borders China - as a buffer to Britain. But rather than cede East Turkestan (Uighurstan) to the Russians, the British financed China's recapture of the territory, which it organised into Xinjiang (which means "New Dominions"). While West Turkestan was splintered into the hermetic Soviet Stans, China reasserted its traditional dominance over Xinjiang and Tibet, today its largest - and least stable - provinces. (Beijing has now accused the Dalai Lama of colluding with Muslim Uighur separatists in Xinjiang.) But without them, the country would be like America without all territory west of the Rockies: denied its continental majesty and status.
Every backpacker who has visited Tibet and Xinjiang in the past decade knows that the Chinese empire is painfully real: the western region's going concern is undoubtedly Chinese Manifest Destiny. With the end of the civil war in 1949, China endeavoured immediately to overcome the "tyranny of terrain" and tame the interminable mountain and desert landscapes with the aim of exploiting vast natural assets, establishing penal colonies and military bases, and expand the Lebensraum for its exploding population.
Both Tibet and Xinjiang have the misfortune of possessing resources China wants and of being situated on the path to resources China needs: Tibet has vast amounts of timber, uranium and gold, and the two territories constitute China's geographic gateway for trade flow outward - and energy flow inward - with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Decades of labour by the army and swarms of workers have paved the way for unchallenged Chinese dominance. The high-altitude train linking Shanghai and Lhasa that began service in 2006 represents not the beginning of Chinese hegemony, but its culmination.
Tibet and Xinjiang today set the stage for the birth of a multi-ethnic empire in ways that resemble nothing so much as America's frontier expansion nearly two centuries ago. Chinese think about their mission civilatrice much as American settlers did: they are bringing development and modernity. Asiatic, Buddhist Tibetans and Turkic, Muslim Uighurs are being lifted out of the third world - whether they like it or not.
They are getting roads, telephone lines, hospitals and jobs. School fees are being reduced or abolished to promote basic education and Chineseness. Unlike those Europeans who seek to define the EU as a Christian club, there are no Chinese inhibitions about incorporating Muslim territories. The new mythology of Chinese nationalism is based not on expunging minorities but granting them a common status in the paternalistic state: Uighurs and Tibetans, though not Han, are told they are Chinese.
"The Soviet Union collapsed because they experimented with glasnost prematurely, before the achieved unity among the peoples," explains a Chinese intellectual in Shanghai who studies central Asia. Large empires are maintained through a combination of force and law; and as recent weeks illustrate, China is determined not to waver.