地理学报(英文版)|中国地缘政治学25年研究进展

发布日期:   作者:  浏览次数: 242

Twenty-five years of progress in geopolitics research:

 Efforts from China’s geographers

DU Debin, DUAN Dezhong, LIU Chengliang, MA Yahua

Abstract: The world is currently undergoing profound changes, with a shift in global power centers and reordering of international power spaces, assigning new theoretical tasks as well as providing new opportunities for geopolitics research in China. Despite the peripheral nature of  geopolitics research within their discipline, geographers have played a fundamental role in its origins and revival, from classical geopolitics (i.e., the German school of geopolitics and the Anglo-American school of geo-strategy), to internal geopolitics (i.e., electoral geography and administrative geography), to the new geopolitics (i.e., formal geopolitics), and to recent critical  geopolitics  (i.e., popular  geopolitics). Although only few of these researchers were from  China, great strides have been made in geopolitics and political geography research in China,  with useful results being obtained. After demonstrating the importance of geopolitics research for the rising China, this review provides an overview of geopolitics papers led by China’s geographers in the past few decades, describing their achievements, the problems they have faced, and the directions they have taken. Twenty-five years of geopolitics have produced a range of accomplishments, with a growth in the quality and size of research groups and institutions, an  expanding literature, and some geo-strategic breakthroughs. Obviously, geographers have successfully reclaimed geopolitics, but some crucial topics are still absent or weak in the geopolitical research agenda, and need to be pursued vigorously. Most of the attention, from a positivistic perspective, has been paid to reflecting Western geopolitical thoughts, describing  patterns of international power relations, and offering foreign policy advice (in a problem-focused  orientation), rather than determining mechanisms and performing theoretical analyses (in a theoretical orientation), resulting in a lack of independent value judgments and of a theoretical basis for the subject. Moreover, in comparison with other disciplines, in terms of its academic community, research output, and status as a discipline, geopolitics research is very different from  how it was three or four decades ago, when it was mainly the property of geographers, rather than political scientists and diplomats. For now, whether to support national geo-strategies or to enhance the diversity of the discipline, the involvement of geographers in geopolitics needs to  become both more intensive and more extensive. The top priority is to strengthen theoretical,  methodological, and problem-oriented research, including studies of geopolitical philosophy and methodology, the theoretical framework of the subject, global geopolitical evolution and shifts in power space, the roles of major powers and their geo-strategies, as well as China’s surrounding geopolitical environment.

Keywords: geopolitics; geo-strategy; world geography; China; research progress


1   Introduction

Scientific progress is regulated by social demand, a powerful stimulus to the development of any discipline (Gopal et al.,2008). As an interdisciplinary subject, the study of geopolitics is recognized without exception as an aid to statecraft and national strategy (Mamadouh, 2002), closely related to the waxing and waning of great powers (Mearsheimer, 2003).

Currently, as a result of the financial crisis and its aftermath in the developed world, there is a dramatic eastwards shift in economists’ focus on global wealth and strategic resources. Asia, led by China, is becoming the center of attention for economists worldwide. At present, the mastering of space by great powers is undergoing a profound reordering and restructur-ing resulting from the peaceful rise of rapidly developing countries, particularly China, and providing a series of new theoretical and practical topics and tasks in the geopolitical research domain for China’s geographers, as well as new opportunities. Not only peaceful national development but also progress in national geographical theory requires the development of multidisciplinary approaches, especially with regard to the evolution of intellectual approaches to international politics and  world geography. Geopolitics, as a political interpretation of geography, is not only rooted in the  profound insights of geography, but also built upon the ideological heritage of international  politics and relations. The complicated geographical environment has an extensive impact on many aspects of geopolitics, including the values of scientists, the behavior of decision-makers, and changes in political patterns, because international relations and political behavior, besides  those occurring in a certain region of geographical space, must depend heavily on specific  geographical or environmental factors (the economic structure, social standards, political regimes, resource demands, and basic morality, etc., of states). As Spykman (1944) pointed out, geopolitics was impossible without geographic understanding(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_J._Spykman).

Consequently, China’s geographers, in particular in the context of world geography, can and should play a crucial role in the revival of geopolitics research and the implementation of national geo-strategies. To provide an objective reflection of their roles and efforts, an overview of the past, present, and future geopolitical research is necessary. Some pivotal questions need to be  addressed: What aspects need to be considered? What progress has been made in understanding major achievements and failures? What challenges need to be faced in the future?

2   Geopolitics research: imperative for China

2.1  Emerging great-power competition and a new grand strategy

The rise and decline of great powers resulting from their aggressive competition is closely related to their grand strategies. Examples include H. Mackinder’s (1904) Heartland Geo-Strategy to  mitigate the UK’s “sunset” (fall or decline), the Lebensraum Geopolitik (developed  by  F.  Ratzel, R. Kjellén, and K. Haushofer, among others) resulting in the expansionism of the German colonial empire, and the Rimland Geo-Strategy of N. Spykman (1944) for safeguarding the United States’ role as a superpower. As a Chinese proverb says, without full-scale consideration, simple action is impracticable, without long-term strategy, temporary achievement is impossible.  Therefore, any world power needs to develop its geopolitical grand strategies in accordance with  internal and external challenges  (i.e., forces). 

Grand strategy comprises the “purposeful employment of all instruments of power available to a security community” in the international political system (Collin, 2007). It is described as a multi-tiered strategic system involving military, diplomatic, financial, economic, and informational aspects, among others, and taking into account both external powers and internal policies, as well as periods of peacetime in addition to wartime (Murry et al., 1994). The purposes and employment of geo-strategies rely heavily on a nation’s position in an international political system that has a hierarchical, multi-tiered, pyramidal structure. 

Although to date the international order has been dominated by the West, the recent emergence of new great powers such as China and India has led to a significant restructuring of international geopolitical and geo-economic patterns. A new multi-polar power order is being established, as well as an Asia–Pacific geopolitical pattern dominated by China, which will inevitably bring the United States’ unipolar moment to an end and lead to the return of great-power competition in full force. Currently, a rising China has to face more complicated and severe challenges than ever before (the energy crisis, the need to contain emerging threats, and territorial disputes, among others), and needs to revise and reconstruct its grand strategy in support of peaceful development. In responding to these challenges, several questions need to be answered: What are China’s core interests? What external threats need to be confronted with? What can be done to safeguard national development (Wang, 2011)? And how will the geopolitical pattern change in the future – will there be a continuation of the current multi-polar system or will a new dual-core structure evolve, led by China and the United States? Obviously, in order to provide satisfactory answers to these questions, a vigorous program of geopolitics research is necessary.

2.2   Increasing external containment and new breakthroughs

For structural realists, the balance and competition among  major powers are essentially a zero-sum game under a growing crisis of resources. Established hegemonies often instinctively  contain or restrain new rising powers using strategic resources, resulting in an increase in international conflict and instability, which has been recognized as “the tragedy of great power politics” by J. J. Mearsheimer (2003), a professor at the University of Chicago. Despite the rise of China being persistently claimed as a “peaceful development” and the “Chinese dream”, China is still viewed as a threat and a potential peer competitor to the existing superpower (i.e., the United States). As early as 1998, Monroe et al. (1998) claimed that a war between China and the United States was inevitable. R. Kaplan (2005), an American strategist, believed that the issue was not whether there would be a war, but rather how China was to be fought when it came. Even after the end of the Cold War, the United States 

States has persisted with Truman’s Containment Policy, continuing to develop a strategic containment network to prevent the spread of communism aboard, especially from China, an example being Obama’s strategy to rebalance the Asia–Pacific region.Through engagement, isolationist, punitive, and dispute policies, for example by implementing strategic alliances with China’s neighbors and engendering dissension and suspicion between them and China, the United States has succeeded in drawing in surrounding countries such as Japan, Australia, South Korea, and India to provide a chain of support anchors to contain contemporary China like an island.            

The history of the great-power game shows that the fate of developing countries is ultimately  a  choice between two outcomes: either to break through externally imposed constraints or to be strangled by hegemonic countries. As a great nation with dreams of revival, China will not and  cannot be forever crammed into a small space. Consequently, a rising China needs to deal with the tough issues: namely, for the sake of its own survival and for reasons of human justice, how to break through the containment network constructed by the United States and its allies. For China’s geographers in particular, the crucial question to be addressed is the choice of the most  appropriate geographical direction for China to break through. A series of related questions are included under this: for example, What about the geopolitical conditions around China? What kinds of strategic resources are utilized by the United States? Which are the weaker links in the network? And how should strategic resources be allocated to construct an anti-containment network for China?

2.3  Overcoming national inertia and new geostrategic targets

According to modern organizational behavior theory, organizational inertia, i.e., the tendency of a mature organization to continue on its current trajectory, is described as a rigidity of resources and routine such that the organization is incapable of responding to environmental changes or responds only in a negative way (Christensen and Bower, 1996). As a special form of organization, nations or states are also subject to organizational inertia in the face of rapid or discontinuous external changes.  For example, at the end of the nineteenth century, after growing into one of the most developed countries in Europe, unified Germany fell into a pitfall of contentment brought by economic development and soon lost its political ambitions (cf. the 1895 lecture “The Nation State and Economic Policy” by M. Weber) (Weber, 1994). Through reform and opening up, China has achieved remarkable economic success, and has rapidly become a new superpower, similar to what happened to Germany over a hundred years ago. However, despite an increasingly hostile external environment, a number of symptoms of fatigue and hedonism can be observed. For example, many of the national elites are satisfied with the status quo, and political reforms are difficult to implement. Therefore, a rising China needs to establish new strategic targets –with self-vigilance and self-invigoration– to avoid debilitating its own beliefs. Therefore, it is necessary for political geographers to propose clear strategic goals to overcome national inertia and realize China’s dream of revival.

3   Twenty-five years of progress

The history of geopolitics research in China can be divided into three stages: the ice-breaking (starting) period from the 1950s to the 1960s, a period of stagnation from the 1970s to the 1980s,  and a period of revival since the 1990s.  However, with regard to geographical research, despite evident advances arising from the recent incorporation of considerations of international conditions and geopolitical strategies into the theoretical basis of the subject, it still suffers from an absence of geopolitics from its main research agendas. Fortunately, in the 21st century, geopolitical research has started to be given more attention by geographers, and this has led to a number of academic achievements as described below. 

3.1   Theoretical framework of geopolitics

A number of classic geopolitical theories have enlisted geography as an aid to statecraft and strategy (Teggart, 1919), driven by specific strategic tasks, for example, the initial Organic State Theory of F. Ratzel and R. Kellén, the Sea Power Theory of T. Mahan (1890),  the Heartland Theory of H. Mackinder (1904), the Rimland Geo-Strategy of N. Spykman (1944), the Aerial  Power Strategy (Douhet, 1921), and the recent Chessboard Theory (Brzezinski, 1997), none of  which is mentioned by China’s geographers. Particularly against the background of China’s peaceful rise and the Chinese dream (the Great Renewal), it is now time to construct a theoretical framework for China’s strategic interests (Lu and Du, 2013; Hu and Lu, 2015). Recently, some scholars have come to the view that the permanent core of geopolitics is geographical in nature (Spykman, 1944), involving location, land, neighbors, terrain, resources, and distance, similar to the classic geopolitics with geographic determinism, in which “geography was expected to determine politics” (Mamadouh, 2002; Brzezinski, 1986). Understanding the spatial effects of these basic elements is a prerequisite for understanding and utilizing geopolitics (Liu, 2009). Geography should become the basic subject of geopolitics and geo-economic research (Du et al., 2011; Lu and Du, 2013). Based on geo-economic cooperation and the geopolitical relationship between China and its neighbors, a new concept termed as a geo-entity (geo-economic entity and geopolitical entity), similar to an economic entity, was proposed by Yu and his co-authors (Yu and Cui, 2003; Yu, 2005a, 2005b). Then, a subject of geo-science (comprising geopolitics, geo-economics, geo-strategy, and so on), called “geobordery” by Yu (2005a, 2005b), was also constructed, together with an associated concept system and disciplinary framework (Yu, 1999, 2005a, 2005b). 

3.2   Great-power geo-strategies and geopolitical pattern

3.2.1   Geo-strategies of great powers

With the collapse and fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of developing countries such as China, India, and Brazil, the global geopolitical pattern in the post-Cold War era has been reorganized. In order to cope with these power changes, some developed countries such as the United States and Russia have enacted new geo-strategies, for example, the Asia–Pacific Rebalancing Strategy of the United States, providing spatial containment and extended deterrence to some Asian countries such as China and North Korea (Manning, 2014). Therefore, a means of  breaking through this  containment have attracted much attention from China’s geographers, mainly focusing on the  introduction of American geo-strategies following the Cold War and the anti-containment  countermeasures applied  by China (Duan, 2000a; Lu, 2006; Li, 2010; Du and Ma, 2012). As Russia is China’s largest neighbor and its most important strategic partner, Russian geo-strategic  changes and their impact on China have also been of concern. Since the late 1990s, the background and effects of the Russian Federation’s Oriental Strategies, as well as Russian  geo-strategy toward Northeast Asia, have been well documented (Sun, 1998; Lou, 1999). In recent years, with increases in inter-national oil prices, the energy problem has become a crucial issue  within geopolitics and geo-economics, and the strategy of Russian energy diplomacy has also  been of concern (Feng and Li, 2009).

3.2.2   Geopolitical pattern of some hotspots

With the upheaval in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the previously existing bipolar structure came to an end after half a century. At the same time, a new distribution  of international  power emerged, with one superpower (the United States) and multiple great powers (West Europe, China, and Japan) as a result of the increasing status of the United States, Western Europe, and Japan and the rapid rise of China and India in Asia, which took  the  form  of global rimlands (Spykman,1944). Consequently, there has been a rise in geopolitical competition and conflicts among great powers, especially among the peripheral great powers  that are least integrated into the Western-led political order (Menon, 2015). These vacuum or  weak areas have been recognized as hotspots of geopolitics research, mainly concentrated in Central Asia and in the Asia–Pacific and Arctic regions (Li and Liu, 1998).  As the heartland of the Eurasian continent, Central Asia has become a major focus of international politics owing to its unique and important geopolitical and economic value after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. A considerable amount of work by China’s geographers has concentrated on Central Asia, including studies of emerging geopolitical patterns and trends, together with examinations of the demands and conflicts of the main forces involved (Dong, 2005; Lu, 2011). For example, there have been detailed discussions about international law of the Caspian Sea, geo-strategies of the  West, and political and  military patterns of Afghanistan (Wang G, 2002). 

Given its richness in natural resources and its importance in terms of sea routes, and its role in the implementation of the geo-strategies of established great powers (i.e., the United States, Japan, and Europe) (Wang G, 2003a), the Asia–Pacific region can be considered as a new Crush Zone (or Shatter Zone, i.e., a zone of great-power contention) (Fairgrieve, 1915). It has become an arena for the geopolitical and economic struggle among multiple powers (Duan, 1999), noticeably in the South China Sea (Liu, 2006; Wang and Zhang, 2012). Since the Asian financial crisis of 2008, the roles of China, India, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been continuing to grow rapidly, resulting in the Asia–Pacific region occupying an increasingly important strategic position (Wang G, 2003b). Accordingly, there has been a sharper focus on its geo-structural evolution and its impact on China, especially with regard to Northeast Asia (Chen and Wang, 1998; Huang, 1997), East Asia (Yuan, 2013; Yu et al., 2015), Southeast Asia (Fang and He, 2013), and South Asia (Wang et al., 2015).  This is particularly the case in the context of  geo-advantages, geographical characteristics, geopolitical changes, the geo-strategies of great  powers, and the regional geographical environment (Lu, 2000; Liu, 2002; Fang and He, 2013; Hu et al., 2013a, 2013b). The energy crisis represents a significant bottleneck to global sustainable  development, and is a crucial issue involving considerations of climate change, energy  economics, and geopolitics (Chevalier, 2009).

Recently, the Arctic region has been drawn into the center of geopolitical consideration as measured by a number of geographical metrics, including its role in global climate change, its abundances of resources and energy, its circumpolar location between Eurasia and North America,  and the commercial shipping advantages that it offers (Ebinger and Zambetakis, 2009; Gorkina, 2013; Zhang et al., 2009). With the accelerating pace of the Blue Enclosure Movement,  geopolitical relations in the Arctic have become increasingly complex (Feng, 2013; Lu, 2010a, 2010b, 2010c). Because of the special importance of the Arctic shipping route to China, analyses of its geopolitical pattern and the economic impact of shipping on China have attracted much concern (Lu, 2010a, 2010b, 2014; Peng and Lu, 2013). A variety of quantitative methods have been applied to reveal its geopolitical pattern, and some geo-political theory assumptions and geo-strategies have also been outlined (Li, 2009, 2010; Li and Min, 2011; Lu, 2010c). 

3.2.3   Geo-strategies for China’s peaceful rise

China’s peaceful rise, viewed as the most important current issue of international relations (Glaser, 2011), has not only changed China’s destiny and its place in the global geopolitical pattern (Du and Ma, 2012), but also brought about unclear risks (increasing probability of great-power war and serious economic competition) (Glaser, 2011), with fundamental consequences for future  socioeconomic trends (Du and Ma, 2012). Since the 1990s, the concerns of China’s geographers have shifted from economic cooperation (i.e., the Asia–Pacific Rim) and independent external  strategy (Wang et al., 1990) to great-power geo-strategies and China’s countermeasures (Cao, 2002; Lu, 2010; Du and Ma, 2012), geo-border divisions and national security (Wang L, 2002;  Wang G, 2003a), and maritime security and the surrounding environment (Zhang Y, 1996, 2004; Zhang W, 2007).

As a land–sea country, China’s rise has led objectively to an expansion of power from the on-land space (the continent) to the at-sea space. An underestimation of the importance of maritime rights and interests in comparison with those connected with land (Fu, 2004) has led to an increase in  at-sea territorial disputes and conflicts. A large number of studies on marine strategy and rights have been documented (Xiao, 1992; Zhao, 1996), especially focusing on the East China Sea and South China Sea with its external at-sea gateway location (Yuan, 2013). As early as the 1970s, in order to service diplomatic campaigns, China’s geographers provided evidence from historical,  economic, political, and other aspects for a national claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea and the Diaoyu Islands dating back to ancient times, and reports entitled World Island Sea Area  Calculation and Continental Shelf Calculation of the East China Sea, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea were published by the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). With the involvement of the United States, these territorial disputes have continued to escalate, and the related great-power game of interests has become a major issue for the reconstruction of the Asia–Pacific geopolitical pattern and order. This has been described as a pivotal geostrategic arena and the forward base for some western powers and China’s neighbors to contain China. It has become the subject of intensive discussions by China’s geographers with regard to the grand geo-strategies of the powers involved and in the context of international strategic measures for dispute resolution (Yang, 2009; Sun, 2010; Zhang et al., 2012; Liu, 2006; Feng, 2010; Du, 2012; Liu and Yuan, 2012).

3.3   Geopolitical environment and geo-economic cooperation around China

3.3.1   Northeast Asia

The post-Soviet geographical environment in Northeast Asia has changed dramatically, not only with regard to the geopolitical pattern, but also in terms of the geo-economic collabora-tion (Yu et al.,2015;Kong and Liu, 1996; Huang, 1997; Chen and Wang, 1998). Currently, a new diversified pattern is being formed in this region, which is dominated by the new big-five players: the  United States, Japan, South Korea, China, and  Russia (Satoh,2007). Analyses of  the related  geo-strategies have been given by China’s geographers (Chen and Wang, 2001; Shao and Wang, 2002; Jiao and Yu, 2002; Xu and Ge, 2011). The geopolitical issues involved are diverse and  complex, with a number of uncertainties, and are overlaid with profound effects from obvious trends such as the Asia–Pacific rebalance of the United States, the rise of China, the strengthening role of Japan, the changing role of Russia, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, and the development of “an anchor to windward” by other countries (Armacost, 2007), which have also been discussed by some of China’s geographers (Yu et al., 2015). Because of these diversities, together with a lack of regional institutions, geo-political cooperation in this region remained sluggish for over three decades. In contrast to geopolitics, geo-economic integration in this region has grown rapidly, owing to economic globalization and regional integration. Meanwhile, much care has been taken  to develop some geo-economic strategies of regional multilateral trade cooperation in Northeast Asia, focusing on direction of cooperation, mode of investment and choice of location, and  development policy (Huang, 1997; Zhang et al., 2001; Li et al., 2004; Chen, 2000), in the context  of which geo-economic research in the Tumen River Area and  its navigation has been given much attention to by some of China’s geographers, led by the Northeast Normal University.  They have undertaken deeper considerations of economic resources, modes of cooperation, and the development of navigation in the Tumen River Area (Yuan et al., 1995; Wang R, 2000, 2003; Li, 2013).

3.3.2   Central Asia

Central Asia, viewed as a strategic buffer zone between China and other forces, is bound up with the economic development and political stability of China, especially in Xinjiang (Liu et al., 2009). Despite its critical location, it was not given adequate consideration by China’s geographers (Zhao, 1995), until the beginning of the 21st century, since when geo-economic cooperation and geopolitical relationships between China and Central Asia have been well described  in  a  number of studies (Lu, 2001; Dong, 2005), the majority of which have focused on energy cooperation and national security (Li and Wang, 2009; Li et al., 2009; Yang et al., 2015), as well as economic integration related to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Silk Road Economic Belt (Hamiti et al., 2009; Chen et al., 2010; Pan, 2014; Zhang and Yuan, 2016). 

3.3.3   Southeast Asia

Up to now, most studies have been problem-oriented or policy-related and have focused on geo-economic cooperation between China and Southeast Asia (Wu, 1995; Li, 2006; Su et al., 2013), rather than on the geopolitical situation and geo-strategies (Fang and He, 2013). Recently, more extensive research has been carried out on Sino-ASEAN economic cooperation and basin development strategy in the Lancang River and Mekong River Sub-Region (Pan et al., 2005; Liu,  2009).  As a new geo-economic entity, the China–ASEAN Free Trade Area has not only led to an upsurge in geo-economic cooperation between China and Southeast Asian countries, but has also become the subject of much research effort on geo-economic cooperation, including geopolitical  characteristics, economic structure, influencing mechanisms, fields of cooperation, and China’s trade strategies (Tao et al., 2010; Luo, 2006; Li et al., 2015; Xie et al., 2010). 

3.3.4   South Asia

South Asia, located in the middle of the crescent rimlands of the Eurasian continent, contains the sea route from Asia and Oceania to Europe and Africa, and has a southern boundary close to the oil-rich nations of the Persian Gulf, both of which are of great strategic significance  and  relate  directly to the at-sea pathway security of China. At present, China and South Asia (specifically  India) are growing rapidly in their economic development and in bilateral trade contacts. Similar to research on Southeast Asia, more attention has been paid to geo-economic communication than to geopolitical relationships and geo-strategies, which have been considered mostly by researchers in international relations (Yang and Zhao, 2012).

In order to promote the boom in trade contacts between China’s western frontiers (i.e., Yunnan, Xinjiang, and Tibet) and South Asia (i.e. India and Pakistan), China’s geographers have turned  their attention to matters of economic cooperation, including its trend, direction, content, and modes (Shen, 2011; Li and Ni, 2008; Ci, 1997; Cai, 2006). 

3.4   Geopolitical pattern of energy and resources and China’s energy strategy

3.4.1   Geopolitical pattern of global energy and resources

In recent years, the geographical pattern of global energy and resources has undergone tremendous changes, not only in the spatial distribution of total energy and resources (Zhu et al., 2008; Yu et al., 2014; Zhao, 2008), but also in the spatial transformation (or shifting) of resource demand,  supply, and trade patterns (Zhang and Huang, 2009), which has further exerted a great influence on worldwide political and economic patterns (Yang, 2000). With the increasing crisis in global energy and resources, in the case of China, with its continuous energy demand and increasing population, the geo-strategic position of energy and resources has  become  more  and  more  crucial for national development and security (Duan,2000b). Accordingly, geopolitical  impacts  and geo-strategies of energy-related patterns have been well documented from different  perspectives by China’s geographers (Wang, 2002, 2003, 2009), such as the geopolitical safety  of oil and gas patterns and trade proposed by Xu  (2005) and Wang et al. (2014). The majority of these studies have involved extensive discussions of spatial patterns (Hao et al., 2010), spatial evolution (Li and Wang, 2009), influencing mechanisms (Li et al., 2009), and great-power geo-strategies with regard to world-wide energy and resources (Lang and Wang, 2007; Feng and Li, 2009), as well as geopolitical influences on China and the countermeasures (Lang et al., 2012, 2013). The spatial inequality of worldwide energy and resources (specifically oil resources) has been recognized as the main factor leading to unpredictability regarding the stability or  vulnerability of global geo-economic and geopolitical contacts, noticeably in some oil-producing  regions such as Saudi Arabia, the Caspian Sea, Siberia, and Canada (Du et al., 2011). 

3.4.2   China’s energy strategy

To date, energy and resources, viewed as a geopolitical weapon and tool (Newnham, 2011; Stegen  2011), are playing a uniquely crucial role in international economic development and political relations. Since the 1990s, China has become more and more heavily dependent on  imported  strategic energy and resources  (i.e., oil and gas) to fuel economic growth, as well as a few  pivotal shipping seaways (or routes) such as the Strait of Malacca and the Strait of Hormuz (Liu et al., 2001; Yang et al., 2013), which poses a huge challenge to national resource security. As an  economy dependent on energy imports, China’s search for resource security has come under  close international scrutiny in recent years. Oil and gas supply patterns and resource security  have been intensively and extensively discussed by China’s geographers (Wang et al., 1994, 1999). Many problems in the field of energy security have been pointed out. For example, the  contradiction between a huge demand and a lack of self-sufficiency has led to a constant rise in the dependence on energy imports. The lack of domestic energy reserves and imperfections in the security system have made China more vulnerable to the effects of the global energy crisis. Meanwhile, China’s shipping has an excessive dependence on certain shipping waterways, such  as the Strait of  Malacca.

Consequently, a number of suggestions and countermeasures for inclusion in China’s energy security strategy have been presented (Liu et al.,2001; Yang et al.,2013), such as the diversification of energy sources, the mechanism of strategic energy reserve, and the development of bilateral and multilateral energy cooperation (Wang L, 2002; Lang et al., 2008; Li et al., 2008).  In addition, some geographers have focused on cooperation and competition in energy, iron ore,  agricultural products, and forest resources between China and surrounding areas (Zhang and Huang, 2009; Yang et al., 2009; Zhao, 2009; Zhou et al., 2011).

4   Major achievements and problems

4.1   Main achievements

In the past 25 years, several advances in theory and practice have been accomplished evidently as follows:

4.1.1   Continuous expansion of academic institutions

Over the past two decades, there has been a continuous expansion of research teams and academic groups devoted to China’s geopolitics, with significant optimization of their composition in terms of age, professional qualifications and educational background, as well as their overall performance. Moreover, a number of multi-level and interdisciplinary communicating platforms and institutions have been established in order to share and stimulate novel academic ideas. For example, in 2012, the IGSNRR of CAS set up a research group named the Institute of World Geography and Resources Research (IWGRR). Soon after that, Beijing Normal University and Yunnan Normal University established the Research Center for China’s Peripheral Geopolitics (RCCPG) and the Collaborative Innovation Center for China’s Southwest Geo-environment and Frontier Development (CICCSGFD), respectively.

Since 2012, the World Geography Committee of the Geographical Society of China (GSC) has regularly conducted a Summit Forum on Geography and China’s Global Strategies. All these efforts show that Chinese geopolitical science has been moving onto the stage of conscious development from that of spontaneous development.

4.1.2   Increasing number of academic achievements

During the last 25 years, a massive amount of literature has been published by China’s geographers, including several hundred books and thousands of articles. More than100 academic monographs on geopolitics and geo-economics, based on studies of China’s practices and strategies, have been produced. According to the China Integrated Knowledge Resources  Database, 124 articles related to the theme of geopolitics and 37 papers on geo-economics were published from 1990 to 1994, while the number of articles in these two fields soared to 7392 and 476, respectively, in the period from 2010 to 2013. Some of the issues dealt with, such as the Soviet Union in 1991, the Japan Security Treaty and Taiwan Strait Crisis from 1995 to 1996, NATO’s war against Yugoslavia in 1999, and the war in the Middle East from 2001 to 2003, concerned hot issues in China’s geopolitics research. Meanwhile, the journals World Regional Studies, Human Geography, and Economic Geography have gradually grown to become the big-three base of China’s geopolitical research. Since 1990, these three journals have respectively published 76, 56, and 35 papers on geo-politics or geo-economics, accounting for the majority of their output and almost of the papers published on geopolitics. 

4.1.3   Some breakthroughs in significant fields

Over the past decades, China’s geopolitical scholars have increased the depth of study in their subject, introducing new research methods, and expanding  into new research areas. They have not only focused on traditional geopolitical disparities and geo-strategies, but also discussed some new socially oriented topics, such as China’s geo-strategy regarding cultural and geo-cultural relationships between China and other countries (Pan et al., 2008; Chen, 2012). In terms of research perspectives, there has been a transformation from a single emphasis on state behavior to a comprehensive focus on international system function (Chen, 2012; Liu, 2013). With regard to research methods, more extensive attention has been paid to mapping the mechanism of evolution of international political relations by GIS instead of concentrating on quantitative descriptions (Yang, 2007).

4.1.4   Rapid enhancement of social influence

During this period, China’s geographers have also conducted problem-oriented research, dealing with the essential characteristics, factors of influence, and China’s countermeasures against geopolitical problems related to national security and economic development. As a “think tank” concerned with China’s foreign affairs and geo-strategies, they have also taken an active part in offering policy-making suggestions and drafting important documents, accomplished through a series of geo-strategic research projects, as well as producing a large number of research reports and manuscripts concentrating on both theoretical and practical issues. Among these have been many suggestions that have been adopted by policy-makers or government leaders.

4.2   Main problems

A comparative approach is effective in revealing unsolved or limited agendas in some disciplines.  Comparisons with large amounts of work from neighboring disciplines, especially international relations, have led to geopolitics research by China’s geographers being better documented than ever before.

First, the theoretical system underlying the study of China’s geopolitics is not yet complete, and its academic cooperative network remains fragmented. As with the geography of international relations, geopolitics research in China is mainly conducted from two distinct perspectives, namely, the relations of the state as an area and the relations of the state as an organization, with contributions respectively from human geographers and from researchers on international relations and politics. At present, there is more conflict between proponents of these approaches than practical academic collaboration. Some international relations specialists have felt that geographers focus too much on the introduction of international political theories, whereas geographers have sometimes found that the results of studies based on international relations have been difficult to put into practice. As a result, only a limited number of studies have taken advantage of  the intrinsic characteristics and deep  laws  of geopolitics, and this situation has been made worse by the lack of scholars adept in both disciplines. Accordingly, the top priority with regard to furthering the development of geopolitics as a field of study is to achieve integration between geography and related subjects concerning theoretical systems, methodologies, and training of researchers.

Second, the position of the study of China’s geopolitics as a discipline is unclear, with consequent limits on its potential. At present, there seems to be confusion among some scholars regarding the relationship between geopolitics and political geography. With the introduction of the book entitled Political and Military Geography to China, political geography, defined as a branch of human geography, became concerned with the geographical distribution and spatial effects of political progress within and between nations (Li, 1984). According to China’s current system of subject classification, geopolitics is classified in the third level, affiliated to the “Principle of Politics”. While some textbooks related to political geography have recognized geopolitics as a branch of political geography and incorporated it into their chapters (cf. Political Geography: Political Pattern in Time and Space, by Wang et al. (1998)), the further development of geopolitics as a distinct field has been constrained by this unclear position. 

Third, despite its scope in dealing with the geography of international relations, geopolitics is not promoted as vigorously by geographers as by workers in related disciplines. The relative  contribution of geographers is somewhat limited, and their lack of outstanding achievements in this field is noticeable. Since the 1990s, a rough estimate shows that most geopolitics-related publications, including more than one hundred books and nearly one million papers, have been produced by specialists in international politics and trade, rather than by geographers. Moreover, in comparison with other fields of geography, geopolitics is a peripheral subject. In the top seven geography journals in China, since 1990, the proportion of geopolitics-related papers has not yet gone beyond 1%, and the journal Geographical Research did not publish a single article on geopolitics in the period from 2001 to 2010 (Table 1). In general, there are too few geographers engaged in the study of geopolitics to allow any improvements in the quantity and quality of research results to be achieved, which is hardly in accordance with the status of geography as a discipline with massive academic teams or with the rise of China as a worldwide superpower.

Fourth, much more attention has been focused on descriptions of and inferences from geopolitical phenomena or progress than on mechanisms of influence. On the one hand, although the object of geopolitics has been defined as the relationship between political progress and geographical environment, geopolitical research in geography is still confined to studying the spatial distribution of political activities from the viewpoint of the state as an area, while structural dynamics, international interactions, and their influencing factors have not been well depicted. On the other hand, geopolitical studies in international relations are problematic and issue-oriented.  More extensive research has been carried out on international relations and foreign policies from  the perspective of the state as an organization. Owing to the lack of comprehensive consideration of internal geographical environments, it is a difficult task to determine the evolving trends and mechanisms of international relations, which results in difficulties in proposing prospective and  targeted foreign policies or recommendations.

Fifth, the lack of independent value judgments has led to a larger number of practical studies  being done by China’s geographers on the basis of western geopolitical theories. Originating in the West, the theoretical paradigm of geopolitics, including traditional and critical geopolitics, has been established on the basis of western experience of foreign affairs, especially the hegemony  of the UK and the United States. Consequently, it is a western-centric system based on western cultural perspectives and values that are different from those of China. Thus, classic geopolitical theories, whether liberal, realistic or constructivist, cannot fully explain China’s geopolitical situation and provide realistic guidance for its diplomatic practice. Despite an increasing number of researchers and a growth in achievements, only a limited amount of well-conducted work  has  been done within China’s geopolitical theory system.

5   Future efforts

Without mentioning related work from neighboring disciplines, this review has only dealt with a number of research agendas on geopolitics produced by China’s geographers. It is not possible to provide a comprehensive answer with regard to those aspects that have seen either greater or less  success over the past 25 years. Moreover, it is difficult to find areas where progress had been  absent or pursued less vigorously, which might be better approached by means of a mixed problematic prospective integrating trends or advance judgments together with currently unsolved topics. Consequently, in what follows, based in part on unsolved or poorly solved topics and in  part on problem-oriented trends in geopolitics, we suggest some research challenges that need to be tackled now.

First of all, without regard to research agendas, it is important for China’s geographers to improve their communication with scholars in the field of international relations  and promote interdisciplinary integration between geography and related domains, in order to train interdisciplinary researchers who are both talented in geography and familiar with international relations and politics. 

Second, the philosophical and methodological research bases of geopolitics need to be strengthened, mainly with regard to its research objects, contents, and methods, as well as the relationships between geography and other adjacent disciplines. Methodologically, attention should be paid to developing a novel approach to geopolitical analysis based on structural realism.  This would be helpful in identifying the orientation of geopolitics and its characteristics as a scientific discipline, as well as highlighting its irreplaceable role in the future development of China.

Third, the fundamental theoretical system of geopolitics should be enhanced, with reference to  the basic concepts of geopolitics and its underlying logical reasoning, geopolitical patterns and evolution, national behavioral characteristics, differences between the different theoretical schools of geopolitics(i.e. traditional geopolitics and critical geopolitics), and the extensive development  of the subject. With regard to the extension of geopolitics, a clear understanding of changing  international relations and emerging global crises is necessary, and global or regional geo-economics and geo-culture need to be taken into account to improve the disciplinary paradigm.

Fourth, the spatial evolution of the global geopolitical pattern should be reinforced, with integrated studies of geopolitical and geo-economic patterns, of maritime shipping structure and  national strategic security, of internal forces and the international system, of shifting power  centers, of great-power interactions, and of the new spatial order. Such studies will aid in  understanding systematically global geopolitical situations and trends, and will provide background knowledge to allow further analysis of geo-strategies in the context of national security.

Fifth, research into the geo-strategies of the main great powers needs to be strengthened, including the global strategy of the United States and the Asia–Pacific Rebalance Strategy (the  “Return  to  Asia–Pacific”)  (Green et al., 2016) and  Russia’s geo-strategies from  “A Sphere  of  Influence” to “A Pivot to the East” (Tsarik and Sivitsky, 2015), as well as the geo-strategies of Japan, India, and the EU. 

Sixth, geo-environmental research outside China needs to be documented thoroughly, including the aims and geo-strategic trends of surrounding countries and regions, and the security concerns and the geo-economic cooperation that arise between them and China. These studies are needed to clarify the geopolitical risks to China and to provide a basis for decision-making with regard to the direction of strategic breakthrough.

Finally, research related to the peaceful rise of China should be strengthened, including, for example, geo-environmental research on the origins of resources, research into the security of maritime shipping routes, studies of breakthrough and anti-containment strategies, alignment of strategies, configuration of the strategy of overseas  military bases, studies of territorial conflicts and religious relations between China and other countries, and research into foreign investment.

(参考文献略,本文发表于《地理学报(英文版)》201608期。)