Back to the heartland? Transformation of Chinese geopolitics and the "renewed" importance of Central Asia

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John Mercer

Second Advisor

John Agnew


Maritime strategy, World system, Chinese, Geopolitics, Central Asia

Subject Categories

Geography | International and Area Studies | International Law | Law | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This research is a wide-ranging analysis and interpretation of the transformation of Chinese geopolitics from pre-modern times to the present day, with particular emphasis on the validity of the contention that there is a "renewed China threat in Central Asia in the post Cold War era." It is also an analysis that focuses on the results of the interrelations and inactions between China and the capitalist world system, particularly between China and its core states within 160 years after 1840. Chinese geo-strategies in both its Inner Asia and coastal/maritime zones are the major subjects for analysis.

Since "China" here is being equated with its ruling elites--rulers, bureaucratic advisors, and military leaders--and since the research is an examination of compelling, powerful ideas or concepts, as well as an historical-geographical examination of changing geopolitical orientations of Chinese state, Chinese literature, especially works written by elites, and official documents published in recent years are key sources for this research. A large number of the secondary published sources in English are also used. In addition, this research also uses a range of materials from web sites in order to follow closely the changing geopolitical situations in both China and the world.

The outcomes of the research do not support the China threat view. This analysis finds that the geopolitical thinking and behaviors of Confucianism, such as the China-centric worldview and order, tribute practice and the long cycle of imperial expansion, cannot be a basis for understanding or interpreting the geopolitics of modern China. The research shows that contemporary interrelations and interactions between the capitalist world system and China largely determine the general trend and the center of gravity of the geopolitics of modern China and in particular, Chinese geopolitical objectives in contemporary Central Asia. It demonstrates that the world system has changed and is still changing the geopolitics and geo-economy of China.


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