THE EXPANSES OF EURASIA have fascinated me ever since I was a boy. As I was growing up, it was terra incognita—exotic, foreign territory, and much of it off-limits to American citizens. As I began my academic career, the continent was in volatile transition, a world of fragile regimes whose demise opened up intriguing new worlds, epitomized by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the shah’s regime in Teheran. Today, Eurasia is being reconfigured once again. Its western and eastern poles are moving into an ever-deeper embrace, with global political-economic implications.
Those fateful developments, unfolding before our eyes, configure the story presented in the pages to follow. A century ago and more ago, a Super Continent began to rise on American shores, its connectivity assured by infrastructure—a transcontinental railway, consolidated by the Golden Spike at Promontory Point (1869), and a canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific, completed across Panama (1914). Only a few years ago, a second Super Continent began to rise across Eurasia as well.
What to make of this new Super Continent as it begins to rise has been one of the central intellectual concerns of my career. It animated my first postdoctoral academic endeavor—a course on comparative Asian political economy, cotaught at Harvard in the fall of 1979 with Roy Hofheinz, only months after the advent of China’s Four Modernizations. That course in turn inspired a book, The Eastasia Edge, coauthored with Hofheinz, that was among the first to view East Asian political-economic development comparatively and to consider how Asian growth might broaden beyond Japan to wide areas of the surrounding continent.
After writing a book at Princeton on Japanese domestic political economy, I came back to the transformation of Eurasia in Pacific Defense, published in 1996. That volume considered the rising energy interdependence between Northeast Asia and the Persian Gulf, and the corollary importance of the energy sea lanes. The ensuing East Asian Multilateralism (2008), Pacific Alliance (2009), coedited with Francis Fukuyama; and The Making of Northeast Asia (2010), coauthored with Min Ye, have all dealt with regionalist themes.
The clearest intellectual precursor of this volume, however, is The New Continentalism (2012). In that book, published eighteen months before Xi Jinping announced his Belt and Road Initiative, I outlined the critical junctures that both opened Eurasia as a whole to the prospect of deeper political-economic embrace following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and also provided the incentives for that interaction. I am gratified that The New Continentalism has now been translated into Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, and Chinese, and provides some basis, elaborated before the BRI emerged as policy, for understanding the considerations that led Xi Jinping to propose it.
I began thinking of a sequel to The New Continentalism within months of its original publication in May 2012—an inclination that grew ever stronger as Chinese leadership began stressing transcontinental political-economic relationships as core dimensions of national grand strategy. Beijing’s announcement of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the decision of major European powers to join it, convinced me still further that my earlier instincts about deepening trans-Eurasian interaction were correct. By mid-2014 I was hard at work on the current volume.
Many people and many events over the past several years have deepened my understanding of the historic transformation of Eurasia occurring before our eyes. The Boao Forum for Asia, in which I have participated six times since 2011, has been a key element of that. Through Boao, I have gained a much more fine-grained sense of Chinese aspirations on regional and global matters, as well as the quality and biases of Chinese leadership. The 2017 Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, in which I participated as an active observer, as well as seminars at SAIS Europe, the National University of Mongolia, and Nanyang University RSIS in Singapore helped deepen those perceptions still further.
For my understanding of this transcontinental equation, I am indebted to a range of scholars and policy makers in Europe, Asia, and the United States. Among them have been Zbigniew Brzezinski, Fukuda Yasuo, Dominique de Villepin, Bilahari Kausikan, Volker Stanzel, Vali Nasr, Eliot Cohen, Erik Jones, Kishore Mahbubani, Michael Plummer, David Shambaugh, David Shear, Bekhbat Khasbazar, Batbayar Tsedendamba, Enksaikan Jargalsaikhar, Lynn White, William Frucht, Alicia Campi, and Jacopo Pepe. I owe a special debt of gratitude to Dr. Pepe, a brilliant young researcher with the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), who spent the better part of two years at the Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies that I head, first as a dissertation fellow, and later as an adjunct professor at SAIS. We cotaught two courses, and Jacopo contributed significantly, together with Alicia Campi, to a series of conferences and panels on Eurasia’s transformation that we organized in locations ranging from Poznań, Berlin, and Toronto to Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. We all share a mutual fascination with geography and its centrality in political-economic analysis that suffuses this work.
The SAIS Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies has been my intellectual home for the past fifteen years, and the collegial atmosphere, as well as warm support, that I have enjoyed there has been invaluable to the genesis and evolution of this book. Zongyuan Liu, Rachel Xian, Sophie Yang, Tom Ramage, Jonathan Hall-Eastman, Evan Sankey, Jaehan Park, Olivia Schieber, and Toshiko Calder, among others, have all contributed in different ways at the Reischauer Center to the development of this volume. Apart from all this, at the vital interface of research, graphics, and technical integration, I owe Yun Han my deepest thanks. She has contributed tirelessly and selflessly to tasks large and small, ranging from detailed fact checking to penetrating conceptual analysis, at all hours of the day and night, in ways that words cannot easily express. I also appreciate the expert contributions of Stanford University Press and its affiliates.
Many hands, in short, have helped build the sturdy foundations for this work. For the edifice erected thereon, and all the associated imperfections, however, I must take responsibility. Hopefully the reader will feel, in reading these lines, some share of the fascination I have always felt for the emergence, before our eyes, of a new continental incarnation of global import, comparable only to what emerged on American soil a century and more ago.
Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies
Johns Hopkins SAIS