About the Project

The Mapping China’s Strategic Space project builds on the work the National Bureau of Asian Research has led over the past decade, aimed at apprehending Chinese intellectual and political elites’ attempts to define a vision of their country as a great power on the world stage.

The project’s objective is to better understand what constitutes the imagined space beyond China’s national borders that its leaders consider as vital to the pursuit of national political, economic, and security objectives and to the achievement of China’s rise.  

Whereas Russia has coined the term “near-abroad” to describe the area it hoped to maintain its influence over after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and whereas several Western countries have embraced the term “Indo-Pacific” as a strategic concept denoting their willingness to maintain a free and open region, Beijing’s conception of its expanded strategic space is still unclear to the outside world. Other than through territorial claims, China’s affirmation of the delineations of its strategic space is usually expressed in negative ways: the Chinese leadership believes that Western countries, spearheaded by the United States, want to “contain, encircle, and suppress” China.[1] The perception of encirclement, sometimes described as an effort by hostile foreign powers to “squeeze China’s strategic space,” inhabits the political imaginations and reflects deeply rooted conceptions of constraints over the Chinese nation’s “geo-body.”[2]

Understanding how China’s strategic space is defined and envisioned is crucial because it will have an impact on the structure and objectives of China’s diplomacy and influence the country’s strategic decisions. It could also point toward areas of contention or conflict with the West.

The Mapping China’s Strategic Space project examines both the historical context and the geopolitical underpinnings of China’s conceptualization of its strategic space. Looking back into history is an indispensable first step that provides comparative perspectives and helps in identifying the drivers of previous efforts to expand strategic space. Since geopolitics is at the intersection of mental maps and strategic goals, the project also explores the geopolitical influences, spatial representations, narrative depictions, and new frontiers of China’s strategic space.

The project is generously funded by a Carnegie Corp. New York grant.


[1] Chun Han Wong, Keith Zhai and James T. Areddy, “China’s Xi Jinping Takes Rare Direct Aim at U.S. in Speech,” Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2023.

[2] According to Thongchai Winichakul, the geo-body of a nation “is a man-made territorial definition which creates effects—by classifying, communicating, and enforcement—on people, things and relationships.”  See Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994)