Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Do we live in a borderless world? Before you answer that, have a look at this map. Contemporary political map shows that we have over 200 countries in the world today. That's probably more than at any time in centuries. Now, many of you will object. For you this would be a more appropriate map. You could call it TEDistan. In TEDistan, there are no borders, just connected spaces and unconnected spaces. Most of you probably reside in one of the 40 dots on this screen, of the many more that represent 90 percent of the world economy. But let's talk about the 90 percent of the world population that will never leave the place in which they were born. For them, nations, countries, boundaries, borders still matter a great deal, and often violently. Now here at TED, we're solving some of the great riddles of science and mysteries of the universe. Well here is a fundamental problem we have not solved: our basic political geography. How do we distribute ourselves around the world? Now this is important, because border conflicts justify so much of the world's military-industrial complex. Border conflicts can derail so much of the progress that we hope to achieve here. So I think we need a deeper understanding of how people, money, power, religion, culture, technology interact to change the map of the world. And we can try to anticipate those changes, and shape them in a more constructive direction. So we're going to look at some maps of the past, the present and some maps you haven't seen in order to get a sense of where things are going. Let's start with the world of 1945. 1945 there were just 100 countries in the world. After World War II, Europe was devastated, but still held large overseas colonies: French West Africa, British East Africa, South Asia, and so forth. Then over the late '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s, waves of decolonization took place. Over 50 new countries were born. You can see that Africa has been fragmented. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South East Asian nations created. Then came the end of the Cold War. The end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. You had the creation of new states in Eastern Europe, the former Yugoslav republics and the Balkans, and the 'stans of central Asia. Today we have 200 countries in the world. The entire planet is covered by sovereign, independent nation-states. Does that mean that someone's gain has to be someone else's loss? Let's zoom in on one of the most strategic areas of the world, Eastern Eurasia. As you can see on this map, Russia is still the largest country in the world. And as you know, China is the most populous. And they share a lengthy land border. What you don't see on this map is that most of Russia's 150 million people are concentrated in its western provinces and areas that are close to Europe. And only 30 million people are in its eastern areas. In fact, the World Bank predicts that Russia's population is declining towards about 120 million people And there is another thing that you don't see on this map. Stalin, Khrushchev and other Soviet leaders forced Russians out to the far east to be in gulags, labor camps, nuclear cities, whatever the case was. But as oil prices rose, Russian governments have invested in infrastructure to unite the country, east and west. But nothing has more perversely impacted Russia's demographic distribution, because the people in the east, who never wanted to be there anyway, have gotten on those trains and roads and gone back to the west. As a result, in the Russian far east today, which is twice the size of India, you have exactly six million Russians. So let's get a sense of what is happening in this part of the world. We can start with Mongolia, or as some call it, Mine-golia. Why do they call it that? Because in Mine-golia, Chinese firms operate and own most of the mines -- copper, zinc, gold -- and they truck the resources south and east into mainland China. China isn't conquering Mongolia. It's buying it. Colonies were once conquered. Today countries are bought. So let's apply this principle to Siberia. Siberia most of you probably think of as a cold, desolate, unlivable place. But in fact, with global warming and rising temperatures, all of a sudden you have vast wheat fields and agribusiness, and grain being produced in Siberia. But who is it going to feed? Well, just on the other side of the Amo River, in the Heilongjiang and Harbin provinces of China, you have over 100 million people. That's larger than the entire population of Russia. Every single year, for at least a decade or more, [60,000] of them have been voting with their feet, crossing, moving north and inhabiting this desolate terrain. They set up their own bazaars and medical clinics. They've taken over the timber industry and been shipping the lumber east, back into China. Again, like Mongolia, China isn't conquering Russia. It's just leasing it. That's what I call globalization Chinese style. Now maybe this is what the map of the region might look like in 10 to 20 years. But hold on. This map is 700 years old. This is the map of the Yuan Dynasty, led by Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan. So history doesn't necessarily repeat itself, but it does rhyme. This is just to give you a taste of what's happening in this part of the world. Again, globalization Chinese style. Because globalization opens up all kinds of ways for us to undermine and change the way we think about political geography. So, the history of East Asia in fact, people don't think about nations and borders. They think more in terms of empires and hierarchies, usually Chinese or Japanese. Well it's China's turn again. So let's look at how China is re-establishing that hierarchy in the far East. It starts with the global hubs. Remember the 40 dots on the nighttime map that show the hubs of the global economy? East Asia today has more of those global hubs than any other region in the world. Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sidney. These are the filters and funnels of global capital. Trillions of dollars a year are being brought into the region, so much of it being invested into China. Then there is trade. These vectors and arrows represent ever stronger trade relationships that China has with every country in the region. Specifically, it targets Japan and Korea and Australia, countries that are strong allies of the United States. Australia, for example, is heavily dependent on exporting iron ore and natural gas to China. For poorer countries, China reduces tariffs so that Laos and Cambodia can sell their goods more cheaply and become dependent on exporting to China as well. And now many of you have been reading in the news how people are looking to China to lead the rebound, the economic rebound, not just in Asia, but potentially for the world. The Asian free trade zone, almost free trade zone, that's emerging now has a greater trade volume than trade across the Pacific. So China is becoming the anchor of the economy in the region. Another pillar of this strategy is diplomacy. China has signed military agreements with many countries in the region. It has become the hub of diplomatic institutions such as the East Asian Community. Some of these organizations don't even have the United States as a member. There is a treaty of nonaggression between countries, such that if there were a conflict between China and the United States, most countries vow to just sit it out, including American allies like Korea and Australia. Another pillar of the strategy, like Russia, is demographic. China exports business people, nannies, students, teachers to teach Chinese around the region, to intermarry and to occupy ever greater commanding heights of the economies. Already ethnic Chinese people in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia are the real key factors and drivers in the economies there. Chinese pride is resurgent in the region as a result. Singapore, for example, used to ban Chinese language education. Now it encourages it. If you add it all up what do you get? Well, if you remember before World War II, Japan had a vision for a greater Japanese co-prosperity sphere. What's emerging today is what you might call a greater Chinese co-prosperity sphere. So no matter what the lines on the map tell you in terms of nations and borders, what you really have emerging in the far east are national cultures, but in a much more fluid, imperial zone. All of this is happening without firing a shot. That's most certainly not the case in the Middle East where countries are still very uncomfortable in the borders left behind by European colonialists. So what can we do to think about borders differently in this part of the world? What lines on the map should we focus on? What I want to present to you is what I call state building, day by day. Let's start with Iraq. Six years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the country still exists more on a map than it does in reality. Oil used to be one of the forces holding Iraq together; now it is the most significant cause of the country's disintegration. The reason is Kurdistan. The Kurds for 3,000 years have been waging a struggle for independence, and now is their chance to finally have it. These are pipeline routes, which emerge from Kurdistan, which is an oil-rich region. And today, if you go to Kurdistan, you'll see that Kurdish Peshmerga guerillas are squaring off against the Sunni Iraqi army. But what are they guarding? Is it really a border on the map? No. It's the pipelines. If the Kurds can control their pipelines, they can set the terms of their own statehood. Now should we be upset about this, about the potential disintegration of Iraq? I don't believe we should. Iraq will still be the second largest oil producer in the world, behind Saudi Arabia. And we'll have a chance to solve a 3,000 year old dispute. Now remember Kurdistan is landlocked. It has no choice but to behave. In order to profit from its oil it has to export it through Turkey or Syria, and other countries, and Iraq itself. And therefore it has to have amicable relations with them. Now lets look at a perennial conflict in the region. That is, of course, in Palestine. Palestine is something of a cartographic anomaly because it's two parts Palestinian, one part Israel. 30 years of rose garden diplomacy have not delivered us peace in this conflict. What might? I believe that what might solve the problem is infrastructure. Today donors are spending billions of dollars on this. These two arrows are an arc, an arc of commuter railroads and other infrastructure that link the West Bank and Gaza. If Gaza can have a functioning port and be linked to the West Bank, you can have a viable Palestinian state, Palestinian economy.