.
T

here is no shortage today of analysts and pundits attempting to explain China’s behavior, its interests, or its rise. China poses the most impactful challenge to the United States today, and that challenge is radically reshaping the international order. Yet, so much of that analysis and commentary is really a reflection of American fears and interests. As a result, that analysis misses what is actually happening in Beijing and within the Chinese Communist Party.

Rush Doshi, the founding director of the Brookings China Strategy Initiative, corrects that analytical shortcoming in his fascinating and alarming new book, “The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order.” The title is far from hyperbolic. Doshi presents a strong case that Beijing’s grand strategy is and has been directly driven by an assessment of America’s relative power and position as the global hegemon. China’s government has been extremely successful in translating this assessment into military, political, and economic actions, Doshi claims. This assertion is not simply speculation from a Pentagon spokesperson or staffer on the National Security Council—this is coming directly from the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership and apparatchiks themselves.

The Long Game: China's Grand Strategy to Displace American Order | Rush Doshi | Oxford University Press | July 2021.

“The Long Game” stands out notably from an increasingly crowded China-studies field in its use of primary Chinese language sources, rather than secondary or tertiary accounts or analysis. Doshi acquired numerous Party texts from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and categorized these texts in terms of quality and proximity to power. This achievement should not be underestimated. Poorly translated documents often draw sensational attention over flowery martial language while not allowing for a holistic view of Chinese decision-making and strategy.

Beijing’s actions regionally and globally are of far greater consequence for America’s strategic future than most popular analysis credits. With America distracted by the Global War on Terror, domestic political sclerosis, and fighting various flavors of “culture war”, Beijing steadily pursued a strategy to unseat the liberal western order, one that underpinned global stability since the end of World War II. The United States, it appears, is struggling to recognize China’s threat whilst dealing with these other issues. While the country certainly needs to wrestle with critical domestic and societal challenges, it must be able to confront Beijing’s rise and its challenge to the international order. What follows will almost certainly define the future order, one driven from Beijing and not Washington. 

At the core of “The Long Game” is the argument that Chinese grand strategy is predicated on three phases, each of which are directly tied to the relative power position of the United States. Doshi divides the Chinese Communist Party’s grand strategy into several categories: blunting, building, and expanding—and ties Beijing’s military, political, and economic actions directly to these periods. 

In the first phase Beijing saw the United States as a threat (due in part to the Tiananmen Square crisis, the US victory during the 1991 Gulf War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union). This perception informed China’s drive to blunt the United States’ ability to project power, influence institutions in a bid to stymie American interests, and limit Washington’s ability to hold Beijing hostage financially. China’s mantra was “hiding capabilities and biding time.” For example, Doshi demonstrates that China’s investment in submarines, mine-laying capabilities, and missiles reflected this focus as Beijing sought to keep the United States at bay.

During the global financial crisis, China shifted to a second phase of building its capabilities while seeking to avoid antagonizing its neighbors or the United States. China made the shift then because, in China’s view, the world was shifting toward a state of “multipolarity” and a dwindling of US influence. Beijing’s strategy included a policy of “active achievement” wherein it projects its own power regionally, creating its own alternative institutions (and influencing those of which it was a part), and strengthening its position financially and economically. This approach was demonstrated by Beijing’s pursuit of an aircraft carrier—something hitherto eschewed in favor of blunting capabilities—carried out in a manner intended not to antagonize the region, but to begin moving towards a power-projection capability that it previously did not have.

In the third (and current) phase, the Chinese Communist Party is actively working to expand its influence and power in much more overt ways. In this phase, China actively seeks to eclipse the United States in its response to what it sees as “great changes unseen in a century”—or the fundamental erosion of American power and prestige, and the undermining of the global liberal international order as evidenced by Brexit, the election of President Donald Trump, and Covid-19. Militarily, this is manifested in Beijing’s desire for a “world-class military”, the military’s increasing role in achieving China’s objectives, and a more vocal articulation of China’s global interests.

There is also a risk, of course, in assuming that this policy development was a linear, coherent, and seamless effort. Here, Doshi does a fair job of presenting the intellectual evolution of the assessments and antecedents of the senior leader’s pronouncements. 

“The Long Game” closes with Doshi presenting an asymmetric strategy for competing with China, one that recognizes that accommodation with Beijing or seeking to change Beijing will be unsuccessful, but so too will attempting to compete on a one-to-one, dollar-for-dollar basis. Rather, the United States must blunt China’s regional and global ambitions while building a stronger foundation for its own international order. Doshi articulates a number of sensible, concrete steps that could be taken in pursuit of this strategy, but one wonders whether there is the political will, acumen, and appreciation of the threat to actually act. 

Diplomatic Courier received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order

Flags in Tiananmen Square. Photo by Zachary Keimig via Unsplash.

July 17, 2021

Most recent commentary on China's behaviors and interests is primarily a reflection on American fears and interests. Rush Doshi's fascinating and alarming new book, "The Long Game: China's Grand Strategy to Displace American Order" corrects that analytical shortcoming.

T

here is no shortage today of analysts and pundits attempting to explain China’s behavior, its interests, or its rise. China poses the most impactful challenge to the United States today, and that challenge is radically reshaping the international order. Yet, so much of that analysis and commentary is really a reflection of American fears and interests. As a result, that analysis misses what is actually happening in Beijing and within the Chinese Communist Party.

Rush Doshi, the founding director of the Brookings China Strategy Initiative, corrects that analytical shortcoming in his fascinating and alarming new book, “The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order.” The title is far from hyperbolic. Doshi presents a strong case that Beijing’s grand strategy is and has been directly driven by an assessment of America’s relative power and position as the global hegemon. China’s government has been extremely successful in translating this assessment into military, political, and economic actions, Doshi claims. This assertion is not simply speculation from a Pentagon spokesperson or staffer on the National Security Council—this is coming directly from the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership and apparatchiks themselves.

The Long Game: China's Grand Strategy to Displace American Order | Rush Doshi | Oxford University Press | July 2021.

“The Long Game” stands out notably from an increasingly crowded China-studies field in its use of primary Chinese language sources, rather than secondary or tertiary accounts or analysis. Doshi acquired numerous Party texts from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and categorized these texts in terms of quality and proximity to power. This achievement should not be underestimated. Poorly translated documents often draw sensational attention over flowery martial language while not allowing for a holistic view of Chinese decision-making and strategy.

Beijing’s actions regionally and globally are of far greater consequence for America’s strategic future than most popular analysis credits. With America distracted by the Global War on Terror, domestic political sclerosis, and fighting various flavors of “culture war”, Beijing steadily pursued a strategy to unseat the liberal western order, one that underpinned global stability since the end of World War II. The United States, it appears, is struggling to recognize China’s threat whilst dealing with these other issues. While the country certainly needs to wrestle with critical domestic and societal challenges, it must be able to confront Beijing’s rise and its challenge to the international order. What follows will almost certainly define the future order, one driven from Beijing and not Washington. 

At the core of “The Long Game” is the argument that Chinese grand strategy is predicated on three phases, each of which are directly tied to the relative power position of the United States. Doshi divides the Chinese Communist Party’s grand strategy into several categories: blunting, building, and expanding—and ties Beijing’s military, political, and economic actions directly to these periods. 

In the first phase Beijing saw the United States as a threat (due in part to the Tiananmen Square crisis, the US victory during the 1991 Gulf War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union). This perception informed China’s drive to blunt the United States’ ability to project power, influence institutions in a bid to stymie American interests, and limit Washington’s ability to hold Beijing hostage financially. China’s mantra was “hiding capabilities and biding time.” For example, Doshi demonstrates that China’s investment in submarines, mine-laying capabilities, and missiles reflected this focus as Beijing sought to keep the United States at bay.

During the global financial crisis, China shifted to a second phase of building its capabilities while seeking to avoid antagonizing its neighbors or the United States. China made the shift then because, in China’s view, the world was shifting toward a state of “multipolarity” and a dwindling of US influence. Beijing’s strategy included a policy of “active achievement” wherein it projects its own power regionally, creating its own alternative institutions (and influencing those of which it was a part), and strengthening its position financially and economically. This approach was demonstrated by Beijing’s pursuit of an aircraft carrier—something hitherto eschewed in favor of blunting capabilities—carried out in a manner intended not to antagonize the region, but to begin moving towards a power-projection capability that it previously did not have.

In the third (and current) phase, the Chinese Communist Party is actively working to expand its influence and power in much more overt ways. In this phase, China actively seeks to eclipse the United States in its response to what it sees as “great changes unseen in a century”—or the fundamental erosion of American power and prestige, and the undermining of the global liberal international order as evidenced by Brexit, the election of President Donald Trump, and Covid-19. Militarily, this is manifested in Beijing’s desire for a “world-class military”, the military’s increasing role in achieving China’s objectives, and a more vocal articulation of China’s global interests.

There is also a risk, of course, in assuming that this policy development was a linear, coherent, and seamless effort. Here, Doshi does a fair job of presenting the intellectual evolution of the assessments and antecedents of the senior leader’s pronouncements. 

“The Long Game” closes with Doshi presenting an asymmetric strategy for competing with China, one that recognizes that accommodation with Beijing or seeking to change Beijing will be unsuccessful, but so too will attempting to compete on a one-to-one, dollar-for-dollar basis. Rather, the United States must blunt China’s regional and global ambitions while building a stronger foundation for its own international order. Doshi articulates a number of sensible, concrete steps that could be taken in pursuit of this strategy, but one wonders whether there is the political will, acumen, and appreciation of the threat to actually act. 

Diplomatic Courier received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.