The New Cold War
Last week, we featured a piece on why China is smashing its tech industry which drew inferences from China’s political economy, which can have far reaching implications on the world economy, whether it is investing in Chinese tech stocks or the impact on global supply chains and hence inflation. In this piece, Pratap Bhanu Mehta reviews a book that can help improve our understanding of this subject. The book titled “The Long Game: China’s grand strategy to displace American order” gains relevance as its author Rush Doshi is now China Director on Biden’s National Security Council, a position of significant influence in this context.
“The guiding thread through the book is that there is immense continuity in the Chinese approach to the world. This continuity is derived from a single-minded focus on national rejuvenation that enables China to be at the apex of the global order. The Communist Party is the vanguard of national regeneration. This rejuvenation involves not just immediate national aims, like unification with Taiwan, but a new form of order building that will be distinctively more coercive. Xi Jinping represents not so much a break with the recent history of Chinese policy, but the next logical step in its evolution. On this view, the differences between a slightly more open, less authoritarian China under Deng Xiaoping or Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping are inconsequential for world politics. The seeming difference in the Chinese approach to the world is governed by one critical factor above all else: The perception of China’s relative power in relation to the US.
…In an analytically sharp, if perhaps overly neat, narrative, Doshi describes the Chinese foreign policy outlook in three phases. From 1989 to 2008, China’s strategy was to blunt US power, prevent it from inflicting harm on China. Doshi shows in vivid detail how the blunting strategy works through all spheres of China’s engagement with the world: It economically engages and participates in international institutions to protect itself. Its choice of weapons, from submarines to missiles, are guided by a consciousness of its need to wage asymmetric war and ensure area denial to the US, and it politically engages the world to soften its image. From 2009, especially with the onset of the global financial crisis, China goes into a building mode. It creates its own international institutions, its military acquires more offensive capabilities, and it asserts itself more politically. It has now entered an expansionist phase, where the objective is to resolve all territorial disputes in its favour, acquire bases around the world, evict the US from Asia, and create the world order in its relatively more illiberal image. The choice of actions in all three spheres, economic, political and military, are guided by this assessment.
Doshi’s response to an assertive China is to take a leaf out of the Chinese playbook. On his view, the US needs to blunt Chinese power where it can and build where it must. The book is full of vivid detail. But it requires effectively denying China the military space, making sure the Chinese do not capture international institutions, creation of partnerships through which Chinese influence can be curtailed, and the creation of a new US industrial strategy. It is a full blown manifesto for an ongoing Cold War.”