If one wants to make sense of the current contest between the United States and China there are few books more important than Rush Doshi’s “The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order.” Doshi offers a clear answer to a question that has long occupied China observers – what do Chinese leaders want for the future of their country? He argues that China aims to “displace” the current global superpower, the United States. Leaning on an impressive assembly of hard-to-find policy documents, Communist Party leaders’ speeches, and other Chinese-language sources, Doshi takes readers through several decades of Chinese Communist Party thinking in order to explain what he calls “China's Grand Strategy.”
Doshi convincingly maps three phases onto recent history. Starting after the 1989 Tiananmen protests, China sought to “blunt” the United States. As the weaker power, China could not hope to meaningfully challenge the U.S. but it could frustrate American efforts to project power internationally. After the 2008 financial crisis, Chinese leaders began to question American economic might. Growing more confident, they proceeded to “build” alternative global institutions of power. Finally, after the election of US President Donald Trump and amidst the global pandemic, China felt ready to “expand”—to project its own power globally.
Conscious of Western worries about a more aggressive China, Party leaders have long expressed discomfort, either sincere or feigned, over the idea of expansionism. Probably no more passionate condemnation of such ambitions came from the People’s Republic’s first premier, Zhou Enlai. He is quoted in the book as having said to a member of an American delegation in 1973: “But if China were to embark on such a path, you must oppose it. And you must tell those Chinese that Zhou Enlai told you to do so!” Taking the premier’s exhortation to heart, Doshi closes the book with ideas on how the U.S. might deal with just such a rising China.
The author’s views are bound to leave their mark on American foreign policy. Doshi, formerly Director of the Brookings China Strategy Initiative, finished this book before joining President Biden’s administration. He is a long-time advisor to Kurt Campbell, who spearheaded the “Pivot to Asia” under Barack Obama and is now the Indo-Pacific Coordinator in Biden’s National Security Council (the book is dedicated to, among others, “Kurt”). Campbell oversees the White House China team, Doshi included. This book is not just a compelling history of Chinese thinking about the U.S., but also a window onto some of the thinking currently shaping US-China policy.
Reviewed by Michael Laha, German Chancellor Fellow