A review of “The Long Game” by Rush Doshi (2021)

Important and informative though “The Long Game” is, it is not an easy read. There are 400 pages of small and dense text with a good deal of repetition and almost 1,500 notes. But Rush Doshi knows what he is writing about and what he is writing about is of huge geopolitical significance. Doshi is the founding director of the Brookings China Strategy Initiative and, since completing this book, he has become Director for China on President Biden’s National Security Council.

The work is a review of the rise and rise of China over the past three decades and, in the words of the sub-title, “China’s Grand Strategy To Displace American Order”. A distinguishing feature of the book is its use of an original and digitised database of authoritative Chinese-language Communist Party (CCP) documents personally excavated by Doshi who is proficient in Mandarin.

The central thesis of “The Long Game” is that China has sequentially adopted three “strategies of displacement” of American power, each triggered by sharp discontinuities in global politics.

First, following Tiananmen Square, the Gulf War and the Soviet collapse, from 1989-2008 it sought to blunt America’s power in Asia – a process known as “hiding capabilities and biding time”.

Second, following the Global Financial Crisis, from 2009-2016 it endeavoured to build a regional hegemony in Asia – a position dubbed “actively accomplishing something”.

Third, following Brexit, the Trump presidency and the coronavirus pandemic, since 2017 it has attempted to expand its blunting and building efforts worldwide under the banner “great changes unseen in a century”.

In respect of each strategy, Doshi looks in detail at what the CCP documents say and what the country does under three headings – military, political and economic – and emphasises how these three elements are closely co-ordinated to further the grand strategy.

Doshi dismisses the regular suggestions that American is in fundamental decline but argues that the US needs to counter China’s grand strategy in an asymmetric fashion that does not attempt to compete “dollar-for-dollar, ship-for-ship, or loan-for loan”. Instead he presents – rather briefly and broadly – a series of (costly) recommendations for blunting Chinese order and building America order.

In the course of China’s 3,000 year history, the so-called “century of humiliation” (1839 to 1949) is seen as an aberration which can and and must be corrected with China’s return to a central position in world affairs. Doshi suggests that China’s economy will equal that of the US by 2028 and that the CCP intends to complete this process of “national rejuvenation” by the centennial of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2049.

Can this be achieved without armed conflict? Since Doshi wrote his book, Russia has invaded Ukraine and you can be sure that military strategists in Washington and Beijing are already assessing the lessons for any move by China to regain Taiwan.


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