Out of it being recommended by Tanner Greer, who sometimes has interesting takes, I decided to read one of those, in the timeless words of Qin Duke “books with red covers and dragons on them pushed out by the DC blob”, written by some abrek. It sucked just as badly as I expected. The book was completely unedited (see the double period on p. 324 and the numerous instances of repetition in nearly every chapter of the book), wildly vague and allusive in its definitions, written in pure blobspeak (even the true parts) and about two to three times as long as it needed to be. The examples cited rarely support its thesis. The whole thing was written like an eleventh grade book report. The book was supposed to rely on non-public Party sources, but, in fact, mainly relies on Global Times editorials, speeches by high-ranking figures, and 新华 releases for its claims about the Chinese leadership’s thoughts. Its imposing length clearly signaled its author's intent that the book be fully read by noone. Luckily, the book was a liberal one, and not a conservative one, so, by Richard Hanania’s rule of thumb, it actually did contain some useful information here and there, and was clearly written by someone with an IQ above average (around 110).
The first chapter told me everything I needed to know about this book. The author gives a wildly allusive definition of “great power competition” and some potential ways it can be implemented without a single concrete prediction of which countries China will attack, which sanctions China will implement on which countries, which rebels China will fund, which color revolutions China will back, which policies China will get other countries both within and without Asia to change, and so on and so forth. Last I heard, it was the CIA, not China, that aimed to overthrow the U.S.-allied regime in Thailand back in 2020. Chinese socialism today, like the German national socialism of old, it not a product for export. Much unlike the German national socialism of old, Chinese socialism is not imperialist -it has nothing to gain from aggression against poorer countries (aside from ordinary border disputes that don't amount to anything) and the losses it would rack up from aggression against richer countries are plainly prohibitive (which is why, historically, it has not been in the nature of poorer countries to aggress against richer countries). Doshi sketches out what China wants -withdrawal of the U.S. from the Pacific, reunification with Taiwan, etc.- but does not specify how that would serve to change other countries’ behavior more than they already have. The fact is, raw military power is not primarily what upholds American power (France kicked out U.S. forces in the 1960s without becoming a Soviet satellite, and U.S. forces withdrew from the Philippines in the 1990s without it becoming a Chinese satellite), but, rather, it is the size of its financial and academic sectors. Despite rumors to the contrary, those latter two sources of Chinese power are expanding and not under threat, nor can they realistically come under threat.
At times Doshi conflates imperialism (which is what in effect he means by great power competition) with what is simply a country’s importance. Germany, for example, is more important than Israel, but is not more imperialist. A country's importance is decided by several factors, including the size of its population, its stock of human capital, its stock of physical capital, and the quality of its institutions. China has the largest population in the world, the highest stock of human capital in the world (both by absolute numbers and by inference from the fact the country with the highest average IQ in the world, Singapore, is 70% of Chinese origin), perfectly adequate rates of savings and investment, and the best institutions in the world (as we can tell from the COVID-19 statistics and its wildly successful “Common Prosperity” campaign), and there isn't one thing the U.S. can do about any of that short of a pre-emptive nuclear strike. It is thus the destiny of China to be the most important country in the world. In the timeless words of Yang Jiechi, “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.” (quoted by Doshi on p. 175). The triangle between Gwadar, Vladivostok, and Exmouth contains the majority of the world’s population, despite being only 5% of the Earth’s area. In a time of economic convergence, as has been the case in Asia since the 1960s, greater population means greater opportunity. Thus, the twenty-first century is, for good or ill (for nations like Russia and Iran, good) destined to be the Asian century.
All Doshi ends up showing is that China is an anti-imperialist country, which is something we very much already knew. Doshi documents, for instance, the arduous efforts China made during the 1990s to block a potential Anglo-American naval attack on the country, as well as to prevent international organizations from being hijacked in the service of American imperialism and to advance its own vision of economic and military interests. He also documents how, around the beginning of 2009, China’s military strategy flipped from simply attempting to defeat an American invasion to winning offensive wars in the South China Sea. His explanations for this shift, though, are rather lacking. The most obvious explanation for this shift is that the rapid growth of the Chinese economy between 2003 and 2009 combined with the collapse in world trade in 2008 made China more willing to risk alienating the imperialist powers to accomplish goals it always wanted. In short, the opportunity cost of acquiring offensive weapons simply went down, leading their quantity to go up.
Much is made by Doshi of China’s membership in international organizations, which shows just how weak tea his attempt at a case that China is an imperialist country is. The facts of the matter are clearest in the realm of trade: while China has sought to counteract its tendency of growing self-sufficiency by attempting to expand trade relations with both the U.S. and neighboring countries, the U.S. has sought to restrict both. China’s objective is thus focused on peace, while that of the U.S. is focused on conflict and provocation.
The BRI is cited as an example of Chinese grand strategy, but the explanations given for how ports in Pakistan, Tanzania, and Malaysia could be used as instruments of Chinese imperialism are badly unconvincing. The more logical explanation for the BRI is that its projects are built for the same reasons those inside China are -as means of lining developers’ pockets. Indeed, if BRI infrastructure really was part of some Chinese grand strategy, one would expect far more of it to be self-financing than it actually is. Certainly one would not think China’s unprofitable internal infrastructure is a part of some “grand strategy”. Why then, think China’s unprofitable external infrastructure is? Though it’s certainly plausible some Chinese-built ports might have a military purpose down the line, that is clearly not their primary purpose -they are much too grand for that.
In another section of the book, China’s attempts to make itself less vulnerable to American imperialism are interpreted, ridiculously, as attempts at building Chinese imperialism. There are numerous outright errors in the book, as well, such as the idea that U.S. reserve currency status “makes it easier for the United States to finance deficit spending” (check the interest rates, it doesn’t) or that the U.S. has a “young population”.
Illuminating is Doshi's wish list on China policy. It's a list of wildly aggressive (and largely unrealistic or ineffectual) imperialist goals made for the exclusive benefit of the DC blob (Doshi is the “founding director of the Brookings China Strategy Initiative”, after all) and a few politically connected companies. Some of the proposals (such as banning TikTok or “building a competitive industrial policy”) are outright hilarious. Who benefits from this wish list is never explained, but suffice it to say it is not the average American and not the average resident of the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia (which oppose being drawn into any attempts to turn these places into the Montenegros and Polands of Asia). Doshi rejects the idea accommodating China would change its posture to a less anti-imperialist one, but he fails to show who China’s current anti-imperialist behavior hurts.
This is a thin review, but this was a thin book.