China has had three grand strategies to counter the United States since 1989, culminating in the latest phase, beginning in 2016, of wanting to displace the United States, China expert Rush Doshi said during an Aug. 26 webinar to talk about his new book.
Doshi wrote the book “The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order” while working at the Brookings Institution, which hosted the online event. Now he’s the Biden administration’s newly appointed director for China on the White House National Security Council.
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials “seek to restore China to its due place and roll back the historical aberration of the West’s overwhelming global influence” with its grand strategy, according to Doshi’s book.
The grand strategy is now in its third phase, he said, after he examined years of CCP documents such as memoirs, speeches, and biographies. Today China sees its competition with the United States as global, regional, and functional in many domains, according to Doshi.
“It’s in key domains like economics, technology, finance, emerging technologies, obviously in security and political institutions,” Doshi said.
He noted that the nature of the Sino–U.S. competition has been much wider in current times, involving more countries.
“If you look at the Chinese discourse on what they see as the future of competition … they believe that the West, the United States and others, will sort of increasingly work together,” Doshi said.
“They think they have to do the same thing with other states. That’s a little harder, in their own estimation, because they don’t have the same network of alliances and historical partnerships.”
His comments were made in his personal capacity as a former Brookings fellow.
The first phase of China’s grand strategy lasted from 1989 until 2008, then the second phase was in effect for the next eight years, according to Doshi. In 2016, China commenced its third phase of the strategy.
According to Doshi, Beijing saw the United States as a quasi-ally before it changed its perception and viewed America as an ideological and military threat following three events—the Tiananmen Square massacre, the first Gulf War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Describing the events as a “traumatic trifecta,” he said Beijing ushered in the first phase—a blunting strategy.
His book details how China made military, political, and economic decisions in accordance with the blunting strategy. For example, Beijing shifted from controlling distant maritime territory to preventing the U.S. Navy’s ability to traverse or intervene in waters near China. The shift was accompanied by focusing its military investment in submarines, naval mine arsenal, and anti-ship ballistic missiles.
The 2008 financial crisis prompted Beijing to see the United States differently, believing it was “weakening” and that its economic and political model wasn’t “quite as effective,” Doshi said during the webinar. In response to its new view, Beijing began focusing more on “building the foundations for Chinese order within Asia.”
He said the shift from blunting to building was evident by a speech by former Chinese leader Hu Jintao at the 2009 ambassadorial conference, during which he said China had to “actively accomplish something.”
As a result, Beijing began to focus more on distant military capabilities, turning its attention to investing in aircraft carriers, overseas military bases, and surface vessels, according to Doshi’s book.
Beijing reaffirmed its belief that the United States, as well as the West, was in decline, after seeing populist candidates win several elections around the world in 2016, former President Donald Trump’s presidential victory, and the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote, according to Doshi. In response to its assessment, the Chinese regime adopted the third phase of its grand strategy—what he called an expansion strategy.
The communist regime “takes the blunting and building strategies from early periods and applies them on a global stage,” he said.
“If there are two paths to hegemony—a regional one and a global one—China is now pursuing both,” his book reads.
“It is clear, then, that China is the most significant competitor that the United States has faced and that the way Washington handles its emergence to superpower status will shape the course of the next century.”