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  • Rising to the Challenge: China’s Grand Strategy and International Security
  • Wei-chin Lee (bio)
Avery Goldstein. Rising to the Challenge: China’s Grand Strategy and International Security. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005. 274 pp. Paperback, ISBN 0–8047–5218–4.

For so many years since Deng’s reforms, China has been “on the move” economically. Now the term “emerging country” is no longer meaningful or useful in our conceptual understanding of China. China is rising with relentless, amazing economic growth. Parallel to China’s escalation of its economic stance are its constant military improvements, heightened expectations of its international status, and increasingly assertive, proactive diplomatic endeavors in various policy spheres of world politics. The Chinese are undoubtedly here to stay on the world stage, but debates and speculations remain unabated on what role China, the so-called Middle Kingdom, will play in the international system as a result of its awesome economic growth.

This is where Goldstein’s book begins. Witnessing a likely prolonged era of unipolarity dominated by the United States with a relatively low risk of global wars, China turned to the domestic front for unity and stability by concentrating on economic development to reduce the ripple of political and social shocks after the 1989 Tiananmen prodemocracy movement. China embraced Deng’s strategic logic by emphasizing independence, peace, and development. However, the vulnerability created by the revolution in military affairs; daunting geopolitical constraints; the long shadow of the 1989 Tiananmen suppression in the international community; recurring separation moves in Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang; and, finally, the 1995–1996 Taiwan Strait crisis led China to desperately seek a grand strategy in such an unfriendly environment.

A vast array of options was available, but none seemed viable or satisfactory. For example, the pursuit of self-reliance and the option of “fortress China”—a strategy of well-armed isolation—would have run against China’s thriving economy, which relied heavily on interdependence. It might easily have led the country to a classic security dilemma that would have put China in a vicious cycle of mutual misperceptions or an endless spiral of arms races. China could have been portrayed as a villain in the “China threat theory,” which it has already attempted [End Page 114] to dispel. Even the option of alliance formation with major powers, such as Russia, for the purpose of balance of power serves no significant tangible security interests in a system of American unipolarity.

Thus, a logical consequence was the emergence of a grand strategy among Chinese political elites during 1996, according to Goldstein, to present China as a responsible and cooperative player in words and in deeds in the international community by actively embracing multilateralism on international issues such as the North Korean nuclear crisis, sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea, and the 1997 Asian financial crisis. At the same time, in an exquisite version of divide and conquer, China cultivated bilateral partnerships with great powers not only to reinforce existing linkages, but also to mute mutual disagreements. Such a grand strategy is an effective compromise between “soft” diplomacy to foster an environment conducive to China’s peaceful development and “hard” coercion with threats of noncooperation supported by prudent military modernization to ensure that China’s core interests would not be seriously infringed upon. On the surface, it demonstrates that China has moved away from the image of immature apprentice of international rules during the early years of its entry into international society. Now, China has been repackaged as a smooth, reasonable, and responsible player in international engagements. In subtlety and in substance, surely its active participation will prevent multilateral institutions from becoming agencies of U.S. primacy in policy design and implementation. An additional advantage is to tone down the impact of the U.S. “five-finger military strategy” (Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, and Thailand) on China and further reduce the American-led order in East Asia. This grand strategy has successfully endured tough tests of Lee Teng-hui’s “two-state” theory in 1999, Taiwan’s regime change to the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in 2000, Taiwan’s referendum dispute and subsequent presidential election in 2003–2004...