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  • Rethinking China's Strategy in Asia and Beyond:Can We All Get It Right?
  • Andrew Scobell (bio)
Gilbert Rozman. Chinese Strategic Thought toward Asia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010 ⋲ 272 pp.

As Steven Levine astutely observed back in 1984, the People's Republic of China (PRC) was "a regional power without a regional policy."1 Indeed, China was without an Asia strategy until the end of the Cold War. While a number of books have examined the rise of China in the Asian context or looked at Beijing's relations with its neighbors, until now there has not been a study focused on how China thinks about Asia. Gilbert Rozman's book Chinese Strategic Thought toward Asia is, therefore, an important book.

Strategy is probably the most overused and least defined word in the lexicon of the U.S. national security community. The closest Rozman comes to clarifying what he means by the term "strategic thought" appears well into the volume when he says he is referring to "ideas…[about the] means to realize ends" (p. 68). What Rozman seems to mean by the term is what is widely known as "grand strategy" (pp. 2, 3). In essence, the book is a thoughtful and comprehensive overview of big-picture thinking about Asia in post-Mao China.

There is probably no scholar better equipped to tackle this topic. Rozman has written extensively on Chinese analyses of the countries on China's periphery and those states' analyses of China. The result is a tour de force treatment organized chronologically and geographically with a stand-alone overview introductory chapter. The first part consists of four chapters that divide Chinese thinking into four periods. Chapter 2 examines the decade of the 1980s, chapters 3 and 4 survey the 1990s, and chapter 5 explores the 2000s. The latter part of the book examines Chinese thinking toward Asian countries or subregions. There are separate chapters on Japan and Korea, Russia shares [End Page 156] a chapter with Central Asia, and South Asia is included in a chapter with Southeast Asia.

What is China's strategy? According to Rozman, it is "establishing itself, in stages, as the 'central state' of Asia" (p. 5). How is Beijing seeking to achieve this objective? According to Rozman, Beijing is pursuing this by "boosting comprehensive national power" and "limiting the influence of rival contenders" (p. 5). In pursuing the latter goal, the United States of course looms largest for China. But other powers also figure in China's geostrategic calculus: Russia, Japan, and India, to name the most prominent.

Most analysts conclude that reform-era China is extremely pragmatic, having thrown off its Maoist-era ideological shackles. Moreover, it is widely assumed that China has strategic thinking down to a fine art—after all, the country has a grand tradition of strategic thinkers dating back thousands of years to Sun Zi. More recent luminaries include Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Rozman challenges these conventional wisdoms and argues that, in fact, many contemporary Chinese thinkers tend to be ideologically hidebound. He identifies two main schools of thought—a "peace and development" school and a "reunification and anti-hegemony" school. Rozman attributes the persistence of ideology to the enduring strength of the latter school, and sees many of the inconsistencies and contradictions in Beijing's strategies and policies as the result of an ongoing "clash between the two schools" (p. 28). Despite China's insistence that the country has adopted a "new security concept" that seeks "win-win" solutions with other countries, many in Beijing continue to view the world from a realpolitik perspective. Contrary to the "harmonious world" mantra, most Chinese elites view the globe as a very dangerous and threatening place. They perceive other capitals as threats to Beijing, and if other states are seen as winning, China is considered to be losing.

As Rozman observes, one cannot simply take the rhetoric of official Chinese pronouncements at face value. For example, China's repeated condemnations of a lingering U.S. "Cold War mentality" and a Washington that engages in "hegemony and power politics" may reveal more about Beijing's strategic mind-set than about Washington's world-view—what Rozman labels...


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