THE AVOIDING WAR: The dangers of a catastrophic conflict between the United States and Xi Jinping’s China
Publisher: Public affairs
Price: $ 32
Here is a way in which the American era could end: China is orchestrating an invasion of Taiwan under a pretext or provoked by some provocation. Beijing fires a barrage of missiles at Taipei, paralyzing its US-delivered military, followed by attacks on Okinawa and Guam. More than 200,000 People’s Liberation Army troops are climbing ashore at 20 different beach heads along the Taiwanese coast. U.S. submarines sink some Chinese ships; still, it is not enough to slow down the attack of paratroopers and helicopters. Slowly – then rapidly – the fighting is pouring in favor of the Middle Kingdom, altering the military and political balance in East Asia. The result, which ultimately reduces a world superpower to a weakened player among many, is going to be seen by historians as “American Waterloo”.
This is not so far a scenario: According to Kevin Rudd’s penetrating and sensible new account of US-China relations, some reports have shown that Washington has lost to Beijing 19 times in a row in desktop war games that simulate a conflict over Taiwan . Sir. Rudd, a former prime minister of Australia and now president and CEO of the Asia Society, has spent four decades trying to understand the Chinese intrigue, claiming that President Xi Jinping is “a man who is busy when it comes to Taiwan. , “after concluding that the” gradualist approach of his predecessors has failed. ” Beijing, Rudd believes, now sees “the time as ripe … to change the character of the order itself.”
The path that Mr Rudd has followed in his career is certainly unorthodox. After leaving office, he enrolled at Oxford University at the age of 60 to study for a doctorate with a focus on understanding Mr Xi’s worldview. Sir. Rudd, who has visited China more than 100 times and speaks fluent Mandarin, is one of the few foreign politicians who has had a chance to get to know Mr. Xi personally; on one occasion the two men spent hours speaking Chinese before a winter fire in Canberra. These conversations, among other impressions from his travels, have left Mr. Rudd with a rare sense of China’s cultural hotspots. “Our best chance of avoiding war,” he writes, “is to better understand the other side’s strategic thinking and to conceptualize a world in which both the United States and China are able to competitively coexist, even in a state of continued rivalry amplified by mutual deterrence. “
That task feels particularly urgent in the shadow of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Already the post-World War II order that underpinned the American century seems to be frayed, and 19th-century-style power politics displaces it. Russia is also a relatively weak power, with an economy smaller than Italy’s. Should Moscow, through its diplomacy or progress on the battlefield, succeed in persuading Beijing to join its efforts to reshape this order, the global landscape could change dramatically. Xi has worked harder than his predecessors to woo Russian leaders and flattered Mr Putin by suggesting that the two countries are peers and support joint military exercises.
So far, however, the Chinese president, Rudd notes, has “recognized great value in the fact that Moscow is prepared to act far more adventurously than China itself” – not only in Ukraine but also in Syria. Quietly, however, China has been working to reorganize the strategic chessboard. For example, it invested more than $ 90 billion between 2012 and 2017 in building ports and coastguard hubs along a maritime route through the Arctic known as the Northeast Passage that would cut travel from Asia to Europe by more than two weeks and nearly 5,000 miles. The route would also allow Chinese forces to avoid bottlenecks such as the Strait of Malacca, which are vulnerable to US naval forces.
Sir. Rudd structures his book as a white paper or policy paper. We get lots of good groats for a presidential candidate diary; it would also have been nice to hear more of the kind of stories he could tell over a beer. Hardly anyone has had the kind of access he has had to Chinese officials, and these meetings could have proved as revealing as any information briefing. He mentions in passing that he once listened to Jiang Zemin, when he was a top party official, strung a tune from the stage of an empty opera house in Sydney – but sends the stage in a sentence or two. He briefly recounts a bubbly evening of “very maotai” with several Chinese generals, but we hear a little beyond that they exhibited a high level of “professional caution” over the East China Sea.
However, the core of Mr Rudd’s argument is still unassailable: the consequences of a full-scale war with China are almost too serious to consider. U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson liked to complain that Americans all too often think of foreign policy issues as “headaches,” for which they can just “take a powder” and make them go away. Sir. Rudd understands better than most that Xi Jinping and his transformative worldview will not be wanted away, at least in the short term. The headache is chronic; Americans will have to use all their ingenuity if they hope to cope with the pain.