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The China Dream: Great Power Thinking & Strategic Posture in the Post-American Era.

The China Dream: Great Power Thinking & Strategic Posture in the Post-American Era, by Liu Mingfu. New York: CN Times, 2015. 288 pages. $24.99.

This 2015 publication of the English translation of The China Dream, originally published in Chinese in 2010, merits reading by a wider Western audience wishing to understand a clear exposition of a conservative, hawkish view of Chinas approach to international relations. The author, Liu Mingfu, is a retired People's Liberation Army colonel. The book does not necessarily represent the mainstream view of the Chinese general public or the official Chinese government position, but it does ring more true to the spirit of Chinese president Xi Jinping s current thinking than it did to former Chinese president Hu Jintao's approach when the book was released in Chinese over five years ago. The fact that the foreword for the book was written by Liu Yazhou, a princeling political commissar of the National Defense University, gives the work gravity within the Chinese defense community.

Henry Kissinger spent four paragraphs in On China (2011) summarizing Liu's views regarding China's grand goal to become number one in the world, thereby restoring its historic glory. According to Liu, this is to be done through cultivating "martial spirit," not through "peaceful rise." The inherent conflict in U.S.-Chinese relations is portrayed as a "marathon contest" or "duel of the century," as if world politics is a sporting event between a champion and a major contender for the global championship. Kissinger follows his discussion of the Liu triumphalist view of the national destiny debate with a much longer analysis of State Councilor Dai Bingguo's more moderate reaffirmation of the peaceful rise strategy.

Liu begins the first chapter by paying homage, Chinese fashion, to his ancestors, laying out his interpretation of the visions of Sun Yat-sen, Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping for turning China into the world's leading nation. Getting to the crux of his argument in the second chapter, "The Fight for the Century," Liu clearly blocks out the results of five centuries of global political competition. Citing George Modelski's hegemonic stability theory that there is an approximate one-hundred-year life cycle for global hegemons, Liu names the champions: Portugal in the sixteenth century, Holland in the seventeenth century, Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and America in the twentieth century. Maybe China had a fleeting world championship title in the fifteenth century--not through colonial conquest, but through tributary recognition of the center of world power. Liu's argument is that China is back--to claim the champion's title in the twenty-first century.

The rest of the book elaborates how China can become the world champion by drawing on lessons from former and current champions, especially the United States. For instance, Liu notes that American strategy included an internal strengthening phase of isolationism under President Washington, a century of regional consolidation under the Monroe Doctrine, and world power generation under FDR's globalism. He also likes Americas "cheap rise": in other words, coming late to both world wars, but concluding those wars with the victor's share of the spoils. Comparing China to America, Liu notes that China underwent domestic consolidation under Mao and Deng, and has its eye on being king of Asia, with the ultimate goal of being king of the world.

The first champions goal, toward achievement of which China is well on the way, is to become the wealthiest nation--because all world champions have been the wealthiest nation. All world champions have also been the strongest military power--hence the focus on martial spirit. In terms of strategy, Liu prefers Sun Tzu to Clausewitz, pointing out that China will seek to win without fighting. In what may seem like a non sequitur to Americans and many others, Liu continually repeats the theme that "the first nonhegemonic champion nation in history will appear, and that nation is China." However, he also refers on multiple occasions to China as king, and the difference between kingly thinking and hegemonic thinking is ironically opaque. Liu refers to the United States as "one country, two systems," meaning democracy at home and hegemony abroad. Since Liu prefers to see China exercise democracy abroad and hegemony at home, we could also refer to China as "one country, two systems," but with practices inverted from those of the United States of his characterization.

For those who like the sporting analogy, the book is an entertaining read and an enticement to place one's bets on the grand sporting event of world politics. On a more sober note, Liu's world view rings more true to current Chinese policies than to those of five years ago. President Xi Jinping gave his "China Dream" speech in November 2012, apparently somewhat influenced by Liu Mingfu's book of the same title published two years earlier. Thus, the recent translation is food for thought that should be chewed on by a wider Western audience now that it is available.

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Author:Rhode, Grant
Publication:Naval War College Review
Date:Mar 22, 2016
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