Map­ping Sun Tzu to To­day’s China

Global Asia - - BOOK REVIEWS - Re­viewed by John Delury

Sun Tzu’s Art of War may be on the syl­labus at West Point, but lit­tle has been writ­ten on grand strat­egy in mod­ern China. Sul­man Wasif Khan tries to fill the gap by trac­ing the evo­lu­tion of strate­gic think­ing by China’s top lead­ers since 1949.

Styled as an es­say, Khan’s book brings a his­to­rian’s con­cern for orig­i­nal sources on which to base his nar­ra­tive. But he ends up fo­cus­ing over­whelm­ingly on con­ti­nu­ities, go­ing so far as to dis­miss crit­i­cal episodes like the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion as a “great aber­ra­tion.” Khan con­structs a tra­di­tion of grand strat­egy that changes in means but hardly at all in terms of ends. Haunted by the chaos of the early 20th cen­tury, each Com­mu­nist Party leader sought noth­ing more than “se­cur­ing the state,” and pur­sued a de­fen­sive and prag­matic ap­proach to war and diplo­macy. Mao Ze­dong comes across as a Chi­nese Bis­marck, and ev­ery­thing done by Deng Xiaop­ing, from in­vad­ing Viet­nam in 1979 to crush­ing stu­dent pro­tes­tors in 1989, aimed to “se­cure the state” (or was it “se­cur­ing the Party”?). His suc­ces­sors stuck with the pro­gram of re­form and open­ing, military mod­ern­iza­tion, and power bal­anc­ing, all to the same end.

Khan sees Xi Jin­ping as no dif­fer­ent — his goal is “keep­ing the state in­tact.” Khan de­tects in­se­cu­rity be­hind his vig­i­lance, which keeps China, as Su­san Shirk put it a decade ago, a “frag­ile su­per­power.”

Khan con­structs a tra­di­tion of grand strat­egy that changes in means but hardly at all in terms of ends.

Haunted by Chaos: China’s Grand Strat­egy fromMao Ze­dong to Xi Jin­pingBy Sul­maanWasif KhanHar­vard Uni­ver­sity Press, 2018, 320 pages, $29.95 (Hard­cover)

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