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DANGER ZONE by Hal Brands


The Coming Conflict With China

by Hal Brands & Michael Beckley

Pub Date: Aug. 16th, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-324-02130-8
Publisher: Norton

A study of the growing urgency of the geopolitical competition between China and the U.S.

Many readers are aware of America’s ongoing competition with China, but Brands and Beckley, specialists in geopolitical history and strategy, express the full gravity of the situation. Their thesis is that China’s growth recently peaked and has begun to decline, but the ambition of its leaders to become the preeminent global power has not lessened. “The greatest geopolitical catastrophes occur at the intersection of ambition and desperation,” they write. “Xi Jinping’s China will soon be driven by plenty of both.” The internal difficulties of the country are escalating, with staggering demographic problems, a stagnating economy, and depletion of resources. By 2030, these issues will dramatically undermine China’s capacity to assert itself on the global stage. As such, write the authors, if China wants to make its big move, it will have to do so very soon. This was the case, they argue, with Germany in the period between the turn of the century and World War II as well as with Japan in the 1930s. In the current situation, the most obvious flashpoint is Taiwan, both to unify China (as Beijing sees it) and as a geopolitical statement of assertion. Therefore, the U.S. must actively manage the short-term crisis and emerge well placed for the long game. Such a strategy might include a treatylike agreement with Taiwan to station U.S. forces there while strengthening other partnerships, including with international organizations. China has a pattern of making threatening statements to anyone who disagrees with its plans, providing an opening for the U.S. to show what a China-dominated world would look like. Brands and Beckley are spot-on in the majority of their analysis, but one wonders if American leaders have the political will and diplomatic competence to implement their recommendations. Nevertheless, the authors have given us much to think about, and much of it is frightening.

An authoritative, worrying analysis about the prospects for open conflict within the next few years.