IN REVIEW, Michael R. Auslin, Asia’s New Geopolitics, Hoover Institute Press, 2020.
Several years ago, a Chinese general remarked to me that “unlike the United States, we think in grand strategic terms. We think about how things are connected, and we see more than two issues at a time.” While it was unclear if this comment was offered as an observation, boast, or rebuke, the message was clear: Beijing’s confidence in its strategy was high, its perception of American statecraft was dim, and those views derived from a fundamental belief that the United States was hobbled by a myopic outlook, while the People’s Republic of China benefitted from its long-term and broad-ranging perspective.
At a moment when China’s increasingly aggressive policies have generated widespread concern in and beyond Asia, the wisdom of Beijing’s grand strategy certainly seems up for debate. But, as Michael Auslin emphasizes in his insightful collection of essays, Asia’s New Geopolitics, U.S. strategy is often hobbled by its inability to grasp the totality of China’s actions and its failure to treat the Indo-Pacific region as an integrated theater.
Consider the South China Sea. Auslin writes that the “intense interest in the South China Sea, however justified, occluded a larger picture of the strategic environment in East Asia, even as it revealed fears about America’s position within it.” For Auslin, America’s constricted view of the forces at work in Asia is a perennial challenge because Washington, he writes, “appears to prefer focusing, or is able to focus, on only one sub-region at a time.”
This collection of essays is his attempt to correct that partial view by painting on a larger canvas. Auslin, a historian and Asia specialist at Stanford’s Hoover Institute, does so by enumerating the growing number of regional players, highlighting the connections between Asia’s different sub-regions, examining the trends most likely to affect the region’s future, and providing conceptual frameworks to understand regional dynamics.