In This Review

The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower
The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower
By Michael Pillsbury
Henry Holt and Co., 2015, 336 pp.
Fire on the Water: China, America, and the Future of the Pacific
Fire on the Water: China, America, and the Future of the Pacific
By Robert Haddick
Naval Institute Press, 2014, 288 pp.
The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia
The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia
By Bill Hayton
Yale University Press, 2014, 320 pp.

Pillsbury and Haddick articulate some of the reasons behind Washington’s increasing anxiety about China. After decades of close contact with senior Chinese military officials, Pillsbury has come to believe that China aims not to simply defend its core interests, nor to merely match the power of the United States, but rather to achieve global economic, cultural, and military dominance. He sees China’s current assertiveness as the opening phase of a long-term effort to make the world safe for Chinese-style thought control, disregard for the environment, authoritarian rule, and arms proliferation. Despite the virtual inevitability that China will ultimately boast a far larger economy than the United States, Pillsbury contends that Washington can maintain preeminence as long as it begins to take the competition seriously instead of counting on common interests to generate cooperation from Beijing. Pungently written and rich in detail, this book deserves to enter the mainstream of debate over the future of U.S.-Chinese relations.

Haddick seconds Pillsbury’s concerns. He calls U.S. military strategy in Asia “archaic” because it has not fundamentally changed since the early Cold War period, when the United States faced no Asian adversary with long-range weapons systems. Today, China has developed missiles, fighter-bombers, and submarines capable of crippling U.S. bases and aircraft carriers up to 1,200 miles from Chinese shores, along with fighter aircraft and surface-to-air missiles to protect military bases on Chinese soil. The Pentagon’s answer to these developments is called “air-sea battle,” but Haddick believes the strategy is unworkable. He proposes that Washington pursue a number of potentially risky alternatives, including measures that would destabilize China internally, the acquisition of long-range stealth aircraft, and the development of intermediate-range missiles, which are currently banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Hayton, a journalist based in the United Kingdom, is more sanguine in some ways. He argues that even with China’s military buildup, China’s navy is technologically 20 years behind its U.S. counterpart, that Washington’s solid relationships with many Asian countries give the United States a distinct advantage over China, and that the tough talk of Chinese military hawks is merely tactical bluffing. But his masterful history of the territorial disputes in the South China Sea supports Pillsbury’s and Haddick’s concern that China is pursuing a so-called salami-slicing strategy to gain dominance of that body of water. Hayton argues that China’s territorial claims there, which run afoul of international law, are rooted in a sense of entitlement and in strategic interests—and not, as many observers contend, in a desire to secure undersea oil resources. He believes that for this reason, such claims are unlikely to be resolved by diplomatic bargaining or international courts. Although cooperation would be a better way out for all sides, Hayton concludes that “the logic is toward conflict in the South China Sea.”