Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

The Contest of the Century

The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China–and How America Can Win
by Geoff DyerContest of Century

In the latest edition of good books with terrible titles, the final subtitle “And How America can Win”, doesn’t appear in the British version of this book.

I’m glad it doesn’t as that kind of shlocky title just takes away the credibility from what is otherwise a very sensible, if straight forward reading of the current US-China relationship and regional competition. This is not a book proposing simple solutions, in fact the strength of it is Dyer doesn’t attempt to divine an ‘iron logic of strategy’ (ala Luttwak) or declare a winner will soon rule the world (ala Jaques) but instead casts a dubious journalists eye towards the complexities and contradictions which more ‘intellectual’ writers are want to slide over.

Dyer is best when he sticks close to what he knows, the challenge of Beijing’s leaders actually ruling over Beijing. That is managing to hold together a society with so many economic, social, political, geographic and engineering challenges. He’s also far more attuned to the challenge of then extending that influence over the rest of Asia. As Obama noted at Westpoint (but most commentators ignored) the fundamental difference between the US and China is the vast imbalance of allies towards America. China’s recent failure to persuade any countries to switch camps (in fact its strengthening of their allegiance to the US) is well covered in this book, not with an agressive “see America is winning” motif, but a journalists well honed cynicism that an authority claiming a confucian-inspired machiavellianism is quite as capable as it would have us believe.

I picked this book up in an airport, and completed it on the return flight home. It’s perfect for such venues. Like a healthy snack between meals, this book is tasty yet fulfilling. While not a meal you’ll remember, you’ll be the better of for chowing down on it.

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