"The Contest of the Century" by Geoff Dyer (2014)
"One of the jobs of a military is to plan for worst-case scenarios. The U.S. military conducts regular war games to test how conflicts with potential adversaries such as China might play out, and in recent years these have delivered some disturbing conclusions."
In "The Contest of the Century," author Geoff Dyer discusses the fast-changing nature of U.S./China relations. From his vantage point as a foreign correspondent living in China, he outlines the development of crucial disparities between the two nations, and offers solutions for possible difficulties that may arise between them. At almost 300 pages, it's far from an exhaustive treatise on the subject, but it does raise some interesting points.
The first half of the book outlines the military situation. China finds itself in a headlong race to catch up with the U.S. navy, for a multitude of military and political reasons. Much of this section describes China's maritime claims and sphere of influence, and also how the U.S. might both adapt itself to China's military posture and continue to be a player in Asian politics.
The third fourth of this book is an exploration into China's political situation. China's view of history is discussed, as is its inferiority complex with regard to certain Western political achievements. China is a country that is desperately trying to expand its influence in other parts of the world, yet its non-interventionist stance is often at odds with this attempt. Recent conflicts in places such as Sudan, says the author, have only made this conflict of interest more obvious.
The last fourth of this book takes on the heady subject of economics. Globalization and China's attempt to push the renminbi as a global currency are outlined, as are the origins of U.S. dominance within international finance.
"The Contest of the Century" is a well-written, thoughtful book with a couple of huge holes in it. The first of these holes is about the size of Taiwan, while the second is about the size of Xinjiang. I fail to understand how one can attempt to map out the complex relationship between China and the United States in the absence of these two territories. Perhaps the author (or his editor) thought that including such material would have confused its intended audience. Yet omitting this discussion begs a number of very important questions.
I also have the feeling that the author's Chinese isn't quite up to the task he sets himself. On occasion his translations of common Chinese phrases is somewhat bizarre ("辛苦了!" becomes "Thanks for your suffering!"), and there are no Chinese-language works sited in the bibliography. This might seem a minor point, but I think the author's command of Mandarin is crucial to his understanding of China. An insufficient understanding of Chinese points to a filtering of the subject matter through Western sources, Western people, and the English language itself, and this may be the very same kind of bias which the author claims he is trying to avoid.
Overall I would recommend this book with a few reservations. It's an easy, often insightful read, but those who've read other, recent books on the subject may want to give it a miss.