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China's Vision of Victory

China’s Vision of Victory by Jonathan D. T. Ward. Atlas Publishing and Media Company, 2019, 279 pp.

China’s Vision of Victory is part contemporary affairs and part history of Chinese strategy. Author Jonathan Ward has a PhD in history from Oxford and spent time living, studying, and—by his own account—hitchhiking through China. His education and experience have positioned him well to contribute a unique and important perspective to a sizable body of literature on Chinese contemporary affairs, including notable works like Destined for War and The Third Revolution.

Ward’s thesis is that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) original and current strategy is one designed to make the Chinese “the global leaders in virtually every form of economic, military, technological, and diplomatic activity on earth” (xix). Additionally, the author argues that China aims to complete this strategy by 2049, the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Ward states his argument in an introductory chapter, provides supporting evidence over the course of five chapters, and ends with a concluding chapter and afterword, where he makes recommendations for American policy. The five supporting chapters, or parts, compose the majority of the book, and each outlines one aspect of Chinese strategy. Part one focuses on China’s national narrative. Ward states that rejuvenation has been central to China’s national narrative since 1949. Part two addresses China’s strategic geography and military strategy. Here, Ward contends that China is building a military to challenge and outclass America both in the Pacific and across the globe. In part three, Ward addresses the CCP’s technological and economic strategies, and he says that economics “will be the foundation for China’s power as a whole” (92). Part four addresses the strategy behind China’s foreign policy. Specifically, Ward makes the case that China’s need for resources drives a global foreign policy and that to sustain China’s enormous population, China must have global interests. After establishing the PRC’s national narrative, military and economic power, and global interests, Ward outlines China’s vision of how the world should be ordered. In part five, Ward notes that China’s vision of world order has China at the world’s center, with all other states (including the US) as lesser surrounding states.

China’s Vision of Victory is well supported through each of the five parts, and endnotes provide easy, but not distracting, access to source documents. Ward draws from both English and Chinese sources. Additionally, he pulls from secondary sources, like histories of China, and primary sources, such as speeches made by Chinese leaders or policy documents from CCP governing bodies. When looking at primary sources, Ward seems predisposed to see continuity rather than change. For example, he emphasizes the continuities between China’s “hide your brightness, bide your time” strategy under Deng Xiaoping (who ruled China from 1978 to 2002) and Xi Jinping’s current rejuvenation strategy. While there are certainly differences between Deng and Xi, Ward minimizes those. The picture Ward paints is one of a monolithic China with a consistent, predetermined strategy dating back to the founding of the PRC in 1949. When addressing Xi Jinping’s leadership, for instance, Ward emphasizes that the story is about “the great continuities in worldview between each Politburo, and, even more importantly, of the great continuities between each Politburo and a deeper aspiration to restore . . . China’s ‘central position in the world’ ” (29). Ward’s opinion of China thus differs from that of authors like Elizabeth Economy, who seem to see China charting a less predetermined, more uncertain course through a changing world. Ward’s view of Chinese strategy leaves little room for accommodating a rising China or living with a China that equals or exceeds America as a superpower. His view of China leads him to the conclusion that America must prevail in a great “contest for global leadership” by prioritizing American economic growth, strong alliances, and a strong military.

Military officers and foreign policy professionals who are concerned with China will find that China’s Vision of Victory brings a distinctive, valuable perspective about one of the world’s great powers. Ward provides a good yardstick with which to measure Chinese actions. Will we see actions that match Ward’s argument of great continuities in Chinese strategy, or will world events and internal politics lead to different strategic movements from China? Time will tell, but Ward offers a useful model for thinking about China and Chinese strategy. Color maps and pictures along with better binding would make the book more attractive and slightly easier to maintain, but those minor drawbacks don’t detract from the overall merit of this book. Ward presents a well-reasoned, well-documented argument about Chinese strategy.

Lt Col Matthew Tuzel, USAF
National Security Affairs Fellow, Hoover Institution

The views expressed in the book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense.
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