This week on GeoPod, Tenjin Consulting's Alexander and Georgina Downer talk to former Australian Ambassador to China Geoff Raby about his new book, China's Grand Strategy and Australia's Future in the New Global Order.
Geoff sees China as a constrained superpower, primarily concerned about its territorial sovereignty and the survival of the Communist Party. These two things are mutually reinforcing and any threats to either China's sovereignty or the CCP will be seen off at the expense of all other interests. This means that China's "grand strategy" comes from its perceived position of weakness, not strength.
Geoff is keen to point out the historical context of China's contemporary strategic posture. Understanding, for example, its determination to conclude its civil war gives the context for its blunt force trauma approach to Hong Kong.
Unlike many China watchers, Geoff doesn't think China will exercise a military option when it comes to reclaiming Taiwan or to becoming a regional hegemon. Rather, the big challenge on the immediate horizon for China is domestic. While Xi Jinping has made himself President for life, there are some in the senior leadership of the CCP who do not want China to take the retrograde step of returning to a one man dictatorship. This means the next 18 months will be fraught as the CCP determines whether Xi continues to be General Secretary.
China's soft power, according to Geoff, is a lost cause as long as it is driven by the CCP. This is despite China spending billions on public diplomacy and outreach such as the Confucius Institutes and CGTV.
On wolf warrior diplomacy, Geoff thinks this is a case of Chinese diplomats overcompensating for what they think the leadership wants. In China, you are rarely thanked for getting something right, but if you fail you will face dire consequences. Wolf warriors reflect this thinking.
On Australia's approach to China, Geoff thinks Australian position is too influenced by the security services. Australia should hedge and engage. But when it comes to pushing back against China, Australia would be better served working in concert with other likemindeds, such as the D10 pushed by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.