China: Fragile Superpower: How China's Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise Review

China: Fragile Superpower: How China's Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise
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China: Fragile Superpower: How China's Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise ReviewSusan Shirk gives her readers some useful tools to better assess the future behavior of a fast-resurging China after being "humiliated" for a century and a half (pp. 153 - 55, 185 - 87). Shirk clearly explains that Chinese communist power has two faces. China wants to be seen as behaving responsibly to foster economic growth and social stability (pp. 105 - 139). Shirk correctly states that actions rather than words will make it more credible. Establishing this reputation requires China to accommodate its neighbors, to be a team player in multinational organizations, and to use economic ties to make friends (pp. 109, 199, 223, 257 - 61).
In case of a major crisis, especially one involving Taiwan, Japan or the United States, China could show its other face by acting irresponsibly due to the absence of effective checks and balances of the Chinese system. Party leaders could recklessly play the nationalistic card again as they did with Taiwan in 1996 or with Japan in 2005 if they need to look strong domestically with other leaders, the mass public, and the military (pp. 10 -12, 43, 63, 69, 77, 139, 151, 173, 179 - 80, 186 - 90, 197, 205, 219).
The Communist Party has bet on jingoism since the 1990s because communism in China is a dying ideology in which almost no Chinese believes (pp. 11, 63 - 64, 145, 148, 164 - 70, 186). The Party implausibly claims that ordinary Chinese are unworthy of Western democracy because their country, unlike India, does not have religion to manage them responsibly (p. 53). Chinese leaders know that Chinese nationalists can turn against the Party if they appear too weak to deal with foreign pressures (pp. 61, 66, 173, 180).
Economic interdependence has had a somewhat moderating effect on the relationship of China with the outside world, including Taiwan, Japan, and the U.S. (pp. 24, 96, 145 - 46, 190, 195, 233, 241, 247). Due to their fear of widespread instability and their lack of political legitimacy, Party leaders, however, have not displayed much courage in taking unpopular measures such as enforcing intellectual property rights or stopping currency manipulation in trading abroad (pp. 26 - 27, 53 - 54, 60, 73 - 74). Chinese leaders are well aware that the increased protectionism in the U.S. against the fast-growing trade deficit with China and the rampant piracy of U.S. products in China are not politically sustainable, especially in case of a majority change in Washington in 2009 (pp. 25 - 26, 248). At the same time, Shirk correctly points out that the ongoing fiscal profligacy of the U.S. is weakening the country at the profit of China (pp. 26, 249).
Of all China's challenges, the need for "social stability" overrules all other considerations, even it means sacrificing long-term diplomatic objectives for short-term domestic political gains (pp. 38, 52 - 54, 109, 148, 183 - 87, 197, 224, 234, 254 - 55). For the Chinese communist leaders and their families, losing power could result in the loss of their possessions or even their death (pp. 7 - 9). To keep its authoritarian grip on power, the Communist Party has articulated a three-pronged policy (p. 39):
1) Avoid public leadership splits
Shirk gives a useful overview of the "selectorate," the group of Party members who have the power to choose the leaders, and the modus operandi of the Party (pp. 39 - 52). The Communist Party is not known for its openness in framing domestic and foreign policies (pp. 43 - 44). Patronage is essential for keeping the Party in power, which feeds an endemic corruption from which many communist bigwigs enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary Chinese (pp. 60, 68 - 69). Party leaders learn from the Tiananmen fiasco that destabilizing internal dissent can undermine the Party's grip on power (pp. 48, 53, 162). Keeping elite contests for power hidden from the public is increasingly difficult as the audience-driven media are testing the limits on what can be reported (pp. 39, 50, 52, 55, 78, 183). Although China is a still a long way from having free mass media, resourceful Chinese increasingly give the Communist Party a hard time for censoring "undesirable news (pp. 82 - 83)."
2) Prevent large-scale social unrest
Shirk demonstrates with conviction that Communist China's obsession with internal stability paradoxically makes the Party very sensitive to public opinion due to the lack of any democratic institution to allow ordinary Chinese to express themselves peacefully (pp. 52 - 53, 66). Shirk overviews with mastery the multiple possible threats to one-party-rule and which means the Party uses to either neutralize or reduce these threats (pp. 52 - 69). Paradoxically, the more developed and rich China becomes, the more insecure and threatened Communist Party leaders feel (p. 5).
3) Keep the People's Liberation Army on the side of the Party
Unlike their predecessors, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, Communist Party leaders Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao are less politically secure and have a greater need to keep the military satisfied to safeguard them from domestic rebellion (pp. 46, 73, 77, 158 - 60, 202). Communist Party leaders seem to have a harder time saying no to the military demands for weaponry buildups and aggressive policies (pp. 70, 75 - 76, 222 - 23). The senior leadership of the PLA uses the Taiwan issue as the paramount factor for getting more "toys" approved (p. 74). By covering foreign policy, audience-driven media are making it harder for Communist Party leaders not to treat foreign policy as domestic politics (pp. 78 - 104, 140 - 254). Furthermore, history is not on the side of China because rising powers are likely to provoke war (pp. 4, 9 - 10, 210 - 11, 219, 243 - 45, 261 - 69). All of these factors undermine the credibility of the "peaceful rise" that Jintao - Wen Jiabao have promoted since 2002 (pp. 108 - 09, 252).
To summarize, China's behavior cannot be correctly understood without a proper grasp of the tectonic forces that have molded the country's history, geography, and culture.
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