By Patricia H Kushlis
In fact, anyone who has read David Shambaugh’s insightful book, China Goes Global: The Partial Power published last spring by Oxford University Press would have understood that China’s abstention should have been expected. It would have been a far greater surprise, had China either sided with Russia or supported the US, UK, France and the rest of the Council. Russia’s veto kept the resolution from lopsided passage. Nevertheless, had China actively supported one side or the other it would have signaled a major change in its fundamental policy, one that is based on China’s own interests particularly with respect to its contentious hold over Tibet and the northwest province of Xinxiang.
As Shambaugh points out, the country has come a long way since the days of its isolation and disastrous economic and social experiments under Mao. Since Deng Xiaoping’s pragmatic reversal of Mao’s catastrophic economic policies and the end of the murderous and cruel Cultural Revolution by the late 1970s, the country’s economy has soared - developing into the world’s second largest. True the Communist Party is still in power but when businessmen and women are invited to join the anti-capitalist “workers’” party one has to wonder how Communist the country really is as opposed to being just another authoritarian government with a spotty human rights record: this time with a Communist veneer and a Confucian underpinning.
The test of a book worth owning is its ability to stay the test of time. Time for written materials is, of course, relative and books in the social sciences tend to have exceedingly brief shelf-lives – say, in comparison with great literature which lasts through the ages. Most international affairs or world politics books have soared like rockets only to crash land on the remainder table within weeks or even months thereafter.
The good news about Shambaugh’s book is that although it is now a year old, China Goes Global is still as relevant today as it was when published. That’s because it is based on thorough and careful research over a span of several decades by a major American analyst and scholar of Chinese politics. It is well written, organized, reasonably priced and concise (as such books are) thus accessible and relevant to the non-specialist as well as the China hand.
In a March 14 FP article entitled “Does the academy matter?” J. Peter Scoblic includes a graph of data by scholars Paul C Avey and Michael C Desch. This graph depicts which academic disciplines and methodologies are most useful to American policy makers. Area studies then policy analysis perch at the top of the policy makers’ most useful list. But such analyses are sadly all too often forgotten – or ignored – by academics in favor of more esoteric modeling, operations research and quantitative analysis preferred by their peers and which play well in the tenure track game.
Yet, in my experience as a foreign affairs practitioner, cultural insights, history, analysis, communication and foreign language skills are keys to success. Bean counting of esoterica is foremost useful when justifying or helping to justify an agency’s program or budget to Congress.
Shambaugh divides his book as follows - questioning where China stands internationally in terms of the country's global impact, global presence, global identities, diplomatic presence, governance, economic, culture and security. Only in the area of economics, does he think that today’s China meets the criteria for it to be considered a great or global power.
He argues that “China remains highly ambivalent about its relations with the world . . . has only partially integrated into the international system” and is particularly ambivalent about the ‘liberal international order’ – despite having benefited greatly from it – and increasingly seeks to either amend or ignore it.”
He concludes with a short but sobering evaluation entitled “Coping with a Globalized China” in which he points out that “whether China is assertive or not, this book offers ample evidence of an increasing international presence” adding that China’s “global strategy remains heavily influenced by its domestic development needs,” a problem that restricts its ability to address international problems which in turn limits its global effectiveness and footprint. And finally, “the diversity of views about the implications of China’s rise and globalization is testimony to the uncertainty associated with it. But one thing is certain: China’s going global will undoubtedly be the most significant development in international relations in the years ahead. Since China’s opening to the world in 1978, the world has changed China – and now China is beginning to change the world.”
This important book fulfills my test – and more so - of one worth owning.