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China: Fragile Superpower

China: Fragile Superpower

3.5 2
by Susan L. Shirk

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Once a sleeping giant, China today is the world's fastest growing economy--the leading manufacturer of cell phones, laptop computers, and digital cameras--a dramatic turn-around that alarms many Westerners. But in China: The Fragile Superpower, Susan L. Shirk opens up the black box of Chinese politics and finds that the real danger lies elsewhere--not in


Once a sleeping giant, China today is the world's fastest growing economy--the leading manufacturer of cell phones, laptop computers, and digital cameras--a dramatic turn-around that alarms many Westerners. But in China: The Fragile Superpower, Susan L. Shirk opens up the black box of Chinese politics and finds that the real danger lies elsewhere--not in China's astonishing growth, but in the deep insecurity of its leaders. China's leaders face a troubling paradox: the more developed and prosperous the country becomes, the more insecure and threatened they feel. Shirk, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State responsible for China, knows many of today's Chinese rulers personally and has studied them for three decades. She offers invaluable insight into how they think--and what they fear. In this revealing book, readers see the world through the eyes of men like President Hu Jintao and former President Jiang Zemin. We discover a fragile communist regime desperate to survive in a society turned upside down by miraculous economic growth and a stunning new openness to the greater world. Indeed, ever since the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square and the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, Chinese leaders have been haunted by the fear that their days in power are numbered. Theirs is a regime afraid of its own citizens, and this fear motivates many of their decisions when dealing with the U.S. and other foreign nations. In particular, the fervent nationalism of the Chinese people, combined with their passionate resentment of Japan and attachment to Taiwan, have made relations with these two regions a minefield. It is here, Shirk concludes, in the tangled interactions between Japan, Taiwan, China, and the United States, that the greatest danger lies. Shirk argues that rising powers such as China tend to provoke wars in large part because other countries mishandle them. Unless we understand China's brittle internal politics and the fears that motivate its leaders, we face the very real possibility of avoidable conflict with China. This book provides that understanding.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"One of the best books I read on China."--Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times

"Ms. Shirk's magisterial book gazes down on China from above."--The Economist

"Revelatory...Shirk has written an important book at an important moment, with the Beijing Olympics approaching and a new Chinese product scandal breaking practically every week. China: Fragile Superpower should change our assessment of China's leadership, which is a lot less stable than many of us thought."-Washington Post Book World

"In her extremely convincing book, she shows that there is another emotional side which, driven by unresolved internal tensions, could still push China into a military confrontation."--Financial Times

"Shirk's depth of knowledge about China - including personal acquaintance with many of its leaders - makes this book a valuable read."--Christian Science Monitor

"Now more than ever we need a realistic approach for dealing with China's rising power. Susan Shirk has an insider's grasp of China's politics and a firm understanding of what makes its leaders tick. China: Fragile Superpower is an important and necessary book."--Brent Scowcroft, former U.S. National Security Advisor

"Susan Shirk's lively and perceptive book examines the constraints on Chinese foreign policy in an era of rapid socio-economic change.... Shirk brings a wealth of experience as an astute observer of Chinese politics and as a practitioner of track I and II diplomacy toward China to illuminate the relationship between domestic legitimacy dilemmas and foreign security dilemmas."-- Alastair Iain Johnston, The Laine Professor of China in World Affairs, Harvard

"Although other problems dominate the news today, a rising China presents America's greatest long-term challenge. Susan Shirk's excellent book argues compellingly that it also poses the greatest challenge to China's leaders. How they meet this challenge affects not only China, but also the U.S. and, indeed, the world."--William J. Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defense

"In this eye-opening work, Susan Shirk details China's incredible economic progress while lifting the rug on its severe internal problems. She has injected a dose of realism into a distorted vision of China which has been promoted by gushing China watchers who focus on Shanghai's skyline."--James Lilley, Former American Ambassador to South Korea and China

Product Details

Oxford University Press
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Barnes & Noble
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Meet the Author

Susan L. Shirk, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State responsible for U.S. relations with China, is Director of the University of California's Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, and she is a professor at UC-San Diego's Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies. A leading authority on China, she has been visiting that country since 1971, meeting with top Chinese officials, and has written numerous books and articles on this subject, including pieces that have appeared in The Washington Post, Financial Times, and Wall Street Journal.

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China: Fragile Superpower: How China's Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Susan 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, 5