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Reviewed by:
  • Chinese Foreign Policy in Transition
  • Lisa Fischler (bio)
Guoli Liu , editor. Chinese Foreign Policy in Transition. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 2004. xvi, 416 pp. Paperback $28.95, ISBN 0-202-30753-0.

As the unresolved debates presented in Chinese Foreign Policy in Transition demonstrate, judicious evaluations of a "rising China" need to account for both power capabilities and political actions. Designed to address the central question of China's role in world politics during the early part of the twenty-first century, this anthology offers analyses by academics, researchers, and journalists that, when considered as a whole, paint the process of foreign policy formulation in the People's Republic as complicated, multidimensional, and contingent. By bringing together eighteen previously published articles, with dates ranging from 1983 to 2003, this edited volume provides necessary depth to a "severely understudied field in international relations" (p. 260). Because it also reveals the choice of either "containing or engaging" China to be a problematic dichotomy, this book makes a significant contribution to both U.S. foreign policy and China studies.

Each of this collection's four sections includes important caveats concerning hasty and incautious evaluation of China's regional and global power potential. The first section, "Theory and Culture," shows that while China's material power matters, foreign policy decisions in Beijing depend on domestic and international variables. In chapter 1, Michael Ng-Quinn suggests that valuable theoretical frameworks for understanding Chinese foreign policy combine internal (domestic politics and decision makers) and external factors in a prioritized fashion (pp. 26 - 27). The rest of the chapters in this section provide empirical data and theoretical insights that enrich the analysis of chapter 1. Chapter 2, by Thomas J. Christensen, reinforces the idea that decision makers in China count, but also reveals how the fears by Chinese leaders of a remilitarized Japan and their extreme opposition to Taiwan independence constrain Beijing's realpolitik views of politics in East Asia and the regional presence of the United States. Brantly Womack's chapter 3 nuances perspectives on asymmetric power relations by demonstrating that such relations change over time, are continuously negotiated, hold disparate meanings for the United States and China, and are easily open to dangerous misunderstandings. While alerting American policy makers to the underlying principles to which the Chinese leadership is wedded—sovereignty, the dominance of the Communist Party, and communist ideology—Thomas Kane uses chapter 4 to advise caution when "predicting how China's leaders might apply these principles in specific cases" (p. 112). How power is wielded, rather than simply how much power a country possesses, is a very critical issue for analysts.

The second section, "Perspectives and Identity," reconstructs both sides of the debate on a "rising China" as it emerged in the late 1990s. Chapter 7, by Richard [End Page 138] Bernstein and Ross H. Munro, lays out the argument for seeing China as a rising hegemon intent on challenging American dominance in Asia. The other chapters in the section offer more cautionary estimates of the threat that China represents to American interests in Asia. In chapter 5, Gilbert Rozman details China's interests in great-power status, yet rightly situates these interests within the context of China's concern over the "strengthened position of the United States" regionally and globally (p. 126). In the post-Cold War world, America's emergence as the unipolar power renders eminently understandable the strong interest of Chinese decision makers in strategic triangles that encompass Japan and Russia. Robert S. Ross' chapter 6 presents the opportunity costs and lack of military capabilities that would prevent China from becoming a direct threat to Asia in the near future. David M. Lampton, in chapter 8, councils a balanced view of Chinese foreign policy: "While it would be foolish to dismiss China's increasing ability . . . it would be even more foolish to allow exaggerated perceptions of Chinese strength to shape U.S. policy" (p. 166). Approximations of China's material power deserve to be weighed against nuanced calculations of when, why, and how such power is most likely to be used.

The third section, "Bilateral and Multilateral Relationships," draws in Asian regional political players and key issues...


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pp. 138-140
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