- Charting China's Future: Political, Social, and International Dimensions
China has become an undisputed global phenomenon, but the future as well as the present status of China has been under great dispute for years. To understand China has become a "complex, contradictory, and confusing" endeavor.1 If agreement on China's current status is so difficult, forecasting its future is more controversial. Diverse forecasts on China's future span from that China is going to collapse to that China is going to be a threat. Joining such debate on China's future, Charting China's Future brings together essays by individuals from different countries and areas, each forecasting China's future not from a preexisting view but from analyzing the influencing variables that would condition China's future.
An edited volume, Charting China's Future coheres very well, though each chapter can stand alone. Delineating the boundaries of China's future, the introductory chapter identifies the key problem areas that are bound to shape China's future trajectory. The following chapters analyze these major problem areas one by one, with one concluding chapter forecasting the future of China from a perspective more comprehensive and historical than the others. All chapters equally contain a wealth of information drawn on the authors' years of experience and on-the-ground understanding of China; all the chapters follow the same structure, first laying out an array of potential developments, providing an assessment as to the relative likelihood of each, and explaining the forces that inform that assessment. All studies are qualitative in nature.
Charting China's Future distinguishes itself from many other earlier debates about China's future in its move away from the dichotomous views on China's future and offers various possibilities that exist in between these two extreme scenarios. The editor projects China's future "would be a continued centralized CCP rule characterized by relatively successful domestic conflict management . . . China will emerge as a key player with limited global influence but tense relations with the United States, particular over Taiwan as the ever-growing major trouble spot. Muddling through with incremental improvements on the status quo appears to be the main ingredient of the most likely path of China's future" (p. 11).
The coherence of this book is also manifested by the identical views in projecting China's future by the contributors. Forecasts are culturally bound exercises, but no cultural differences are seen in the chapters though the contributors are from different cultural backgrounds. Except for Gilman's last chapter, which forecasts China's future in a sequential term, almost identical views throughout the chapters about the most likely scenarios of China's future would be the continuation [End Page 390] of what is today's China: The CCP will continue its rule based on a string of policy success (Dickenson's chap. 2); limited adoption of Western democracy with indirect but competitive election (Liu's chap. 3); the central-local relations will either remain the status quo or local autonomy will be reduced (Lam's chap. 4); the condition of social stability will be one of governed stability in which social unrest most likely is effectively contained (Chung's chap. 5); China will muddle through with steady growth but at the same time face increasing stress (Tang's chap. 6); US-China relations will highly likely be that of rivals (Gries's chap. 7); and the future of cross-strait relations will be a perpetuation of the status quo (Cabestan's chap. 8).
The overall moderate and less thought-provoking forecasts about China's future might be applauded by Chinese, but they reduce the value of forecasting. Such a forecasting is welcome in China because it reveals the confidence of the authors that China is on the right track today, however disturbing it is. This is most desirable for China since China considers the first twenty years of this century as the strategic opportunity for its peaceful development and wants to maintain the current economic...