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  • China's Struggle for Status: The Realignment of International Relations
  • Edward Friedman (bio)
Yong Deng. China's Struggle for Status: The Realignment of International Relations. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2008, 300 pp. Hardcover $81.00, isbn 978-0-521-88666-6.

It is impossible to predict with certainty where Chinese foreign policy is going in an extraordinarily volatile era in which the decision-making processes in Beijing are non-transparent and the contradictory forces in Chinese society are both powerful and ever-changing. Before the summer 2009 violent Uighur resistance to systematic and intensifying Han Chinese repression, no one would have imagined Beijing would have to scramble to try to assure governments in Muslim majority countries that the CCP regime was not anti-Islam. What one can hope for from a major scholarly study of Chinese foreign policy, such as Yong Deng's deeply thoughtful and truly knowledgeable China's Struggle for Status, is an analysis of the major forces and factors at play so that apparent surprises are comprehensible.

For Jim Mann1 and Guoguang Wu,2 these factors include the post–Cold War tendency of the major democracies to appease an economically vibrant China on democracy and human rights in order to protect the commercial interests of their corporations in China. To Susan Shirk,3 these forces include the post–June 4 nationalism that could make it difficult for CCP leaders to rein in war-prone forces. To the regime itself, in December 2008, it was the unique opportunity for a China with almost US$2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, during an economic crisis that froze finance in America, to seize the moment by investing and loaning hundreds of billions of dollars to less-developed countries and emerging market economies in a Chinese-style Marshall Plan and thereby display that only China now, as the United States after World War II, had the resources and the will to keep the world economy afloat. China's rulers imagine their nation as a superpower, perhaps, the superpower.

But all of these large matters are not central to Deng's study. Too much is missing from his empathetic understanding of how CCP leaders envision and respond to the world.

Deng's book raises large and important questions about China, especially "the nature of its discontent and revisionism regarding the world order" and how "China's rise…challenged the international status quo" (p. ix). I only wish it were possible to be as certain as Deng seems to believe that China's rise to challenge U.S. hegemony, what International Relations theorists dub a power transition, is guaranteed "to eschew the path of violent power transition" (p. x) because of the regime's "risk adverse, cooperative" policies (p. 90). With China's military power expanding rapidly and with angry responses by the Beijing government [End Page 465] to neighbors who differ with Beijing on what is or is not Chinese territory, there is already plenty of incentive in China to impose its will on weaker neighbors.

China's neighbors are not as certain as is Yong Deng that Beijing will eschew violence. They experience a need to hedge against a Chinese use of force as they watch Chinese military capabilities surge and the CCP and PLA military leaders insist on a right to use force to redress alleged historic wrongs perpetrated against China, imagined, even as China rises by taking advantage of world market opportunities, as constraining China and keeping it from supposedly resuming its natural and historical place at the center of world civilization and power.

Chinese analysts imagine an international future with a major role played by a modern and romanticized version of the ancient Chinese tribute system in which neighbors benefit from subordinating themselves to an ethical, prosperous, benign, and powerful China. That idealization, however, is not how premodern relations with imperial China are remembered in Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, or Vietnam.

Deng continually calls attention to this disjuncture between China's newly won power to shape the world and the regime's harping on how the world supposedly is structured so as to be unfair to China. The regime imagines China's modern era...


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pp. 465-469
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