- China Goes Global: The Partial Power by David Shambaugh
Is China’s self-proclaimed peaceful development a threat to the Asia region and the rest of the world? Many observers on different continents seem to think so, even if they do not say so, mixing mistrust with subdued appreciation for the benefits from the Chinese presence in their countries. Two Spanish journalists even went so far as to say that China’s silent army of emigrants, workers, petty entrepreneurs, and diplomats are everywhere on the globe today, remaking the world in Beijing’s image, as well as conquering the planet with its energy and natural resources.1 No, says David Shambaugh. China is no threat to anyone, or at least not yet. Being global, he says, does not automatically translate into being a world power. In every respect of diplomacy, economic presence, cultural presence, global governance, and security in the world, he shows that China is only a partial power, the central point of his latest book, Chinese Goes Global: The Partial Power. Shambaugh documents at length and in statistical detail, for which he is a stickler (more than readers need to know, especially his military classifications), to show China as only a partial power compared to other developed nations and great powers, especially the United States.
In this study, which took him five years to complete, Shambaugh describes how China has been behaving in its global outreach, driven by its central domestic need for economic growth, its top priority. The Communist Party knows that in order to survive as a legitimate ruling power, it needs to provide a better standard of living for its people. “To feed, clothe, house, educate, and employ 1.4 billion people is a significant contribution to global stability. Lifting more than 200 million people out of absolute poverty over the past quarter of a century is another significant contribution and accomplishment. Maintaining China’s territorial integrity and security is another; should China break down or break up, it would spew crime, refugees, and perhaps lethal materiel outside its borders” (p. 132). On this score, China has done well in governing, an important point, the author suggests, often neglected by critics and observers. [End Page 196]
To see how China stays in power and how its rulers have been acting in different parts of the world to achieve their remarkable record in the last three decades, an invaluable window is provided by Shambaugh. He leads readers to see the envy, but also the alienation and threat that many people and countries are feeling. While they may admire China’s miraculous and rapid economic achievement, they are not appreciative of or are influenced by any of China’s ways in diplomacy, cultural presence, and global governance contribution (if any) to world security. Shambaugh cites cases where negative sentiments toward Chinese have been growing (even in African countries that were more friendly and congenial toward their Chinese benefactors), including cases of murder or kidnapping by natives of the countries where Chinese presence has increased alarmingly.
Shambaugh uses Harvard professor Joseph Nye’s definition of “soft power” as the ability to influence others to change or to attract them to one’s ways and life style, like a magnet. For China’s soft power, he says, this is not only not happening, but it also has negative effects as China’s military rise is noted in its assertion over disputed territories in the South China Sea. He cites two general trends in domestic Chinese thinking regarding world affairs. One is to remain low key, to refrain from the limelight of leadership, as suggested by Deng Xiaoping at the beginning of China’s opening to the world. Another view, after China’s successful economic achievement three decades later, is to be more assertive in standing up like any great power against the United States, Japan, and its neighboring countries. It is precisely China’s assertiveness since 2009, Shambaugh underscores, regarding South China Sea as its turf and...