China’s citizens rate pollution highly as a national problem, though not as high as corruption (© REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
China Goes Global: the Partial Power by David Shambaugh (Oxford University Press, £20)
The Rise of China vs the Logic of Strategy by Edward N Luttwak (Harvard University Press, £19.95)
Stumbling Giant: the Threats to China’s Future by Timothy Beardson (Yale University Press, £25)
It is open season on China and not from the usual suspects, often dismissed (especially in Beijing) as “China-bashers,” human rights obsessives, anti-Communists, or Chinese dissidents living abroad. Three books have appeared in recent months that each paint the Chinese state as straining under pressure, both internal and external, even as it continues its remarkable economic growth. Unlike China’s more familiar critics, none of these authors has been denied a Chinese visa, the occasional lot of a few dissenters from the media or academia. David Shambaugh is a well-known academic China specialist with broad contacts in China, Edward Luttwak is a self-styled “strategist” (China is just one of the subjects on which he has written widely), and Timothy Beardson is the founder of an investment bank based in the Far East.
What we learn from these three books is that it has become respectable, without being labelled a China-basher, to worry less about a China that challenges the United States-dominated international system than a China that even its new leaders admit is facing profound problems from corruption to the destruction of the environment. It is becoming rare, therefore, for well-qualified scholars to argue that the rest of the world has little choice but to step out of the way of the Chinese juggernaut. The most well-known proponent of that admiring attitude is Martin Jacques, whose bestselling 2009 book When China Rules the World, is dismissed by Shambaugh and Luttwak. There are now Chinese who are educated in the west, or who turn to the internet to debate what China really is and where it is heading, who no longer believe everything the government tells them. Even China’s new leaders worry about this; if corruption reaches into the highest levels of government, as they admit and as the public cries out, and if environmental destruction is as out of control as many say, China is in no state to lead the world.
Shambaugh’s latest book will surprise his fellow…