Chart­ing China’s Con­tra­dic­tions

Global Asia - - CONTENTS - Re­viewed by Ali Wyne

The Third Rev­o­lu­tion: Xi Jin­ping and the New Chi­nese State, by eliz­a­beth C. econ­omy.

The VOTE by the Chi­nese Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress in March to abol­ish pres­i­den­tial term lim­its marked a dra­matic, if un­sur­pris­ing, step along Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s path to­ward cen­tral­iz­ing power. as he moves to en­trench his au­thor­ity at home as the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful leader since Mao Ze­dong, he also seeks to deepen bei­jing’s im­print abroad: in a three-and-a-half hour speech be­fore the 19th Party Congress this past Oc­to­ber, he pre­dicted that his coun­try would move “closer to cen­ter stage” in world af­fairs and is­sued this warn­ing: “No one should ex­pect China to swal­low any­thing that un­der­mines its in­ter­ests.”

1 how should ob­servers, es­pe­cially those in Wash­ing­ton, as­sess Xi’s China?

In The Third Rev­o­lu­tion, eliz­a­beth econ­omy of­fers a nu­anced, per­sua­sive an­swer: while China’s heft in world af­fairs is grow­ing rapidly, so too are the con­tra­dic­tions in­her­ent in the at­tempt of an au­thor­i­tar­ian coun­try to shape what re­mains a pre­dom­i­nantly lib­eral world order. econ­omy, the di­rec­tor for asia stud­ies at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, ex­hibits a dis­pas­sion in for­mu­lat­ing her case that is both dif­fi­cult to main­tain and essen­tial to ex­hibit when tak­ing in­ven­tory of China’s progress — dif­fi­cult, be­cause its ac­cre­tion of power has been oc­cur­ring so rapidly; essen­tial, be­cause hy­per­bolic ap­praisals can only yield mis­guided poli­cies.

Nowhere is China’s resur­gence more pro­nounced than in eco­nomic terms. be­tween 2001, when it joined the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion, and 2016, the lat­est year for which the World bank has data, its gross do­mes­tic prod­uct grew roughly nine­fold, from us$1.34 tril­lion to us$11.2 tril­lion;2 its share of the world econ­omy roughly quadru­pled, from 4 per­cent to just un­der 16 per­cent; and its per-capita GDP rose al­most eight-fold, from us$1,053 to us$8,123. It over­took Ger­many as the world’s largest ex­porter in 2009 and dis­placed the united states as the world’s largest goods trader in 2013.3, be­tween


2000 and 2017, it went from gen­er­at­ing the equiv­a­lent of roughly a quar­ter of amer­ica’s man­u­fac­tur­ing out­put to gen­er­at­ing more man­u­fac­tur­ing out­put than the us and Ja­pan com­bined.5 be­tween 2012 and 2016, it ac­counted for some 34 per­cent of global growth.6

China’s eco­nomic march has been ac­com­pa­nied by a flurry of sup­port­ing state­craft: it an­nounced in septem­ber 2013 what would come to be known as the belt and Road Ini­tia­tive (BRI); es­tab­lished the asian In­fra­struc­ture Investment bank (aiib) in June 2015; and is press­ing to fi­nal­ize ne­go­ti­a­tions on a Free Trade area of the asia-pa­cific, which would in­cor­po­rate roughly three-fifths of gross world prod­uct and half of world trade.7

China’s ac­cu­mu­la­tion of power has gen­er­ated some in­flu­ence in and of it­self, es­pe­cially among smaller neigh­bors who as­sess that its resur­gence will con­tinue apace while the us will prove in­ca­pable of de­vot­ing sus­tained time, at­ten­tion and re­sources to the asia-pa­cific. These coun­tries have be­gun to ex­hibit greater def­er­ence to China’s strate­gic in­ter­ests. and bei­jing has used its grow­ing eco­nomic heft to con­sid­er­able ef­fect, es­pe­cially in con­sol­i­dat­ing its po­si­tion in the south China sea and un­der­cut­ting Tai­wan’s diplo­matic ties. On bal­ance, though, econ­omy con­cludes that Xi’s ef­forts to achieve “the re­ju­ve­na­tion of the great Chi­nese na­tion” have been un­der­whelm­ing: The more one aims to achieve a lead­ing po­si­tion in world af­fairs, the more essen­tial it is that one’s am­bi­tion be teth­ered to a vi­sion that others

By Eliz­a­beth C. Econ­omy Ox­ford Univer­sity Press, 2018, 359 pages, $20 (Hard­cover)

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