Charting China’s Contradictions
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)