Sunday, June 24, 2007

"China: Fragile Superpower"

Susan Shirk is director of the University of California system-wide Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation and professor of political science in the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, University of California, San Diego.

She applied the "page 69 test" to her new book, China: Fragile Superpower, and reported the following:
Page 69 captures the essence of the book’s argument that the greatest danger to Americans is China’s internal fragility, not its strength. China’s communist leaders are anxious about the risks looming over the country’s historic rise and about their own political survival.

The page falls in the chapter on the domestic threats confronting China’s leaders. It notes that China’s communist regime looks resilient and might survive for years so long as the economy keeps growing and creating jobs. Survey research shows widespread

“support (over 80 percent) for the political system as a whole linked to sentiments of nationalism and acceptance of the CCP’s (Chinese Communist Party’s) argument about ‘stability first.’” Without making any fundamental changes in the CCP-dominated political system – leaders from time to time have toyed with reform ideas such as local elections but in each instance have backed away for fear of losing control – the Party has bought itself time. As scholar Pei Minxin notes, the ability of communist regimes to use their patronage and coercion to hold on to power gives them little incentive to give up any of that power by introducing gradual democratization from above. Typically, only when communist systems implode do their political fundamentals change.

As China’s leaders well know, the greatest political risk lying ahead of them is the possibility of an economic crash that throws millions of workers out of their jobs or sends millions of depositors to withdraw their savings from the shaky banking system. A massive environmental or public health disaster could also trigger regime collapse, especially if people’s lives are endangered by a media cover-up imposed by Party authorities. Nationwide rebellion becomes a real possibility when large numbers of people are upset about the same issue at the same time. Another dangerous scenario is a domestic or international crisis in which the CCP leaders feel compelled to lash out against Japan, Taiwan, or the United States because from their point of view not lashing out might endanger Party rule.”

The page goes on to discuss one of the lessons the leaders took away from the traumatic episode of Tiananmen in 1989 when the regime was threatened by pro-democracy demonstrations in 132 Chinese cities and the Party leaders split over how to react – “keep the military on the side of the Party.”
Read more about China: Fragile Superpower at the Oxford University Press website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue