In This Review

China: Fragile Superpower: How China's Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise

China: Fragile Superpower: How China's Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise
By Susan L. Shirk
336 pp, Oxford University Press, 2007
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Shirk combines the highest standards of academic scholarship with government experience as the State Department official responsible for U.S. relations with China during the Clinton administration. She begins here by reviewing the very impressive evidence of China's economic advances in the post-Mao era but then goes on to document the political vulnerabilities of an insecure leadership. She makes the case that China is "strong abroad but fragile at home," prompting her concern that internal developments could upset China's peaceful rise and bring about unplanned wars in Asia. The problem of relations with Japan, for example, is complicated by the intensity of Chinese nationalist passions, especially among university students; in the case of Taiwan, Shirk demonstrates, awful things could happen in an atmosphere of crisis. As for relations with the United States, China clearly needs U.S. economic support, but if there is a sense that Washington is causing China to lose face, there could be irrational reactions -- hence the need for all parties to move with great care.