Looking for Balance: China, the United States, and Power Balancing in East Asia
By Steve Chan
Stanford University Press, 2012, 304 pp.
China Goes Global: The Partial Power
By David Shambaugh
Oxford University Press, USA, 2013, 432 pp.
These works concur in their skeptical assessments of the threat posed to the United States by China, but their reasoning is different. Luttwak invokes what he calls “the logic of strategy,” which “applies in perfect equality to every culture in every age.” Since aggrandizement generates resistance, he argues, China’s economic and military rise is producing a seemingly paradoxical decline in its diplomatic influence. Behind a screen of anodyne communiqués and innocuous military meetings, he decodes evidence that China’s neighbors are tightening their cooperation with the United States. This should send a message of caution to Beijing, but like all major powers, China is afflicted with what Luttwak tartly labels “great-state autism,” which leads it to respond with more assertiveness, only accelerating the formation of the coalition against it. Luttwak believes that frictions might decrease, although not disappear, if China were to democratize. Meanwhile, he hints that China’s rivals should take measures to slow China’s rate of economic growth, although he is not clear about what those measures should be.
Chan challenges the application of balance-of-power theory to today’s Asia. Because Asian governments, including China’s, need to foster prosperity to legitimize their rule, they have an incentive to cooperate with one another and with others. The United States also gets more benefit from economic relations with China than from strategic rivalry. Chan employs historical analysis and international relations theory to show that peaceful shifts in relative power are not unusual. A case in point is the lack of concerted resistance to the historical growth of U.S. power. Chinese self-restraint will be necessary to allow this optimistic scenario to play out: if China overreaches, Chan concedes, balance-of-power dynamics will kick in. But if Asia stabilizes through greater interdependence and gradually strengthened multilateral institutions, Chan believes that local states will have less and less need for U.S. protection. At that point, the potentially destabilizing factor in the region would be not China’s rise but how well the United States handles the diminution—although not the eclipse—of its power in Asia.
Shambaugh’s masterful survey of China’s presence on the world scene shows that in every field—diplomatic, economic, military, and cultural—Beijing’s influence, although growing, remains limited. China has global economic interests without dominating any market; it has a large military without being able to project force very far beyond its borders; its sizable propaganda apparatus promotes cultural products and ideological values that few admire. Traveling in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere, Shambaugh encounters officials who see Beijing as self-interested, risk averse, and reactive. China has engaged grudgingly with institutions of global governance, neither challenging them nor contributing to them in significant ways. At home, intellectuals are divided over what posture the country should take, and numerous poorly coordinated agencies pursue narrow policies that win China few friends abroad. Shambaugh dubs China a “lonely” and “partial” power that is “not ready for global leadership.” He concludes that the West can afford to stay the course in its decades-long strategy of integrating China into the international system.