Author Archives: Michelle Chen

The Contest of the Century

contest-of-the-century

In a recent forum held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Christopher Johnson led an open discussion with Geoff Dyer on Dyer’s new book, The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China, and How America Can Win. This book, according to CSIS, “gives an inside account of Beijing’s quest for influence and an explanation of how America can come out on top.”

Dyer opened up the conversation with a glaring fact that China’s role in the international realm has evolved tremendously over the past five years — that it began to assume more characteristics of a major global power. What triggered this change, Dyer argues, is related to two major phenomena: the financial crisis in 2008 and the pressure from below (from the citizens).

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Dr. Jesus Estanislao on the Recipe for Successful Reforms

It took years of patient effort to consolidate democracy after the Philippines' People Power Movement toppled the Marcos regime in 1986.

It took years of patient effort to consolidate democracy after the Philippines’ People Power Movement toppled the Marcos regime in 1986.

Democratization and the desire for a free market economy continue to be major driving forces behind reform movements around the world. In recent years, we have witnessed millions of people rising up for meaningful political and economic reforms, especially in the Middle East region. Genuine democracy, however, calls for more essential ingredients in its recipe for success and sustainability — namely good governance and responsible citizenship.

Dr. Jesus Estanislao, Chairman of the Institute for Solidarity in Asia and of the Institute of Corporate Directors, is one of the leading advocates for good governance and for responsible citizenship. He observes a crucial connection that reformers must comprehend— “Economic and political freedoms belong to the essence of a genuine democracy.”

In his recent interview with CIPE, now published as an Economic Reform Feature Service article, Dr. Estanislao shares his personal experiences in strengthening democracy through market-oriented reform. He reveals several factors that contribute to successful and meaningful reforms by providing readers with his first-hand knowledge of good governance advocacy and reform — factors that will benefit current and future reformers.

Read the whole article here.

Book Review: A Contest for Supremacy – Dragon vs Eagle

contest-supremacy

A Contest for Supremacy is a book that thoroughly examines the history of Sino-American relationship and provides a clear view of the challenges and risks for the United States as China’s power continues to grow.

Despite the fact that author Aaron Friedberg inevitably touches on recycled opinions made by other Western China experts, he indeed offers unique insights and assessments on this widely discussed topic, proving to the readers that the book is unlikely to collect dust on the shelf for the upcoming years.

Friedberg’s core argument is two-fold: China and the U.S. are on the path to compete for power and for influence worldwide, with an emphasis on the Asia region — a newfound source of economic dynamism. The Sino-U.S. relationship, according to Friedberg, is increasingly intensified while the power gap narrows. Furthermore, Friedberg argues that an emerging Sino-U.S. rivalry is not the product of easily correctable policy errors or misperceptions, but rather is driven by the differences of ideology and political agenda.

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China’s Foreign Relations

President Li Jinping at the APEC summit in Bali, Indonesia. (Photo: South China Morning Post)

President Xi Jinping at the APEC summit in Bali, Indonesia. (Photo: South China Morning Post)

In recent years, China has seemed to take a more central place on the world stage. But is it really as important a player as its image suggests?

In a recent book review event held at George Washington University, Professor Robert Sutter talked about his new book: Foreign Relations of the PRC: The Legacy and Constraints of China’s International Policies since 1949. Sutter’s overarching assessment of foreign relations in China carries a negative tone throughout—for now, China is not as important in international affairs as it was in the past. To support his statement, Sutter provided an overview to address the following points:

  1. Does China have any strategy in foreign affairs?
  2. Has China come to follow modern world order/Is China a status-quo power?
  3. How is China important in world affairs?
  4. Does China have principles for its actions?

Sutter’s answer to the first point is a solid “no.” He argues that while China does have certain goals it desire to achieve, its policies change constantly based on circumstances inside and outside of China, causing competition between its different priorities. China positioning itself in a triangular relationship with the United States and the Soviet Union while its priority was (supposedly) nation building, according to Sutter, was an example of China’s lack of foreign affairs strategy. This assessment reminds me of Professor David Shambaugh’s lecture on China’s foreign policy—“policies in China are made by the top leaders, but its process remains a myth.”

While all four points are crucial in Sutter’s assessment, I am particularly interested in the discussion of the second point because he used free market in China as an example— a major theme that CIPE focuses on in its programs. In Sutter’s analysis, China uses its capacities in the realm of the military, economy, and technology only to fulfill its interests. China’s overall trade policies, Sutter said, “degrade the free market, which contradicts international norm.”

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A Closer Look at “China’s Trapped Transition”

Shanghai_Tower

Recently, I read a widely discussed book called “China’s Trapped Transition” by Minxin Pei. Pei challenges popular arguments about China’s development as a neo-authoritarian regime: that economic development will provoke better governance; that gradualism works well to promote economic growth; that economic growth in China will eventually lead to democratization; and that authoritarianism is a better system to sustain economic development.

The underlying assessment of Pei’s book is that China has reached a phase in which its growth is stagnant. China’s political system, Pei argues, cannot be reformed because of its deep-rooted corruption issues and due to the lack of institutional infrastructure to address these issues. Pei labels China’s situation as “self-destructive political dynamics inherent in an autocracy caught up in rapid socioeconomic change.”  While Pei provides credible statistics and evidence to support his assessment, he fails to incorporate an ongoing major factor of competition between China’s socialist ideology and capitalist ideology in other parts of the world. A re-visit of Pei’s assessment, published in 2006, is necessary because China has hitherto maintained its growth (more or less) while its system remains unchanged, and in some ways seems even stronger.

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To Rebalance or Not to Rebalance: That is Not a Question for China

Guozigoui_Bridge_in_Construction_-_China(1)

What is Asian development going to look like in the near future? Given that China remains the region’s leading giant, and one of its fastest-growing economies, the challenges for the new Chinese leadership have became the focal point of recent discussions on this topic.

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When Pixar’s “Up” Becomes Real: China’s Land-Use Rights Saga

pixar up house

What could be the most adequate real-life example of the fictional, fantastical Pixar movie “Up?” — China’s land–use rights saga! In “Up,” Mr. Frederickson’s entire life and all his cherished memories are threatened when real estate developers want to usurp his home and his land.  Through constant harassment, the developers finally force Mr. Frederickson to give up everything he owns – or so they think.  To everyone’s surprise, Mr. Frederickson uses thousands of helium balloons to carry his home to the mystical place of his childhood dream:  Paradise Falls.  In reality, the battle between Mr. Frederickson and the real estate developers reflects the heartaches of many Chinese rural villagers, and unfortunately, the Chinese villagers cannot fly their homes to Paradise Falls.

When I learned about China’s land-use rights system — that all land is owned by the government, and the citizens receive “rights” to use the land — I felt even more fortunate to live in a free country where people are entitled to own private land and personal properties. In recent years, land-use rights in China have been put to the test as corruption among the local government and real estate developers worsens. China’s rapid urbanization and the local governments’ need for additional revenue created a ferocious phenomenon of illegal land seizures. Farmers suffer from losing their land-use rights, and the compensation from the local government often barely makes up the loss.

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