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.
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:
- Does China have any strategy in foreign affairs?
- Has China come to follow modern world order/Is China a status-quo power?
- How is China important in world affairs?
- 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.”