Books China

Review of “China’s International Behavior: Activism, Opportunism, and Diversification,” by Evan S. Medeiros

Today I read China’s International Behavior, an up-to-the-minute analysis of China’s international relations, policies, and goals. The writing is up to date, and seems to have been completed around March 2009. The author, Evan S. Medeiros, argues that China’s foreign policy is driven by a perception that war between China and any other great power is unlikely for the next twenty years.

Therefore, China’s foreign policy objectives for the next two generations are concerned with

1. Maintaining territorial sovereignty
2. Preventing de jure recognition of Taiwan’s independence
3. Promoting economic growth

In order to accomplish all of these things, China has adopted a form of multilateral counter-encirclement. Medeiros argues that while China is not hostile to the United States, Beijing is nonetheless afraid of potential conflict with the United States in the future. Therefore, China is busily attempting to build a network of friends and so-called “strategic partners” to prevent encirclement and maintain access to the raw materials which fuel the Chinese economy.

Some of the most interesting parts of China’s International Behavior concern Russia. I was particularly interested in the (too-brief) Russian attempts to hijack the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to be a vehicle of Russian hegemony. In particular, Russia attempted to merge the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (the club for China and her central Asian natural resource suppliers) with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (the new form of the Commonwealth of Independent States Collective Security Treaty framework). Widespread fear of Russian unreliability prevents this, however, and when Russia invaded Georgia, the SCO did not recognize the puppet states created by Moscow.

If the book has political implications, then it can be read as being the most coherent criticism of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy as I have ever read. The excellent concluding chapter argues that China has adopted a form of liberal internationalism, with the obvious exception of having no wish to promote democracy. 9/11 was a gift to China, as it diverted hostile factions in the administration from focusing on China. The Iraq War likewise promoted an opening, as China attempted to benefit from the rift between the United States and several of her traditional allies.

The book’s greatest weakness is that it does not put China’s foreign policy in its immediate context. Foreign policy under the “first generation” (from 1949 to about 1975) and “second generation” (from about 1975 to about 1995) was aimed at keeping mainland China united, and free from Russian domination. This is touched upon by the book. Likewise, foreign policy under the “fourth generation” (about 2002 through the present) is the focus of the book. However, the motives of the “third-generation” of leadership are almost entirely ignored. In particular, the Presidency of Jiang Zemin (1993-2002) is neatly divided by his submission to Li Peng (the face of the Tiananmen Massacre, the adopted son of Zhou Enlai, and fellow alum of Ion Iliescu) through 1998, and his selection of Zhu Rongji (fluent English speaker, convicted as being a “Rightist” in 1958, and in charge of China’s accession to the WTO). While China’s multilateralism largely begins with the Jiang-Zhu team, this could have been better emphasized.

China is not just one of the world’s largest economies. It is now the Security Council’s largest contributor to UN Peace Keeping Missions, and is actively attempting to secure peace by building friendships and alliances not only with other countries but through multilateral institutions. China’s International Behavior: Activism, Opportunism, and Diversification is a great book for anyone who wants to learn about how China is acting on the world stage.

Highly recommended.

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