How far away in the future is China's predominance as a global power? Should you be worried about it, if you are American? This is a solid analysis of China-US relations and geo-strategic policies from both sides, very well articulated. If you want to go deeper into this topic, this book is a perfect start, as it also includes a useful overview of how this relationship has been evolving across the centuries and especially the last decades.
The author's opinion belongs to the hawkish side of the house. I agree with many of his points, although at times his conclusions seem a little simplistic, and sometimes just wrong (see end of review as to why).
Friedberg criticizes the current US government's policy of "enhanced
engagement" with Beijing. However, he is never truly convincing when bringing
the reasons for his hawkish stance. A large portion of his argument is
based on the fact that "Beijing has not yet made any progress towards
democratization". He seems to put too much emphasis on this point, and
despite acknowledging the possibility that China might turn out to be a
very successful and internationally engaged country even without a
western-style democracy (which is most likely), he keeps banging on this
point as if he does not consider that possibility at all. I found that
Friedberg wants the US to increase its military
presence in the Western Pacific, and to consider China more as a rival
than an ally. This is very confusing to me. In international
relations, don't you always do both at the same time? Why should we see this as a black or
white choice? He seems to give very little consideration to the fact
that the world has changed (a lot) since WWII, and his tone often
borders on the alarmist.
The book even has its own "baddies", and
they actually have a name: they are the Shanghai Coalition, a loose
group of lobbyists, corporate executives and other US investors who
benefit from commerce with China, and therefore want to maintain the
current status quo of peaceful engagement between the two countries.
What they should do instead is unclear and, at best, totally
impractical. Anyway, Friedberg paints them in the most negative light.
always wonder if this type of book reflects solely the author's
opinions, or if there is some other type of driving force behind it
(like for example the Koch brothers being behind the Cato Institute and its publications). I say this because the book reads like an argument, rather
than an objective analysis. Friedberg is trying to sell something to us.
any case, aside from the author's own opinion, this is still a useful
and interesting read, especially for someone like me who does not spend
much time at all thinking of Sino-American relations. It was also
interesting to hear about what Chinese analysts have to say. In
particular, look out for Chapter 9, where Friedberg finally talks about
"hard power", the most interesting part of the book.
Here is an
excerpt from a NY Times review of this book, that I find myself in
agreement with: "Friedberg takes issue with what he describes as the
“Shanghai Coalition,” those in the United States who advocate engagement
with China rather than containment, accusing them of self-interest or
worse, and he mounts a fierce case for developing new military systems
for projecting American power, including “long-endurance unmanned aerial
vehicles, submerged or low-observable ‘arsenal ships’ loaded with
precision weapons, long-range conventional ballistic missiles and
perhaps a new intercontinental-range stealthy manned bomber.”
In addition to a more assertive approach to China, he calls for a new security
framework in Asia that includes the United States, now largely excluded
from regional organizations, and what he describes as a “community of
Asian democracies” designed specifically to neutralize Chinese
Essentially, Friedberg seeks to counter China’s rise in
its own region by the deployment of hard power. This will inevitably
lead to a more tense and dangerous international environment, quite
possibly a new cold war. It is also highly doubtful whether it can be
What the author seems to forget is that America’s problem, ultimately, is not military but
economic, a point also made by Kissinger. If the Chinese economy, as
projected, overtakes the American economy in about 10 years, and
is almost double the size by 2050, then hawkish responses to China’s
power are misplaced. Instead, two very different emphases are required.
First, America must concentrate on economic regeneration, including huge
expenditure on modernizing its infrastructure and education system.
Second, it must come to terms with the fact that China’s rise and
America’s decline are not just a result of a failure of policy, but are
rather one of those massive and highly infrequent historical shifts
that governments can do relatively little to affect, let alone prevent.