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by Mark Leonard

Pub Date: May 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-58648-484-2
Publisher: PublicAffairs

A brief view of China’s emergence as a world player, politically as well as economically.

In the dawning days of what is now called globalism, it was assumed that China would become like the West as it grew in wealth and power. That assumption was wrong, writes Leonard (Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century, 2005), executive director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and those who hold to it today persist in error. Instead, China is charting its own course, even if some of its debates and even factions—the homegrown equivalents of the Neocons and the Greens, for instance—sound familiar to Westerners. One is the battle over what democracy means and whether it is right for China, with a sharp line drawn between the Old Right (“who like to talk about the withering of the state . . . [but who] have, in fact, been the biggest beneficiaries of one-party rule”) and New Left (“a loose grouping of intellectuals that is increasingly capturing the public mood, and setting the tone for political debate”). Democracy is, Leonard writes, not unknown in China; experiments thrive in the countryside, and even Chongqing, one of China’s foremost cities, has become a “living laboratory” for democratic and populist modes of governance. As Leonard also notes, China harbors think tanks whose range and populace vastly dwarf anything in the West—a single Beijing institute, he writes, has more than 4,000 full-time researchers. Yet, for all this thinking and experimenting, the state shows no sign of withering away, and Chinese influence is felt in geopolitics far from the motherland—in Darfur, for instance—and closer to home, such as the repressive regime of Myanmar, backed by Beijing. The overarching lesson: that China will present to the world its own idea—“the Chinese model”—of what the new global order looks like, and the rest of the world will have to listen.

Useful reading for students of contemporary politics and international affairs.