China's Expansion into the Western Hemisphere: Implications for Latin America and the United States

By Varrall, Merriden | The China Journal, January 2009 | Go to article overview

China's Expansion into the Western Hemisphere: Implications for Latin America and the United States


Varrall, Merriden, The China Journal


China's Expansion into the Western Hemisphere: Implications for Latin America and the United States, edited by Riordan Roett and Guadalupe Paz. Washington: Brookings Institution, 2008. x + 276 pp. US$26.95/£15.99 (paperback).

This book is a readable compilation of 11 essays exploring the implications of China's expansion out of its "own" region and into what is sometimes characterized as the United States' "backyard". It brings together commentators from various schools of thought, including British economists, North American political scientists and Chinese social scientists. Each author brings his or her own particular disciplinary perspective to the work, allowing a multifaceted exploration of China's motivations on the world stage and the corresponding implications for Latin America and the United States. It particularly emphasizes the triangular relationship between the three.

The book is divided into four thematic sections, starting with an overview of the changing landscape of Sino-Latin American relations. This is followed by an analysis of energy and economic issues, including a discussion of "winners and losers" in bilateral trade relations and what lessons Latin America could learn from China's role in Southeast Asia and Africa, and concludes with the implications of the US-China-Latin America triangle for the future. Most commentators would agree that China's links with the Western hemisphere have increased exponentially, and this book provides an informative and timely discussion of the implications of these changes for the international system.

As Alastair Iain Iohnston has argued, the "conventional wisdom" around China in the policy and scholarly worlds since the 1990s is that China deliberately exists outside some putative "international community" to which it has not yet satisfactorily demonstrated its commitment. It therefore behooves the rest of the international community to remedy this, through strategic "engagement", "management", "containment" or other means. The media representation of the 2008 Beijing Olympics reflects this discursive tendency to "other" China, with more than a hint of a civilizing mission. While the contributors to China's Expansion come from a variety of disciplines, they also tend to construct China in this way. The book's analytical point of departure is that China is a rising power, with the resultant problematic of whether and to what degree this will be a source of instability in international relations. The authors in this book tend to accept and perpetuate notions of China as making "no pretence to support" democracy, human rights or the rule of law (p. 254). As such, while they emphasize different aspects of China's presence on the world stage, they appear to accept that working to "integrate" China into the global community and "shape" its interests and conduct in accordance with "international norms" is the means by which global security and prosperity is best achieved. Fundamentally, the "problem" is China, and the "solution" lies in Western foreign policy. In attempting to analyze these issues, the authors in this volume, reflecting a larger tendency in the current literature, refer to "Beijing's perspective" with what appears to be little firsthand evidence.

The two chapters by Chinese analysts in the first part of this book, outlining the Chinese foreign policy perspective and an "alternative Chinese view", offer an underrepresented perspective. Jiang Shixue, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, provides an historical overview of Chinese foreign policy, including the role of Confucian harmony and of Deng Xiaoping's "guiding principles", both of which, he argues, remain foundational for foreign policy (pp. …

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