China: Fragile Superpower

China: Fragile Superpower

China: Fragile Superpower

China: Fragile Superpower


Once a sleeping giant, China today is the world's fastest growing economy--the leading manufacturer of cell phones, laptop computers, and digital cameras--a dramatic turn-around that alarms many Westerners. But in China: The Fragile Superpower, Susan L. Shirk opens up the black box of Chinese politics and finds that the real danger lies elsewhere--not in China's astonishing growth, but in the deep insecurity of its leaders. China's leaders face a troubling paradox: the more developed and prosperous the country becomes, the more insecure and threatened they feel.
Shirk, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State responsible for China, knows many of today's Chinese rulers personally and has studied them for three decades. She offers invaluable insight into how they think--and what they fear. In this revealing book, readers see the world through the eyes of men like President Hu Jintao and former President Jiang Zemin. We discover a fragile communist regime desperate to survive in a society turned upside down by miraculous economic growth and a stunning new openness to the greater world. Indeed, ever since the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square and the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, Chinese leaders have been haunted by the fear that their days in power are numbered. Theirs is a regime afraid of its own citizens, and this fear motivates many of their decisions when dealing with the U.S. and other foreign nations. In particular, the fervent nationalism of the Chinese people, combined with their passionate resentment of Japan and attachment to Taiwan, have made relations with these two regions a minefield. It is here, Shirk concludes, in the tangled interactions between Japan, Taiwan, China, and the United States, that the greatest danger lies.
Shirk argues that rising powers such as China tend to provoke wars in large part because other countries mishandle them. Unless we understand China's brittle internal politics and the fears that motivate its leaders, we face the very real possibility of avoidable conflict with China. This book provides that understanding.


As the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State responsible for American relations with China in the Clinton administration, I constantly worried about the risk of war between the two nuclear powers. A war between China and the United States is terrifying to contemplate. China’s Asian neighbors would be on the front line and people all over the world would feel the shockwaves.

When I left the government and resumed my job as a university professor, these worries continued to haunt me. I can still imagine receiving the dreaded phone call from the State Department Operations Center:

“The Pentagon just informed us that a Chinese SU-27 jet fighter and a
Taiwanese F-16 jet fighter have collided in the Taiwan Strait.”

My heart sinks. I have heard that the military aircraft patrolling the nar
row body of water between the island of Taiwan and the Chinese Mainland
fly dangerously close to one another, despite U.S. warnings to the two sides

“What about the pilots?” I ask. “Have they bailed out? Been rescued?”

“We don’t know yet,” says the Op Center voice.

“Has either side made a public statement? Or communicated with us?
Have we seen any military moves from either side?”

“No information yet, ma’am. But CNN is just reporting it now.”

I dash to my car and speed back to the State Department, using the
moments of calm before entering the storm of the crisis to make a plan.
What should our government do to prevent the accident from triggering a
war between China and Taiwan—and very likely drawing in the United

I play through the various scenarios, and they all have one common
thread. If CNN is broadcasting the news of the crash, it is sure to be picked
up and spread by the Internet in China before the Communist Party censors

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