Title: The Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money and Minds
Publisher: University of California Press, April 2008, ISBN-13: 9780520254428
Reviewed by Valerie Sartor
On July 1 at The Beijing Bookworm distinguished professor Dr. David Lampton gave a talk about his recently published book The Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money and Minds.
Lampton, short, rotund, and bulldoggish in a friendly American way, is a George and Sadie Hyman Professor, Director of China Studies, and Dean of Faculty at The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He is also the author of many books on China including Same Bed, Different Dreams: Managing US-China Relations, 1989-2000 (UC Press) and editor of The Making of Chinese Foreign and Security Policy in the Age of Reform. Dr. Lampton has great influence on American policymakers regarding Chinese matters; he mentioned that he had been at a high level meeting with Chinese and American officials in Taiwan just prior to flying into Beijing.
Today the most important geopolitical shift in the world is taking place in China. Dr. David Lampton's book focuses on this transition and is based on extensive interviews with elite political leaders, diplomats, and others in China, the United States, and China's neighbors. He concisely catalogs China's military, economic, and intellectual dimensions and offers a positive perspective by encouraging cooperation and further economic interdependence. The book is a comprehensive viewing of China's strengths and weaknesses. His work describes China's rapid changes, which are creating vulnerabilities and uncertainties internally and internationally. They must be understood along with Chinese foreign policy in order to promote global peace.
He summarized his seven-chapter book (1. Thinking about Power; 2. Might; 3. Money; 4. Minds; 5. China and Its Neighbors; 6. A Precarious Balance; 7. What Chinese Power Means for America and the World) during his talk and said that he wrote it because he wanted to answer simple research questions, namely: How can we understand Chinese power? How is it changing? How do the Chinese themselves view power?
Dr Lampton immediately stated that the Chinese have a very sophisticated understanding of power. "The USA would bode well to learn about it and live with Chinese power," he said. "My book begins by tracing Chinese power back to 500 BC and briefly discusses Sun Tzu and then goes forward to Chairman Mao and Deng Xiaoping to the present day." Dr. Lampton defines power as "the capacity to define and achieve your objectives." He explained that governments define, implement and modify their objectives by using three types of power: coercive, economic and normative ("soft" or idea/intellectual) power.
In chapter two he addresses coercive power, exploring the relationship between China and neighboring countries and the US. "The Chinese are increasing their military forces in a systematic and effective way," Dr. Lampton said, "but they also understand that as you increase force and power you alarm others, so you must also increase your reassurance." While talking the professor mentioned that Chairman Mao used more coercive power, while Deng Xiaoping focused on monetary power and today's Chinese leaders seem to have a significant focus on using both financial and soft power.
Chapter three addresses financial power. "The USA, Europe and Japan think of China as the seller. But China's power is increasing as the buyer. For example they have made a rapid acquisition of US debt in the form of Treasury Notes, US Agency debt, state and local debt, all of which amounts to 932 billion dollars. To a significant degree, until recently the US has enjoyed low interest rates due to this. Now the Chinese are also buying up land and establishing businesses in the USA. China is investing in the US and this is creating employment. This is not just an economic but also a political decision on their part. They have 1.7 trillion dollars in foreign holdings; this is increasing Chinese influence around the world. I think that this kind of interdependence is good; it creates a governing set of checks and balances." Dr. Lampton also said that internally China is also going on an infrastructure binge, buying up communications and transportation systems. "China is now able to play off potential sellers to each other, they're buying up assets all over the world," the professor said.
Chapter Four – Minds – takes a look at Chinese corporate and government leadership. "Chinese leadership skills are impressive and improving," Dr. Lampton said. "Their diplomats are extremely able. They are recruiting corporate leaders from abroad and more talent is constantly going into the system. They're getting research and development from foreign companies, putting money into their own R&D, and I want to stress that this human talent in Chinese society is something to think about in terms of competitive capacity."
In his 5th chapter the professor focuses on China and neighboring countries. "The commonality is that all of China's neighbors want to seize onto the economic opportunity China is producing for itself and for them. Because Chinese buying power is increasing there are more incentives to cooperate – and this has a significant effect on the US as well." He explained that the US could no longer count on the cooperation of Asian Pacific countries because China's economic interests were in direct competition with US power. "The US power (in this area) is eroding. The former foreign policy in Asia is experiencing a shift between China, Japan and the USA. The US must make a concerted effort to win back both economic and idea power." Professor Lampton cited Australian uranium sales to China made against US wishes. "China's neighbors do not want to choose sides between the USA or China," he added.
Dr. Lampton's sixth chapter may well be the most interesting because it concisely summarizes the delicate tightrope that China is walking internally. "There is a desperate attempt among the leadership to keep a balance between the capacity to meet growing demands and to maintain a stable society," he said, pointing out the need to provide for the massive indigent population and the growing middle class. "Chinese institutional capacity and the rising demands are unprecedented in history and are causing enormous problems. The rising appetite of the growing middle class, (as large as the entire population of the USA), the rapidly aging population (with no "iron rice bowl" in place) and the pressure to conform to international norms (which, by the way, the US did not have when industrializing) are all creating huge difficulties."
In his final chapter Dr. Lampton looks at the policy implications generated by China's rise to power. "I think that the Chinese are aspiring to achieve comprehensive global power and it is important to understand the enormity of their ambition," he said. "The Chinese learned from the former USSR, which was a system of total coercive power with no economic supports. They don't want this kind of lopsided system and they don't want the Japanese style either – muscle bound economically but no military might." Dr. Lampton feels that a balanced portfolio of global power is the Chinese objective. "But can the US and the rest of the world live with that?" asked the professor rhetorically. "We should," he answered, adding: "Deng Xiaoping was a very smart man. He recognized three key issues: globalization, urbanization and marketization, knowing that all of these factors were necessary to bring China into a position as a world leader. He also saw the positive implications it would bring to the US as well, if the US would only accept China's new status."
Before accepting questions, the professor underscored the fact that China, in his opinion, is not seeking an aggressive path toward power. "Chinese foreign policy must provide a protective cocoon for the three processes I mentioned: globalization, urbanization and marketization, to occur successfully. The leaders don't want to make any enemies – they want to facilitate this domestic transformation, which is causing enough disruption internally."
In closing Dr. Lampton stressed that a harmonious relationship with China would be in the US' best interests. "The American population feels insecurity regarding China but refuses to address internal issues. What's needed is for Americans to consume less and save more, and for our government to invest in better education and better health care and to quit blaming the Chinese for all of our problems." He explained that Americans feared China because it was so big, so rapidly changing and not entirely transparent. "The US has slipped but still has better soft power than China in most of the world, but it must be noted that in poorer countries the China model of government and development seems highly successful and attractive. China has accomplished a lot: it has been stable and achieved great economic growth. Our real challenge today is to build a new set of political institutions with China as a partner, not an enemy."
Books by David Lampton:
- The Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money, and Minds (2008)
- Same Bed, Different Dreams: Managing U.S.-China Relations, 1989-2000 (2001)
- The Making of Chinese Foreign and Security Policy in the Era of Reform, editor (2001);
- Paths to Power: Elite Mobility in Contemporary China (1986; reprinted in 1989);
- A Relationship Restored, co-author (1986);
- The Politics of Medicine in China (1977);
- United States and China Relations at a Crossroads, co-editor (1993);
- Bureaucracy, Politics and Decision-Making in Post-Mao China, co-editor (1992);
- China Global Presence, co-editor (1988);
- Policy Implementation in Post-Mao China, editor (1987)
- The Politics of Medicine in China, Health, Conflict and the Chinese Political System (1977).
(China.org.cn July 3, 2008)