Sunday, October 26, 2008

Book Review: What Does China Think?

Mark Leonard is the Executive Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

He started becoming interested in China after noticing how the Middle Kingdom has begun influencing the world by helping developing countries like Africa with large sums of money, and how everything in China is on such a huge scale.

His book, What Does China Think? tries to wade past the headlines and give a broader analysis of what's going on.

In a number of visits to China, he talked to various academics about the state of the economy, if and how China will achieve some kind of democracy, the inside scoop on policy-making, and dragging state-run enterprises into a market system.

Some of these people he writes about are naysayers in academic and political circles, trying to make their voices heard or trying to discreetly influence policy. Some have paid for the price politically, others still forging ahead through guanxi channels.

While Leonard tries to create controversy in the section about democracy, it's kind of already given that China will create its own kind of democracy that is a different definition to what people in the West are familiar with.

And that's because of the system, the Communist Party rule will dictate what it believes will work, and at the same time, appease its people to a certain extent.

With regards to international politics, China is skillfully manoevering itself through political tactics and lots of money in swaying many developing countries as an alternative to the West.

And China's generous investments in infrastructure in areas where governments are corrupt are warmly welcomed, but do little to improve the lives of the people.

This puts agencies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund at a loss of what to do, having insisted on putting conditions with aid, and even then, their sums are dwarfed by China's.

As a result, there is a geopolitical shift that has made China a main player on the world stage, and one that others cannot discount. Who else has managed to keep North Korea talking about nuclear issues?

However, China's interests in other countries like Myanmar, Sudan and Zimbabwe are shameful; their governments are aligned with China and will never change as long as it continues to fund them.

Leonard's book is mainly for readers who are just getting to know China now, not seasoned watchers who have already made these conclusions already.

Nonetheless, it's a good compilation of the various themes, concepts and ideas that will be continuing in China in the next several years.

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