22 November 2015

Managing U.S.-China Relations? Challenging. Picking a Good Guidebook? Easy: The China Challenge

Andrew S. Erickson, “Managing U.S.-China Relations? Challenging. Picking a Good Guidebook? Easy: The China Challenge,” The National Interest, 23 November 2015.

If you have trouble viewing the piece, please click here.

Book Review: A unique window into the U.S.-China relationship that should not be missed.

Rigorous, measured, readable scholarship is always in insufficient supply generally. It is particularly so concerning the vital issue of U.S.-China relations. The world is awash in books on the twenty-first century’s most important bilateral relationship, but even amid this torrent The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power by Princeton University professor Thomas J. Christensen represents a unique contribution. Given the difficulties inherent in its weighty subject, the volume will remain relevant for years to come. Above all, it offers Christensen’s unique perspective as a leading scholar on the topic who has also served as a high-level diplomat—namely, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs with responsibility for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia.

Christensen writes clearly, in active voice. He substantiates his points with wide-ranging but carefully distilled data and citations. He frequently offers personal recollections (literally dropping his coffee upon reading news that China voted for UN Security Council Resolution 1970, referring Qadaffi’s government to the International Criminal Court). He offers deep reflection, and makes connections that are both vivid and relevant. This is at once remarkably accessible and represents the thinking person’s guide to understanding Sino-American relations. If you want overwrought and simplistic narratives, this is not the book for you. Here is what it does offer:

  • A compelling case that today’s international system allows the United States and China to coexist peacefully and further common interests and responsibilities, even as they continue to compete in specific areas.
  • Reason for nuanced concern: China remains far from surpassing the United States, but will pose problems even without catching up.
  • A positive vision for bringing a rising China further into the twenty-first century international system, and for shaping its policy choices in a mutually-favorable direction.
  • Detailed insights into what approaches have been more, and less, effective in influencing Beijing’s behavior productively.
  • Specific recommendations for subsequent U.S. policymakers, including the next president, to address these important issues. … … …

Bottom Line

By any measure, from a U.S. perspective, managing Sino-American relations effectively in coming years will be as demanding as it is important. One of the most difficult aspects will be working to shape a rising China’s behavior in a positive direction that is compatible with the current international system. Fortunately, amid these undeniable challenges, one decision is easy: if you have not done so already, you must read Christensen’s book. His unique insights as a scholar-practitioner concerning this century’s most important bilateral relationship will remain instructive for years to come.