11 August 2016

A Guide to Catching Up on China’s Politics and Military

Peter Mattis, “A Guide to Catching Up on China’s Politics and Military,” War on the Rocks, 3 August 2016.

Coinciding with National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s recent trip to China, the White House released a statement from Rice on the U.S.-China relationship in which she opined, “There is no more consequential bilateral relationship than the U.S.-China relationship…” As such, some knowledge of China would benefit most members of the War on the Rocks tribe. With August’s arrival and the beaches or mountain lakes beckoning, now is a good time to catch up on some of the interesting and important China-related books that have been published in the last year or so. A surprising number of the books today are accessible to the generalist, even to those with just a passing interest in China.

Xi Jinping and Chinese Politics Today

The ascension of Xi Jinping to China’s highest offices at the 18th Party Congress in November 2012 sparked a sea change in Chinese politics, whether we attribute that shift to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or to Xi’s brand of politics. There is considerable debate about whether President Xi is powerful, whether collective leadership continues, and whether opposition exists within the party. Useful work is now appearing about Chinese politics under Xi. While much of it remains speculative, the quality is rising steadily as Xi’s rule provides more data on a daily basis.

The Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) published a useful series of papers on Chinese leadership politics and policymaking processes in a report entitled China’s Core Executive: Leadership Styles, Structures, and Processes under Xi Jinping. The report’s tightly argued essays were written by a “who’s who” list of China watchers, including Harvard’s Roderick MacFarquhar, UCSD’s Barry Naughton, Boston University’s Joseph Fewsmith, and MERICS’ Sebastian Heilmann. The most important theme of the report is the CCP’s near-paranoid need for domestic control and the effort Beijing will expend to manage society. As University of Nottingham researcher Samantha Hoffman recently observed to The Financial Times, “Under Xi Jinping the Chinese government is creating a more coherent legal framework to enforce preservation of the party-state.” …