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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2011
Friedberg refers to the view that to "treat China as an enemy and it will become one" and issues his counter-warning that this view leads to "a lack of tolerance for dissent" and that ultimately will make America less capable of responding to China in a "measured and timely way." This sets the tone and trajectory of this book. Friedberg indeed sees China not merely as a competitor but one serious enough to be a threat to America in trade and influence. The fear that China's military might will also increase is only incidental to helping it to establish the commercial and political influence that America has. Friedberg maintains that America should not relinquish this influence. He warns against transferring technology to China that will end up in military use; he accuses China of assisting countries like Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea in acquiring nuclear weapons. He asserts that "throughout history, there has been a strong correlation between the rapid growth of a state's wealth and potential power, the geographic scope of its interests, the intensity and variety of the perceived threats to those interests, and the desire to expand military capabilities and exert influence in order to defend them." That is indeed correct. That correlation applies, of course, to America as well.

Friedberg notes and seems to agree with Wang Jisi that "U.S. grand strategy is based on the very ideology and values it promotes." Friedberg adds to that by reciting the view that America "cannot help but assert that its values are universal nor can it help itself from 'applying them to judge right and wrong in international relations and the internal affairs of other countries.'" He thus sees China not only as a nation risng in economic power, but one that threatens America in every way. He says that "[u]nless China stops growing, or embraces American-style democracy" "Washington's" mistrust and hostility to China will not change. He also cites China's analysts' fears of America, its actions and motives. Hence, he concludes that the tensions between "a rising power" and "an established hegemonist" cannot easily be extinguished.

Friedberg's book is very interesting, well-thought, and clearly written. It is also an alarmist book - it will alarm both Americans and Chinese, and thus it may be wise to study both countries' political history a little more deeply. Tang Jiaxuan's recent book, "Heavy Storm & Gentle Breeze" may be the next useful read. Will the world be better if there were just America or China, or any country as the sole superpower? Fareed Zakaria's second edition "The Post American World" is another important book in the context of the struggle for supremacy for it shows that it is not only China that America needs to watch. In any event, one question lingers when one thinks about the supremacy, and the influence of American democratic model: Isn't the doctrine of checks and balances a fundamental part of America's constitutional structure?
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2011
In his new book, Aaron Friedberg looks at the present and future of Sino-American relations. Friedberg is far less sanguine about the relationship than many other academics are. He criticizes what he considers the mainstream view, which trusts that China will eventually liberalize and argues instead that there is a real possibility of an increasingly dangerous economic and strategic competition between what will undoubtedly be the two most important powers of the twenty-first century. The current economic situation in the United States has increased the likelihood of such competition, according to Friedberg, because it has increased China's self-confidence while weakening American credibility.

There are some areas where I strongly agreed with what Dr. Friedberg had to say but there are others where I believed that he was too alarmist about the threat of China. Friedberg argues in the book that it is time for a serious national debate about China policy. On this point, he is absolutely right. He argues that during the last several years, Washington has focused on the Middle East, North Korea and other issues that demand immediate attention but will not be as important in the grand scheme of world politics as the U.S.-China relationship. Policy makers have also plaid down the possibility of conflict with China because of the perceived need for Beijing's cooperation in the war against terror. Friedberg makes a much-needed call for Washington to increase its focus on the China issue.

I am less persuaded by Friedberg's insistence on the likelihood that China will emerge as a strategic threat. Using translated Chinese documents, Friedberg contends that China's current strategy is to avoid confrontation with the United States while hiding its capabilities and "advancing incrementally" until it is the dominant power in the Asia-Pacific region. To his credit, he is careful on this issue. He does acknowledge that there is a possibility that China will liberalize and claims that if he does, the threat that it poses to the United States would be diminished. But he also raises the prospect of a China that remains authoritarian and seeks to make its influence felt in Asia and around the world. If China takes this route, it is true that it would certainly threaten some of our interests. I agree with him that a more powerful China would increase its influence over the South China Sea and be able to bring Taiwan to terms. Nevertheless, it would be far more difficult for China to threaten and project its power onto America's more significant economic and strategic partners in the Asian region such as India, South Korea and Japan. These nations all have significant economic and military capabilities in their own right and could probably contain China to some degree, even without American assistance. In discussing the balance of power, Friedberg should have taken the capacities of our allies into account. I also think Friedberg exaggerates the degree to which China wants to see American influence removed from the Asian region. China has welcomed the United States as a stabilizing and restraining force in Japan and Korea in the past and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Even if China remains authoritarian, it will still have many common interests with the United States in Asia.

There are some places where the author has a tendency to give too much background information. In the opening chapter, for instance, he talks about the shift in the global balance of economic power. He did not need to go all the way back to the Middle Ages to do this, however, and much of his historical analysis here feels superficial and is not particularly new or interesting. Friedman's book could also have benefitted from a chapter on economic competition. He only mentions Africa, which is becoming another site of Sino-American conflict a handful of times.

While I have my disagreements with this author, however, there are places where he offers excellent analysis. His substantive chapters on recent Chinese and American policy, the balance of influence and the balance of power are filled with keen insight. He builds on the work of other recent scholars such as Joshua Kurlantzik (The Charm Offensive) to demonstrate how China has tried to improve its image in Asia and augment its soft power, sometimes at the expense of the United States. He also has very good detailed information on the comparative military strengths of the United States and China, showing how the PRC can offset current American advantages with the technologies that it is developing. As an academic and former policymaker, Friedberg does a great job of framing the issues in ways that will be useful both in Washington and in the university. Overall, while I believe that Friedberg sometimes exaggerates the threat posed by China he deserved credit for writing an interesting book that challenges prevailing wisdom.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2013
Beware of a Revisionist China: A Book Report of Aaron Friedberg's `A Conquest For Supremacy'

Aaron Friedberg presents the reader with a thorough and mostly objective view of China's rise and relations with the United States. Dr.Friedberg starts off by addressing the historical perspective, showing the reader China's place in history and how relations started with the West from the 1500s. Of particular interest, how China was essentially matched if not ahead of the west up until the arrival of Portuguese explorers in early 1500s. Friedberg uses the historical perspective to depict how China has held a long deep rooted tradition of being the Asian dominate power and how they continue to see themselves as the rightful leader in the region. Essentially Friedberg uses a historical approach to make it clear how immersion from the age of discovery to Communist China under Mao have made China what it is today. After educating the reader on China's background and context he goes into what he believes truly is modern China and what its objectives are from after the cold war through 21st century. Even though Friedberg tries to present an objective viewpoint the truth is A Conquest For Supremacy essentially hides a realist argument that China's rise needs to be balanced both diplomatically and militarily by the US.
Friedberg portrays China as a rising country that is aware of the imbalance of power throughout the Pacific. To correct the imbalance A Conquest of Supremacy thoroughly goes into China's efforts to increase its status in both soft and hard power. Concerning soft power, Friedberg addresses China's attempts to increase its influence not only with other Asian countries but also with countries around the world. In this realm China's efforts are so deeply vested that the book even says that China has some involvement in every country in the world. The efforts in soft power are shown to not only be economic but also concerning situations of humanitarian aid and local development. These efforts are argued to be attempts by China to increase its influence around the world while in turn decreasing the influence of the United States. In a belief that should these relationships continue to build that there is a possibility that many countries will begin to lean towards China instead of the US. Aside from soft power Friedberg thoroughly addresses China's military capabilities and their attempts at building hard power.
A large part of Friedberg's argument focuses on "better balancing" and specifically encouraging the US to properly respond to China's military build up before it's too late. Friedberg argues that China has been spending the majority of their defense budget on anti access and area denial capabilities. In particular China has been building up its ballistic missile capabilities and offensive delivery vehicles. Essentially focusing on weapons that will allow them to deliver crippling blows to US ships and bases throughout the Pacific. China realizes that they are far away from matching the direct might of the US Navy so these anti-access/area-denial capabilities are the most efficient alternative. These efforts have also been applied to the situation with Taiwan. As according to Friedberg, China has set up thousands of advanced ballistic missiles that would be able to completely cripple Taiwan before a war even officially started. Friedberg's main argument is that the US needs to adjust and balance to meet this anti-access threat or they will soon start losing their power projection throughout the Pacific. To do this Friedberg says the US needs to allocate funds away from conventional military assets such as advanced fighter planes and carriers, and instead focus on its own light offensive capabilities such as aerial and marine drones.
A Conquest for Supremacy presents very compelling arguments that are hard to completely dismiss. It certainly cannot be denied that regardless of the power and capabilities of US carrier groups that they present soft targets that are vulnerable to essentially inexpensive ballistic missiles. I also strongly agree that China does not need to win a war with the US to project its power. Using anti-access capabilities to cripple the US Pacific fleet and its assets will be enough to make US involvement in the Pacific too costly of a venture. China wants to be seen as peaceful as it continues to build up its military capabilities and soft power projection throughout the Pacific. I am also in agreement with Friedberg that these efforts by China cannot be ignored, and that the US needs to use "better balancing" to meet the threat now before China is truly capable of usurping the US as the main power in the Pacific. Ultimately I have few criticisms of Friedberg's analysis. I see potential conflict and provocation with his belief that the US should focus on building up its offensive capabilities in the Pacific. Aside from that one point I believe A Conquest of Supremacy to be a fantastic work that accurately portrays the current and future situation with China.

I highly recommend this book to all people interested in the topic. Regardless of your oppinions or views it cant be ignored that Friedberg really does present a thorough anaylsis of the situation.

For more anaylsis check [...]
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2011
Professor Fridberg makes a case that China seeks to eject the US from East Asia. He seems to claim that most establishment figures have been seeing the relationship in rose colored lenses. He believes that the grand wager made by the US, that economic development in China will integrate it so closely with the world and develop pluralistic forces, has been a failure. He believes the US needs to emphasize the containment in contain/engagement. He believes war would ensue if the US did not contain China. All well and good. But he throws in unattributed information about millions of Chinese immigrants in Russia, and makes one believe that there is a dastardly Chinese plan to invade Burma by corrupting its officials, when it could just as easily be explained by natural human instincts to migrate to places with more opportunity.

And he never answers the question of whether the world can afford a cold/hot war between its two largest economies, each nuclear armed. A small disruption like 9/11 brought the US near to recession. An act of war would choke off world trade by raising insurance rates. It would push millions out of work. As Churchill said, it is better to jaw, jaw than to war, war.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2012
Donald Rumsfeld once famously made the distinction between the "known knowns" and the "known unknowns". The later expression provided the title for his memoirs. He could have added the two categories of the "unknown knowns"--things you know without knowing it-- and the "unknown unknowns"--things that you do not know that you don't know. These seemingly paradoxical expressions will serve me as guiding posts for reviewing Aaron Friedberg's A Contest for Supremacy, which focuses on the nascent struggle between China and America for regional preeminence and ascendancy in East Asia.

Usually a scholar working on strategic issues makes the case that his domain of specialization is the most important in the world, bar none. Not so with Professor Friedberg. Although the book's flip cover makes the bold statement that "as the twenty-first century unfolds, the United States faces no task more important than managing our mixed, complex, uncertain, and potentially unstable relationship with China," this should not be read as a vindication of the author's line of expertise. For Aaron Friedberg is not a China scholar. As he makes it clear, he is no "card-carrying member of the China-watching fraternity". Precisely because of this, he is able to give a fresh look at a subject that has occupied him fully for the previous five years, and which he has been considering "for a good deal longer than that" (no doubt his stint in government as deputy assistant for national security in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney has sensitized him to the importance of the Sino-American relationship, arguably the most strategic bilateral relation in the world). He came to study China because he deemed the topic was important, indeed vital; not the other way around. As he states, "the truth is that China is too important to be left to the China hands". For him, China was a known unknown: an issue he knew was important, but on which he had to invest considerable intellectual resources before he could get a grip on it. It was also an unknown known: an issue known by scholars but, precisely because of this, about which must remained unknown.

Before turning to China, Friedberg had been an academic historian working on international relations. His first book focused on Britain's relative decline at the turn of the twentieth century, and his second addressed America's anti-statism and its cold war grand strategy. As mentioned, his two years' term in government gave him a hands-on experience on international security issues. These previous achievements framed the way he approached the topic of A Contest for Supremacy. Had America entered a period of relative decline and was it, as Great Britain one hundred years before, about to pass on the baton to the world's ascending power? Or was it about to launch a new cold war strategy in order to protect its leadership? Indeed, did the United States have a grand strategy that could respond to the Chinese leadership's own plans and long-term objectives? And did Chinese leaders pursue long-term goals, or were they just opportunistically clinging to power by riding the wave of economic growth? These are the known unknowns in the Rumsfeld's sense of the word: the questions one needs to address in order to get a clearer view of an important international topic.

A valid standard for evaluating a scholarly work is to determine its use of primary sources and, based on these, its contribution to the existing literature. Measured by this yardstick, Friedberg's contribution is meager. It is not null however: Friedberg does exploit primary sources and archival records dating back from the United States' first period of strategic alignment with China under the leadership of president Richard Nixon and of his diplomatic adviser Henry Kissinger. This period is a "known known": the "Nixon in China" defining moment has been the subject of many books, not to mention a Hollywood movie and a music opera. As for Kissinger, the scholar-turned-politician-turned-sage has written extensively on his exchanges with Chinese leaders, spanning half a century from his first meeting with Zhou Enlai in 1971 up to his interactions with present leadership. Historians can however always look at the past with new research questions, or exploit previously overlooked material. There are nuggets of unknown to be found in the most known and visited historical episodes.

The main research question Friedberg addresses through archival work is a strategic one: in the context of their newly concluded partnership with China, what would the United States have done in the case of a Sino-Soviet armed conflict? Looking at the archival record, Friedberg uncovers a striking proposal by Nixon and his national security adviser to provide "some significant assistance" and take "whatever measures were necessary" to prevent an attack on Chinese territory. Kissinger was seemingly serious in his overtures to the Chinese, which illustrate his taste for secret diplomatic channels and his realist, almost cynical mindset. But in the end, the Chinese responded evasively, and the easing of cold war relations put these plans on the shelf. Besides, as the author notes, "whether or not Congress and the American public would have been willing to support such action is also open to question." Contrary to Kissinger's secret schemes, "ideological factors, disapproval of China's domestic political institutions, distrust of its totalitarian leaders, and sympathy for anti-Communist Taiwan helped prevent the formation of a true Sino-American strategic alliance during the closing decades of the Cold War."

But valuable as it is, historical storytelling is not the main contribution of A Contest for Supremacy. Turning to political science, the author tries to identify the strategic goals and long-term objectives of the current Chinese leadership, so as to explain their behavior and mode of interaction with the United States. Whereas he based his analysis of America's foreign policy on scholarly assessment and primary sources, he was not able to do the same for China, due in part to the language barrier, but most importantly because the decision proceedings of the Chinese state apparatus are not made public. Here the historian and the political scientist are limited to hypotheses and conjectures. There are many things that we do not know about China's foreign policy. As Wilson Churchill famously said about Russian diplomacy, it is "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma". In other words, China's long-term objectives are unknown unknowns. We cannot know them for sure, due to the secretive and deceptive nature of the Chinese regime. We cannot even be sure of their existence, as Chinese leaders may disagree among themselves, or may not have reached decisive conclusions. Indeed, as the author notes, "the current regime does not appear to have a universally shared definition of its preferred objective, a timetable for achieving it, or even a fully articulated strategy for doing so." Finally, we cannot be sure that those hypothetical goals will remain as they are, as regime change may give rise to an entirely different paradigm.

In light of all these complexities, any analysis of China's long-term objectives cannot help but rest on inference and speculation, and its conclusions should therefore be treated with appropriate skepticism. Bearing these caveats in mind, and to structure the research process, the author develops a three-pronged strategy. First, he bases his analysis on observed patterns of behavior: he recalls the initiatives and reactions of Chinese leaders to recent events, combined with what we know about the handling of international relations by ascending powers. In particular, he refers to Samuel Huntington's insight that since the start of the nineteenth century, all emergent great powers have behaved in a similarly assertive and often disruptive fashion, and to his prediction that China would most probably move in the same direction. Of course, as Friedberg is wont to note, "just because other powers have acted in certain ways does not necessarily means that China will do the same." But if the behavior of other countries in similar situations is any guide, there is good reason to expect that China's ambition will grow as its power expands.

The second research strategy used by the author is done through a survey of the opinions and analysis expressed in a large sample of Chinese academic journals and periodicals, accessible in English translation through the Open Source Center, a US government website. These opinions are not taken at face value: they may not reflect the thinking of the Chinese leadership, or they may even have been formulated in order to misguide the public and to deceive foreign watchers. But here Friedberg submits his sample of texts to the sieve of a simple method of interpretation: if some of the arguments to be found in the open literature are hardly bland or reassuring, then there is reason to believe that "even tougher, more aggressive (and possibly more influential) opinions are expressed within the confines of the Chinese system". Similarly, provocative jokes or attempts at humor submitted by Chinese officials in the course of casual conversations may be more revealing than public speeches or repetitions of the official party line.

The third strategy for interpreting Chinese goals and objectives is to use what we know about the Chinese way of thinking in a sparse and reasoned manner. Friedberg points out that "China's leaders are the inheritors of a tradition of statecraft that has been in the making for thousands of years." For him, this tradition is a known unknown: he does not pretend to have special insights into China's strategic thought as expressed in the Seven Military Classics or the Thirty-Six Stratagems. Nor does he refer to the "Middle Kingdom" mentality, the tributary system or other supposed remnants of China's imperial past that feature so prominently in Kissinger's recent book On China. In fact, we have no evidence that China's current leadership refer to such Weltanschauung or are directly influenced by it. Mao Zedong fancied himself as a scholar and read widely. Zhou Enlai liked to quote proverbs and write poetry. By contrast, China's contemporary leaders are engineers, and we may suppose they are too busy to read the classics or entertain cultural pursuits. But it would be equally preposterous to suppose that they are not influenced by what Friedberg describes as "the deep accumulated bedrock of conservative Chinese realism", or to assume that Chinese officials could be converted overnight to Western neo-liberal thinking. Quoting Friedberg: "To believe that more, higher level talks will persuade Beijing to see things Washington's way, accept its rules, and follow its lead, even as China's power grows and its options expand, is either naive or condescending, and quite possibly both."

Usually academics working on international relations divide themselves between the two schools of neo-realism and neo-liberalism, with constructivism as a third emergent paradigm. Professor Friedberg does not fit nicely into this distinction. He is more preoccupied with "hard power"--defined as "the capacity to coerce, deter, defend and destroy"--than with the wishy-washy aspects of public diplomacy--although he pays due attention to "soft power" or the capacity to shape expectations and influence behavior. He has little patience for the arguments of the "Shanghai Coalition" (to use the derogatory expression of one former Sate Department official) who derive personal and professional benefits from promoting friendship with China. He is critical of the neo-liberal or constructivist argument stating that engaging China in international regimes and treating it as a "responsible stakeholder" could somehow nudge its leadership into a more conciliatory behavior on issues of nuclear proliferation, support of rogue states, or arms control. But he also distances himself from self-styled "realists" who assert that China's strategic objectives derive from its national interest irrespective of the nature of the regime, and that the interests of a democratic China would not be much different from those of today's authoritarian state. As we saw, the figure of Henry Kissinger, the archbishop of realpolitik, comes out severely bruised from the author's historical account.

Aaron Friedberg subscribes to the formulation that "stripped of its diplomatic niceties, the ultimate aim of the American strategy is to hasten a revolution, albeit a peaceful one, that will sweep away China's one party authoritarian state and leave a liberal democracy in its place." Similarly, he posits that "China seeks to displace the United States as the dominant player in Est Asia, and perhaps to extrude it from the region altogether, while at the same time avoiding a potentially disastrous direct confrontation." In the long run, he believes that only one factor, the possible political liberalization of China, has the potential to push the relationship decisively toward a stable and lasting peace. Over a long-term horizon, he believes "the United States can learn to live with a democratic China as he preponderant power in East Asia, much as Great Britain came to accept America as the dominant power in the Western Hemisphere." But in the meanwhile, as regards US-China relations, "things may get worse before they get better". As "prudent planners hope for the best but prepare for the worst," the United States should revert to a more confrontational relation by adopting a policy of "balanced engagement" that sounds definitely more hawkish than the current one.

Could Aaron Friedberg then be labeled a neoconservative? Several hints point toward this conclusion. He published his original essay on the strategic rivalry between China and the United States in Commentary, the arch-neocon journal of choice. His book comes with an endorsement by Robert Kagan, a prominent figure in the neoconservative constellation. Professor Friedberg shares with other neoconservatives several traits and sources of inspiration that can be traced back to Leo Strauss and to Albert Wohlstetter, Paul Wolfowitz's professor at the University of Chicago. Among these traits, one can mention the sense of moral clarity that sheds light on political debates, the personal hostility to the figure of Henry Kissinger and to the realpolitik that he embodied, the talent for polemics and the tendency to play whack-a-mole with competing arguments, the knack for the definitive formula expressed with succinct aplomb, the notion that rivalry between great powers are rooted in ideological differences as much as in the stubborn realities of power politics, and the insistence that the nature of the regime defines the orientation of its foreign policy as well as its capacity for deception. But in the end, the author's arguments cannot be easily dismissed using invectives and labels, and categorizing Aaron Friedberg as a neocon adds little to the debate, as neoconservatism has never defined a scholarly posture.

Finally, reading A Contest for Supremacy made me reassess the legacy of Samuel Huntington, the author of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, who passed away in 2002. I think that many misperceptions Huntington's thesis elicited was due to the fact that critics insisted on the first part of the book's title, pointing out that civilizations were not destined to clash and may not even exist as delineated by Huntington in the first place. But critics who took the pain to read the book mostly overlooked the other part of its title, which occupies a substantial part of the argument and which relates to the redefinition of the international order in a new post-cold war world. Huntington's book, published in 1996, also suffered from the proximity of the events of September 11, 2001, and of the "global war on terrorism" that ensued. In any case, Aaron Friedberg pays due tribute to Samuel Huntington and to another figure of the foreign policy establishment, Andrew W. Marshall, to both of whom the book is dedicated--as "teachers, mentors, exemplars". His hommage invites us to revisit the thesis of the remaking of the world order prophesized by Samuel Huntington, or at least to pay serious consideration to an argument which is more complex than the simplistic thesis of a clash of civilizations to which he has become identified. This will be the final "unknown known" pointed out by this book review.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2011
In this book, Aaron Friedberg lays down the argument that China might become a serious threat to U.S. "interests" in the Pacific region mainly because of its increasing military expansion and its authoritarian regime. The author starts by analyzing the current status of China's regime and where it might be heading to. Friedberg sees several different scenarios that could develop in the coming years/decades.

These are the main ones: First, because of various reasons, China's regime might start tilting toward Democracy, and therefore, it will embrace values more in line with America's values, hence it will pose less of a threat. Furthermore, history shows that Democracies do not tend to go to war with each other.

Second, since China is suffering from a big problem of an aging society and from a huge problem of misallocation of resources (more on this topic of China's fragile banking system can be read in Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China's Extraordinary Rise), China might start to considerably slow down. If such a scenario plays out, China might face social unrest which will force the Chinese government to devote more resources to domestic security instead of to their military. Moreover, the Chinese government will be less inclined to be aggressive if they will feel that their regime is hanging by a thread. In an environment of slower growth, the Chinese government will have less capital to devote to military expansion. Friedberg, correctly points out that if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will be pushed to the corner it might, out of desperation, engage in some form of a military attack in order to unite the Chinese people behind the party.

Lastly, in Friedberg eyes, the worst scenario will be that China doesn't slow down nor does it suffer from social unrest nor show any signs of embracing Democracy. In this scenario, China's fierce military expansion will continue and eventually, if nothing will be done by the U.S., will hurt U.S. interests.

I was highly impressed by the great research and the very balanced approach of Friedberg. However, I felt that this book left a few questions unanswered: (1) Friedberg does not define what exactly U.S. interests are, (2) Why is it so vital for the U.S. to protect Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, (3) Even if China gains control of the Pacific region, how will it affect the U.S.?, and (5) Can the U.S. and the world afford another arms race similar to the one that happened during the Cold War, especially now when the western world economics are in such a fragile condition?

Friedberg keeps pointing out that China's huge military expansion is a threat to the United States. However, he fails to address the question of how China might view the United States. Taking into account that the United States' defense budget is about six times larger than China's and that China is surrounded by U.S. bases (Japan, South Korea and others), it seems quite reasonable that China will want to protect itself.
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15 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Friedberg's books provides a good overview of past, current, and possibly future U.S. - Chinese relations. He asserts that the goal of Chinese policymakers is to win without fighting - displacing the U.S. as the leading power in Asia. The U.S., on the other hand, aims to integrate China into the existing international system and transform it into a democracy. However, since 9/11 American policy has focused on the Middle East and combating terrorism, while playing down differences with Beijing in the hope of gaining its cooperation against terrorism and 'rogue states.' That hope has proved largely unmet. Meanwhile, China's strengthening economy has, until now, remained hidden behind America's housing bubble and its Iraq/Afghanistan adventures. Since the 'Great Recession, China has become more assertive - resisting pressure for political change while it now pushes the U.S. to reform its debt-driven economy, has moved to reduce reliance on exporting to the U.S., and also moved to offset U.S. military power and diplomatic influence in the region. This is undoubtedly partly due to our floundering in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as our current political inability to resolve any of a host of major problems.

Friedberg continues, offering an unsatisfactory effort to explain Europe's rise to power prior to Asia via the Protestant Ethic vs. Confucianism. (Confucianism today is proving to be a major source of Asian strength, especially in China - thanks to its high respect for parents and authority, commitment to education and bettering society. Historian Niall Ferguson offers an alternative view - that the true narrative of the 20th century has proven to be the revival of Asian power and the descent of the West. The broad trend in Asia has been that its new post WW-II governments, spurred by a desire to keep pace with neighbors and prevent internal unrest, facilitated by an expanding role for markets and turning away from self-sufficiency and government management to an expanding role for markets and exports.

Despite Mao's tragic blunders (The Great Leap Forward, and The Cultural Revolution), China achieved 4% GDP growth/year from 1952-1978, though it was obviously having great difficulty feeding its population; Friedberg, however, does not adjust this for population growth. Since then, the pragmatism and openness of Deng, combined with investment and savings rates as high as 50% have propelled China rapidly foward - averaging 9% GDP growth/year, 7% on a per capita basis.

Many Americans believe trade with China helps suppress mutual hostility - author Friedberg, however, contends there is little historical experience to support this, citing pre-WW II experiences with Germany and China's periodic antagonism towards Taiwan, one of its greatest trading partners. Regardless, our efforts to depose/undermine leaders in Honduras, Iran (twice), Iraq, Libya, Panama, former Soviet nations, and Venezuela, as well as recent efforts to strengthen ties with other Asian nations make China's leaders wary of the U.S. There concern is acerbated by China's deepening dependence on imports of energy, food, and raw materials, vs. America's navy. Many Americans also believe that China's participation in international institutions helps 'socialize' its elites and bring them to Western thinking. Friedberg sees that line of thought as delusional - China has taken advantage of these opportunities (eg. ASEAN, U.N.) to improve its image by signing various agreements, as well as offered development assistance and long-term major trade agreements to help assure future supplies of natural resources - all without the frequently aggravating U.S. insistence on meddling in other nations' affairs. Finally, still others believe that both China and the U.S. having nuclear weapons is a motivator for improved relations - again, Friedberg cautions, contending that the peaceful resolution of the Cold War was as much due to luck as good leadership on both sides.

China also improves its image within the U.S. - via supportive comments by American business leaders, supporting China-oriented think tanks, providing consulting work for political leaders (eg. Bush I, Kissenger), and granting supportive academics access to archives and important people.

Americans are wont to criticize China's opacity regarding hits intentions, particularly in the military area - somewhat strange, since there's probably far more 'Top Secret' documents in the Pentagon than Americans realize. Reality, per Friedberg, is that uncertainty about China is partly due to divisions among its leaders and deferral of decisions, as well as its intentional sowing confusion. As for becoming democratic, Friedberg thinks not - its leaders think their society is too complex to be governable by open, competitive democracy. They are supported by the new middle class which views China's rural peasants as ignorant people who would impose confiscatory taxes and attempts to redistribute income if they became politically empowered; the middle class itself has been wooed by the CCP opening up party membership to scholars and entrepreneurs. China's judiciary remains under firm party control.

Bottom Line: Friedberg's 'A Contest for Supremacy' helps readers better understand China, though like other works on the topic it is neither complete nor infallible. One statement I take particular exception to, 'China's economic development does not . . . pose a threat to America's prosperity' - is way off the mark, especially if one views the issue in combination with newly-surging India and China's efforts to move its economy upstream into branded products. However, he more than makes up for that with numerous other insights, such as how protecting American workers (our trade policy) has taken a back seat to diplomatic maneuvers intended to either contain the former Soviet Union or China in the 21st century. Meanwhile, Friedberg's sense that China is now hiding its capabilities and biding its time (per Premier Deng) while further building its economy, network of suppliers and trade partners, alliances, and military strength is probably true. Already it almost has the ability to offset our Navy through low-cost means such as maneuverable anti-ship missiles, small, fast, and stealthy patrol boats armed with long-range supersonic cruise missiles, satellite tracking systems, and quiet submarines loaded with Russian-designed high-speed torpedoes, is now learning aircraft carrier operation and tactics, is developing new stealth fighters, intensified its claim to virtually all the resource-rich South China Sea, developed deep sea diving abilities beyond that of the U.S., and acts as North Korea's protector. Regardless, the U.S. cannot sustain its military and diplomatic footprint of the late 20th century, and will likely need to choose between defending Los Angeles or Taiwan. Friedberg believes that history suggests we may be at the end of an era of relatively smooth relations between the two countries. Finally, we should be careful what we wish for - eg. our efforts to weaken the CCP might result in it becoming more geopolitically aggressive to reunite the people behind it.
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on July 4, 2014
What is the right American response to the rise of China? Friedberg offers a sober and very reasonable analysis of the US-China relations in the 21st century. He concludes that despite enormous American efforts to engage China and integrate it in the American-led open international order, China's rise must be balanced. For him, China's threats to American strategic interests and Asia in particular are not unrealistic or fantastic. His analysis is based on the reality of power politics and the ideological and regime differences between the two states. Furthermore, he predicts that China's probable aim of regional preponderance is a natural development for a rising autocratic state trying hard in 'making the world safe for authoritarianism'. So, if left unchecked, 'China may eventually be able to develop its strength to the point where balancing appears hopeless and accommodation to its wishes the only sensible option.'(P.119) To prevent this from happening, China's rise must be checked and balanced.

Friedberg gives warnings to the strategic complacency of some American policymakers. He reminds that 'hard experience has taught that the best way to keep the peace is by preserving a favorable balance of power'.(P.266) Therefore, American policies of engagement and containment to China should be smartly applied and carefully adjusted from time to time in the light of the relative strengths and behaviours of China. Similar to Andrew Nathan, I think Friedberg is among a handful of experts that can read the Chinese minds.
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on August 10, 2014
Well written with documentation to back up thesis. Hope this guy is wrong. Our current foreign policy does not seem to acknowledge the China threat.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2012
Well written book on a very important topic. I found Friedberg's analysis and structure of the book easy to follow and comprehensive.

I particularly like the author's blend of background with analysis and forward-looking questioning. Sometimes books focus too much on the past at the cost of quality analysis, and this book avoids that trap.

I would recommend this book to anyone that wants a better understanding of the issue in a clearly written manner.

Cheers,
JFE
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