Today China is considered a threat by many in the United States and the rest of the world. But the authors argue that those who subscribe to this alarmist view are mistaking the Great Wall for a symbol of strength, and falling for the deception of the Empty Fortress. Despite its sheer size, economic vitality, and drive to upgrade its military forces, China remains a vulnerable power, crowded on all sides by powerful rivals and potential foes. As it has throughout its history, China faces immense security problems, and their sources are at and within China's own borders. China's foreign policy is calibrated to defend its territorial integrity against antagonists who are numerous, near, and strong. The authors trace the implications of this central point of China's relations with the United States, the Soviet Union and its successor states, and its regional rivals and partners. They address China's human-rights policy; its foreign economic policy; and its strategies in Taiwan, Tibet, and Hong Kong.
A cool appraisal of China's place in the world, which discounts the more fevered expectations of Chinese aggression. Nathan (Political Science/Columbia Univ.) and Ross (Political Science/Boston Coll.), while noting that China can be very aggressive (it has engaged in conflicts with the US, Russia, Japan, India, Vietnam, South Korea, and Taiwan in this century), believe that it is vulnerable and aware of its vulnerability. Its weaknesses are both military - "by far the weakest of the four great powers in Asia" - and economic, with an economic strategy "that will succeed only through intensified integration into the world economy." China has, in effect, found itself having to catch a ride on the Asian tigers, with all the usual dangers attached to such transportation. Prior to the Nixon visit to Beijing in 1972, Chinese policymakers reckoned that the economy had to grow 6 to 10 percent a year to improve living standards enough to prevent economic and social breakdown. This has meant that China, potentially one of the most self-sufficient countries in the world, has become increasingly dependent not just on world trade but on the attitude of institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. This has led to immense improvements in the nation's living standards but has come at the cost of opening up the country to the very kinds of social and cultural forces that topple repressive regimes. Despite the substantial differences between the US and China - the trade deficit, human rights, Taiwan - Nathan and Ross conclude that the fundamental interests of the two countries "pull them together more than they drive them apart." A thoughtful, dispassionate, and persuasive look at a great power during a time of great challenge and change. (Kirkus Reviews)