Why does China's prosperity make its leaders uneasy and threaten global stability? In China: The Fragile Superpower, author Susan Shirk explores how China's internal politics could derail its peaceful rise. She concludes that the real danger lies in the insecurity of its leaders who face a troubling paradox: the more developed and prosperous the country becomes, the more insecure and threatened they feel. As the world's fastest growing economy, Shirk argues that the ruling regime has become increasingly afraid of its own citizens, and this fear motivates many of their decisions when dealing with the U.S. and other foreign nations. She believes that unless we understand China's brittle internal politics and the fears that motivate its leaders, we face the very real possibility of avoidable conflict with China- World Affairs Council of Northern California
Doug Bereuter became the president of The Asia Foundation on September 1, 2004, immediately upon his resignation from U.S. Congress after twenty-six years of service.
During his congressional career, he was a leading member of the House International Relations Committee. He served as Vice Chairman for six years, and chaired the Asia-Pacific Subcommittee for six years. He was a ranking minority member of the Human Rights Subcommittee for six years. He chaired the Europe Subcommittee immediately before his departure.
Susan Shirk is director of the University of California system-wide Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation and Ho Miu Lam professor of China and Pacific Relations at IR/PS. She first traveled to China in 1971 and has been doing research there ever since.
From 1997-2000, Shirk served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs, with responsibility for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mongolia.
In 1993, she founded, and continues to lead, the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue (NEACD), an unofficial “track-two” forum for discussions of security issues among defense and foreign ministry officials and academics from the United States, Japan, China, Russia, and the Koreas.
Shirk's publications include her books, How China Opened Its Door: The Political Success of the PRC's Foreign Trade and Investment Reforms; The Political Logic of Economic Reform in China; Competitive Comrades: Career Incentives and Student Strategies in China; andChina: Fragile Superpower. Her edited book,Changing Media, Changing China, was published in 2011.
Shirk served as a member of the U.S. Defense Policy Board, the Board of Governors for the East-West Center (Hawaii), the Board of Trustees of the U.S.-Japan Foundation, and the Board of Directors of the National Committee on United States-China Relations. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and an emeritus member of the Aspen Strategy Group. As Senior Director atAlbright Stonebridge Group, Shirk assists private sector clients with issues related to China and East Asia.
It's now my pleasure to introduce our speaker Dr. Susan Shirk. Since first travelling to the People'sRepublic of China in 1971 underline that 1971, that's early, Susan Shirk has become a prominentauthority in Chinese politics and foreign policy. She founded and continues to lead the North East AsiaCooperation Dialogue an unofficial forum for discussion on security issues between Defense andForeign ministry officials as well as academics from the United States, Japan, China, Russia, SouthKorea and North Korea. She has also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau ofEast Asia Pacific Affairs with responsibilities for US affairs with China, Taiwan, Hong Kong andMongolia. It was during that period I first met Dr. Shirk when she testified several times before the USHouse Asia and pacific Sub Committee which I chaired.Currently professor Shirk is the director of the University of California's System Wide Institute onGlobal Conflict and Cooperation. She is a professor of political science at the School of InternationalRelations and Pacific Studies at the University of California in San Diego. As a leading expert onChina, Professor Shirk not captain Shirk sorry, Professor Shirk has written numerous books andarticles on the country. Her most recent book "China: Fragile Superpower" provides insight into thethought processes and fears of China's leaders. She argues that situations with rising powers such asChina often lead have led to war because other countries fail to understand the domestic, political andeconomic circumstances in such a rising power and react then appropriately. Therefore, in her book shebuilds a strong case for a better understanding of China's fragile internal politics and the variousconcerns that fears and fears that motivate its leaders.Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright called Dr. Shirk's latest book on China as fragilesuperpower, "the definitive book at the right time" an objective look at new China. James Liley, ourformer Ambassador to South Korea and China, now at the University of Maryland said Susan Shirk'slatest work lifts the rug on China's severe internal problems. He also said that she has injected a doseof realism into a distorted vision of China which has been promoted by gushing China watchers whofocus on Shanghai's skyline. So please join me now in welcoming Dr. Susan Shirk.Well, thank you very much Doug. It's really a privilege to have you introduce me, I have enjoyedgrappling with China and Asia with you over the years and it's wonderful to be with you this evening. Iknow that China looms very large in San Francisco and in California and very important and that youare a very well informed audience. This is my second time here on this podium and so I am lookingforward to the discussion. You know, there is an expression that is sometimes used to label Chinascholars in Washington. The critics of China also often call people like me "Panda Huggers". And so tohave Jim Liley say that I am providing an objective view, I consider a great compliment. I do think thatit's important to open up the black box of Chinese politics and understand what's going on in China, soAmericans can respond appropriately to the rise of China and prevent a cataclysmic conflict that wouldbe disastrous for all of us.You know when I went to Washington in 1997 to serve in the State Department, I was actually veryworried about the possibility of war between the United States and China, because just the previousyear in 1996 the United States and China had come into an eye ball to eye ball confrontation over theisland of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of China but has ruled itself independently since 1949.The Chinese launched massive military exercises and missile tests outside of Taiwan's ports to showtheir anger because we had allowed the President of Taiwan Lee Teng-hui to visit his alma materCornell gave a speech there. And in Chinese eyed this signified that we were treating Taiwan as asovereign independent state. So the United States sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the vicinityand China backed down. But what would happen the next time? Crisis escalation has a life all its own.And most wars occur even though no one wants them to happen.So as I worked in government to try to lay a foundation for a decent relationship between the UnitedStates and China and prevent that kind of conflict I kept noticing how focused Chinese decision makerswere on their own domestic politics. Now of course this was the Clinton administration, and I wasdoing China policy, so I was getting a pretty heavy dose of domestic politics myself; remember all thatcriticism of the Clinton White House for campaign contributions from China and for giving away oursatellite secrets, our nuclear secrets. But even though there is plenty of domestic politics related toChina policy in the United States, the big difference is that in America politicians are just worriedabout winning the next election. But in China they are worried about the survival of Communist Partyrule. If the Communist Party were to fall, then of course they and their families would lose everything.You know I often tell my American friends and colleagues that I am writing a book about Chinesedomestic politics in foreign policy called "China: Fragile Superpower" and they say what's fragile?But when I tell my Chinese friends that I am writing a book called Fragile Superpower, every singleone of them has said, "What you mean superpower?" And not one of them has questioned the notionthat China is internally fragile.Now this fragility came through most clearly to me in a very traumatic experience I had when I was ingovernment. It was a May evening in 1999, I was driving home and I got a phone call from theOperations Center at the State Department to tell me that the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade had beenstruck by a bomb from a US bomber flying as part of the NATO mission in Yugoslavia. So I assumedit was a stray fragment, but I soon learned that we actually had, by mistake, targeted that buildingthinking it was a Yugoslav military facility and it turned out to be the Chinese Embassy. So wetargeted directly with I believe three bombs, we killed three Chinese and injured 20 others. Well as Idrove back to the State Department that night my instinct was that we had to apologize profusely fromthe President on down, because I knew that if we didn't show how sincerely sorry we were, that theChinese would never let us forget it, just as they have never let the Japanese forget their failure toapologize adequately for the brutal occupation of China during World War II.So with this in mind we had President Clinton trying to call Jiang Zemin, President Jiang Zeminwouldn't take the call. Secretary Albright that night went to the Chinese Embassy to apologize.President Clinton went on television and apologized. We tried to send a special envoy to China, theChinese said, "Don't come." We tried to have our Ambassador go to the airport to be there when theplane with the remains of the victims returned to Beijing they wouldn't let him go. President JiangZemin finally took the call, President Clinton apologized directly. He signed the condolence book fromthe Chinese Embassy and we paid compensation for to the victim's losses and for the building. Butall these efforts were in vain. Soon protesters were swarming into the streets in Beijing and otherChinese cities where the US has consulates. The Chinese leaders, the Communist Party leadersinformed people in China through the official media that this was what they call a brazen andintentional act on the part of the United States. They also provided buses so that college students couldgo to the US Embassy in Beijing and consulates in these other cities, to demonstrate and the policestood by while the students threw bricks and rocks and Molotov cocktails at the buildings. But theydidn't let them enter the buildings.So what was going on here? Well, first of all the timing of this accident was unfortunate. Put yourselfin the place of President Jiang Zemin and that's what I tried to do in this book, I tried to put the readerin the place of Chinese leaders so that you can see how they look at their domestic situation and howthey look at the world. So just a few weeks before this terrible accident, in April president Jiang Zeminhad awakened to find 10,000 adherents of the Falun Gong, a spiritual sect that wanted to be recognizedas legitimate in China and had using cell phones and the internet with no warning, organize thisdemonstration of 10,000 people surrounding Zhongnanhai, the compound where Chinese leaders workand live. Well needless to say president Jiang freaked out. I mean he was very alarmed; how could thishappen? And he I've been told by a couple of insiders that that night he stayed up late, writing a longmemo not on how to handle the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, but on how to crush theFalun Gong, and I speculate that in his mind these two threats blurred together.It's also important in considering the timing to remember that just a few weeks after the May accidentin which we bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, was going to be June 4th 1999. Now I knowprobably many of you in the audience recognize the significance of that date, the 10th anniversary ofTiananmen. In 1989 in Beijing Tiananmen square and more than a 130 other cities through out China,there were large scale pro democracy demonstrations, and the Chinese communist party almost fell. Sothe President Jiang and his colleagues were worried that on June 4th 1999, on this anniversary thestudents will come out on the streets again. In China it's a kind of a tradition that you do getdemonstrations on anniversaries. So when the Belgrade embassy bombing occurred they thought wellthe students are organizing these protests they are just going to move them up a few weeks, and theyhave got to come to Tiananmen Square or they have got to come after us in Chung-nan-hai, becausethey are got to be furious at us that our government is so weak, feckless, that we allowed thishumiliation of having the Chinese bomb or embassy. So that explains the buses. They were there tomake sure the students went to the US embassy instead of coming after the Chinese leaders themselves.They deflected that tidal wave of protest away from themselves and towards the foreigners. In otherwords, think about the significance of this. They were willing to risk a confrontation with the powerfulUnited States in order to protect themselves from domestic opposition. So based on this traumaticexperience, and others not quite so traumatic but in the same pattern.I started to see this pattern of political insecurity on the part of China's leaders. You know, to us on theoutside China's leaders looked like giants because the country has been so successful at reviving it'seconomic power, it's military power, it's political influence in the world. But in their own minds, I thinkthey feel more or like scared children, trying to stay on top of the society that has roiled by all thiseconomic change since the market reforms were introduced in 1978 and since China was opened to theworld. So this insecurity drives everything they do. In foreign policy as well as domestic policy, andthat's basically my argument. So today I would just like to talk a little bit about why Chinese leadersare so insecure, very briefly.You have to go back to Tiananmen first of all. This insecurity really starts to intensify after this veryclose call in 1989 when not only did you have demonstrations in more than a 130 cities, but theleadership split over how to respond to it, the demonstrations. And they the regime remains standingonly because the military obey Deng Xiaoping orders that came in and forcibly put down thedemonstration. So that close call is very much in the minds of Chinese leaders. Also remember in thatsame year, the Berlin Wall fall and communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe startedto fall. So China's leaders ever since that time have worried that their own days and power arenumbered. They also know that they to put it simply, they are no Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.Today's leaders are you know, the current president Hu Jintao, the former president Jiang Zemin andtheir senior colleagues. They are they lack a personal following. They don't have much charisma.They are kind of organization men, technocrats. And this contributes to their insecurity because theyknow that people don't have a huge amount of respect for them. Most important they know that allthese market reforms and opening have turned Chinese society upside down. I mean this is not thesame China I visited in 1971.More than a hundred million people have moved from the country side to the cities. The majority ofpeople work in the private sector with this very little political control of people. People travelled abroadnow, and they never did before. The people also and I think this is really important, I devote awhole chapter to it. People have more information than they had in the past, about what's going on intheir own country and in the world. That's because China now has a commercialized media and ofcourse the internet, a 144 million people get their news, information through the internet in China now.And this means that China's leaders can longer keep people ignorant of what's going on you know, fora politician in Japan or Taiwan makes some remark that is viewed as provocative by people in China.People in China are going to expect the leaders to react, and they have there is no way to completelyprevent this kind of information from reaching people anymore. It is true that there is extensivecensorship the propaganda department still is a force to be reckon with, there is blocking of websites,filtering of keywords searches, but its not airtight and there is still a lot more information available topeople. China is much more porous to information than it is used to be.The gap between the rich and poor has widened as a result of all this economic change. You know, inAmerica we talk we are very concerned because the wealth gap is larger than it's been in more than acentury. China's is worse and the reason the China's leaders talk a lot about this inequality, which theycall polarization and they are very worried about the political consequences of it. Because people inChina believe that the wealthy got their money not through ingenuity and hard work, but throughofficial corruption and that's what makes it potentially, politically explosive. Now the current leadersof China President Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao are trying to stave off unrest by showing how much theycare about the poor. You know a kind of compassionate communism we might say. Which is, thinkabout it communist party now has to really prove they care about the poor. Their slogan is theharmonious society. And premier Wen Jiabao is particularly affective at this on television. I was inChina before the summer last summer and every night watching the 7 o clock news. Wen Jiabao atleast once a week is seen visiting some poor village where the peasants have suffered some natural orman made disaster and put this armor around the farmer and to show how very much he sympathizeswith her plight and a kind of tears up sort of like Chinese Bill Clinton. And he is very very effective at this.But despite all this talk about the harmonious society trying to show that the leaders care about thepoor, there still our demonstrations everyday in China and in the cities laid off workers in thecountryside farmers who are furious about corrupt local officials selling their land and not keeping themoney not giving them what they believe they deserve. A lot of demonstrations nowadays over theChina's severe environmental problems so great article in today's Washington post about this. About abig demonstration in Xiamen, Fujian province over a chemical factory that the local officials also arebuilding in an urban area and the people use cell phones, internet to organize a large scaledemonstration against the chemical plant. So protests occur and the leaders are very worried about that.When I have met with in fact I think it was one time that Doug Bereuter and I were in Chinatogether, we had a meeting with China's premier, and he got a question that wasn't aboutdemonstration, so it was about something else. But clearly demonstrations were on his mind and heimmediately had all the statistics about how many demonstrations had occurred in the last ninety days in China.Protests are the only thing that China's leaders worry about. Again let's go back to Tiananmen. Thiscrisis at 1989, taught China's leaders three things, they took away three lessons that they learned fromTiananmen. One is prevent massive social protest. But second is prevent any public leadership splits,because Tiananmen the government almost fell because people saw that the leaders had a differentattitude toward the protest. Some wanted to talk with them and have dialogue others wanted to take atough line. And of course because of the splits, it encouraged people to come out and demonstrate.Because they felt it was safe. So the China's leaders want to maintain this public face of unanimity. Actlike there isn't any competition, any daylight in their views between them. But managing to do thatespecially in the context of this information revolution to keep the competition within the party elitehidden from the public is very difficult. And China is right now in the mist of its own political campaign.In the fall, there will be a major party congress. President Hu Jintao will receive another term aspresident and head of the party. So that's not in doubt. But at least, four of the nine members of thestanding committee, the Polit Bureau are going to retire because of age. And also so they have todecide who to replace them with. They also really should select Hu Jintao successor. Hu Jintao waschosen more than five years before the time he became the president and party had, so he could beprepped, he could sort of be a leader in waiting. So they should really decide and one person now. Butmost folks in China think that they will most of the political elite the people who watch these thingsthink that they probably will not be able to agree on one person. Hu Jintao can not choose hassuccessor. It has to be a collective decision of the Elite. So if they promote two or three people and letthem compete over the next five years, it's going to be very interesting, very difficult to keep this publicface of unanimity.Finally the third thing they worry about actually, not finally I have two more things to say and then wewill move to the question session. Another lesson of Tiananmen is you have to keep the military loyal,because if there are protests and the leaders split, then you may still survive if the military followsorders and stands by the party leaders. So I think this really helps explain why Hu Jintao spends somuch time trying to build support from the generals and also why the Chinese military has receiveddouble digit annual increases in the defense budget, since the early nineties. It's in part becauseChina wants a military that a great power can be proud of but it also in part because of the need tobasically by the support of the military. The last factor that has Chinese leaders worry is rise innationalism. They recognized that the previous two dynasties the Ching dynasty that fell in 1911, andthe Republic of China that was defeated by the communists in 1949. Both of them were overthrown bynational movements in which the specific discontents of different rural and urban groups were fusedtogether by this powerful emotional force of nationalism. And Chine's leaders therefore feel they haveto stay out in front of rising nationalism especially on the issues of Japan and Taiwan.So the fears of Chinese leaders about their maintaining power at home their political survival, motivateeverything they do in foreign policy as well as domestic policy. I know I believe that Chine's leadersreally do want the country to rise peacefully and they try very hard to convince the world that they area responsible power with peaceful intensions. But the question I have is will they be able to sustain thatapproach, the responsible approach domestically in the face of increasing protest nationalism and thefact that people have all these news about what's happening in Japan, Taiwan and the United States.So my book argues that we need to be aware of Chinese fragility when we make our own policytowards China. We have to realize that everything American say and do resonates through Chinesedomestic politics. So I conclude the book with some suggestions to Americans and to Chinese too, I'mhappy to give them advice about how would in view of this in turn of fragility how to manage ourrelations so that we avoid a disastrous conflict between us. So I will be happy to talk about those policyideas or anything else in the discussion session. Thanks very much.