Thursday, June 7, 2007

Susan Shirk

Susan Shirk is director of the University of California system-wide Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation and professor of political science in the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, University of California, San Diego.

Her new book is China: Fragile Superpower: How China's Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise.

Here is the opening of a brief interview she did for the OUP blog.

OUP: China looks so successful. Why do you call it “fragile?”

Susan Shirk: When I tell my American friends I am writing a book about Chinese politics and foreign policy called “Fragile Superpower,” they ask “what do you mean, ‘fragile’?” When I tell my Chinese friends I am writing a book called “Fragile Superpower,” every one of them asks, “what do you mean, ‘superpower’?” No one questions “fragile.”

China’s leaders face a troubling paradox: The more modern and prosperous the country is, the more insecure and threatened they feel. Market reforms and economic opening have turned Chinese society on its head and created latent challenges to Communist Party rule.

Inequality has widened. People suspect that the rich have acquired their wealth through official connections and corruption. Protests by workers and farmers occur every day.

Popular nationalism helps build popular support for the Communist Party but could turn against the Party in a crisis. People now have much more information about news inside and outside the country through the Internet and the commercialized mass media. Preventing competition between Party politicians from becoming public is becoming increasingly difficult.

The People’s Republic is a brittle authoritarian regime that fears its own citizens and can only bend so far to accommodate the demands of foreign governments. China may be an emerging superpower, but it is a fragile one. And it is China’s internal fragility, not its economic or military strength that presents the greatest danger to us.

We need to understand the fears that motivate China’s leaders if we want to head off conflict with it.

Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue