Contributions were received from Claudia Astarita, David Parker, Paola Tessari and Alessandro Ungaro.
Hu Jintao : China's silent ruler / Kerry Brown. - Singapore : World Scientific, c2012. - xxv, 230 p. : ill. - ISBN 978-981-4350-02-0
There could probably be no better time to read a book about Hu Jintao. At the end of China's 18th Party Congress he was identified as the main 'loser' among the fourth generation leaders, as he gave up all his governmental positions. Yet, while it is too early to judge his ten years as Secretary General of the Party and President of the People's Republic, and even though he has never been a charismatic leader, his commitment to the continued rule of the Chinese Communist Party, to a resurgent Chinese nationalism, and to social justice cannot be neglected.
Kerry Brown refers to him as the "silent ruler", highlighting his desire to avoid any kind of public limelight. This attitude left him largely unknown, and his position on policy issues mostly a mystery.
The fact that Kerry Brown successfully anticipated that Hu Jintao would disappear into quiet and anonymous retirement in 2012 inevitably strengthens the sway of his research. Taking for granted that Hu Jintao has been the most influential and important political figure in contemporary China from 2002 to 2012, the author argues that there must be some link between him, his personal belief, and the way that China has developed over this period, and he consequently oriented his analysis to find it.
Hu Jintao presided over China at a critical moment. During the last ten years, China has confirmed once more that it is a country full of contradictions. Beyond successfully ending the WTO negotiations, between 2002 and 2012 China became the world's largest exporter and its second largest economy. During this decade, China also became the world's largest user of automobiles and the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Yet the nation is now spending the same amount of funds on internal security as on defence, probably because the number of protests have risen from around 8000 a year in 2002 to 90,000 in 2012. Hu Jintao is the leader who decided to allow capitalists to enter the Party (in order to control them), after many years in which they were regarded with deep distrust. He is the man who guided China to meet almost all UN Millennium Development Goals earlier than expected, even though over 20 million people are still malnourished and inequalities are rising quickly.
To understand the key political personality of the man behind this unprecedented transformation, the author cleverly goes over Hu's personal life first, focusing on his first Party appointment as well as on the way in which he solved the Tibetan turmoil in 1989, when he caught the eye of Party Secretary Deng Xiaoping. Reviewing Deng-Hu connections, Brown also helps his readers understand better how political leaders are selected in China and how the guanxi really works.
To evaluate Hu Jintao's performance, the author makes use of thematic sections. The first one covers internal politics, looking at the impact of rapid economic growth on society and Hu's reaction to China's major crises: SARS, the Sichuan and Gansu earthquakes, and the uprisings in Tibet and Xinjiang. The second section discusses Hu's economic achievements focusing on Chinese investments abroad, the development of the non-state sector, and the response to the 2008 global financial crisis. The third one evaluates Hu's international performance, recognising his contribution to cross-strait relations as his main success, and spending some time explaining why Hu's decade has been the one in which China has started to articulate a narrative justifying its increased dominance in the international system as a direct consequence of its legitimate interests, while at the same time reassuring other countries that it plans to be a cooperative, positive and peaceful force in global affairs.
Finally, Brown attentively reviews Hu's actions as a Party man, focusing on his attitude towards promoting and impeding reforms in China and democracy within the Party. He concludes that it would be wrong to see him as a man without power, constrained by the Chinese authoritarian system and other powerful people around him. Indeed, the author identifies more than one key area, from Taiwan and Tibet, to China's international relations and its internal economic and political development, in which the strategies he implemented confirmed Hu Jintao as the most significant voice in the country in the first decade of the 21st century. (Claudia Astarita, also in Italian)
The China wave : the rise of a civilizational state / Zhang Weiwei. - Hackensack : World Century Publishing Corporation, 2012. - xiv, 190 p. - ISBN 978-1-938134-00-5 ; 978-1-938134-01-2 (pbk) ; 978-1-938134-02-9 (ebk)
The rise of China as one of the largest, if not the largest economy in the world today is broadly acknowledged, while its new model of economic development and its political system are the subject of much debate. The author of what has emerged as one of the most controversial books on China, Zhang Weiwei, professor of international relations at Fundan University and senior research fellow at Chunqiu Institute, provides an original interpretation of China, referring to it as a "civilizational state".
The book is structured around six chapters in which the author explains why China can be considered a civilizational state, and why it can call into question Western historical assumptions about the value of democracy, good governance and the market economy. Many academics and economists see the Western model as the only possible paradigm of economic and political development and feel that China will have to adapt to the Western way of life in the future, if it does not want to break up and become a "hopeless country". But Zhang assumes a clear and opposite position: China is an unusual country - that is, a civilizational state - and must continue to apply its typical model of economic development and new political discourse without reproducing Western stereotypes. As used by the author, the term refers to a country that has its own logic of evolution and is in a position to learn and exploit the strengths of other nations, while maintaining both its identity and values.
In order to underpin the idea of China as a civilizational state, the core chapters of the book delve into the economic and political aspects, providing some data and examples: China's strengths are its population, territory, tradition and culture. China has the richest human resources in the world, the largest consumer market with a unique geopolitical and geo-economics status, and a tradition of independent thinking. What emerges is a country that has a unique development model and a unique political system. The development model is characterised by a strong realist state that rejects any type of dogmatism: in fact, contrary to the Western model, the Chinese economic approach is based on experimentation rather than on ontology or normative theories. In other words, China starts out by synthesizing experiences and then produces general theories, thus using a typical inductive approach. As a consequence, instead of replicating the Western economic model based on private land ownership, the country displays its own mixed economic system, called socialist market economy, a unique combination of market principles and state intervention. In the same way, at the political level, Zhang believes that China has to continue with its gradual and cautious process of political transition rather than carrying out radical changes in the political system. In this sense, and in light of the negative experience in the Soviet Union, Chinese reformers have to adopt a pragmatic modus operandi, in which a strong state remains an essential element for ensuring macroeconomic and political stability, by prioritising and satisfying real domestic economic and social demands. According to the author, this approach of "crossing the river by feeling for stepping stones" will lead China to develop a new model of democratic system. In conclusion, even though the book seems to be a celebration of China without any examination of the critical factors that affect the country today (e.g. human rights, internal stability and economic growth, etc.), it provides analytical and original interpretations of the Chinese model of economic and political development. Thus, the interesting and easy way in which the book deals with the topic allows anyone interested in the subject to gain a wider and deeper understanding of the Chinese world and its possible global impact on future generations. (Alessandro Ungaro)
EU external relations law and policy in the post-Lisbon era / Paul James Cardwell, ed. - The Hague : T.M.C. Asser Press ; Berlin ; Heidelberg : Springer, c2012. - xx, 433 p. - ISBN 978-90-6704-822-4 ; 978-90-6704-823-1 (ebk)
This book provides an extensive study of the changes brought about in EU foreign policy by the Lisbon Treaty, analysing the multiple areas of EU external action.
The text is divided into four parts, each made up of contributions from scholars in law and political science. Part I is devoted to analysis of the common foreign and security policy through the lenses of European integration and International Relations theories, focusing on the role played by member states which, in the authors' view, still remain the main actors in this field.
The second part looks at institutional reforms. According to the authors, Lisbon has not marked a new era, yet its achievements should not be underestimated. Among them, the authors acknowledge innovations such as the establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the role of the High Representative and the permanent President of the Council, which have great potential. The main challenge is to coordinate the various institutions involved in EU foreign policy. Coordination and coherence are indeed two keywords in this study, since the EU has often been criticised for its inability to act with a 'single voice', a shortcoming due to some extent to the Union's nature as a non-traditional actor at the international level.
In Part III, the authors deal with the role of the EU on the global scene and especially its actions towards neighbouring countries, while the last part analyses more closely the policies falling under EU External Action, namely common trade policy, investment policy, climate, security and defence. With reference to security and defence, the analysis inevitably leads to a comparison with NATO, in what the authors call an "illdefined and sensitive" relationship. The analysis stresses the current overlapping of competences between the two organisations in terms of security, collective defence, mutual aid and assistance, and tries to understand whether this may represent a source of cooperation or competition. According to the authors, NATO and the EU are going in opposite directions: while the former is moving from collective defence to collective security, the latter is doing the opposite. Consequently, it is wrong to think of the EU as a merely civilian power and of NATO as the military alliance par excellence: overlapping competences may lead to antagonism, but the authors' conclusion is that co-existence will remain the norm, since the Treaty of Lisbon itself does nothing but codify preexisting practices.
Finally, after a historical overview of non-proliferation policy, the book focuses on the duality which characterises and has undermined the position of the Union as an international actor in this field. The fragmentation in non-proliferation policy between the European Commission, on the one hand, and the Council General Secretariat, on the other, has led to institutional competition which, in the authors' views, will hopefully be overcome in the future through the action of the EEAS. In fact, the bureaucratic apparatus involved in non-proliferation policy is now part of the European Union External Action Service: this is a significant example of how the EEAS may help achieve a higher level of coordination and assert the EU's role on questions of foreign policy, by providing a sort of merger of the different bureaucracies responsible for the Union's external action.
All the subjects in the book are developed through detailed and comprehensive analysis. But, due to the broad range of matters dealt with and because of the highly technical language, this book is recommended to those who already have a good knowledge of the subject and seek deeper insight into particular legal, political and economic aspects of EU foreign policy. (Paola Tessari)
The cold war / John Lamberton Harper. - Oxford; New York : Oxford University Press, 2011. - xii, 335 p. : ill. - ISBN 978-0-19-923700-5 ; 978-0-19-923701-2 (pbk)
John Lamberton Harper opens The Cold War with a series of questions that challenge common understandings of the Cold War and address its central dynamics (for instance, was the Cold War actually cold?, why did the conflict begin?), informing readers that these are the "basic questions this book will address" (1).
Such straightforward clarity is a consistent feature of this thoroughly impressive book. In order to answer these questions, Harper structures his response chronologically and thematically, separating the Cold War into distinctive eras. Chapter 2, for instance, focuses on "The Age of Brinksmanship, 1953-1963" while Chapter 9 is entitled "Stirrings of Change, 1980-1985". Such an ordered and compartmentalised approach allows Harper to break down an incredibly dense and complex topic and to clearly outline the key points that respond to his initial questions.
Harper's nuanced analysis provides an overview of the roots of the Cold War, the reasons for its form and longevity and for its ultimate conclusion. He assigns responsibility fairly across actors, as well as highlighting the importance of the structural conditions and contexts that guided these actors. He lists a variety of factors at play, including self-confident messianism, miscalculations and misperceptions on both sides, opposing ideologies, a geopolitical and economic contest for supremacy, nuclear weapons, nationalist wars in the Third World, the influence of China and the actions of satellite states. The book has no sense of triumphalism. Rather, it concludes that a clear look back should evoke, along with relief that the "world survived the forty-five years of confrontation" (250), feelings of humility and regret that the Cold War led to such a waste of resources and loss of life for wars later considered to be of "marginal significance", and for sowing the seeds of future tensions.
Beyond providing a well researched and balanced analysis of the Cold War and its actors, Harper's authoritative account is especially attractive in its emphasis on the long-term historical factors and structures as well the impacts of domestic politics. For instance, Chapter 1 considers whether Russia and the West were destined to collide. Harper explores issues such as a mutual fear of surprise attack based on national experiences like Pearl Harbor in the United States and a history of invasion and costly wars in Russia. This, he suggests, combined with ideologies that regarded each other as natural enemies and espoused a directional view of history, contributed to both sides coming to see their security requirements in expansive terms. The book makes clear that individual motivations and domestic politics were also important, going so far as to suggest that an important factor in Johnson's decision to expand US commitments to the war in Vietnam was partly because he "had his eye on the 1968 elections" (156) and partly because he wanted to avoid embarrassment for the party and for himself. In doing so, Harper successfully illustrates the crucial importance that domestic politics had on US foreign policy throughout the Cold War.
This is not to say that The Cold War is without flaws. Accounting for nearly half a century of complex East-West relations inevitably means that certain events and issues do not receive the attention they perhaps deserve. The Cuban Missile Crisis, for instance, an important episode in the evolution of the Cold War, is dealt with briskly across a mere five pages. It might also be argued that more emphasis should have been afforded the ideological considerations of policymakers. Despite these minor flaws, the book remains clear and concise enough for the general reader to be able to enjoy it, while also being of particular relevance to students not only of history but also of international relations and international relations theory. In his wide-ranging analysis, Harper implicitly draws on a number of concepts from each of these fields, ranging from historical determinism through to miscalculation, security dilemmas and the relative importance of structure versus agency, amongst many others. Overall, Harper has responded to the awesome challenge of covering complex and lengthy topics with nuanced, concise, clear and well structured analysis, which makes for an excellent book and a convincing account of the Cold War. (David Parker)