Politics & Int'l Affairs

Bo’s Fall Shows China’s Internal Fragility: Susan Shirk


Dr. Susan Shirk

Yale Global Online just published ‘Power Shift in China – Part III’ by Dr. Susan Shirk.

Dr. Shirk is the author of China: Fragile Superpower: How China’s Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise. Here’s a part of a review from Foreign Affairs:

Shirk combines the highest standards of academic scholarship with government experience as the State Department official responsible for U.S. relations with China during the Clinton administration. She begins here by reviewing the very impressive evidence of China’s economic advances in the post-Mao era but then goes on to document the political vulnerabilities of an insecure leadership. She makes the case that China is “strong abroad but fragile at home,” prompting her concern that internal developments could upset China’s peaceful rise and bring about unplanned wars in Asia.

In the article, Dr. Shirk continues the theme of fragility that places Bo’s fall in the larger context of China’s leadership succession and what it might mean for U.S.-China relations:

The spectacular fall of one of China’s leading politicians, the Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai, reminds foreign policy watchers about the uncertainty that lurks behind the impressive gates of Zhongnanhai. As we look forward to the next decade, the greatest uncertainty – and the greatest risk – in Sino-US relations is what happens in Chinese domestic politics.

.                        .                     .

The biggest danger isn’t China’s growing economic or military strength. It’s the internal fragility that could drive it to make threats that leaders can’t back down from for fear of loss of internal support – and the possibility of overexpansion, driven by parochial interest groups that would benefit in the short term.

Dr. Shirk concludes:

Political succession has always been the Achilles heel of authoritarian systems. Bo is unlikely to be the last Chinese politician to use the media to build a public following. Trying to keep leadership competition under wraps within a black box is a losing proposition. More open competition for power within the party could open up new possibilities for reform that would have positive spillovers for China’s foreign relations. But it’s no guarantee of a China with the political legitimacy and institutional wherewithal to rise peacefully.

Having read Dr. Shirk’s take in this article, I’m going to order–and read–her book.

Post a Comment

Fill out this form to add a comment to the discussion