China and the Developing World
Joshua Eisenman (Ph.D. student in political science) discusses his new book
It unusual, needless to say, for a first-year graduate student to have co-edited a critically important book. But although in this case the co-editor -- Joshua Eisenman -- may be unusual in that he has begun publishing while still a student, in almost every other way he is very much like his fellow students: young, smart, and enthusiastic.
On May 15, in a talk sponsored by the Center for Chinese Studies, and in a room filled with his fellow students of political science, Eisenman discussed the genesis and importance of China and the Developing World: Beijing’s Strategy for the Twenty-first Century (M.E. Sharpe, 2007), which he edited with Eric Heginbotham and Derek Mitchell. Following Eisenman’s presentation, R. Bin Wong, Professor History and Director of the UCLA Asia Institute, commented.
Analyses of China and the Developing World
Over the past twenty years or so, the number books published on China’s relations with the developed world would fill several bookshelves. However, concerning China’s relations with the developing world, until the appearance of China and the Developing World this year, no book had been published on the subject since the mid-1980s. What has appeared in print has been limited to relatively few articles and anecdotal reports, which typically take a region-by-region approach and are rarely rigorous or systematic.
Eisenman noted this is a perplexing since the developing world figures so prominently in China’s foreign policy. As China’s president Hu Jintao declared in 2005, “China will always be a member of the developing world, and strengthening solidarity and cooperation with the other developing countries is the cornerstone of China’s diplomacy.” Facts and figures certainly bear out Hu’s assertion. For instance, today over a third of China’s yearly foreign investment flow goes to Latin America.
Birth of the Book
Eisenman and his co-authors decided to attempt to meet the need for a rigorously analytical book on this neglected topic. How they came together to create China and the Developing World is a story in itself.
Working for the government -- in 2003, after graduating with an MA from Johns Hopkins University, Eisenman joined the U.S.-China Security Review Committee -- gave Eisenman the essential prerequisite for putting together an edited volume: time for organizing, research, and writing. As he noted, “when you work for the government, you can’t take your work home -- it has to say in the office.” That meant evenings and weekends were free for scholarly pursuits (albeit at some cost to his social life, Eisenman admitted).
After talking with several young scholars and analysts, Eisenman and others felt an anthology of essays by several scholars was the only feasible route, since no single scholar could have up-to-date competence on all areas of the developing world. Eisenman spoke of the struggle he faced as a junior scholar in getting authors on board. But, in the end, nine scholars -- all but one under the age of forty -- got to work and produced the essays that make up China and the Developing World, with Eisenman himself writing the chapter on Africa.
In their research and writing, the authors followed careful guidelines set by the editors to assure compatibility and coherence. In their introduction, the editors spell out the four sets of question each author was asked to address:
- First, how does China define its interests in the region, and has that definition changed over time? What policies does China pursue to support its declared interests . . . ?
- Second, what methods . . . does Beijing employ with nations in the region to achieve its objectives? What assets does it bring to bear, and what weaknesses continue to hamper its efforts?
- Third, how successful has Chinese diplomacy been in these regions? Has Chinese influence grown and, if so, upon what does its influence rest? If not, what are the obstacles to Chinese influence.
- Fourth, what the implications of China’s policies toward other actors? What impact does Beijing’s new outreach have on regional affairs . . . [and] on U.S. interests? . . .
Comments by R. Bin Wong
Professor Wong began with summarizing the themes of the book:
- Before 1978, China conducted its foreign policy in terms of “friendship” with developing states while simultaneously supporting liberation struggles.
- Since 1978, China’s economic interests -- trade, investment, securing natural resources -- have become salient, if not paramount, in shaping its foreign policy.
- China’s interest and success in any particular country (especially in Africa and Latin America) are closely tied to the question of Taiwan. The Peoples’ Republic is very concerned -- some might say obsessed -- with gaining diplomatic recognition from the handful of countries that recognize Taiwan, and not losing recognition by those countries with which it already has diplomatic relations.
In discussing China’s relations with the developing world, Wong continued, one must confront the question of what strategies will lead to development. Here, Wong contrasted the approach of Jeffrey Sachs (an economist now at Columbia University and an advisor to many governments) with that of William Easterly (an economist at New York University). Sachs argues for large-scale, macro projects, organized from the top down (which inevitably involves bureaucratism), and for the importance of foreign aid (which, he believes, if given in massive amounts can lead to development). Easterly, in contrast, believes the route to successful development lies through innovation, small-scale projects, and the operation of the market. Foreign aid, in his view, has been largely ineffective and often destructive.
The ultimate role that China’s investment and aid might play in promoting development, Wong suggested, may be an open question. In fact, when it comes to investment, aid, and foreign policy in general, one cannot assume there is something that can be precisely called “Beijing’s strategy” (from the subtitle of the book) since policy is changeable, Wong argued. The book, in Wong’s view, tends to overemphasize a the Chinese policy, the Chinese view, the Chinese way of doing things, when in actuality there may be fundamental policy disputes within China.
In addition, Wong felt that more attention needs to be paid to regions qua regions. The various regions of the developing world differ markedly, and it is important to know how China conceives of these regions and makes policy from a regional perspective.
Similarly, Wong contended that one needs to understand regions within the context of globalization and globalization within the context of regions. Wong referred to recent work of Peter Katzenstein (a political scientist at Cornell University) that compares Germany and Japan as regional powers and investigates how they relate to the United States. While not necessarily accepting Katzenstein’s approach, Wong argued for more attention to China’s relations with the various regions of the developing world.
Finally, Wong detected a tension in the book, one that may be characteristic of much of international relations writing, between on the one hand a policy-making perspective, which concerns itself with what U.S. policy should be, and on the other hand, a scholarly perspective, which is - at least ideally -- unconcerned with drawing policy implications.
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Joshua Eisenman is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science, and a fellow in Asian Studies at the American Foreign Policy Council, in Washington, DC. He received his M.A. in international relations from Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.
Published: Friday, May 18, 2007