Author Shambaugh believes that the rise of China is the big story of our era. He undertook the research for this book as a reaction to most academics viewing China through an increasingly miniscule area of focus, missing the forest for the trees; another problem he saw is that too many simply evaluated China's actions in light of various theories (predominately traditional economics and liberal political science). Overall, Shambaugh believes that the elements of China's power are weak and uneven, less influential than thought. This assertion, however, is based on the assumption that America's approach of pursuing a broad base of influence continues to be effective, even after the Great Recession, our weakened economy (high unemployment, large and growing deficits), stalemated government, and the growth of asymmetric warfare capabilities by China, Iran, and Russia that now can largely neutralize America's vaunted Blue Water Navy.
Shambaugh sees a strong reluctance by the Chinese to get involved in foreign entanglements, seeing them as diversions that can sap its economic and military strength. A special Chinese concern has been avoiding conflict with major established powers. It prefers to be seen as conducting 'peaceful development,' rather than seen as 'rising' or 'reviving.' When Deng Xiaoping took command in 1978 the national policy agenda, foreign and military policy included, was focused on economic development - ergo the West and Asia's advanced economies. Subsequently its appetite for energy and raw materials has broadened its foreign policy interests to include natural resource supplier states.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came to power staking its legitimacy on overturn the old order in which Western imperialists and Japanese 'devils' plundered, killed, and humiliated it. The CCP's claim to political legitimacy also includes pursuing claim to Taiwan and maximizing the grandeur in which its leaders are received abroad while minimizing embarrassment by public protests or openly aired disputes with foreign leaders. After China's recent territorial disputes with a number of nearby nations, no Asian nation, except possibly North Korea and Pakistan, fully trusts it; even small but independent neighboring Mongolia, Myanmar, and Nepal all fear being swallowed by Chinese capital and immigration - they have taken steps to distance themselves from its influence. Russia has also imposed limits on Chinese immigration, thereby also shielding Europe.
China's 2012 budget for internal security ($111 billion) exceeded that of the military for external security ($107 billion). Chinese leaders see that the best way to maintain order is to be benevolent and unified; leadership divisions are viewed as an invitation for internal and external forces to take advantage.
One senior CCP Central Committee member estimated that only 10-15% of its top leaders' time is spent on international affairs. The CCP's International Department claims to maintain ties with over 400 political parties in 140 nations and receives about 200 delegations/year - their purpose being to monitor the outside world, absorb lessons for its own use, and provide positive first impressions for rising foreign leaders. Each day bout 9,000 travel between the U.S. and China; during the 2011-12 academic year nearly 160,000 Chinese studied in American universities and about 20,000 Americans in China. There are 300 million Chinese learning English and about 200,000 Americans learning Chinese. Dialogues between the two nations are generally consultative, where each side informs the other of its preferences and policies rather than forging real cooperation and coordination. The sphere of cooperation appears to be shrinking - possibly because the two nations are frequently bumping into each other in new areas of the world and now even in space; others believe this is a result of growing Chinese self-confidence after the 2008 Great Recession in the U.S. American ongoing surveillance along China's coastline, strengthening U.S. alliances (Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand) and ties (India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, and Vietnam) don't help relationships, nor do our continued arms sales to Taiwan and the European/American arms embargo vs. China. U.S. concerns include Chinese currency manipulation, theft of intellectual property rights, espionage and hacking, and barriers to outside investment.
China is pushing to weaken the power and influence of the West via phasing out the dollar as the world's reserve currency. (Even the world Bank expects the dollar to lose world dominance by 2025.) From 2005-11 the RMB appreciated about 25% vs. the dollar. China sees itself as not trying to overturn the international system, just reforming it to recognize China's growing power, encourage multi-polarization and empowerment of developing nations. Experts see China as more concerned with its own interests than contributing to a collective good. Some Chinese rationalize this on the basis that 'responsibility theory' is but another way to get China to accede to U.S. wishes, others that China has too many internal problems to afford the luxury of contributing to global issues.
China has learned to milk the international aid system - by the end of 2009 the World Bank had cumulatively committed $46 billion in loans to it, involving 309 projects, more than for any other nation; it also has received $19.25 billion from the Asian Development Bank.
Between 1996-2007 it voted with the U.S. only 11% of the time, though 93% in agreement in Security Council votes. BY the end of 2008, China was signatory to over 300 treaties. It has been among the least frequent users of veto power among the P-5 members of the U.N. Security Council - 21 from 1971 to 1996, and only 5 from 1996 to 2011; instead, it often expresses 'principled opposition' via abstention - in over half the Council votes cast. It seems sanctions as a last resort. Supports Interpol, public health issues, environmental improvement (its own record being largely the opposite), and nuclear non-proliferation.
China has had the highest average GDP growth of any nation over the past two decades, averaging 10.2%/year. It has four of the world's top ten banks (measured by capitalization), the largest foreign exchange reserves ($3.2 trillion), the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt ($1.6 trillion), and is the world's largest exporter. Its best chip factories are 2 - 3 generations behind the leaders. Huawei has 120,000 employees (half in R&D), and now offers foreign government access to its source code and security checks. China is the largest global manufacturer in 28 of 32 household appliance categories - mostly for domestic consumption; its Haier is best known for refrigerators, with 10% of the world market. Lenovo is #2 seller of PCs (about half in China), and China also owns Volvo.
China spends $7 - $10 billion/year on overseas publicity - eg. training in Chinese language, sponsoring cultural events; it is now buying into U.S. movie firms. China has no foreign bases or stationing, except under U.N. sponsorship. Its defense spending is 1.4% of GDP (reportedly understated - should be about 1.6%) - their analysis showed that excessive defense spending was one of the reasons the U.S.S.R. collapsed. Defense spending in China has risen from $15 billion in 2000 to $105 billion in 2012. It is still unable to land hundreds of thousands on Taiwan or enforce a total blockade around it. Its Navy has made the greatest advances, helped by buying Russian technology. China is now giving priority to silent submarines and 'carrier-killer' missiles. Its ICBMs are mobile (hard to track) and solid-fueled (faster launch). Its the third nation to put a man into space (2003), and set up a space station in 2011. China is also known for strong cyber forces - DOD reported nearly 90,000 attacks in 2009.
China is not significantly influencing world affairs, per Shambaugh - and that is his measure of true global power. Two exceptions - its contributions to U.N. peacekeeping operations and anti piracy naval operations in the Gulf of Aden.