Author(s): Lowell Dittmer and George T. Yu (eds.)
Publisher: Lynne Rienner Publishers
Reviewed by Emilian Kavalski, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, University of Western Sydney (Australia).
A number of commentators have argued that the active engagement of China in the developing world offers one of the clearest indications of the emergence of a “world without the West.” The suggestion is that the patterns and practice of international politics are being gradually, but inevitably, transformed by rules, norms, and institutions whose origin is not in the West – and this appears to be a profoundly new condition in international life. In this respect, the growing prominence of non-Western agency – especially, that of China – has challenged this perception and has demonstrated that non-Western actors are just as skilled and willing to engage in the global playground as Western ones. The acknowledgment of this new reality provides the point of departure for the volume edited by Lowell Dittmer and George T. Yu. In fact, the collection offers a rarely comprehensive account of China’s diverse involvements in the developing world.
The volume includes ten chapters, which can be divided into three distinct parts. The first one consists of the first three chapters, which provide an overview of different analytical perspectives on China’s engagement with the developing world. In the opening essay, Lowell Dittmer outlines the context of China’s engagement. As he points out, both China and the developing countries have changed dramatically in the last two decades. In this respect, the interactions between them seem to demonstrate that “China has been quietly responsive in its own ways to calls to become a ‘responsible stakeholder’” (p. 10). This inference is developed further in Mel Gurtov’s chapter. In it, Gurtov offers a meticulous process of tracing Chinese foreign policy. In particular, he details the evolution of key approaches and perspectives underpinning Beijing’s external outlook. This mode of analysis allows Gurtov to construct a coherent framework of the continuities and changes in China’s interactions with the developing world. In a similar rigorous fashion, David Zweig explores the emergence of China as a global economic force. His examination draws a vivid picture of the complex relationship between China and the developing world – in particular, the simultaneity of assistance and competition between them.
The second part of the volume includes six chapters, which detail China’s engagement with distinct regions in the developing world. The first one details Beijing’s relations with Southeast Asia. In it, Jörn Dosch draws attention to the diverse roles enacted by China in the region. His conclusion is that if “community building and identity formation take place… in Sino-Southeast Asia relations, they are not the prime driving forces behind growing regional stability, but rather mask, or perhaps ease, the effects of China’s increasing international preeminence” (p. 75). In the following chapter, Lawrence Saez and Crystal Chang offer a perceptive account of the strategic implications and economic imperatives of China’s interactions with South Asian nations. They demonstrate that Beijing has developed a variety of policy options in the region, “ranging from reluctant competition to secretive co-optation” (p. 103).
Central Asia has probably seen one of the most significant innovations in China’s international relations. Thus, while in 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved Beijing had virtually no ties to any of the Central Asian states, two decades later it has spun a dense network of economic, political, cultural, and military relations in the region. Confirming this dramatic shift has been the emergence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2001, which has provided a formal institutional framework for Sino-Central Asian interactions. Niklas Swanström’s chapter offers a thorough overview of these developments. Likewise, China’s Africa policy has also attracted substantial public, policy, and scholarly attention. In his chapter, George T. Yu offers a detailed account of Beijing’s relations with the continent. In contrast to Central Asia and Africa, China’s engagement in the Middle East has remained somewhat overlooked. Yitzhak Shichor’s chapter rectifies this trend by providing a thoughtful and considerate account of the complex Sino-Middle Eastern interactions. In the final chapter to this section, Nicola Phillips examines the geopolitical dilemmas and challenges of China’s relations with Latin America.
The collection concludes with a discussion of the broader implications of China’s outreach and the prospective trajectories of its relations with the developing world. Thus, in the final chapter, Lowell Dittmer analyses the cumulative effects of China’s interactions with developing countries. His overview draws attention to a whole range of historical, economic, and strategic factors that have a bearing on this relationship. Dittmer’s careful assessment of different trends allows him to make convincing suggestions about future intentions and trends. At the same time, he is quite explicit that the shape of things to come will depend very much on contingent developments and events. Yet, Dittmer emphasizes that there is an underlying pattern of China’s interactions with the development world which is difficult to deny – namely, that “having inherited from its revolutionary heritage a genuine conviction that the future of the world still lies with the less-developed countries, China’s renewed economic commitment to that proposition… seems to have shaped a new global dynamic” (p. 227).
In this respect, the volume edited by Dittmer and Yu offers a collection of original perspectives on China’s growing prominence in the developing world. The collection will be invaluable for the purposes of teaching and theorizing the ongoing transformations in global life as a result of Beijing’s increasing centrality in the patterns and practices of world affairs. It is expected therefore that the volume will be of interest to students and scholars of international relations, comparative politics, international political economy, and post-colonial studies.