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Eamonn Fingleton’s In the Jaws of the Dragon: America’s Fate in the Coming Era of Chinese Hegemony (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2008) strongly challenges the conventional American view that as Chinese living standards rise, China will become increasingly Western in its politics and economics. Drawing on more than two decades of experience watching East Asia from a vantage point in Tokyo, he argues that China is instead converging to the East Asian econo-political model, a much misunderstood hybrid system that is fundamentally incompatible with Western traditions and values. Pioneered by Japan after World War II and now widely espoused throughout the Confucian world, this model presages massive problems for today’s Western-defined world order. Yet, thanks in large measure to the success of trade lobbyists in shaping the attitudes of American policymakers, commentators, editors, and scholars, these problems have hitherto been largely swept under the carpet.
The key to the East Asian model is a firmly authoritarian approach to government and a highly controlled economy. The model’s spectacular success in powering economic miracles in one nation after another is based largely on a harsh program of suppressing consumption. The result is a preternaturally high savings rate which has fuelled an extremely fast pace of investment in key industries, particularly export industries. Unfortunately for the West, a major part of the suppressed consumption program is to restrict imports, most visibly imports of consumer goods — a policy that puts Western exporters at a fundamental disadvantage, even as their home markets are targeted by export-hungry East Asian rivals.
The fact that the East Asian model is highly authoritarian has been largely overlooked because of the historical accident that during the Cold War American observers and policymakers felt obligated to bowdlerize the facts about America’s East Asian allies, particularly Japan. By the time the Cold War ended, Japan had extended its influence so deeply into the fabric of American intellectual life (by placing many of its spokesmen and surrogates into top positions in major think-tanks, for instance) that American discussion continued to be seriously distorted or even actively censored.
Basically it has become taboo in the United States to speak the truth about how the East Asian model works. Thus while dupes and collaborators in the Washington trade lobby and in American business continue to present China as inevitably destined to converge towards Western norms, the reality on the ground is that whenever the Western and East Asian systems are pitted in head to head competition, the East Asian one proves decisively more effective in creating trade surpluses and building national economic power.
As In the Jaws of the Dragon shows, if there is to be convergence, the direction will be precisely the opposite of what American commentators assume. Instead of America changing China, China will change America.
To read the first chapter, click here.
Praise for In the Jaws of the Dragon
“Eamonn Fingleton demonstrates once again why his analyses of modern capitalism deserve serious attention. As he has done before with Japan, he identifies the elements of China’s business model that depart sharply from easy Western assumptions — and he lays out the consequences of seeing China the way outsiders would like it to be, rather than the way it is.” — James Fallows, Atlantic Monthly, Beijing.
“With capitalism spreading in China, the world expects Communism to be swept away by democracy. Eamonn Fingleton expertly shows why it is not to be.” — Former Senator Ernest F. Hollings.
“The more heavily that U.S. media conglomerates invest in China, the more vulnerable they become to Chinese pressure to censor their U.S. reportage. As Eamonn Fingleton shows, what we don’t know can hurt us. This is a fascinating book with truly unique insights.”– Pat Choate, author of Agents of Influence.”Filling in the missing pieces of the puzzle that is China, Eamonn Fingleton’s riveting and provocative book is required reading for anyone who cares about the US-China relationship.” — Senator Byron Dorgan.
“Eamonn Fingleton offers a compelling corrective to the naïve and often self-interested view of U.S. elites that as China grows more capitalistic, it will necessarily grow more democratic.” — Robert Kuttner, Co-editor, the American Prospect.
“Fingleton brings his penetrating analytical skills to bear on every dimension of the U.S.-China economic relationship, even the uncomfortable facts that many policymakers prefer to ignore.” — Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur.
“Anyone who cares about the future of American industry needs to read this book.” — Richard L. Trumka, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer.