Fingar, Uneasy Partnerships: China's Engagement with Japan, the Koreas, and Russia in the Era of Reform, 2017

Thomas Fingar's book was reviewed by Steven Jackson and published by H-Diplo. Republished here via Creative Commons license.

Thomas Fingar.  Uneasy Partnerships: China's Engagement with Japan,
the Koreas, and Russia in the Era of Reform.  Studies of the Walter
H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center Series. Stanford
Stanford University Press, 2017.  264 pp.  $27.95 (paper), ISBN
978-1-5036-0196-3; $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-5036-0141-3.
Reviewed by Steven Jackson (Indiana University of Pennsylvania)
Published on H-Diplo (February, 2018)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach
The cover photo of the book Uneasy Partnerships--the uncomfortable
handshake between Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzo and Chinese
president Xi Jinping at the sidelines of the Asian-Pacific Economic
Cooperation conference in Jakarta in April 2015--captures the book's
argument. Neither man evinces any warmth, but the need to repair the
Sino-Japanese relationship impels minimal effort. Underlying the
strained exchange is a deeply troubled relationship, one of several
in Northeast Asia.
_Uneasy Partnerships_ comes out of the Walter H. Shorenstein
Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli
Institute for International Studies. This volume grew out of a 2012
conference in Beijing with many prominent scholars in Chinese and
East Asian international relations speaking freely on China's
relations with its neighbors, and those neighbors' actions and
policies in return. Unlike other books on China's foreign relations,
this one considers how other countries react to China, their
policies, and their options. It is closely related to an earlier
study, also edited by Thomas Fingar, titled _The New Great Gam_e:
_China and South and Central Asia in the Era of Reform_ (2016), which
was reviewed in H-Net by Sumit Ganguly.[1] Like the previous work,
the final chapter of _Uneasy Partnerships_ makes some brief
comparisons to the Central, South, and Northeast Asian relationships.
Much of the research by the authors appears to have been completed in
2012, though Fingar's chapters clearly were finished later, and the
book was published in early 2017. The writing throughout the chapters
flows evenly. Fingar served as chair of the National Intelligence
Council; was the head of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in
the US State Department, and (full disclosure) was an instructor in a
few of my undergraduate courses at Stanford, where he received his
PhD. He is also the author of four and a half of the ten chapters of
this edited volume.
_Uneasy Partnerships_ focuses on Northeast Asia: China, Japan, North
and South Korea, and Russia. Fingar chose not to include Mongolia and
Taiwan in the analysis, the former because it has a relatively small
strategic impact, and the latter because the nature of its relations
with China and others is fundamentally different than the diplomatic
relations of the others. The choice made sense in 2012 when Ma
Ying-jeou's Kuomintang government in Taiwan was pursuing a friendlier
relationship with mainland China than Tsai Ing-wen's Democratic
Progressive Party government beginning in 2016. The omission does
make sense as a simplifying mechanism for a study of Northeast Asian
international relations. The choice to leave out Mongolia is
unfortunate, because it would have further strengthened the argument
of the study.
Fingar sets up a clear and well-reasoned framework for analysis. The
editor describes it as "an empirically-based macro analysis of
China-centered interactions in Northeast Asia since 1979" (p. 21). It
does not have the level of diplomatic historical detail that other
books provide, and though it stresses the role of economic
relationships in Northeast Asia, particularly between China, Japan,
and the Republic of Korea, it does not contain much actual economic
data. There is one graph in the book and there are no tables. The
central argument is that "China's relationships with other nations
are shaped primarily by calculations about whether and how the other
country threatens or might contribute to China's security, and by
what a country can contribute to China's quest for modernization and
economic growth" (p. 226). Fingar argues that China has two basic
priorities in its foreign relations: security and development. He
argues that these two priorities reinforce each other: a secure and
stable regional environment assists economic development, and
economic development has allowed China to develop its security
mechanisms, especially its military, to an impressive degree.
Within the ten chapters of the book, two cover Sino-Japanese
relations. Zhao Suisheng's "Beijing's Japan Dilemma" is a very good,
detailed examination of the relationship, particularly focusing on
the historical legacies of World War II, and the ways in which the
Chinese government has revived, encouraged, and nurtured
anti-Japanese resentment beginning in the 1990s. Zhao's conclusions,
however, are not optimistic, posing China's Communist leaders as
"Riding the Anti-Japan Tiger" of nationalism that they cannot
entirely control (p. 90). Zhao's analysis is nuanced and shows a deep
appreciation for the tension in China's policy between exploiting
nationalism and endangering the prosperity coming from the intensive
trade and investment ties between the Chinese and Japanese economies.
Zhao also does a good job of discussing the Senkaku/Diaoyu island
disputes, the rare earth metals embargo, and the other incidents that
made relations between Tokyo and Beijing very frosty in the early
2010s. Takagi Seiichiro's following chapter renders a Japanese take
on the bilateral relationship, and in particular looks at Japanese
public opinion of China, and the notable deterioration beginning in
2004. These two chapters do not lead to any rosy optimistic or
hopeful conclusions about the political ties between China and Japan,
though the economic relationship remains generally quite solid and
increasingly intertwined due to complex linkages through Japanese
corporate production chains.
China's relations with Korea is the subject of the next three
chapters. The first is a broad historical overview by Fingar,
focusing on the role Korea has played in China's security, given
their long common border. The chapter goes back to 1949 and focuses
on the shifts in periods of good relations between China and the
North, then the normalization of relations between Beijing and Seoul,
much to the chagrin of Pyongyang. The North Korean response of
developing a nuclear weapons program fills out the chapter, and
Fingar does include the most recent source of conflict between China
and South Korea over the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)
missile defense system.
Yu Myung-Hwan's chapter covers South Korea and its policies and
approaches to China. Like Fingar's chapter, this includes some broad
history, but is particularly good in its detail on the economic
relationship between China and South Korea. Naturally, the North
Korean issue plays a major part in this chapter, and Yu gives a good
account of that country's actions in shaping the ties between Seoul
and Beijing. Yu also explores the South Korean dilemma of security
dependence on the United States against threats from the North but
increasing economic dependence on China: "If relations between the
United States and China are good, South Korea should be able to
maintain good relations with both. If, however, the United States and
China antagonize each other and engage in a strategic competition,
Korea will find it extremely difficult to side with either" (p. 159).
Of course, one could easily substitute several countries in East Asia
for "Korea" in that sentence. Yu's conclusions are that the
Sino-South Korean relationship will always have limits as long as
North Korea exists as a major source of frustration for Chinese and
South Korean governments alike.
The third Korea chapter by Fingar and David Straub focuses on North
Korea and its connection to China. Most Western writing on North
Korea tends to be somewhat hostile toward the government in
Pyongyang, and few Western policymakers would ever even try to look
at the world from North Korea's perspective. That is the strength of
this chapter; it looks at the world through the lens of a small,
isolated ideological set of leaders who are seeking regime survival
in a world with no friends and very few options. The authors
emphasize the suspicion with which Kim Il-sung, then Kim Jong-il, and
finally Kim Jung-un all view China; revolutionary slogans were worn
thin long ago, and China's recognition of South Korea in 1992
confirmed Pyongyang's sense of betrayal. After that and the collapse
of the Soviet Union, North Korea no longer had the option of playing
Moscow against Beijing, and now China could play Seoul off of
Pyongyang. Little wonder that the government there began to develop
the ultimate guarantee of security. But one is also struck in this
chapter how unrealistic it was for Kim Jong-il to expect to both keep
nuclear weapons and improve relations with the United States. His son
has not improved matters with China, either, having shot Jang
Song-thaek, China's best connection in Pyongyang, in 2013. Fingar and
Straub do not see an easy way out of the current situation in North
One of the few chapters in the volume that does have a somewhat more
positive outlook on a Northeast Asian bilateral relationship is
Artyom Lukin's piece on Soviet/Russia-China relations. That
positivity may not please Western policymakers, but Lukin makes a
good case for Sino-Russian relations being better than many Western
analysts (me included) would credit. Lukin's analysis goes back to
the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 and the highs
and lows of subsequent interactions, including the Sino-Soviet split,
the period of the strategic triangle, the later normalization of
relations under Mikhail Gorbachev, and the collapse of the USSR.
Lukin is at his best in dealing with the Russian Federation period,
and shows a fine sense of the ups and downs of relations during a
period in which the relative power of these two countries was
shifting dramatically in China's favor. Russia has benefited from
China's rapid growth, selling energy and military technology to that
country, the former an important part of China's ability to secure
supplies of oil that cannot be stopped by instability in the Middle
East or potential US naval interdiction. Lukin goes so far as to
describe the relationship as a "de facto alliance," following many
other Russian scholars (p. 205). This is where Lukin's analysis may
be going a step too far, in my opinion. China's strategic partnership
with Russia is unique in its hierarchy of such diplomatic honorifics
("comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination"), but it is
not an alliance and probably never will be because China emphatically
speaks out against alliances as Cold War remnants. Russia's oil does
play a role in China's energy diversification, but it is one of
several countries with that role. Russians would very much like the
relationship to be an alliance; they are the ones under Western
sanctions for the Ukraine war, and clearly the weaker partner in the
relationship (as much as it probably galls them to admit it). The
weaker partner always emphasizes the alliance more than the stronger
partner, and China would probably be reluctant to bind itself to
another country with as many strategic liabilities as Russia.
Furthermore, Lukin clearly understates the degree of commercial
rivalry developing in Central Asia between China and Russia, a
competition that Chinese products are clearly winning, much to the
resentment of the Russians, who still regard those areas as "their"
sphere of influence.
If Ganguly had a quibble with the title of _The New Great Game_, then
I must similarly register my quibble with the title of _Uneasy
Partnerships_. One of the recent trends in Chinese diplomacy with
nearby countries has been to elevate "neighbors" into various forms
of diplomatic "partnerships." Yu's chapter discusses this matter in
respect to China and South Korea. Yet China does not describe two of
the key relations of this book as "partnerships": Japan and North
Korea. North Korea is listed as a "traditional friendship." Japan is
a "close neighbor." It is indicative of the chilly nature of these
relations that they have not been elevated to any sort of
partnership, easy or uneasy.
The volume in question is primarily aimed at other scholars of
China's foreign relations, but many of the chapters provide just
enough historical background information to the relationships in
question that they might be used individually as readings in
upper-level undergraduate or graduate-level courses on the
international relations of East Asia. And given the reasonable cost
of the paperback edition, this would be a good supplementary text as
a whole for such courses. What is clearly missing between _The Great
Game _and _Uneasy Partnerships_ is a treatment of the China-Southeast
Asia relationships. That volume is being edited by Donald Emmerson,
titled _The Deer and the Dragon: China and Southeast Asia in the Era
of Reform_, also by Stanford University Press, though it is unclear
when it will be published.
[1]. Sumit Ganguly, review of _The New Great Gam_e: _China and South
and Central Asia in the Era of Reform_ by Thomas Fingar, ed., _H-Net
Reviews_ (November 2016):
Citation: Steven Jackson. Review of Fingar, Thomas, _Uneasy
Partnerships: China's Engagement with Japan, the Koreas, and Russia
in the Era of Reform_. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. February, 2018.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States