Book Review: Has China Won? by Kishore Mahbubani

Living in China for over two years has been quite a unique experience for us. While working with an international university in the area of maritime law, we have observed that the general perception of China is not always accurately held by Pakistanis.

From a layperson’s perspective, China seems to be like any other emerging market: the Chinese people seem to be very hard working, the country seems to have a lot of business opportunities and the nation seems to have the best infrastructure and transport, among other things.

After deep insight, we have observed that China’s development, from a legal perspective, stands on successful diplomacy, multilateral ties, negotiation with international organizations (particularly with the World Trade Organization and the International Maritime Organization), strong public-policy making mechanisms, efficient governance models and effective implementation.

According to Mahbubani’s book titled ‘Has China Won? The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy’, the systems in China have been developed by adapting multiple resilient governance mechanisms. There seems to be a strong relationship between governance and security. Internal security is maintained by eliminating weaponization and ensuring public peace at large, thereby enabling a conducive business environment. China’s strategy appears to be to maintain mutual economic benefit through governance, linked with internal as well as external security, but strengthening security for China means protection, not aggression. That is how China has won, without considering who the beneficiary is going to be.

China’s policy of facilitating businesses is relaxed and pragmatic, with more or less two to three window operations to install large-scale industries. Surprisingly, American investors are some of the largest industrialists in China, happy doing their businesses with ease. Chapter – I of the book (Introduction) highlights how investing in China can be done with ease while keeping money secure. Pragmatically, the investor has no concerns with land and can focus on profit. On the other hand, Chapter – II of the book (China’s Biggest Strategic Mistake) raises concerns about not maintaining good ties with the business community, culminating into a weak position within the World Trade Organization.

Even though China continues to gain certain advantages through the WTO, such as in terms of technology transfers, it still has weak intellectual property mechanisms. Moreover, environmental degradation and policies that do not encourage sustainability are also concerning. A more recent shift has been lauded internationally though regarding China’s urban development and its poverty and hunger eradication schemes. There is still room for improvement in the adoption of climate change policies, clean energy and waste management systems. On the other hand, the effectiveness of intellectual property rights and competition policies is weak throughout the country, which can put China’s future of development at risk, thereby necessitating the government to revisit its current practices.

Chapter – III (America’s Biggest Strategic Mistake) talks about how diplomacy with China’s or East Asia is an under-researched area in the United States, even though China seems to be winning at catching up to one of the largest economies in the world.

Chapter – IV of the book (Is China Expansionist?) mentions the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as an expansionist regime, with regard to mutual economic benefit and strategic aid, rather than some new spin on the East India Company. Expansionism here refers to skill sharing and development, technology enhancement, education, infrastructural development and health security, etc. China’s policy seems to be defensive and rooted in keeping itself out of political, theoretical and ideological debate.

Chapter – VI (Should China Become Democratic?) discusses whether China will still remain China if it becomes more democratic. The author suggests that handling a population of one and a half billion through a democratic regime is neither possible nor desirable for China. Youngsters are instead recommended to focus on sustainable consumption and production.

Chapter – VII (The Assumption of Virtue) designates discussion to the ethical theory of deontology and the development of knowledge sharing. It also suggests that in the global political arena, with multilateral or bilateral relations between states, being truthful or generous is not always the solution. There are no friendships, only benefits.

Chapter – VIII of the book (How Will Other Countries Choose) is quite pertinent to Pakistan’s diplomacy. Neutrality is not always ideal to maintain good relations with everyone. It does not mean that Pakistan must choose sides, but that it should think more irrepressibly. It is essential to develop more think-tanks on public policy, governance, law, science and education in order to strategize the maintenance of peaceful international ties, which must also include international organizations, regional cooperation programs, defence alliances, economic partnerships and global governance initiatives.

Mahbubani concludes that China’s challenge to American primacy is going to resettle the global order. The international institutions developed by China, such as the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), have much better corporate governance structures than those of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Similarly, China’s voice and position in the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Group of Twenty, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) pose key challenges to the existing global political arena led by the US.

After reviewing this book as law students and critically analyzing the situation in Pakistan with regard to evolving global politics, we suggest that the government of Pakistan work on developing public policy and diplomacy centres in order to strengthen the nation’s voice internationally. Having a strong ally such as China is beneficial for Pakistan, however, better policies can further be adopted. The academia can play a significant role in advocating for good policies, lawyers can ensure business stability by providing effective dispute resolution and think-tanks can serve as strategic centres.

As lawyers, we recommend this book to the legal community as well as those working in public policy and governance. The book highlights and critically analyzes the reshaping of the global political arena which is bound to have an everlasting impact on global governance, ultimately leading to the redevelopment of international regimes. The book will also prove useful to parliamentarians and foreign policy experts in their communications at an international level.


The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which they might be associated.

M Jahanzeb Butt

Author: M Jahanzeb Butt

The writer is a lawyer, lecturer and Ph.D scholar at the School of Law, Dalian Maritime University, China.

Khadija Zulfiqar

Author: Khadija Zulfiqar

The writer is lawyer, lecturer and Ph.D scholar at the School of Law, Dalian Maritime University, China.

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