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November 26, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright November 26, 2008 Eric Setzekorn. Used by permission.


David Lampton, a distinguished professor of international relations at SAIS, knows this is a great time to publish a book on Chinese power. As a new administration, which he may play a role in, attempts to craft a balanced and articulate China policy, his newest effort, The Three Faces of Chinese Power; Might, Money and Minds, will be influential and widely read. The book is a comprehensive and largely successful attempt to grasp the motivation, intent and challenges for Chinese international relations as China becomes a global leader and East Asia the center of world economic, political and military power. The result is a cogent review of a broad range of issues and policies which, while impressive in its scope and clarity, is unbalanced in its source selection and focus.

The vital theme that Lampton weaves into his account is the tremendous rise in the quality of Chinese leadership and growing economic, military, political tools at China’s disposal, all dedicated to one objective: stability. Lampton repeatedly cautions readers that for at least the next ten to fifteen years China will be occupied dealing with its tremendous internal problems and domestic needs and should not be seen as a destabilizing threat. He is cautious to note that although China’s current policy to become more integrated into the global system should be construed as a positive trajectory it will still require massive changes by the world and particularly the United States.

Lampton defines power as “the ability to define and achieve objectives” which can be achieved by: “might” coercive power implemented through military action, economic embargoes and isolation; “money,” which can obtain coercive power and confer normative power; and “minds,” ideational or soft power. Each of these facets is intertwined and mutually supporting with advances or retreats in each area conferring more or less power to the others. An important aspect of Lampton’s definition of power, and a running jab at recent American policy, is a concern with power “efficiency.” Lampton writes that “the efficient use of power requires the optimum mix of power types to achieve objectives with the least expenditure of resources” (255). A correct and wise balance of the three facets of Chinese power is a large part of what has enabled China to advance its relative position in every sphere of influence so rapidly.