​Shambaugh, David (2016) China's Future. Cambridge & Malden MA: Polity. xvi+203 pp.

ISBN–13: 978–1–5095–0713–9​

Pavel K Baev

Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

​It may appear presumptuous to try to distil the output of 40 years of research into a compact book with a strikingly simple title, but the author admits that Josef S Nye’s masterpiece Is the American Century Over? provided an example. He keeps to a minimum the references to the vast literature on this inexhaustible theme and takes seriously the professional responsibility in supplying usable forecasts against the warnings of self-censorship (xv). His road-map consists of four common-sense scenarios – Neo-totalitarianism, Hard authoritarianism, Soft authoritarianism, and Semi-democracy – but his main argument is that despite the clear preference for the current path of Hard authoritarianism, China will not be able to continue on it. The turn away from political reforms in 2009 effectively guaranteed that economic reforms that have been attempted since 2013 are partially successful at best. Whatever the efforts directed at the execution of reforms, stagnation is set to become a new norm until a new start with political modernization is attempted. The risk of destabilisation inherent to such an attempt is far higher than what the Chinese leadership is ready to accept. But at the same time, the image of stability that it tries so hard to project is misleading (p. 14). China constitutes a major test for the proposition that economic development based on innovations is only possible in open and inclusive political systems, and the book argues that a conclusive and positive result will be delivered in the near future. The probability of China’s breakthrough to a Singapore-style controlled but efficient semi-democracy is ‘close to zero’ (p. 136), but the probable shift from hard to soft authoritarianism is not going to be enough for gaining a new momentum.