The Chinese Communist Party is like no other party in the world. It requires us to rethink the very idea of what a political party is. The West believes the CPC is no more than a clone of the CPSU. In fact, it could hardly be more different. The CPSU was a catastrophic historical failure: the CPC is hugely successful. The former was frozen; the latter highly innovative, constantly on the move. It is deeply rooted in Chinese society, a hybrid of Chinese Marxism and Confucianism, shaped by and as complex as Chinese civilization of which it is a fundamental part.
The US-China High Level Dialogue in Anchorage was highly revealing. The strong criticisms made by Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi, in the presence of the global media, about the United States suggested a new kind of self-confidence on the part of China in its growing strength. It certainly took Blinken and Sullivan by surprise. The US message, meanwhile, is that Biden is reading from the Trump playbook on China, with a soft edge or two.
After the handover in 1997, Hong Kong was based on one country two systems. These were never equivalent: how could they be? The essence of the handover was the passing of sovereignty from the UK to China. One country took precedence: two systems was shaped by and only existed in the context of the former. The West ignored this crucial difference or, at least, greatly played down its importance and significance and, what is more, its legitimacy. Now China is reasserting the primacy of one country over two systems: the divisions which have undermined Hong Kong will be replaced by a new sense of authority and stability. But Hong Kong’s problems are not just political. The failure to tackle the socio-economic problems bequeathed by the British – an oligopolistic colonial-style economy, huge inequality and, above all, the control by tycoons of the supply of land, resulting in sky-high property prices – has understandably led to a mood of resentment and pessimism, especially among the young. Fundamental socio-economic reforms, alongside political reform, will be necessary if hearts and minds are to be won.
During January the onslaught in the Western media, notably the US and the UK, against the Chinese government’s handling of the Covid-19 epidemic, was merciless. The Chinese government stood accused of an inhumane attitude towards its people, secrecy, a cover-up, and an overwhelming concern for its own survival above all other considerations. The actual evidence was thin bordering at times on the threadbare but this made little difference to the venom and bile of the assault. Read more >
Martin Jacques Photo: Sun Wei in London/GT
1. After more than a month since the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, the epidemic has been coming under control inside the country. How do you evaluate China’s efforts in the fight against the epidemic?
Judging by the situation now, China seems to have got on top of it, with the number of new cases declining. By and large, it looks as if China has managed to restrict the worst of it to Wuhan in Hubei Province. I think that the situation is looking encouraging.
2. Some people view the epidemic as an assessment of different political systems. How do you evaluate the measures taken by different countries such as China, Japan and South Korea?
Martin Jacques assesses the role and continuing rise of China in the decade 2010 to 2019 in an article published in the Guardian on 31st December 2019.
By 2010, China was beginning to have an impact on the global consciousness in a new way. Prior to the western financial crisis, it had been seen as the new but very junior kid on the block. The financial crash changed all that. Before 2008 the conventional western wisdom had been that sooner or later China would suffer a big economic meltdown. It never did. Instead, the crisis happened in the west, with huge consequences for the latter’s stability and self-confidence.
This is the transcript of a talk Martin Jacques gave at a Forum organised by China Daily at the G20 in Osaka on 25 June 2019.
There is no point in building castles in the air. We must live in the here and now. I am sure the great majority of us wish we were not where we are. We would prefer that the era, beginning in the late 1970s, of globalisation and multilateralism, and that was characterised by relative stability and cooperation in the relationship between the US and China, was still in place. It is not. And it will not return for a very long time. The reason for the breakdown in that old order is profound, as is invariably the case with great historical shifts. We need to understand the causes. Read more >
This article was published in JPI Peace Net and presented to the Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity in May 2019, South Korea, in the opening plenary session “Destined for War?: The Future of US-China Relations and its Implications for the Korean Peninsula”. Speakers included Martin Jacques, Prof. Graham Allison and Mr. Li Zhaoxing. The panel was moderated by Prof. Chung-in Moon. Read more >
Dr Yu Jie and Martin Jacques discussed the US/China Trade War with Jon Snow on Channel 4 News on 13 May 2019.
Watch the interview below:
Dr Yu Jie researches China’s economic policy at Chatham House. Martin Jacques is a senior fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies, Cambridge University and a visiting professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
The following article was written by Martin Jacques for People’s Daily on the subject of the 40th Anniversary of Reform and Opening Up.
A Chinese translation of the article was published in People’s Daily on 15th January 2019. Read the Chinese version of the article here.
When Deng Xiaoping launched the special economic zones in Guangdong and Fujian provinces in 1978, encouraging farmers to sell some of their produce in the newly created markets, and then seeking foreign investment in the new zones, nobody in the world, not even Deng himself, could have imagined that China would, in a handful of decades, experience the most remarkable economictransformation in human history. It is a wonderful story; and from such humble origins. China, of course, is intimately familiar with this story, but the western world still remains largely ignorant of it.
Yet the western world was, in a sense, where, at least in part, it began. Deng, looking beyond China, could see that, while the latter had made considerable progress since the Revolution, it still had much to learn from both the West and the Asian tigers like Japan and South Korea. Deng was a communist but also a pragmatist. He could see the failings of the old centralised and autarchic system and searched for ways in which it might be made more dynamic. In so doing, Deng made two great changes to communist orthodoxy: the market was to be seen as an integral part of socialism along with the state and central planning; and the capitalist and socialist worlds, far from being estranged from each other,were to be regarded as part of the same international system, an integrated whole rather than separate and isolated from each other. And as a natural corollary of this,China should learn from, compete with, and measure itself against the capitalist world.
Deng’s reforms marked a profound intellectual revolution. One of the communist world’s greatest problems had been a tendency to stagnate, to retreat into orthodoxy, to adopt an almost biblical way of thinking, wheretablets of stone replaced creative thinking, with the latter too often dismissed as heresy. This helps us to understand why the Soviet Union failed: it ossified to the point of extinction. Deng’s ideas, in contrast, were hugely creative. They did not represent, as many in the West liked to think, the beginnings of a western-style capitalist system in China. On the contrary, they marked a step into the unknown, something entirely new. The Chinese did, indeed, borrow, most notably the idea of the market from the West, but in combining it with the state and planning, they created something new. And the desire to join the world and engage in long-term competition and cooperation with the West was a mark of confidence; expansiveness replaced a defensive, bunker mentality.
The consequence was a huge release of energy. Everything needed to be rethought – from the top down and the bottom up. China became the site of a massive experiment. The old certainties and guarantees were abandoned in favour of a restless search for new solutions, ambitions and targets.The West thought that Deng’s reforms were simply and only economic. This is nonsense. Actually, what the West meant was that they only recognised political reforms if they involved moving in a western direction. There were, indeed, major political reforms, the old-style state was not fit for purpose, a new one had to be created, and those who worked for it had to acquire a new kind of mentality and new skills.
There was no end point. Reform and opening up was the beginning of a restless, ever-changing, always dynamic, highly creative process, at all levels of Chinese society. The only constant was change. China had to be recreated. And the process was so successful that China, as it doubled in size every seven years, and even now every decade, had to be continually recreated. It involved the entire society, no part was left untouched, from the Communist Party, the system of government, and foreign policy to the nature of cities and the systems of transportation. Most important of all, though,has been the transformation of the Chinese people, who have been the makers and bearers of the change. Reform and opening up has imbued them with an extraordinary energy, a huge desire for change, growing curiosity, ambition, openness and a great appetite for learning. They are epitomised by Chinese students abroad: extremely hard-working, conscientious, open-minded, curious about the world, and hugely committed to learning.That is why, by global standards, Chinese students are such good students, often the best.
China’s transformation did not stop at its borders, on the contrary it flowed over its borders to impact seemingly every nook and cranny of the world. It has transformed China, butit is alsoin the process of transforming the world. The meaning of reform and opening up, therefore, is not confined to China; it is worldwide. We are very familiar with many aspects of this: China as a huge trading nation, its foreign investments, its tourists and, of course, Belt and Road. But there is another and rather different dimension. Reform and opening up represented a new way of thinking. It marked a break with the highly centralised and universalistic model of the state, together with the idea of socialism in one country (or bloc), as typified by the Soviet Union. But also, and far more importantly, it offeredan alternative to the Western neo-liberal model and its developmental adjunct, the Washington Consensus. The growing appeal of China’s approach is manifest in much of the developing world, as illustrated by the widespread and enthusiastic support for the Belt and Road Initiative.
After forty extraordinarily successful years, what is the future for reform and opening up? As I have emphasised, it is not a set of shibboleths, a tablet of stone of eternal verities, a rigid plan. On the contrary, it is a way of thinking, a process, a vision of transformation that combines pragmatism with a strategic perspective. Belt and Road, it should be noted, belongs to the same school of thinking: no plan, no blueprint, no timescale, experimental, constantly evolving, finding out what works, pragmatic, but based on a clear vision of the objective, the transformation of a continent. Or, to put it another way, it is very Chinese, drawing from the country’s long history and culture, the traditions of the CPC, and the needs, interests and views of the participating countries.
We have now arrived at a new juncture. Reform and opening up more or less coincided with a relatively benign and cooperative phase in US-China relations. Deng Xiaoping was always deeply aware of the importance to China of a friendly relationship with the US. That, of course, was when the relationship between the two countries was extremely unequal. Now the relationship is much more equal, though by no means equal. And the very fact of this shift in power is a fundamental reason why President Trump has adopted a much more hostile attitude towards China. There is no question that this will make things more challenging for China – and, indeed, the wider world – in a variety of ways. At root, Trump wants to make the rise of China more difficult – or, if he could, prevent or reverse it, but that is dreamland – and thereby reset the relationship between the two countries in a way that is more favourable for the United States.
China would not be inimical to some of the US proposals; for example, expanding the possibilities for foreign investment in its financial sector, which presently is very restricted, boosting imports, and strengthening intellectual property rights. These are items on China’s agenda for reform and opening up which, in part, areintended to enhance relations between China and the developed countries. But demands that China cease subsidising its new tech industries and those detailed in Made in China 2025, and that it roll back the state-owned enterprises, represent a flagrant violation of China’s rights and choices as a sovereign country. They are entirely unacceptable.
The era of reform and opening up has always been a very difficult balancing act, on the one hand that China should becomean integral part of the global economy, while, on the other hand, preserving what is different about it, based on its highly distinctive history and culture, and its own political choices. China’s path has never been either or but a combination of the two. Contrary to the West’sagenda, China is not western and never will be western, though it has learnt much from the West, just as the West will increasingly have to learn from China. And these, we should remember, are not only choices that confront China: in some degree or another, every developing country, in its own way, faces the same kind of choices, which is why China has such a growing appeal for so many of them. It does not require them to subordinate themselves to western values and norms, nor, for that matter, its own. Reform and opening up rejects the idea of a homogenous western-style world and embraces a world that respects difference and the integrity of different civilizations.