East Asia

The following article by Tim Robertson appeared in the Diplomat on August 7 2018.

On July 6, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, celebrated his 83rd birthday in Ladakh, the Himalayan region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. On the other side of the world’s highest mountain range sits Lhasa, the Tibetan capital that he fled in 1959 during the Tibetan Uprising. The Dalai Lama has never been allowed to return. His has been a life lived in exile. But even Lhasa, home to the Jokhang Temple and Potala Palace, was a world away from the place where Tenzin Gyato was born.

Takster is a small village in the far northeast of the Tibetan plateau, in the region of Amdo (these days, it’s part of the Chinese province of Qinghai). In his biography, Freedom in Exile, the Dalai Lama writes of Takster:

It was a small and poor settlement which stood on a hill overlooking a broad valley. Its pastures had not been settled or farmed for long, only grazed by nomads. The reason for this was the unpredictability of the weather in that area. During my early childhood, my family was one of twenty or so making a precarious living from the land there.

When Thupten Gyatso, the 13th Dalai Lama, died in 1933 a search party was appointed to find his reincarnation; they first reached Takster just before Tenzin Gyatso’s third birthday. Shortly thereafter, they sent word to the Regent in Lhasa that they’d found the new Dalai Lama; they then waited several months to receive official confirmation.

At the time, control of China was divided among former military cliques. Ma Bufang, the Hui Muslim warload who ruled over Qinghai, “began to make trouble,” in the words of the Dalai Lama; thus, the boy destined to become the religious and political leader of Tibet was taken with his family to Kumbum monastery, “several hours away by horse.” Two years of diplomatic toing and froing followed and eventually, with the payment of a ransom, Ma Bufang allowed the party to leave Kumbum monastery and travel onwards to Lhasa.

***

Takster is a footnote in the long history of Tibet; it would be all but unremarkable if it were not the birthplace of the 14th Dalai Lama.

Today, it’s still a small, isolated village. For tourists visiting China – taking in the sights of Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Chengdu, etc. – this side of the country’s extraordinary rise often remains invisible: away from the big cities, there is still widespread impoverishment. In places like Takster it’s clear that China’s growth has disproportionately benefitted wealthy urbanities; today’s reality is the very opposite of the peasant-led revolution Mao Zedong hoped would remake China.

But Takster also tells another story of modern China, with its resurgent Han nationalism and persecution of religious and ethnic minorities.

It’s seven kilometers from Takster to the next closest village. The roads leading up the mountain from Ping’an are all relatively new up until the final village, after which they’re pot-holed and often unsealed. The villages scattered up the mountain, where the majority of people are Hui Muslims, are fairly typical of the region: there’s a small middle school, and stores where shopkeepers stare at their phones while waiting for customers. I spot a large government building with the requisite Chinese Communist Party (CCP) insignia and men work in a small square, laying pavers and planting trees.

Takster is somehow different, though. At first sight, it looks like the other villages. Vegetation is sparse, there are old cars and decrepit motorcycles parked haphazardly, and all the homes are small, one-story dwellings with large courtyards. But all the gates are closed and locked, which is unusual in a village where everyone knows one another and many people are related. It’s around 10:30 a.m. when we arrive, but there is no one around. Even the police are nowhere to be seen. We park in front of a requisitioned school desk with two police shields leaning against it, but the comically small chairs are empty.

The Dalai Lama’s former home isn’t exactly inconspicuous; the CCP have “renovated” it and you can see the gold roof as you drive toward Takster. But that’s the best view we get; the house is behind a four-meter high grey brick wall and, on the day we’re there, the wooden gate, draped in Tibetan khatags, is locked.

In lieu of people, the house is watched over by a lone security camera, aimed at the entrance. One hundred meters down the road a dog emerges from a house, then the sound of someone hammering metal begins to ring out over the village. As we make our way toward the only sign of life we’ve seen or heard since arriving, a Chinese-speaking Tibetan man emerges from a dwelling attached the former home of the Dalai Lama. Looking at me, he asks: “Where are you from?” But before I can answer he turns to my driver and, more alarmed, asks, “Are you Tibetan?” When the driver answers in the affirmative, the villager – with an obvious sense of urgency – tells us to leave quickly because the place is heavily surveilled. His voice is foreboding and his jerky, hurried gestures make it clear that this isn’t a place to loiter.

My now visibly anxious driver and I hurry back to the car, hoping that the makeshift police checkpoint is still unoccupied. Although few words are spoken in our brief encounter with the local villager, much is conveyed: Tibetans understand the reach, power, and unjustness of the CCP. They’ve spent their whole lives being persecuted because they’re Tibetans.

Beijing obviously doesn’t want Takster becoming a pilgrimage site for Tibetans; the Dalai Lama represents a challenge not to Chinese power per se, but to its national(ist) narrative. Martin Jacques, author and scholar of modern China, has argued that China is different from other nation states and is better understood as a “civilization-state.” The CCP’s claims to legitimacy are closely linked to its ability to foster an image of itself as the guardian of China’s 6,000 year old civilization. The claim, therefore, that Tibet is culturally, linguistically, and geographically distinct from China and its civilization undermines the CCP’s claims to legitimacy.

Yet, if, as Beijing claims, Tibet is an intrinsic part of China and if the emerging superpower is, as it claims, a benign force (unlike Western imperial powers), then it doesn’t make sense to ban people from visiting sites like Takster. If Takster is part of China in the same way that, say, Shanghai is, then all Chinese people (including Tibetans) should be free to go there. But, of course, Takster is not the same as Shanghai, nor are Tibetans, in the eyes of the CCP, the same as Han Chinese. There is a tension, in other words, between the myth-making that passes for official Chinese history, the national narrative that’s the basis for so much state propaganda, and the lived reality for China’s minorities.

China today is unrecognizable as the socialist utopia envisioned by Mao. Since his death in 1976, the CCP has shown itself to be flexible on matters that were once ideological imperatives. Thus, the once nominally atheist state has, in recent years, seen a resurgence in religiosity amongst its citizens. The CCP has allowed this – even encouraged it in some instances – to the extent that it remains apolitical. But if religious belief is accompanied by or becomes the basis for calls for independence or autonomy or greater freedom, then it’s ruthlessly repressed.

***

With each passing year, as the Dalai Lama grows older, there are whispers about what will happen when he dies: it’s unthinkable that Beijing would allow a Tibetan search party to carry out the task of finding his reincarnation unimpeded.  The Dalai Lama has made some vague comments that he may be the last reincarnation or that his reincarnation may be found outside Tibet in, say, India or Nepal. But until he passes and Beijing reveals its hand, this all remains hypothetical.

When we are a few kilometers out of Takster, my driver relaxes a bit, puts on some Tibetan rap music and we resume the conversation we’d been having earlier. “What do you think will happen,” I ask, “when the Dalai Lama dies?”

“Maybe I will have a bit more freedom,” he replies unconvincingly. He qualifies it with, “But I don’t really know, though.” He thinks it’s inevitable that the CCP will try to install their own pliant “Dalai Lama” (like it did when the Panchen Lama, the second highest ranking lama in the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, died in 1989); a figurehead the CCP can point to as evidence of its acceptance and respect for minorities, but someone who’s just an extension of its authority.

A few weeks later I am in Dharamshala, India with a Tibetan friend who’s spent most of his life in exile. When I tell him about my visit to the Dalai Lama’s birthplace and relate the conversation I had with my driver, he is dismissive of that prediction. It is impossible, he says, that Tibetans living in Chinese-occupied Tibet would stand for such an affront to their faith. If the CCP interferes with the search for the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation, he warns, it could be the fire that sparks a revolution.

These two responses are not necessarily reflective of the views of the majority living in occupied-Tibet and those in exile, but they are emblematic of the gulf between the lived experiences of the two communities. Both suffer because of China’s occupation, but they suffer in very different ways and this shapes their hopes, aspirations and expectations.

All Tibetans share a culture and history, but China, in addition to occupying Tibetan land, has driven a wedge between its people. Many of those living in Chinese-administered territory can’t leave, while many of those living in exile have never set foot in Tibet.

The on-going Chinese-Tibetan conflict is not generally treated as an urgent matter by the international community. Beijing restricts access to Tibet, so the flow of information is tightly controlled, and China is an increasingly powerful force in the world. But the longer China is allowed to remain unaccountable for its occupation of Tibet and the oppression of its people, the harder it will be to bridge the divide between a people whose lived experience of isolation, occupation, and exclusion have been so different.

Tim Robertson

The following article by Prof. N. A. de S. Amaratunga appeared on Lankaweb on July 27 2018. 

Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera,  poet laureate, who has nothing but contempt for the politics and politicians of this country and who has been exploring our past civilization in an attempt to dig out a suitable remedy for our ills, as revealed in his many political analyses such as Ganadura Mediyama…”,  has authored another book on the subject titled Sabyathva Rajya Kara” which means Towards Civilisation State”. He has in his previous works attempted to show that Sri Lanka cannot continue to have an alien political system. He has argued in his works that only a political system based on our civilizational consciousness would succeed in governing this country and bring dignity and freedom to its people. The present system has the pretense of freedom, equality, independence and human dignity but in practice the people are denied of all this basic human rights. Instead they are blind folded by a façade of democracy, franchise, human rights, constitutions, judicial independence, freedom of expression etc. Moreover, it has produced a set of politicians who are corrupt to the core with involvement in crime and vice. The divisive nature of party politics and the ensuing violence has destroyed the unity in the village. What is worse is the failure of intellectual discourse to bring forth any meaningful and effective solution. Nobody has seriously challenged this fraud and attempted to see whether there is any plausible alternative.

Amarasekera’s contention had always been that if Sri Lanka is to find a home grown arrangement of government it has to be rooted in our civilization. Amarasekera is not without likeminded intellectuals of international repute. For instance, Martin Jacques a scholar on modern China who in 2009 has published the book titled When China Rules the World” in which he has put forward the concept of Civilisation State as against the Nation State. Then there was Samuel Huntington who published his book titled Clash of Civilisations” in 1996 where he dwelt on the lasting strength of civilization consciousness and its impact on politics. Before all this Amarasekera had put forward his theory of Jathika Chinthanaya” in his Ganadura Mediyama…” published in 1989 where he describes the characteristic features of the Bauddha Rajya” that existed in this country from the time of King Devanampiyatissa until 1815. He clearly shows that those features were rooted in our civilization. Unfortunately neither Huntington nor Jacques had realized that apart from China there had been civilisation states in other countries like Burma,Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Martin Jacques’ conceptualization of the state in China as a Civilisation State has prompted Amarasekera to take his arguments further and show us that his ideas are not farfetched and are in fact already in practice and most successfully at that in China. He does this eminently well in his little book Sabyathwa Rajyak Kara”.

What is the nature of a Civilisation State as against a Nation State?  The former, says Jacques, is well integrated with the people while the latter by its very nature is not, as it advocates less government control over affairs that eventually impact on everyday life. He distinguishes between civilization and civilization state. He says there have been  many civilisations but what is remarkable about the Chinese case is that civilization” and state” largely coincide not just over a relatively brief period but over an extraordinarily long one. And he says it is difficult to think of another similar example. This is where Jacques is wrong says Amarasekera. He shows that Sri Lanka has a longer history of a Civilisation State than China.  Further Sri Lanka’s system under the kings were more democratic than in China in the sense that the king did not have unlimited power. Perhaps ironically that ancient system may have been more democratic than the present presidential system! Trevor Ling had identified three pillars which supported that ancient state; the King, the people and the Sangha. If the king was not suitable to rule the country the people can get together with the Sangha and get rid of the king.

Definitions apart we could glean an idea about this matter by looking at the spectacular advances China has made in a comparatively short period in its history. In comparison India which had a similar history in relation to culture, science and technology has badly faltered.    In the nineteen forties China was an under developed isolated country and today it is the second most powerful country in the world. India, on the other hand, which was ahead of China in the nineteen forties is still struggling with its poverty. Different systems account for the extraordinary contrast between China and India. China’s economic transformation is said to be the best in human history. Jacques says those who look at China through the Western prism may say that China’s state is its Achilles’ heel but in fact it is its strongest asset.  There is wide spread belief that modernization implies Westernization which is not the case as seen in China.

It was Joseph Needham, scientist and historian, who first opened our eyes to the wonderful achievements of China. He spent several years in China in the nineteen forties studying its science and civilization. He published the first volume of his monumental work Science and Civilisation in China” in 1954 which catalogued the scientists and their work from early times. He has clearly shown that China was several centuries ahead of Europe in science and technology until the 15th Century. He asked the pertinent question; how did the West overtake China and India which were ahead of them in science and technology. This so called Great Needham Question” has been answered by several Sinologists and the reasons given by them varied from too much state control to flawed scientific method. Needham’s own answer had been that Buddhism and Taoism had a restraining effect on scientific advancement. This point of view may not be correct particularly in relation to India where Buddhism was the catalyst for scientific enquiry and where the golden era of science coincided with the golden era of Buddhism. Leaving all this aside the fact of the matter is that China from the twentieth century onwards has risen out of the ashes like a Phoenix and advanced in leaps and bounds and may soon be the most powerful country in the world. According to Martin Jacques the reason for this stupendous transformation is the effectiveness of the Civilisation State. And failure of India to keep pace is due to the lack of such a state.

India from about the 5th Century BC till about the 6th Century AD was leading the world in science and technology. This was the Indian Buddhist era. The decline of Buddhism and the resurgence of Brahmanism heralded the end of science. Brahmanism was based on Vedic texts which exalted the virtues of sacrificial ritual, yaga homa”, super natural power and discouraged scientific enquiry. There was no scientism in the men who practiced Brahmanism. Whereas most of the scientists in India during this period were Buddhists. Indian science made radical, significant and lasting contributions to world science mainly in the fields of mathematics, medicine and astronomy. Kings who supported science and education were Buddhists. Indian mathematics is considered as the mother of all mathematics and its greatest mathematician, astronomer and philosopher Aryabhatha born in 476 AD was a Buddhist who lived in the centre of Buddhist heartland, capital of Magadha Empire, Pataliputhra. According to leading Indian scientist Dr.Neelantha Dhar progress of science in India was obstructed by the decline of Buddhism and nothing significant happened in science after the 6th Century AD. Thus India perhaps had a Civilisation State during the Buddhist era from 5th Century BC until 6th Century AD and lost it thereafter. Kings of this period were enamoured by Buddhism and based their policies on the principles of Buddhism. Civilisation and State coincided. Brahmanism and later foreign invasions caused the collapse of this State. If one were to compare the present India with China one could understand what has happened for the two countries had a similar past. Today China exports six times more than India and is the number one exporter in the world. Its GDP is 3rd in the world and is five times larger than that of India. There are only 13.4% below poverty line in China whereas the figure for India is 29.8%. Martin Jacques says comparing the economies of China and India is chalk and cheese and he says India must learn from China. With regard to poverty alleviation and employment China is doing better than USA.

In Sri Lanka too during the period of Buddhist influence science, medicine, agriculture, building of tanks, stupas and irrigation canals, architecture, metalogy etc.  developed in pace with India. The first hospital in the world was built in Mihinthala in the 4th Century BCE. Buddhism which encouraged scientific enquiry was the life blood of this civilization. Thus developed the civilizational consciousness which is entrenched in the minds of people, which attaches them to their language, religion and country and make them strive for its advancement and protection. The Civilasation State, if it is to survive and succeed, must have this binding consciousness. It had been the case in China which enabled it to bounce back after every fall. And it was not so in India which seems to have lost its civilization consciousness and not found it yet.  Thus as Amarasekera cogently points out in his book Sri Lanka has the potential to find its consciousness and develop its Civilisation State.

In Amarasekera’s opinion Sri Lanka is caught up in the trap of democracy” designed by our colonial masters whose aim was to continue their hegemonic grip on the country. The slavish attitude of our leaders towards the Western powers and their life style no doubt had helped the imperialists to keep hold of that grip. This was evident soon after independence which made national leaders like Anagarika Dharmapala leave the country in disgust. It is evident at present also when our leaders seem to collude with the Western powers to subvert the independence and sovereignty of the country. The colonialists have left behind their legacy and their servants to ensure their hold on the country and pursue their agenda. It is a sad commentary on the intelligentsia of the country that we have failed to escape from this colonial yoke. Amarasekera attempts to address the intelligent people of this country and to make them understand the damage that has been done to the country due to the divisive nature of party politics which is an inherent feature of the Westminister system of parliamentary democracy. This system of democracy is divisive by design and a divided nation is an open field for the marauding imperialist.

Amarasekera asserts that we must find our own political system based on our civilization consciousness. Prof.Weiwei Zhang of Fudan University, China in his book titled The China Wave – Rise of a Civilisation State” says the story of China is not about the rise of an ordinary country but a different type of country. Therefore, we cannot emulate China just as much as we should not ape the West. But we could adopt the concept of Civilisation State. Our aspirations, believes, values, religion, morals, desires and attitudes are different. These are the factors that had moulded our consciousness over thousands of years. These factors provide the basis for the civilization the Sinhalese built in their history of more than 2500 years. The consciousness we harbour of these factors is our civilization consciousness. It is the guiding light and the driving force of our lives without which we are lost. Amarasekera shows us why the ruins in Anuradhapura are not ruins for us as they are etched in our consciousness. Amarasekera describes how we have lost our way and how we have arrived at our pathetic state and the peril the country faces today.

A governing State which is closely integrated with the civilization consciousness of its people and is designed to function on the basis of those factors and deliver on them could be termed a Civilisation State. Therefore, we have to develop our own system. According to Amarasekera we had ventured into such a project in 1956 when we elected the SLFP Government, not by accident but because we were driven by the civilization consciousness. That phenomenon was a political manifestation of that consciousness.  Mr.S.W.R.D.Bandaranayaka succeeded in tapping this consciousness so to speak but he could not develop a civilization state. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranayaka perhaps did better in that regard. In this respect the most successful leader was Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. Hence Amarasekera at the end of his monograph suggests that Mahinda Rajapaksa must jettison the SLFP which has seized to be the political arm of the civilization consciousness of the people and find a new party to fill this void and continue the effort to build a Civilisation State. The task of course is not easy given the complexities both inside and outside the country but to remain silent is to court disaster.

Prof. N. A. de S. Amaratunga

 

The following interview with Martin Jacques originally appeared in the New Internationalist.

Yohann Koshy: How did China respond to the global financial crisis?

Martin Jacques: It was essentially a Western crisis but China had to respond because the American and European markets, on which it was quite dependent, went down very badly initially and [it did this] by having a huge stimulus programme. It pumped very large amounts of money into the economy and the consequence was that Chinese growth went down slightly but remained very high. It was pushing 9 and 10 per cent during this period and, in fact, went up to 12 and 13 per cent.

In the longer period, basically what happened was a serious attempt to shift the centre of gravity of the Chinese economy. In 1978, China’s economy was a 20th the size of the US economy. The reforms over the following decades were about becoming an export-driven economy, dependent on cheap labour that came from powerful migratory movements from the countryside to the main cities, with, of course, very strong input from the state.

But since the financial crisis the shift has been towards an economy that is increasingly dependent on domestic rather than foreign consumption, with much greater dependence on research and development, and with a lower growth rate. The new norm for a growth rate is between 6.5 and 7 per cent, which China has maintained to this day. But when the economy is growing at that rate, given the size of the whole country, the global impact is still enormous: China’s been responsible, since the Western financial crisis, for somewhere between 40 and 50 per cent of global growth. Without the Chinese economy, the global economy would be in a mess.

Could China be going down the route of financialization like the Western economies? Blackrock, the huge hedge fund, was recently granted a licence to start operating there.

Well, I don’t think the Blackrock announcement itself constitutes anything like that. I think the Chinese will very strongly resist going down that path. Of course, they need a strong financial sector. They will need to develop capital markets [financial venues where cash can be raised for investment]. But the thing is that the Chinese economy is very different to the US economy. It’s still got tremendous manufacturing capacity and emphasis on the importance of scientific and technical labour. The state is very fundamental to the way in which the Chinese economy works. They’ve also been much more able to deal with special interests in the way the Western economies haven’t. The banking sector became [dominant] within Western societies during the neoliberal period from the late 1970s through to the financial crash. It seems to me there’s very little evidence of this happening in China.

And when Mark Carney says he’s worried about shadow banking in China…

The main debt problem in China is corporate debt. The state-banking system, but also to some extent the shadow banking system, has built up indebtedness because it’s sometimes over-lent to schemes, plans and investments which weren’t that sound, and that has increased. But it is not, like the US or Britain, the state which is indebted… So it’s a problem but it’s an internal, rather than external problem. What really did for the smaller Asian economies during the Asian financial crisis [in the 1990s] was that they held major assets in foreign currencies and suddenly, as their currencies fell, their debts increased rapidly.

Also, the Chinese population itself is not indebted. They tend to have very big savings, which is one of the reasons behind the country’s financial strength… You have to say that the economic management of the Chinese economy has been quite remarkable. They’ve gone for 35 years without a serious crisis. Compare that with the West!

A key development since the crash is China creating the New Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, which even Britain and Germany signed up to – much to US displeasure. Why are they creating these alternatives to the World Bank and the IMF?

After 2007-08, the Chinese realized… they couldn’t rely on the interests of US economy and the global economy being aligned. They had to develop their own institutions. The Americans had also dragged their feet on reforms to the IMF because they wanted to retain control of it.

In this situation you don’t want institutions like the IMF and World Bank, which are essentially Western institutions whose primary function is serving Western economies. You need something with a much more expansive and inclusive view of the world… This is why we’ve seen the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, the New Development Bank (the BRICS bank), and we’re going to see a much bigger development of this altogether with the Belts & Road initiative [a massive infrastructure programme that aims to improve connectivity between Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australasia]. The vehicle for the global transformation for the next period will be this Belts & Road initiative.

I understand why Chinese investment has been welcomed by governments. However, in Ecuador there are indigenous communities protesting against rapacious Chinese mining companies. In Gambia, local fishers are being crowded out by Chinese firms. At a moral and political level, how should China deal with these struggles? Because there is no development without conflict.

You’re right: there is always conflict in development. China has, with great speed, developed a presence in many different developing countries. On the one hand, this has led to growing demand for commodity producers [in poorer countries] – from oil to metals like iron ore – and that’s had a powerful effect on their economies. On the other hand, China is also extremely competitive in lots of industries and this can have negative effects. There are plenty of examples where China on the low-end of manufacturing has out-competed with firms in the developing world that haven’t got the scale and level of investment to compete.

In terms of the relationship with places like Africa and southeast Asia, Chinese companies have been a major factor in developing the beginnings of a serious manufacturing capacity in places like Ethiopia, which by and large never really had one before. I think that China’s relationship with Africa has been basically very positive. I’m not saying there haven’t been problems. For example, there is a lot of resentment about Chinese companies bringing Chinese labour into some of the infrastructural developments. But the reason I think it’s been broadly positive is that China was a new source of demand for commodity producers in Africa. That means they were no longer just dependent on Western demand; it became a competitive market, which bid up the price of commodities during that period and meant that they were in a better economic situation.

Secondly, and this is why I deeply resent the argument that China is the new colonial power in Africa, China understands the problem of developing countries. One of the big problems is developing infrastructure that delivers transportation, energy and the necessary building blocks of a more developed economy. What China has done in all the major countries in Africa is to provide road systems, railways and so on. For the Chinese it’s all about development.

China has not always behaved well. If you take Myanmar, it got far too close to the military regime [that is persecuting the Rohingya] and a weakness of the Chinese is… [that they often arrive in new countries without being] sufficiently sensitive to local opinion. That has definitely happened in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. So those kind of tensions are real and important. And no doubt the Chinese will make many more mistakes. The question is whether they learn from them. So now they’re learning how to deal with civil society in other countries because they don’t have a civil society in the same way as most countries.

Let’s end with the US. There is growing bellicosity between the two superpowers. However, their economies are also dependent on each other. China owns more US debt, in the form of Treasury bonds, than any other country, which in turn allows the US to spend beyond its means and buy China’s products. Is this sustainable?

The difficulty in the West is the inability to make sense of China. Listen to the BBC’s Today Programme, read The Guardian: there is little sense of this shift in the world. How many articles have there been on the Belt & Road initiative, which is the most important global project of this era?

Ironically, Trump was the first leading US politician to recognize US decline: this is the premise of ‘Make America Great Again’. He is, however, deluded in the belief that he can reverse it. I do think there is going to be a trade war, but nothing will [reverse China’s rise]. These are deep historical forces at work, just like the rise of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries were deep historical trends. So America has to come to terms with the rise of China and renegotiate its relationship with China. At the heart of any answer to your question is this: how is the West going to handle its own relative decline?

Martin Jacques, former editor of Marxism Today, is the author of When China Rules the World (Penguin).

The following article by Martin Jacques appeared in Gulf News, 27th February 2018. 

The Belt and Road Initiative marks a new stage in China’s rise. Launched in 2013, it built on China’s going out strategy which took shape around the turn of the century. If the lines of continuity are clear, the differences are even starker. The going out strategy saw China developing closer relations with Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America, to name the most prominent. In contrast, the BRI is an overarching project designed to transform the Eurasian land mass, presently home to around two-thirds of the world’s population.

We have never seen the like of it before, a project on the grandest of scales and in that sense consonant with China’s own traditions.

Although Europe is part of the Eurasian land mass, the central aim is the transformation of the developing countries that comprise most of the continent. The developmental logic runs roughly as follows. China transformed itself — the most remarkable transformation in human history, one never likely to be repeated — by massive investment, in which the state was instrumental and which was largely directed towards infrastructure.

The result was spectacular economic growth and a massive reduction in poverty. If it worked for China, then why could it not for other developing countries? China doesn’t see itself as a model, but it does believe that these lessons are of more general application.

Spectacular though Belt and Road maybe, it would be wrong to underestimate or dismiss its chances of success. After almost four decades of continuous growth, China has a formidable record of delivery. Belt and Road should not only be taken seriously, it should be assumed that it in the long run it is likely to be largely successful.

By 2050, Eurasia will surely look very different, growth will have taken root in many countries and Eurasia will have moved to the centre of the global economy and geopolitics. For the more sceptical, it should be born in mind that by 2030 the Chinese economy is projected to be twice the size of America’s.

For various reasons, most importantly the closeness of the US’s relationship with the Middle East, China has moved relatively cautiously in expanding its ties with the Middle East. But the pace has quickened since the Western financial crisis.

The most important single aspect of China’s relationship has been its dependence on the Middle East for half its oil imports. But the Chinese approach has consistently focused on the need to establish a much broader economic relationship. In this context, the Middle East countries have shown great interest in the Belt and Road Initiative.

All the Middle Eastern states, bar five, are members of the Asian Infrastructure Bank, and three of the 12 directors are from the region.

Apart from the obvious economic importance of China to the Middle East, there are two key reasons why the latter is showing such interest in Belt and Road. Firstly, these countries — and perhaps most notably the Gulf states — occupy a key strategic position with regard to both the land and maritime routes.

This lends their ports an obvious significance and enhances the potential of their accompanying economic zones. The second is that with the decline of fossil fuels now firmly on the agenda, they need to diversify their economies with some alacrity, Saudi Arabia being the most compelling example.

The UAE has been well to the fore in broadening its relationship with China. China is the UAE’s second largest trading partner while the UAE is China’s second largest partner in the Gulf region.

The Khalifa port is one of the fastest growing in the world and, with Cosco’s decision to establish its own container terminal, is set to almost double in size. The Kamsil industrial zone is expanding rapidly with major Chinese investments.

A UAE-China investment fund was established in 2015 and the UAE sees itself as becoming a major financial hub. Lying on the key trading routes to Africa, Europe and the Indian subcontinent, the UAE is well-placed to be a major beneficiary of the BRI.

Illustration by Matt Kenyon
Illustration by Matt Kenyon

The west’s bears have always well outnumbered the bulls when it comes to the Chinese economy. A new problem is all too often seen as an intimation of impending crisis, a hard landing, consequent social instability, and perhaps the eventual collapse of the regime. Dream on.

The bears, it goes without saying, have a dreadful record. After 35 years of extraordinary economic growth, China is still growing at 7% annually. True, that is lower than before, but still at a rate that dwarfs anything in the west.

One of the great weaknesses of so much western economic commentary is that it fails to look much beyond the next quarter’s, or even month’s, results. In contrast the Chinese understand where they have come from, where they are and where they need to go. Nor are they complacent: the Chinese leadership readily admits it faces quite new economic challenges.

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The UK’s decision to become a founder member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is a major historical event. Until then no Western country, with the exception of New Zealand, had signed up to join, not least because of intense American pressure. The UK, moreover, cannot be counted as any old Western nation; on the contrary, ever since 1945, it has been the US’s closest ally. For British politicians, Conservative and Labour alike, the ‘special relationship’, as it has been known, was sacrosanct. A decade ago, the UK stood shoulder to shoulder with the US in the disastrous invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

So how do we explain Britain’s about-turn?

The UK is certainly not what it was. Along with the other major European nations, its relative strength in the world has declined precipitously, accelerated in the recent period by the western financial crisis. Today its economy is barely bigger than it was in 2007. Unsurprisingly in such circumstances, economic and commercial considerations have loomed ever larger in the public mind while foreign policy concerns have come to be seen as something of a luxury. This shift in priorities has been accentuated by the dismal failure of the military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the more recent one in Libya.
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30/09/14 — Diplomacy Magazine (Gaiko)

Gaiko is the leading publication in Japan on foreign policy issues

In April this year the World Bank’s International Comparison Program projected that during the course of 2014 China’s GDP (measured by ppp) would exceed that of the United States. Although widely anticipated to happen in the next several years, hardly anyone expected it to be this year. But, it should be noted, the West has consistently underestimated the speed of China’s rise. As a result, it has been, and remains, consistently behind the curve of China’s rise, with the consequence that it constantly underestimates the extent to which the world has changed because of China’s transformation.

Of course, economic power does not translate immediately and directly into political power. On the contrary, if we look at the rise of previous hegemons, notably the UK in the nineteenth century and the US in the twentieth century, there has always been a significant time lag between their emergence as great economic powers and their subsequent arrival as major hegemonic powers enjoying broader political, cultural and military as well as economic influence. That said, however, economic power was the fundamental pre-condition for, and prelude to, their emergence as global hegemons. The same will be true of China.

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中国是很多发展中国家最大的贸易伙伴,也是发展中国家的转型推动器。很多发展中国家都将中国视为学习的榜样和未来的目标

中国梦概念面世时,中国的发展正处于一个新的历史时刻。这是两个时期的分水岭,从这一刻开始,中国的经历将与过去大不相同。

改革开放的发展战略,使中国以新的姿态站在国际舞台上。中国贫困人口大幅减少,人民生活水平不断提高,经济总量占美国经济总量的比例大幅跃升至50%以上。此时的中国相对于许多发达国家来说仍然不够富裕,但是绝对不能用“弱小”来形容了。中国现在有能力憧憬并实现新的梦想,国际社会也对中国抱有同样的期待。

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Updated and expanded new Chinese edition just released.

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Turkish edition just published!

When China Rules the World is the first book to fully conceive of and explain the upheaval that China’s ascendance will cause and the realigned global power structure it will create.

New edition available now from:

Amazon UK
and all good booksellers.

US second edition is available now via: 

Amazon US