Racism is a subject that people often seek to avoid, it being deemed too politically embarrassing, any suggestion of its existence often eliciting a response of outraged indignation and immediate denial. Yet it is central to the discourse of most, if not all, societies.
So writes Martin Jacques in his recent book When China Rules the World: the rise of the Middle Kingdom [China] and the end of the Western World. Well, he certainly did not have South Africa uppermost in mind where the topic of racism is far from “politically embarrassing” to raise, but rather a political embarrassment as it is endlessly and gratuitously raised to shroud the real issues. Just take the Caster Semenya and Brandon Huntley hullabaloos for a start, not to mention rugby and nearly every time Julius Malema opens his mouth.
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The predictor of Beijing’s rise and Washington’s decline in less than two decades from now gives his first Asian interview to China Daily
The man who says China is about to rule the world makes his way toward me at an exit of Wudaokou subway station. None of the Chinese people around us enjoying a sunny Saturday morning in this popular student hangout of northwestern Beijing would have any idea who this shaven-headed, slightly quirky figure was or even care.
They might be slightly more intrigued if they knew the man coming into view. Martin Jacques has written a book about them and their future that is already attracting major interest in the West.
Jacques in his sandals may be an unlikely vanguard for 1.3 billion people but nonetheless When China Rules the World, which argues the former Middle Kingdom will take over from the United States as the world’s leading power, is fuelling a huge debate.
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The Chinese state has a competence that far exceeds that of Western states
There is a standard Western reflex to any discussion about China: it is not democratic. True, but that does not get us very far. Nor was any Western country during its economic take-off; nor was Japan; and nor were the Asian tigers. The great majority of countries have not been democratic during their period of take-off: the most obvious, and remarkable, exception is India. As for China, about half the population still lives in the countryside, meaning that its economic take-off – the shift from agriculture to industry, from the countryside to the cities – still has a long way to run.
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The Uighur protests could strengthen the hand of China’s hardliners—at a cost to us all
After playing a constructive role at the London G20 summit in April, China gave $50bn to the IMF and dispatched ships to catch pirates off the Somali coast. Optimists will say that such good behaviour is a further sign of the long-term integration of China into the global economy and political system. They can point to 30 years of economic reform, the steady growth of personal freedom within China and even modest moves towards democracy, such as village elections in many provinces.
But recent events must give optimists pause for thought. On a visit to China in late June I was reminded that within the Chinese system there is a constant battle between liberals and authoritarians, and the hardliners have started to win more of the arguments. The violence in Xinjiang will only strengthen their hand. Most Chinese think that the government has been too soft on the Uighur rioters—and although China is not a democracy, public opinion (as revealed by comments on websites, at least) does influence policy. Even before the Uighur riots, last year’s protests in Tibet and the recent 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square had made China’s leaders wary of relaxing their authority. So had fears that the current economic crisis would lead to social instability.
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As a rule, one should not bother to criticise famous people for the thoughts contained in articles under their name
He or she almost certainly didn’t write it — and perhaps didn’t even think about it, either.
Nevertheless, it is hard to resist when a piece entitled “I was a fool to talk about admiring Hitler” appears under the name of Bernie Ecclestone, the British billionaire boss of Formula One racing. This was a commentary in The Times on Tuesday, attempting to quieten the furore that followed his remarks to the newspaper three days previously, to the effect that the Führer was his favourite dictator because: “Apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was in the way that he could command a lot of people, able to get things done.”
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Amid the avalanche of summer reading crashing on to my desk falls another hefty tome about China’s re-emergence as a global power.
The theme is familiar: the present century will belong to Asia in general and to China in particular. The book’s title, When China Rules the World, permits none of the doubts and vacillation about the future course of events that often afflict this columnist.
By unhappy accident, publication has coincided with the most serious unrest since the Cultural Revolution, in China’s Xinjiang province. More than 150 have been killed in ethnic clashes. Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, this week felt obliged to cancel his appearance at the Group of Eight summit in Italy to fly back to Beijing.
Skipping a gathering of some of the world’s most powerful politicians was no small thing for the leader of a regime that that places a high premium on the image it shows the rest of the world. Yet it was also a reminder that China’s politicians are rarely quite as confident as western observers about their country’s destiny. In my experience, the west’s awe is as often as not matched by China’s anxiety.
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The country’s trajectory and the change in its people’s values and aspirations are cause for heated debate. Two experts go head to head
It is now widely recognised that the balance of economic power is shifting from the rich world to the developing world. Indeed, the role accorded to the G20 rather than the G8 in seeking to tackle the financial crisis is a vivid illustration of this. But what is not recognised – and has been barely discussed – are the political and cultural ramifications of the rise of the developing countries. That, I suspect, is because there is a deeply held western view that they will – and should – end up as clones of western modernity: in other words, there is only one modernity and it is western. This is a fallacy. Modernity is a product of culture and history as much as markets and technology. The central question here is China: will it end up like us or will it be something very different and, as a result, change the world in very fundamental ways?
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