Martin Jacques delivered the keynote address at the 32nd Annual Camden Conference in Camden, Maine on February 22, 2019. The talk was titled “What China Will Be Like as a Great Power”. Watch his speech below:
The following is an English translation of an article by Martin Jacques that appeared in the People’s Daily, 24th December 2018. Read the Chinese version published in a shortened form here.
In 2016 populism, as it became known, burst onto the Western political stage in two dramatic events: Britain’s decision in a referendum to leave the European Union, followed by the election of Trump as US president. There was much debate as to what they meant, in particular to what extent they marked a deeper and longer-term shift in Western politics. Both events took most Western commentators – and, indeed, others elsewhere including China – by surprise. Initially the predominant view was that Trump’s election would not mark such a sharp break in policy as his rhetoric suggested. For most, continuity was still the prevalent expectation. But this argument became increasingly difficult to sustain and now, as we look back on 2018, it is clear that rupture rather than continuity has been the overriding characteristic of US politics, and Western politics more generally, since 2016. We are in very new times.
The reasons are profound. The trigger for the shift was undoubtedly the Western financial crisis in 2007-8, though the political repercussions of this took the best part of a decade to become apparent. The crisis served to undermine the previously dominant ideology, neo-liberalism, and, even more pertinently, respect for and a belief in the governing elites and their institutions. This is clearly the case in the United States but is no less true of most European societies: indeed, the UK and Italy, and to a lesser extent France, are facing a huge crisis of governance. The previous overarching commitment to globalisation, which for most had become an article of faith, was undermined, most obviously in the United States, but in varying degrees in every Western country. This process has been driven by a growing realisation that a large number of people, previously ignored but now increasingly vocal, had been negatively affected by globalisation. In its place has come a resurgence of nationalism and a revival of the nation-state. During the heyday of globalisation between 1980 and 2006, there was an overwhelming view in the US that globalisation was in the country’s interests, that the process of globalisation was synonymous with westernisation: that attitude has now been reversed and globalisation has been increasingly painted as in the interests of other countries, notably China, and against that of the US.
A central feature of Trump’s presidential election in 2016 was his argument that China was responsible for many of America’s economic problems, that it had cheated its way to economic growth and prosperity at America’s expense. It was not until 2018, however, that this argument began to be implemented in practice with the introduction of 10% tariffs on a range of Chinese imports and the threat of extending this to all Chinese imports and raising the level of tariffs to 25%. This was combined with a demand that China should cease insisting that US firms engage in technology transfer and that China should stop giving state subsidies to the key growth industries of the future. As a result, relations between China and the US have seriously deteriorated and become increasingly tense. Exactly how far this will go is not clear, but the move against Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou and Vice-President Mike Pence’s no-holes barred demonization of China in his speech at the Hudson Institute in October, which would not have out of place in the worst days of the Cold War, are hardly encouraging. The direction of travel of US policy is all too clear.
The relationship between the US and China is very different to that between the US and the USSR. The latter was a completely bifurcated system, the two existing in virtual economic and political isolation from each other. In contrast, China is deeply integrated with the rest of the world, such that the growth and prosperity of many countries – and indeed many US corporations – is intimately bound up with that of China. That is one of the great achievements of Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening up. Many parts of the world – most notably East Asia and Africa – enjoy a much closer economic relationship with China than they do with the US. It is impossible for the US to excise China from the global economic system in order to create a bifurcated system in the manner of the Cold War. We are witnessing something different: an attempt to denigrate China and thereby turn other countries against it, to create more disadvantageous circumstances for China’s development, especially in the crucial technology industries of the future, and to weaken multilateral institutions in order to strengthen the position of the US and weaken that of others, be it the European Union or, above all, that of China. This helps to explain the present American attempt to undermine the WTO and to render it increasingly impotent; likewise, its refusal to allow an increase in the IMF’s resources, which in part is driven by a concern about China’s increasing influence within it and in part because the US objects to the IMF giving financial assistance to countries like Pakistan which are heavily involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.
Whatever some in the Trump administration might like, it is impossible to unwind history and recreate a world in which the United States enjoys the kind of overwhelming power that enabled it to dominate its relations with all others in the postwar period: the growth of globalisation and interdependence, the transformation of the developing countries and the dramatic rise of China means that such a scenario is now inconceivable. But try they will – and fail they will – but it remains to be seen in the meantime how much progress the Trump administration can make in this direction. For the time being at least, ever since he took office in January 2018, Trump has succeeded in changing the prevailing mood music and contributed to a certain global momentum in this direction. The obstacles that face him, however, are formidable and will ultimately prove insurmountable; but it would be a mistake to count on any such reversal being imminent. On the contrary, we should think of this as the new long game not a relatively transient moment.
Certainly it would be a mistake to think of the shift in US strategy as a temporary phenomenon. It is a belated response to the progressive decline in relative US economic strength and influence, well-captured in the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’. It has deep roots in those sections of American society, most importantly the white male working class in the mid-West, that have suffered from globalisation. And it is also a response to the failure of the consensual belief amongst America’s governing elite that China would never pose a threat to the hegemonic position of the United States, which underpinned the relatively benign American attitude towards China from 1972 to 2016. The latter was based on two closely related assumptions: first, that China would never rival the US economically; and second that, as China modernised, it would inevitably become a western-style democracy, failing which its economic transformation would prove unsustainable. On both counts, this shibboleth of American thinking was profoundly mistaken: China’s economic transformation continued unabated to the point where its economy is now second in size only to that of the United States and closing rapidly; and its political system, far from disintegrating, is proving to be both robust and highly effective. This is the great achievement of reform and opening up in 1978, one of, if not the, most significant event of the twentieth century.
The causes of the shift in US strategy, in other words, are profound and, certainly in the case of China, essentially bipartisan. We should not expect a return to the status quo ante either in regard to the new contours of US foreign policy or concerning the US attitude towards China. We are witnessing a major historical shift. The last great shift in US international strategy was in the early 1980s when it embraced globalisation and neo-liberalism. It is now clear that the US-China relationship between 1972 and 2016 depended in very large measure on the fundamental inequity in the relationship between the two; as that gap closed, so the relationship became increasingly tense and difficult. The US could not – and cannot, at least for the foreseeable future – bring itself to countenance the idea that the rise of China might threaten its global primacy.
We have entered a new era in the China-US relationship. There will be no return to the previous era. The new one, which should be seen as more or less indefinite, certainly lasting for a minimum of a decade, probably much longer, will be characterised by conflict, tension and rivalry. It will be a major challenge for the Chinese leadership, requiring a new mindset and strategic approach. On the one hand, China must stand firm on those things that it regards as fundamental to the Chinese interest, for example the essential principles of reform and opening-up, crucially the role of the state sector, including its support for China’s burgeoning technology sector. On the other hand, it needs to find a way of working with the US and constraining its most aggressive instincts. This will be very important for the health of the global economy and global peace. But in the new and very different global context, the United States is not the only audience or party that matters. As the United States seeks to decouple from China, or at least to reduce its dependence on China, it is also trying to persuade others to do likewise. China must resist this. This will demand that China finds new ways of collaborating with other countries, seeks new areas of common ground, most importantly, in this context, with the European Union and Japan. The danger is that, under intensified US pressure, they will move away from China and play in some degree the American game. The recent improvement in Sino-Japanese relations is a step in the right direction.
It is already clear that the US is seeking to weaken China’s influence in the developing world. Where previously the former largely ignored the Belt and Road Initiative, during 2018 the US has become increasingly vocal in its opposition to it. Likewise the US is now seeking to make up for lost ground in Africa. It is highly unlikely that the US will make much progress in these areas given how little it has to offer in comparison with China: nonetheless, we should expect the developing world to become an area of growing competition between the two countries.
The importance of how China handles its relations with other countries has been magnified by its growing strength. When it was weak, China was largely ignored, invisible to most. But now China is in the process of becoming a great power, and in some respects has already achieved that status, it is far more visible and is seen as far more accountable for its actions than was previously the case. What China does, its views and its achievements, are now the subject of global debate. There is a negative aspect to this. China’s sheer demographic size, huge compared with every other country in the world apart from India, is a cause of anxiety and sometimes fear. China cannot do anything about its size, it is a fact of its existence, but by the same token the nervousness that it kindles will also not go away. And as China grows ever stronger, this anxiety is likely to grow. The era of being good at maintaining a low profile and never claiming leadership may be over but it remains a valuable lodestar even when China is strong, in some ways even more so. As China becomes ever more powerful, it should not lose the caution and humility that has accompanied its rise. In the increasingly conflictual world that is unfolding, hubris would be China’s worst enemy. It must redouble its efforts, as it is seeking to do, to build friendly relationships with as many countries in the world as possible.
This is a recorded version of a live interview CGTN, to discuss China’s reform and opening-up policies, and the China-US relationship, during a special Town Hall program recorded at the George Washington University on December 11 2018.
CGTN America presented a special town hall filmed at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. on China’s dramatic transformation, and the path forward towards the 21st century.
Speakers on the panel were:
– Zhou Jingxing, minister-counselor and chief of Political Section, Chinese Embassy in U.S.
– Martin Jacques, senior fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University. He is also author of “When China Rules the World”.
– Yukon Huang, Senior Fellow with the Asia program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is also the author of “The China Conundrum”.
– Robert Hormats, former U.S. Under Secretary of State and Vice-Chairman at the Kissinger Associates.
In March 2018, the Abu Dhabi Ideas Weekend welcomed some of the brightest and most interesting minds from the UAE and around the world to discuss four of the most important moonshot challenges facing our planet. The event was inspired by the world-famous Aspen Ideas Festival that has been taking place in Colorado since 2005, as a place for scientists, artists, politicians, business leaders, historians and educators to discuss some of the most fascinating ideas of our time. The 2018 Abu Dhabi Ideas Weekend topics included: “Polarisation: Bridging the gaps”, “Cancer: An end in sight?”, “Artificial Intelligence: Our super-intelligent friend?” and “The Modern Silk Road: A new era of globalisation”.
Martin Jacques delivered the talk below, which was on how China’s Belt & Road Initiative will change the world.
In conversation with him is Julian Gewirtz, a Fellow in History and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up. what do you think of the role the reform and opening up has played in china’s extraordinary changes?
China’s transformation started in 1949, but only in 1978 did China’s economy start to take off in an extraordinary way. It was only then that the Chinese worked out what the appropriate economy strategy was for the country. This was the stroke of genius of Deng Xiaoping.What he proposed was very radical and represented a major shift in the communist tradition. Basically he said two things: firstly, socialism is not synonymous with the state and state planning,but that socialism had to combine both the state and the market. And secondly, he argued that China needed to see itself as part of the whole world, including the capitalist world. China had to live with and compete with and learn from the capitalist world, and not just the socialist world.
This was an intellectual revolution which required a complete rethink and unleashed enormous intellectual energy. This ignited a long process of transformation in China.1978 is one of the most important dates in the 20th century, it prefigured the 21st century: the transformation of China and later the world.
China vows to continue opening up. Some people see this as an opportunity, but some say it’s a threat. How do you evaluate these contradictory views?
One of the great things since 1978 is that China is always thinking, always experimenting, always learning, always trying to work out what is the best way in the situation, in the circumstances that it faces, which are constantly shifting. There’s a general idea of where to go and how to do it. But there’s not a tablet of stone about how to do it; instead of a tablet of stone, you “cross the river by feeling for the stones.” The Chinese combine a general set of principles with a very strong dose of pragmatism.
Itis obviously a lot more complex because China’s economy is many, many times larger now than it was, and China’s impact on the world is now also huge: there are so many more factors China has to consider both internally and globally. China is very interestingly different and distinctive from both the old Soviet mentality and also the West. It has learnt from the West, but it is also very distinctive from the West. It is very important to maintain that. I think one of the reasons for the success of China is its capacity to draw different elements together from different places, different experiences, different traditions, and then combine them in a very unique Chinese way.
Of course, some people think China should be more like America. Now? Really?America is in big trouble, it is in serious long-term decline, which is part of the reason why we got Trump. No, China has to be distinctive. It has to combine those elements which it needs to learn from the West with its socialist and Chinese traditions.
Earlier this year, you wrote an article arguing that the fortieth anniversary of the beginning of the reform period is a cause for celebration and reflection not only in China, but around the world. Can you specify what are the issues that the world, including the Western countries, should reflect on most?
1978 led to the the most extraordinary economic transformation in the modern era. This is much more remarkable than America’s transformation between the 1860s and 1914. It’s a very important event to study. But the West doesn’t think in these terms about 1978, because they don’t really understand any of this.The West is very ignorant about China.
But I would say look, reform and opening up has transformed China. Then,during the 1990s, China began to transform the world and, as a result, the world is now very different from what it was before because of China’s impact. Since 1978 China has been the most important engine of global change. So every country should study China and the Chinese experience.That doesn’t mean that China is a model, but it does mean China is an interesting and important example from which to learn. Many developing countries understand this but the West is still in partial, sometimes total, denial.
On October 4th, the US Vice President Michael Pence made a speech at the Hudson Institute, claiming that US has rebuilt China over the last twenty five years. The US President Trump also mentioned this many times on different occasions. Are you surprised by Pence’s speech?
Not really. You have got to say that the Trump administration,including the Vice President, is many ways remarkably ignorant. Their reaction to American decline is to reassert American nationalism and to try and bully the rest of the world.It’s nonsense to say America is the major reason for China’s transformation over the last 25 years. That tells me that they know nothing about China’s transformation. What planet are they living on to make that kind of remark? It’s obviously just cheap self-serving propaganda. Has America made a contribution to Chinese rise? Yes. It has. As China itself has frequently said, China has been the beneficiary of the era of globalisation which the US played a key role in shaping.
Some American scholars believe that the US has adopted an engagement policy toward China, which has greatly benefited China. But now believe that China has “betrayed” the US and does not intend to follow the US way in terms of its political system. What do you think?
I think a very big political shift has taken place in America. It is not just the Republicans. The Democrats have also shifted to a more anti-Chinese position. Now the question is why, and this is a question that the Chinese themselves need to reflect on.
Until about 2010, America was generally relatively benign towards China.The period after 1972, following the Nixon Mao accord,was characterised by relative stability in the US-China relationship. There were two assumptions that underpinned American attitudes towards China. The first was that China’s economic rise would never challenge America’s economic hegemony. And the second assumption was that China would, in time, become like the West, because they assumed that unless China became like America it could never succeed, its transformation would fail. It would be unsustainable both economically and politically. From 1972 until the Western financial crisis, the relationship remained very unequal, though less so over time.America was the major power. China was the junior partner.
From around 2010, it became increasingly clear that these two positions were wrong. Firstly, because China’s economic transformation continued very successfully and in 2014 overtook the US economy according to GDP measured by ppp. And secondly, it became clear that China was not going to be like America. The political system was not going to become like America’s. Furthermore, China would not accept American global leadership and do whatever America wanted it to do. Two things served to dramatize the situation: one was the Western financial crisis of 2008, the worst in the West since 1931. Suddenly the West was in deep trouble. And, on the other hand, China was not in trouble and China’s rise continued.It shook the confidence of the West. Until this point,America did not believe it was in decline. It had, of course, been in decline for some time, but it was in denial about it. Trump was the product of, and gave expression to, this new uncertainty, angst, disappointment and a growing mood of anger and frustration. This historically explains the shift in the American attitude towards China.
US President Trump frequently summed up his approach to foreign policy with two words: America First. The US has withdrawn from various international mechanisms and is creating barriers for trade, technical exchange, and personal exchanges with a lot of countries. Do you think this will reverse the globalization process and maybe make the world more differentiated or more difficult to access?
I definitely think the era of neo-liberalism has come to an end.There are lots of elements and dimensions to this. Clearly, there’s a reaction to the globalization era in the West. And the ideology of that period in the West, namely neo-liberalism,is in crisis;Trump is a reaction against it. The uber or extreme globalization, which was the western ideology of this period, has hit the wall.
I also think that the whole American view of itself and its role since the end of the second world war has come to an end. I don’t see any simple reversion to the previous era of American multilateralism and leadership. I think that era is over and is unlikely to be revived in its old form. I don’t think we should be so surprised by this because if you look at American history over a much longer period, for example from the War of Independence against Britain until 1939, it was largely dominated by American nationalism and isolationism. The period after 1945 until the election of Trump in 2016, during which America saw itself in terms of multilateral institutions, broad alliances and leadership, was the exception rather than the rule.
Before the second world war, America was always for itself. It was very nationalistic, for long it existed in splendid isolation on its continent. It thought of itself in its own terms. Historically it was very aggressive.It was built on violence, built on slavery, built on wars. Wars against the Amerindians, against Britain, against Spain, against Mexico. That’s how it expanded. So this latest period of American development has been an exceptional period. And Trump lies within the old tradition. He’s reacting against the post-1945 period, he is reverting to the past, by so doing he wants to make America great again, making America as it used to be. Of course, he cannot succeed. Times have changed profoundly.
I don’t think we should expect the Trumpian era to be short lived. There will be no easy or simple return to the status quo ante before Trump.This period could last twenty years, thirty years; a reaction against western-style extreme globalisation. In the long-run, of course, globalization will continue but in the next decade, perhaps much longer, it will suffer setbacks and could even be reversed in certain respects.
Meanwhile, there’s a different globalization taking place, which is what I’ll call Chinese-style globalization with Belt and Road being its most prominent feature. We are moving into a much more complex period, with a much more divided and fragmented world. In this context I think the Pence speech was quite ominous. It was a speech that could have been given in the cold war, it was a very broad attach on China, an attempt to demonize it.It’s not going to be the same as the cold war, but there will be some similarities.
For decades, China has benefited a lot from globalization and the multilateral trading mechanism. What challenges will the current situation bring for China? And what’s your advice on China’s next step on reform and opening up?
I think that what is now deeply preoccupying the Chinese leadership is how to respond to the shift in America, how to understand it and how to deal with it. I think the fortieth anniversary is a reminder of things we should not forget. The wisdom of Deng Xiaoping: keeping your lines of communication open, keeping your curiosity about the world and making as many friends as possible. And I think that those are still good advice.
The following article by Martin Jacques appeared in China Daily, 20th January 2018.
As momentous historic events go, China’s reform period was relatively unheralded. Little did anyone realize at the time – probably no one, in fact – that 1978 would enter the history books as one of the most important years in modern history.
We should not be surprised. At the time, the Chinese economy was a mere one-twentieth of the size of the US economy, with a per capita GDP roughly on a par with that of Zambia, lower than half of the Asian average and lower than two-thirds of the African average. China’s impact on the world was very limited, even in East Asia.
Although its growth rate had averaged a little more than 5 percent from 1960-1978, this compared rather unfavorably with economies like Japan and South Korea. For the majority of the world’s population, China was largely forgotten or ignored, usually both. Even in China, there was little anticipation that the country stood on the eve of a remarkable transformation. When chairman Mao had died in 1976, the country was relatively isolated. The “cultural revolution” (1966-76) continued to cast a long shadow, the leadership was divided, and Deng Xiaoping had only very recently begun to emerge as the country’s key leader. Notwithstanding the unquestioned achievements made since 1949, the future did not look particularly promising.
The following is an English translation of an article by Martin Jacques that appeared in People’s Daily, 9th January 2018
The 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress marked a new moment in China’s arrival on the global stage. Congresses of the Chinese Communist Party, even in the modern era, have invariably attracted little attention in the West. They have been regarded as neither particularly relevant nor important, rubber-stamp occasions that were difficult to understand or decipher and best left to the China experts. The 19th Congress broke the mould. It was widely reported and recognised in the West as an event of major global importance. Instead of treating the Congress as a somewhat bizarre tribal occasion, some of the coverage displayed a greater sense of seriousness and inquiry. It was widely acknowledged that this was one of the most important political events of 2017. The coverage was further evidence that China has moved to the centre of the global stage.
The following piece featured in People’s Daily, 9th January 2018.
The following is an English translation of an article by Martin Jacques that appeared in the People’s Daily, 22nd December 2017.
At the end of 2017 uncertainty dominates the outlook for the future. As we can now see with great clarity, the Western financial crisis of 2007-8 proved the most important turning point in the West since 1945. For a decade, the Western economies have been mired in varying degrees of stagnation, not least with regard to living standards. And it was the Great Recession that begat the Great Populist Uprising in 2016. The latter signalled the end of the hegemony of neo-liberalism in the West, which began in 1980 with the arrival of Reagan and Thatcher and was characterised by hyper-globalisation, privatisation and a huge growth in inequality. The Uprising was driven by large swathes of the population in both the United States and Britain whose living standards had more or less stagnated for four decades. It was a popular revolt against the governing elites by those who felt left behind and who held these elites responsible for their deteriorating situation. Politically the new mood was articulated most clearly, though not solely, by the right, notably Trump in America and the Brexiteers in the UK.
Talk at the China Institute
Title: ‘Antonio Gramsci’
Fudan University, Shanghai, China.