Articles on ‘When China Rules the World’

T N Ninan – This is an edited extract from The Turn of the Tortoise: The Challenge and Promise of India’s Future published on October 9.


Hainan Island lies off the south-western coast of China, jutting into waters stirred by controversy. At its southern tip, China has built a massive naval base with subterranean hiding places for nuclear submarines, and long piers for parking the aircraft carriers it will build. The South China Sea stretches from there into territory claimed controversially by China and contested by other South East Asian countries. Hainan is also touted as China’s answer to Hawaii, another sunny spot where a key naval base exists side by side with sandy beaches and palm-fringed holiday resorts. Flights land at Hainan’s Haikou airport from all corners of the region. Bullet trains speed you from the airport in the north to the holiday resorts in the south.

Midway lies Boao, which boasts broad, carpeted roads, lush tropical greenery, a large conference centre and sundry hotels in which uniformed hostesses move around in single file and clap in unison whenever a VIP enters or leaves. In 2002, Boao began hosting an annual conference called the Boao Forum for Asia. At the second such conclave, in late 2003, Zheng Bijian spelt out for the first time his thesis on ‘China’s peaceful rise’. Zheng had been a long-time adviser to the Chinese leadership, holding a variety of posts attached to the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He said the previous rise of new powers had resulted in changes in global political structures and war, because they ‘have followed an aggressive path of war and expansion. Such a path is doomed to failure.’ He said China should rise peaceably, never seek hegemony, and help maintain a peaceful international environment.

Xi Jinping

China’s President Xi Jinping inspects troops at a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Beijing
The talk of a peaceful rise or development came not far from the site where the new naval base was under construction, and from where naval ships set sail for Somalia in 2008. Before long, China’s rise threatened to be anything but peaceful as it claimed virtually all of the South China Sea which Hainan abuts. Underlying the claim is the potential for oil and gas offshore, but economics is only one reason. Chinese foreign policy is manifestly dictated by an irredentist nationalism, fed by memories of unfair treatment and territorial loss in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The western hope has been that China would mature into what Robert Zoellick, the US trade representative and later World Bank president, described as a ‘responsible stakeholder’ (which begs the question how responsible western stakeholders have been during their period of ascendancy). Still, the western powers have been leery of China’s mercantilist trade and currency policies, its brazen violation of intellectual property rights, the repeated hacking of government and defence websites, and the treaty-violating support given to rogue friends like North Korea. Martin Jacques asserts in a forcefully argued book that China will never be a normal power, in the way the West understands the term. The Chinese civilizational view includes the Confucian idea of harmony as a hierarchical order, with everyone accepting his or her place in that hierarchy — which means that China does not deal with other countries as its equals but as tributaries.
A Comprehensive National Power
China measures power and national security through a matrix that it calls Comprehensive National Power. Among the factors taken into account are the economy, technological development, natural resources, military power, population and diplomacy. A 2014 ranking put the US at the top, with Russia and China next. After that, in a lower league, came a clutch of four countries bunched together: India, Britain, Japan and France. Germany, Brazil and South Korea followed lower down. Another ranking that used a combination of population, urbanization, steel production, energy consumption, military expenditure and military strength put the top three as China, the US and India, in that order. Earlier rankings, in 2006, had put China in only sixth place and India in tenth. The changes in rank since then show the rise of both China and India, naturally with China as the superior power.Arvind Subramanian compiled his own Index of Economic Power, with the index of all countries in the world totalling up to 100. India in 2010 scored 3 per cent, while China and Japan were level at 11 per cent, and the US at the top of the list with 14 per cent. Subramanian and Martin Kessler also argued in 2013 that China’s yuan was already challenging the primacy of the dollar in East Asia. Perhaps, and perhaps not, because China still holds the bulk of its vast foreign exchange reserves in dollars.

Manmohan Singh with Condoleezza Rice

During her meeting with the then prime minister, Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi in 2005, Condoleezza Rice, then the US secretary of state, said US would help India “become a Great Power in the 21st century”

So is India on its way to becoming a Great Power, as these rankings on national power suggest? Or has it begun an inexorable slide into China’s shadow because of the growing imbalance of power between the two? The subject came into focus in March 2005 when Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to New Delhi as the new US Secretary of State, told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the United States would help India ‘become a Great Power in the twenty-first century’. A somewhat different thought came from Martin Wolf, who characterized China and India as ‘premature superpowers’, potentially front-ranking nations because of their size even as they struggled with the stubborn challenges of widespread poverty and inadequate economic, technological and institutional development.

China has substantially emerged out of that duality, having become the world’s largest manufacturer and merchandise exporter, with its eyes set now on mastering advanced technologies. India, in contrast, is still caught in old dualities. In purchasing-power parity terms, India’s per capita income in 2014 ($5855) put it noticeably out of line with the other BRICS economies. China was at $12,880, Brazil at $16,096 and Russia at $24,805. South Africa, an afterthought addition to BRICS, was at $13,046. A Great Power India might hope to become, but it has the chains of poverty around its ankles. India has the world’s largest number of absolute poor, the largest number of malnourished, and an overall score on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index that makes it feature well below most other large economies.

Yet, India is undeniably the world’s third-largest economy in PPP terms, and the seventh largest in nominal dollars.  In seven years since the western financial crisis of 2008, its economy has averaged 7.1 per cent annual growth — which probably places it second only to China. China has now slowed down, and may slow down further, even as India steps up the pace and entrenches itself in its new position as the fastest-growing among the large economies. This adds to the weight of the country’s land mass and population (including a growing middle class), while its geographical position gives it a strategic value that is hard to ignore.

It is inevitable, then, that countries looking at the emerging Asian picture should view India as a possible counterweight to China, the ‘default option’ if you look for balance of power. The problem with such a view is that India has been falling short of what is required for such a role, in terms of overall economic, technological and military performance — becoming a defaulting power, so to speak, rather than the default option. Still, it is remarkable how the country’s relations with the other leading powers of Australasia have been transformed over the past decade — in part because of its growing importance as a market, in part because of the rise of China and in part because of the Indo-US nuclear agreement of 2008. As Manmohan Singh once told me, many doors open once you are seen as America’s friend.

India’s choices
On the long-range evidence since 1950 a reasonable conclusion would be that the Chinese ascendancy has and will continue to put India’s rise in the shade, placing the two countries in different power orbits — China a global power, India only a regional one. Will this constrict Indian plans? Almost certainly yes, even if by 2025 India has become the fourth-largest economy and third-largest military power.

Even in testing situations, though, the natural instinct for a country of India’s size is to rely on its own economic and military strengths; that is the logic of the country’s desire for strategic autonomy. In 2015, with the prospect of improved economic performance and  more active diplomacy under Narendra Modi, strategic autonomy still is a viable policy framework. But should the power imbalance with China grow, and create a sense of increased vulnerability in India, it would make the attractions of greater alignment with the US, Japan and perhaps Australia shine brighter. And yet, India will always be held back by nervousness about provoking Beijing and the desire to avoid a fresh border conflict with China in a mountainous terrain that is not to its advantage.

Narendra Modi with Shinzo Abe

Prime Minister Narendra Modi being welcomed by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe upon his arrival at the State Guest House in Kyoto in 2014


Whenever China has taken a misstep (as with its aggressive posture in the South China Sea), India’s diplomatic options have expanded in the region. New Delhi could do with American support for its objectives, like breaking into the missile and nuclear technology clubs, but the larger challenge to Indian diplomats will be complex. How can they exploit the growing alignment with the US and Japan without making China see red? And how do they sidestep the potential pitfalls of a policy that might be defined as ‘nobody’s ally, everyone’s friend’?

And yet, there may well be no conflict. Henry Kissinger writes about the difference between chess (which originated in India; each player seeks the other’s capitulation) and the Chinese game of wei qi where a player seeks relative advantage, with the goal being strategic encirclement. If China can manage the encirclement of India, it will have contained India without the risk of hostilities.

Troubling as these thoughts are from the Indian perspective, there is a more sanguine view, that Chinese ascendancy needs to be understood in the context of the key constraints it faces: the simultaneous rise of other powers around the world; the existence all around China of semi-hostile powers who might increasingly coordinate their actions on the basis of shared threat perceptions about a new hegemon (as a senior Australian diplomat put it, ‘China invites containment’); the vulnerabilities of a system that is a one-party autocracy; and finally the fact that growth must slow down as its productive population shrinks.

Can China be contained? Almost certainly not. But, India can count on more soft power, more friends, a natural zone of influence in South Asia, and in much of East Asia general goodwill with regard to its non-threatening ascendancy. All of that helps to explain why it would be the default choice as the main balancing power in the region — if it measures up, that is.

Rapid economic growth remains the best foreign policy. If India gets its economic act together, it will strengthen its position vis-à-vis China and also provide the ‘balance’ for which other countries look to it. If India falters economically, China will encroach on its space more than it has already — just as a wei qi player would. The prospect of that unpalatable choice should help focus India’s mind more sharply on achieving rapid economic growth.

Over the past few months, the Chinese stock market, rather than its real economy, has been making headlines. The index rose almost 50% between March and mid-June before coming back to the March level over the next four weeks, when the authorities took several steps to halt the slump. These moves—like reducing interest rates, restricting margin trading, getting some state-controlled organizations to buy equities or provide margin money, suspension of trading in a number of shares, etc—are standard measures which all policymakers, including those in Anglo-Saxon economies, take when a bubble in asset prices bursts.

Market euphoria and gloom are recurring features of all financial, or asset, markets, and exaggerated when leveraged, or margin, trading is preponderant. To recall a few examples from the supposedly deep and “mature” US financial markets: the October 1987 crash of the stock market; the “rescue” of Long-Term Capital Management, a hedge fund, by the Fed “persuading” several banks to take it over; the bursting of the dotcom bubble in 2000; and the 2007-08 crisis in the mortgage securities market. The US Federal Reserve is famous for writing a “Greenspan put” option in favour of markets.
More important in the long term is the way China has been fostering the internationalization of the yuan. A few years ago, Arvind Subramanian, now India’s chief economic adviser, wrote a book titled Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China’s Economic Dominance. His argument is that, given the size of China’s economy (the world’s largest in purchasing power parity terms) and trade, and the fact that China is the world’s largest creditor nation while the US is a very large debtor, China is likely to become the dominant financial/economic power in the near future.

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China is not emerging from a vacuum. It has a well-documented history of excellence, writes Jeffrey Sehume.

Johannesburg – For conscientious researchers the exercise of studying societies removed from the mainstream is not simply to collect information and gather facts.

For these researchers, keen to loosen the mysteries behind the formerly unknown, the journey is to evaluate “new” experiences, to perhaps draw comparative lessons. Ultimately, this is done in order to illuminate the past, improve understanding about the present, and inform the future. The People’s Republic of China has drawn the interest of lay researchers and scholars since that country began to open up in 1978.

Interest in this strikingly different society has tended to focus on unravelling the political and economic frameworks responsible for its status as a powerhouse for the new millennium.

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As the Dalai Lama exiled in India turned 80, the situation regarding the Tibet issue has reached a crucial stage. There seems to be no chance of resumption of talks between Beijing and the representatives of the spiritual leader as deep differences between the two sides persist; the last contact was five years ago. China’s economic and security policies have led to an overall stability in Tibet; its international economic clout has grown leading to a weakening of foreign support to the Dalai Lama’s movement. With these as basis, China may feel confident about its ability to control events in Tibet and despite some internal viewpoints in favor of a soft line towards the Dalai Lama, China may not be in a hurry to reach a rapprochement with the latter. It is quite possible that China would choose to wait for the passing away of 14th Dalai Lama and appoint his successor on its own within the country in which case it can hope for a close to the Tibet issue once for all. Till such time, there may not be an end to the prevailing stalemate with respect to the Tibet issue. The stalemate has negative implications for relations between India and China though the Tibet issue is not a bilateral political problem among them. Any settlement of the issue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama can contribute to creating a right atmosphere for solving the vexed India- China border problem which was once non-existent and arose only after China liberated ’Tibet.

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Hong Kong’s mother tongue is under threat. Cantonese may be centuries old but how much longer can it sustain the pressure from China to pick up Putonghua? By Arthur Tam and Anna Cummins. Additional reporting by Emily Cheng and Allen Jim

Our tongue. Our voice.
Language is the tongue that gives a nation its voice. And Hong Kong’s voice has never been as intrinsically linked to its identity as it is right now. Cantonese isn’t just the city’s language; it’s one of the many yardsticks by which Hongkongers measure their cultural and political differences from the rest of the Mainland.

We all know the abrasive political situation between the Central People’s Government and the SAR is complex, contentious and set to continue into the foreseeable future.This is particularly magnified in the light of the 18th anniversary of the handover, as well as the recent rejection of the pro-Beijing electoral reform package. But it was four years ago, in 2011, that Hong Kong’s voice took its first major, measurable shift in tone. According to the government’s census, Putonghua overtook English as the second most spoken language in the territory for the first time in 2011, with 48 percent of people claiming to speak the official language of mainland China, and 46 percent claiming to speak English. In the 2001 census, only a third of respondents could speak Putonghua.

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Al Jazeera’s most watched English-language programme is Head to Head. Hosted by Mehdi Hasan, who is also the political editor for the UK edition of the Huffington Post. It features Mehdi’s obstinate, in-your-face form of firebrand interviewing. He is immaculately researched and fiercely combative. Set in the Oxford Union, the surroundings seem almost at odds with the intention of making Mehdi’s guests squirm. Yet there is no end of very high-profile figures wanting to be on his one-hour show – especially intellectual figures who have achieved some public prominence. Bernard Henri Levy and Tariq Ramadan have been among his guests (or victims). Because public intellectuals take their turn alongside political figures, and because each interviewee is the centre of attention for an hour, Head to Head is probably the English-speaking world’s most sustained thinking person’s programme. The combat, in short sharp sound-bites, still allows more thought to be portrayed than any other programme. When Mehdi flags, he turns to three panellists who, in turn, ask questions of the guest. Mehdi might have moments when he can thus pause, but his guest cannot.

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When the leaders of the member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) gather this weekend in Kuala Lumpur, their agenda will be dominated by the launch of the 10-year roadmap toward the realization of the Asean Community. But, apart from regional economic integration, President Aquino has other things in mind. The Asean summit offers him another opportunity to bring up the issue of China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea. Hopefully, he will get his colleagues to conclude the protracted discussion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea as a concrete achievement in political and security cooperation.

This was an issue he first sharply brought to the Asean table at the 20th Asean summit in 2012 in Phnom Penh. For the first time in its history, the consensus-oriented regional bloc failed to issue a joint communiqué at the end of its meeting after the host country decided to take up the cudgels for China. This was a moment when semantics could not come to the aid of diplomacy.

That Cambodian summit conveyed in no uncertain terms P-Noy’s determination to hold China accountable for its actions under international norms. His dogged pursuit of the South China Sea issue at that meeting, which he did in the politest terms possible, deviated from the customary practice of issuing muffled official protests while signaling a readiness to settle disputes through bilateral talks. It was a sharp departure from the policy that had characterized his predecessor’s cozy relationship with China. Not too long after the Cambodian encounter, the Philippines filed an arbitration case against China under the terms of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

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‘Het succes van de AIIB is van historisch belang en brengt verdeeldheid tussen de VS en grote Europese landen. De VS heeft Azië alleen nog militaire macht te bieden, maar uiteindelijk is economische macht sterker’.
‘De verhouding tussen staat en maatschappij is in China anders dan bij ons. Prestaties geven de overheid populariteit en prestige. De maatschappij verandert snel en dat dwingt het systeem tot een ingrijpende modernisering.’

Prikkelende uitspraken over opkomst en duurzaamheid van het huidige China, door Martin Jacques.
Er lopen onder China-kenners op het moment twee discussies, waarvan de echo’s op ChinaSquare te vinden zijn. Een gaat over de opkomst van China, de andere over de duurzaamheid van het Chinese systeem. De bekende publicist Martin Jacques heeft op beide thema’s een uitgesproken visie. Niet iedereen zal het met hem eens zijn, maar weinigen zullen niet worden geïnspireerd of uitgedaagd door wat hij schrijft. Chinese media staan open voor zijn inbreng. We geven hieronder een samenvatting met citaten van zijn recente artikelen in Global Times(zie foto) en People’s Daily. Twee originele teksten, over opkomst en duurzaamheid van China nu, staan op zijn officiële persoonlijke website

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Chinese use the word “fever” to describe whatever is popular. And in China, “English fever” took hold soon after Deng Xiaoping launched the economic reforms that would eventually roil and reshape the country.

The first sign of that fever came one evening in 1982. The few Chinese who had a television set, mainly in large cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, saw a red-haired London woman and two Chinese men teaching English. Dull and pedantic, perhaps, to many in the western world — but it was electrifying to Chinese at the time.

The BBC crash course program called “Follow Me!” was the first foreign broadcast imported into a impoverished nation that had been closed off to the world for the better part of a century. Television was still a novelty. Oftentimes, entire villages would crowd around a single TV.

Kathy Flower, the British teacher in the program, recalled:

“For a while I shared with Mrs. Thatcher the role of the most recognized Brit in China, a position now held by David Beckham.”

Beijing’s National Center for Educational Technology bought the broadcast rights very cheaply, but the impact of “English fever” was unprecedented and continues to reverberate well beyond China today.

In an increasingly interconnected world, the ability to penetrate foreign markets is an advantage. And China’s English-centric push for foreign language instruction as part of Deng’s economic reform remains an important pillar of the nation’s economic ascendency in today’s English-dominant world markets.

Consider: China now has a population of English speakers — some proficient, some still learning — that matches the entire population of the United States.

Starting in the third grade, Chinese are required to study English. Now, China is the world’s second largest economy, and its laptop computers, shoes and car parts are shipped around the world. In the U.S., by contrast, only 18% of Americans has any experience in a language other than English. American students are not required to learn a foreign language.

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BRITAIN’S recent decision to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as a founder member has led to a kind of stampede by other allies of the United States in Europe such as Germany, France and Italy to follow suit.

So did two other important Asia-Pacific allies, Australia and South Korea. The only other major US ally in Asia which did not was Japan.

What is striking is that these allies went against the express wishes of the US which apparently saw the AIIB as a potential challenge to the domination of the international financial architecture by the US-controlled World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Particularly stunning is the British decision. According to senior fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Britain’s Cambridge University Martin Jacques, in this year’s Boao Forum, this is the first time since Breton Woods in the 1940s, except for one occasion when Britain refused a US request to send troops to Vietnam, that Britain had ever said no to the US so publicly!

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