Articles on ‘When China Rules the World’

Will China Dominate The 21st Century?

by Jonathan Fenby
(Polity Press, £9.99)

BEN CHACKO reviews Jonathan Fenby’s latest analysis of China’s chances

JONATHAN FENBY is one of Britain’s more knowledgeable China-watchers and his latest work on the subject deserves attention.

The book, however, ought really to take the title of its final chapter — Why China Will Not Dominate the 21st Century.

It reads rather like a refutation of Martin Jacques’s When China Rules the World, mirroring the latter even to the extent that both contain a section quoting attitude surveys “proving” that positive or negative views of China are the norm worldwide.

In this it is quite effective. Fenby relentlessly highlights China’s weaknesses, and in many respects he is right — right that China is nowhere near displacing the US as a global superpower, right that there is scant evidence that it wants to, right that it faces serious economic, political and environmental challenges which will keep its politicians’ focus firmly on their own country and not on attempts to become a world leader.

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For some time now, it has been fashionable to say that we have begun what will be a “Pacific Century.” We have seen a flood of books of late, variations on the theme of When China Rules the Worldas one put it. Certainly, in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial crisis and Great Recession, this has been the conventional wisdom, a view shaped to a large extent by linear thinking. One of the most celebrated proponents of such views is the prolific former Singapore diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, who has written a series of well received books on Asia’s rise such as The New Asian Hemisphere.

In a recent article, Mahbubani has taken this linear logic to new heights (or depths, depending on your perspective) with the premise that America’s slide to number two economic status is “inevitable by 2019.” His premise appears to be that the prospect of yielding the top spot to China appears horrible and unnatural in the collective U.S. psyche:

In 2019, barely five years away, the world will pass one of its most significant historical milestones. For the first time in 200 years, a non-western power, China, will become the number-one economy in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms… it will take longer for China’s economy to overtake America’s in nominal terms but the trend line is irresistible.

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There are only two real adversaries in the conflict in the South China Sea — the US and China. All the rest are supporting cast (including the Philippines) with subplots of their own. At the center of the conflict is the superpower race that even the protagonists themselves hesitate to admit. All manner of prevarications are used to obscure that single issue.

Martin Jacques, the author of When China Rules the World, who was here in Manila, summed it up thus. “There has been an extraordinary and irreversible shift of power from the West in general and the United States, in particular, to China.

But neither the American nor the Chinese government has admitted to this shift of power. On the surface at least it has been business as usual.

This is an illusion but a forgivable one nonetheless. There is a strong imperative for the two countries to continue with their preset modus vivendi; a shift in the tectonic plates is bound to complicate this. Signs of growing difficulty were already evident from around autumn 2009.”

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Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, says: “Having recently visited the country, I read Martin Jacques’ When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order [Penguin, 2009]. He defies the conventional wisdom that China is on an inexorable path to ‘Westernisation’. Rather, the Middle Kingdom, with its enduring language, culture and values, will plot an alternative route to modernisation. As Jacques puts it, the ‘gravitational pull’ of China will have a profound impact on the West, and not the other way round.”

A panel of international experts applauded in Milan at a gathering Thursday China’s reform blueprint unveiled after the just ended 3rd Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

“China is moving ahead to make the country more efficient,” a concept that is “rooted in China’s civilization,” Alberto Bradanini, Italian ambassador to Beijing, said at the meeting.

“China moves very gradually, which is justified by the complexity of the country and the problems it has to deal with,” he said.

“The government will withdraw from its intervention in the market,” explained Ding Yifan, deputy director of the Institute of World Development under the State Council’s Development Research Center and vice chairman of the China Society of World Economics.

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New Zealand’s future is Asian, above all Chinese‘ wrote Martin Jacques during his recent visit to New Zealand. Buttressing his case were what he saw as unique New Zealand attributes: its significant Maori and Polynesian cultures, the increasing numbers of Chinese Kiwis, New Zealand’s pure food and authentic tourism (it’s not for nothing that New Zealand’s tourism slogan is ’100% Pure’), and its close political, economic and cultural connection with China.

Much of what Jacques said in New Zealand was not necessarily news. New Zealand’s population, as much as its economy, is reorienting to Asia. New Zealand, arguably, is much more aware of China’s rise and what it means for the world than is much of Europe, or even America. New Zealand’s officials and academics alike are spending hours analysing what China’s rise means for New Zealand.

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Making Mandarin a compulsory subject in primary schools will spur New Zealand’s economic growth, and will open up opportunities for deeper understanding of the Chinese culture.

“There couldn’t be a more important subject for New Zealand to be discussing,” said Dr Martin Jacques.

“There will be a new elite in New Zealand – they will be linked with China – and this new elite will be bilingual. You cannot get by just speaking English – you need to speak Mandarin – unless you want to operate with one hand tied behind your back.”

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A China expert is warning New Zealanders that they are ignoring the Chinese language at their own peril.

Dr Martin Jacques says despite an increase in numbers learning the language at school, New Zealand adults are still in the dark when it comes to knowing much at all about our giant neighbour to the north.

Tim Yen, Westlake Girls’ Chinese teacher, thinks learning Chinese is so much more than textbooks and practice.

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Working successfully with Chinese businesses will require changes that start in our schools, says visiting China specialist Dr Martin Jacques.

He is in New Zealand to deliver the keynote address at the new New Zealand Forum on October 16, presented by Massey University and Westpac.

“If you think China is going to be your major trading partner, you will need to have a good number of New Zealanders who can speak Mandarin,” Dr Jacques says.“It’s really important. While there are lots of educated young Chinese who can speak English in major cities, being able to speak a Chinese dialect is a sign of respect, and can give you valuable intel on what’s going on.”

Fonterra’s recent botulism scare in China brought home just how important our second-largest trade partner is to the New Zealand economy – and its increasing influence on the global economy.

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The Fonterra botulism scare will become a small blemish on New Zealand’s future relationship with China, according to the British author of a bestseller on the eastern superpower.

New Zealand will continue to be significant beneficiary of China’s growth said Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules the World.

“By a stroke of great geographical fortune [New Zealand] is in a position to develop a strong economic relationship with the Asian mainland. The effect of it will be economic, but in the long run will be intellectual, cultural, in some ways political,” said Jacques, who is the keynote speaker at a Massey University forum on New Zealand’s place in China’s historic growth.

The botulism scare has made a significant dent in New Zealand’s exports to China, but the damage will be short term and should not be overestimated, Jacques said.

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