Americas

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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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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Since World War II, the United States has been the most powerful state in world politics. Many analysts view a rising China as the most likely contender to end the American century. One recent book is even entitled “When China Rules the World.”

Most projections of Chinese power are based on the rapid growth rate of its GDP, and China may pass the United States in total economic size in the 2020s. But even then, it will be decades before it equals America in per capita income (a measure of the sophistication of an economy). China also has other significant power resources. In terms of basic resources, its territory is equal to that of the United States and its population is four times greater. It has the world’s largest army, more than 250 nuclear weapons, and modern capabilities in space and cyberspace. In soft power (the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than payment or coercion), China still lacks cultural industries able to compete with Hollywood; its universities are not top ranked; and it lacks the many non-governmental organizations that generate much of America’s soft or attractive power.

In the 1990s, I wrote that the rapid rise of China might cause the type of conflict predicted by Thucydides when he attributed the disastrous Peloponnesian War in ancient Greece to the rise in the power of Athens and the fear it created in Sparta. Today, I think that is unlikely, though some analysts flatly assert that China cannot rise peacefully. Many draw analogies to World War I, when Germany had surpassed Britain in industrial power. But we should also recall Thucydides’ other warning, that belief in the inevitability of conflict can become one of its main causes. Each side, believing it will end up at war with the other, makes reasonable military preparations which then are read by the other side as confirmation of its worst fears.

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Observers say US, now increasingly isolated, should rethink its negative position on bank

Countries are rushing to join the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as the application deadline draws near, but the United States remains conspicuously absent.

Experts attending the annual Boao Forum for Asia in Boao, Hainan province, said the United States should reconsider its stance.

On Saturday alone, Russia, Brazil, the Netherlands and Denmark said they want to join AIIB as founding members. A day earlier, Georgia, Turkey and South Korea filed their applications.

Swedish officials at the Boao Forum also expressed interest, while the possibility grew that other northern European nations would follow.

As of Sunday, 42 countries had joined or applied to join the AIIB as founding members. They must wait two weeks before a final decision is made on April 12, the Finance Ministry said.

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Five years ago, Martin Jacques published When China Rules the World, followed by an extended paperback version in 2012. Perhaps only second to Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World, published a year earlier, Jacques’ book became a symbol of the global hype around the decline of the West and the “rise of the rest”, which was fuelled by the financial crisis in the United States. China, as a ‘civilization-state’, Jacques repeated in interviews across the world, would rise on its own terms. Its impact would be not only economic but also cultural and political, leading to a global future of ‘contested modernity’. Martin Jacques’ TED talk, which summarizes the main arguments of his book, has been watched over 2 million times over the past years, becoming one of the most popular International Affairs-related presentations on the online platform. The book has been translated into eleven languages, and sold over a quarter of a million copies worldwide.

Why was When China Rules the World such a massive success? After all, the chapters that deal with the West’s, Japan’s and China’s history (2, 3 and 4) hardly reveal anything new and can safely be skipped by those familiar with the subject, even though he rightly criticizes historians who regard the rise of Europe as an endogenous phenomenon. More importantly, however, his gentle treatment of Mao is somewhat disturbing, as is his explicit admiration for China’s Communist Party. In addition, Jacques’ thoughts on the future of global order and the recreation of the tributary system are both shallow and ill-conceived.

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CHINA’S increasing involvement in the economy of The Bahamas is inevitably attracting controversy here. Having already invested heavily in Freeport (the harbour, container port, airport and hotels) and in New Providence (the huge Baha Mar project, new roads, a sports stadium, the British Colonial Hilton hotel), it now has plans for the redevelopment of downtown Nassau.

Then, the Prime Minister’s visit to Beijing in January – in order to discuss, among other issues, an air services agreement, opportunities for investment in sectors of the economy like tourism, financial services, agriculture and energy (including BEC), together with assistance in restructuring the country’s debt – has put the bilateral economic relationship under even greater scrutiny.

Not surprisingly, such growing involvement by the Chinese induces fear about a distant foreign country, which is still a communist state but has become an economic powerhouse, acquiring too much control of the affairs of a small nation already closely beholden in many ways to its giant and influential neighbour.

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Two major new developments between China and Canada/North America took on new meanings for me after a recent trip to China to introduce my new Chinese-Canadian grandson to his Chinese relatives.

My trip was much enriched by a simultaneous reading of Martin Jacques’ political page-turner: When China Rules the World. As The Economist reviewer commented on Jacques’ insights, “The West hopes that wealth, globalization and political integration will turn China into a gentle giant … Time will not make China more Western; it will make the West, and the world, more Chinese.”

That was illustrated to me by the recent signing of the U.S.-China climate change agreement and by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s signing a deal to set up a Chinese currency-trading hub in Toronto. Harper’s approach to China itself is indicative of the West becoming more Chinese. Gone are his earlier principled objections to human rights violations, a reflection of western Christian democracies’ legal rights and constitution-based approach to politics.

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This is about inequality, not politics, so democracy can’t fix the problem.

HONG KONG — The prevailing media narrative about the Hong Kong protest — namely that the citizens are politically dissatisfied and are fighting for democracy against the tyranny of Beijing — is false. What’s actually happening is this: A fringe of radical (or sometimes, more charitably, merely naive) ideologues are recasting the real and legitimate economic grievances of people here as a fight about Hong Kong’s autonomy. The movement is part of a global trend you might call maidancracy (rule of the square, from the infamous Maidan in central Kiev where the Ukrainian protests began). If carried out to its full extent, it will not end well for Hong Kong.

Maidancracy is an increasingly common post-Cold-War phenomenon. From the former Soviet Union to Southeast Asia, from the Arab world to Ukraine, it has affected the lives and futures of hundreds of millions of people. Hong Kong’s iteration shares certain characteristics with the ones in Cairo and Kiev: First, there is general popular discontent over the prevailing state of affairs and the region’s probable future. Second, while the foot soldiers are largely well-intentioned people with genuine concerns for their own welfare and that of the Hong Kong society, they are led by activists with a strong ideological agenda. As a result, their aim becomes the overthrow of the government or sometimes the entire political system. Third, the press relentlessly cheers them on and thereby amplifies the movement and turns it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fourth, democracy is always the banner.

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Nascent political movements are a little like the Hunger Games. The odds are almost never in the little guys’ favor, which is why we marvel at the fall of the Berlin Wall or the success of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Last week, Jeff Bader, the Obama administration’s former top adviser on Asia, gave a stark prediction: Hong Kong protestors will almost certainly fail in their demands for universal suffrage. The reality, Bader told the Washington Post, is “Beijing is quite intractable.”

Bader’s assessment is brutal, but fair.

There are, however, pundits who lack Bader’s discernment, and confuse saying “it’s unrealistic” with “it’s absurd.” They sway readers by obfuscating two lines of thinking: Something is difficult to obtain, ergo, it is unworthy of attempt.

Martin Jacques’s piece “China is Hong Kong’s Future, Not It’s Enemy” is a classic in this vein. Its logic flows thus:

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As part of the Town Hall of Cleveland speaker series, which is partially sponsored by Case Western Reserve University, acclaimed economist and author Martin Jacques spoke on Nov. 4 at the Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre. Local Clevelanders came as well as many students from the university to listen to Jacques’ speech titled, “When China Rules the World”.

Jacques is perhaps most known for his 2009 global bestselling novel, “When China Rules the World: The End of Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order,” which was well-received by political pundits and economists for its analysis of Chinese economy as well as the study of Chinese culture and how it relates to the workings of Chinese economy.

The lecture given at Ohio Theatre didn’t deviate much from Jacques’ novel, save for updated statistics, such as a new numbers that predicted that the Chinese economy would overpower the American economy by 2018 instead of 2027, which was previously predicted by Goldman Sachs in 2007. This new statistic created an audible gasp in the theater since the current prediction is more pressing, being only a few years away.

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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