Americas

China may have the planet’s second largest economy. But the Chinese are not going to rule the world

There is a lot of money to be made writing books warning that we are all about to succumb to China’s thrall. The best seller in this genre is Martin Jacques’ “When China Rules the World.”

But China is nowhere near to ruling the world, has shown no signs of wanting to rule the world, and would not know what to do with the world if it did rule it (which it never will.) It is a shame that for pointing this out in his new book China Goes Global, David Shambaugh will likely earn only a fraction of Jacques’ royalties.

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It’s the second day of the annual US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington. The meetings are high-level: Secretaries of State and Treasury on the U.S. side, State Councilor and Vice Premier for the Chinese. Economic issues — from trade barriers and investment opportunities, to alleged currency manipulation and cyber-espionage — are on the agenda between the two economic superpowers.

Vice President Joe Biden had this to say at the opening of the talks on Wednesday:

“One of the most important things that we need to continue to establish and deepen between our peoples and between our governments is trust. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we have to trust.”

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The 19th century was the British century. The 20thcentury was the American century. Will the 21stCentury be China’s century?

Most likely not, as China misses four conditions that make economic growth sustainable.

First, China doesn’t have an “infinite” world market frontier for its manufacturing products, as its genuine expansion to world markets comes at a time when capitalism is already approaching its last frontier, having conquered almost every market around the world.

This means that China is pushing against capitalism’s last frontier, and, therefore, it has little room to maneuver before clashing with other world market players that are already well positioned in the global market.

But what about China’s domestic frontier?

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In absolute numbers, China probably has more beautiful women than any other country in the world. But one could never tell that by looking at the squeaky-clean glass display windows in upscale stores in this capital city or in Shanghai, whose architecture has been often compared to London, Paris and Rio.

The classic image of beauty in those stores and elsewhere across China are modeled after the American and European standard of beauty—White, blue-eyed and blond.

That’s remarkable in a country that has long considered itself the center of the universe.

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Il y a une dizaine d’années, Martin Jacques traversait Shanghai en taxi avec Gao, une brillante étudiante en sociologie qui devait lui servir d’interprète pour sa rencontre avec le directeur du musée de la ville.

Le taxi peinait à se frayer un chemin dans le trafic et la conversation a fini par digresser sur des sujets moins professionnels, comme l’existence de couples mixtes américano-chinois. L’économiste et historien britannique a cité en exemple un de ces couples avant d’indiquer, en passant, que l’Américain en question avait la peau noire.

La jeune femme a réagi brutalement à la simple évocation de cette mixité raciale. «Elle a exprimé une répulsion physique comme je n’en avais jamais vu auparavant», raconte l’auteur de When China Rules the World – un best-seller mondial prédisant que la croissance effrénée de la Chine nous réserve beaucoup de surprises, pas nécessairement des bonnes. Et que nous avons intérêt à nous y préparer.

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In less than 15 years, according to projections by investment banking firm Goldman Sachs and the United States National Intelligence Council, China will overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy. And that dramatic shift has touched off a guessing game about what the dramatic shift will mean for the U.S. and the rest of the world.

“The US most likely will remain ‘first among equals’ among the other great powers in 2030 because of its preeminence across a range of power dimensions and legacies of its leadership role,” the National Intelligence Council report, titled, “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” stated. “More important than just economic weight, the United States’ dominant role in international politics has derived from its preponderance across the board in both hard and soft power.

“Nevertheless, with the rapid rise of other countries, the ‘unipolar moment’ is over and Pax Americana – the era of American ascendance in international politics that began in 1945 – is fast winding down.”

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In absolute numbers, China probably has more beautiful women than any other country in the world. But one could never tell that by looking at the squeaky-clean glass display windows in upscale stores in this capital city or in Shanghai, whose architecture has been often compared to London, Paris and Rio.

The classic image of beauty in those stores and elsewhere across China are modeled after the American and European standard of beauty – White, blue-eyed and blond.

That’s remarkable in a country that has long considered itself the center of the universe.

“From the most ancient times, the Chinese chose to call themselves white, with a light complexion highly valued and likened to white jade,” Martin Jacques wrote in When China Rules the World. “By the beginning of the twelfth century, the elite attached a heightened meaning to being white, with colour consciousness amongst the elite sensitized by the maritime contacts established during the Southern Song dynasty (AD 1127-1279).

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When Americans think of China, it is usually a faded image frozen in time. It is an old film, shot in what could pass as the beginning of time, of cold, dour, high-stepping soldiers bouncing past a review stand in unison with a rifle resting on one shoulder and both eyes fixed on the box of dignitaries sitting to the side.

But China is more than outdated military footage. The People’s Republic of China, as it is formally known, sits on an area of land slightly smaller than the United States.

But its population of 1.3 billion people is four times larger than the U.S. population of 315 million.

Students in China, like those in other counties, tend to know American history better than most Americans. Whether it is arrogance, ignorance or a combination of both, Americans, in general, know little about their past and even less about China, an ancient civilization that dates back more than 5,000 years.

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More than a decade after China’s explosive growth began to trigger news headlines in the West, there remain two distinct schools of thought.

In one camp are those who say China’s continued ascent — and its eventual crowning as the world’s largest economy — is inevitable.

In the other are those who see the recent decline of the U.S. economy, and Uncle Sam’s reduced stature globally, as a mere historical blip, and that the idea of “American exceptionalism” (i.e., the spread of U.S. democratic ideals and free market principles) will soon reassert itself.

China believers say its huge population, superior growth rates, massive foreign currency reserves, pro-growth policies and cultural cohesion all but ensure that it will one day sit atop the global economy.

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Martin Jacques says the global power shift from west to east is inevitable, but it need not be a threat if westerners can learn to understand and appreciate the culture that is driving it.

Jacques, a senior visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and a visiting professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, spoke about the rapid rise of China during his keynote address Jan. 28 to formally kick off the events of the University of Alberta’s International Week 2013.

Gordon Houlden, director of the U of A’s China Institute, introduced the British author and public speaker to the audience in the Myer Horowitz Theatre and telecast viewers in Calgary and Trinidad. He called Jacques bold and ambitious for his approach to tackling some of the toughest questions concerning China in recent years, such as how modern China achieved its remarkable pattern of growth and modernization, and noted that Jacques “is not afraid to challenge us to think hard about how far China’s momentum will carry the nation, and what will be the implications for the rest of this planet.”

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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