Americas

Martin Jacques’ work, When China Rules the World, is an important one. It argues that the global order is in the process of rapid and fundamental changes. China, as a new economic giant, will begin to be much more influential, particularly in East and Southeast Asia, but also globally. This will necessarily result in major changes in the international economic and political order [1].

From the above summary, When China Rules the World might be thought to be one of a series of such cautionary analyses of the “rise of China.” However, this work is very different. Jacques argues not that China is on the rise, but that it is re-attaining the dominant position it has usually enjoyed in the world economy. In making this argument, Jacques redefines many critical issues. For example, most Western analysis prefers to see the brief period of Western world domination as a natural result of cultural superiority. That is, the Judeo-Christian tradition produced a culture uniquely capable of rapid advances in science, exploration, and business, whereas non-Western countries like China were doomed to backwardness, unless, of course, they adopted Western institutions.

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Historians may someday debate whether the financial crisis that began a year ago is most notable for how much damage it did to the United States, or how little it inflicted on the world’s major rising power, China. Helped by huge state intervention and buoyant optimism almost surreally undiminished by the crisis of confidence across the Pacific, China has had a very good downturn. It is closing the gap with the world’s most developed economies faster than anticipated and could overtake Japan as the world’s second-largest economy when the final figures for last year are tallied.

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The start of a century seems to demand prognostications. One hundred years ago, the rise of Germany, the nation most determined to change the international status quo, caught the attention of European journalists, academics and writers of speculative fiction. How would an ascendant Germany reshape the world? Was it to be war or peace?

Martin Jacques, a British journalist, editor of volumes on British politics, and long-serving former editor of Marxism Today, invites us to consider this century’s future with China. His basic argument is threefold. First, China is rapidly becoming an economically advanced state. Given its continental size and 1.3 billion people, we should reasonably expect it to be the world’s leading economy in 20 to 50 years. Moreover, “given its scale and speed, China’s economic transformation is surely the most extraordinary in human history.”

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Martin Jacques, a British news columnist, became fascinated by the manic modernization underway in China when he visited there in 1993. He saw construction cranes working round the clock, roads streaming with trucks and carts, and peasant women balancing wares on either end of a bamboo pole. The vibrant energy and evident willpower got Jacques musing: Would the economic boom follow the Western model? Or would China pursue modernity in its own way?

Jacques went for a holiday in Malaysia. One day, while he was out for a run on the beach, his eye chanced upon a dark and attractive woman. A 26-year-old lawyer, she was not an obvious match for a pink-skinned, pointy-headed, chronically unmarried Brit who was nearing 50. But the woman, Hari Veriah, who was born in Malaysia to Indian parents, was fearless and modern-minded, and her Asian perspective was like tinder to his spark.

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Will China ‘Rule the World’?

Despite his breathless title, Martin Jacques is not so sure. On the one hand, “China… is destined to become… ultimately the major global power.” On the other hand, “the challenge posed by the rise of China is far more likely to be cultural in nature” than political or military. But on further consideration, “As China becomes a global power, and ultimately a superpower, probably in time the dominant superpower, then it, like every other previous major power, will view the world through the prism of its own history and will seek, subject to the prevailing constraints, to reshape that world in its own image.” But then again, “For perhaps the next half-century, it seems unlikely that China will be particularly aggressive”; “for the next twenty years or so . . . it will remain an essentially status-quo power.” But after all, yes: “China’s mass will oblige the rest of the world largely to acquiesce in China’s way of doing things.”

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The first impression of China when you fly out of the lurid slums of Mumbai and land in Shanghai is frankly, even if you have read about it, stunning. You’d never think this is a “developing” country, like India clearly is. You’d think you are in a rich, cosmopolitan city like New York, only ten times bigger and a lot cleaner.

Regarding China, there are two main camps in the West. What I call the “American Camp”, which claims China is becoming just like America, and it must continue to converge onto American values and policies to become really successful. This camp feeds its delusions through ignorance and provincialism, as is typical in the US. The second camp, which I will call the “European Camp”, maintains China will fail, because their culture and systems are intrinsically inferior to those of the European masters. This camp feeds its delusions on racism and arrogance, which are common European vices. Now Martin Jacques, a reputed British journalist who has lived and worked extensively in China, demonstrates that in 15-20 years China will overtake the US as the richest country in the world; in less than 40 years it will be the undisputed world leader, its GDP at least double that of the distant second, possibly the US or India. This 500 page very thorough analysis of the Chinese reality is easily the best I have read this year (out of 6 books on the topic).

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The title of Martin Jacques’s new book, “When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order” has a willfully alarmist ring to it, signaling the rise of China as the new global superpower and the coming fall of America and the rest of the West. Mr. Jacques, a columnist for The Guardian of London, argues that “we stand on the eve of a different kind of world,” and that common assumptions in the West — China will become increasingly like us, and the international system “will remain broadly as it now is with China acquiescing in the status quo” — are symptoms of Americans’ state of denial.

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This book says we can expect, in the near future, the loss of American preeminence, the fall of the West, and the global dominance of a Chinese civilization-state. China will not just take its place at the top of the international order, it will fundamentally change it. “We stand on the eve of a different kind of world,” author Martin Jacques asserts.

And what is the motor of this epochal change? Rapid economic growth that will continue for decades. Following cousins and neighbors, hundreds of millions of Chinese peasants will leave farms, migrate to cities, and become prosperous. This inexorable process could see the industrious Chinese develop the world’s largest economy, probably by 2027 (Goldman Sachs’s latest prediction). And the recent global downturn, now barely a year old, will hasten the erosion of America’s strength and accelerate China’s rise.

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Even before the financial collapse, the old order was crumbling. A new order, dominated by China, was emerging. So argues journalist Martin Jacques, author of “When China Rules the World.”

Mr. Jacques believes the People’s Republic of China will be a great power, and soon. More significantly, he predicts that the PRC will supplant rather than accommodate the West.

It’s a radical message. Mr. Jacques observes: “Even now, with signs of a growing challenge from China, the West remains the dominant geopolitical and cultural force. Such has been the extent of Western influence that it is impossible to think of the world without it, or imagine what the world would have been like if it had never happened.”

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With the prospect of China’s economy surpassing the United States’ in less than 20 years, the great debate today is over whether China will integrate into the existing world order or seek to transform it. Invoking the grand logic of the rise and fall of great powers, Jacques, a journalist, makes the case that China will dominate and reshape the global system. He argues that although China’s first steps toward global preeminence are economic, eventually its political and cultural influence will be even greater — and that, overall, “China’s impact on the world will be at least as great as that of the United States over the last century, probably far greater.” Jacques also claims that Beijing appears to offer the world an alternative route to modernity — and therefore a different vision of world order.

Having adopted the trappings of Western capitalism while embracing a more illiberal conception of social order, China is modernizing, not westernizing. Therefore, Jacques argues, its coming hegemony will reorient politics and society. But the book is better at describing differences between the East and the West — their cities, customs, values — than alternative logics of global order. It does not explore in any depth what it will mean for China to become a global hegemon. Hegemony involves building a system of institutions that other states seek to join, overseeing an extensive system of alliances, and providing public goods. The United States’ liberal orientation has facilitated its leadership. It remains to be seen whether China can build a Pax Sinica without an open, rule-based world order.

– G. John Ikenberry

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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