China is rising, and we don’t know what kind of world its ascendancy will bring. This new work by Martin Jacques, former editor of Marxism Today, takes the debate a step forward with an argument about China’s impact, in terms of not only hard power but especially the soft power that emanates from its vast economy. In translation, this book may do extremely well in China, but in the West it is likely to become a reference point in a mainly negative sense.
Πώς θα είναι ο κόσμος στα μέσα του 21ου αιώνα, αν επιβεβαιωθούν οι προβλέψεις που θέλουν την Κίνα να αναδεικνύεται στη μεγαλύτερη οικονομία παγκοσμίως, έως το 2050; Ο Μάρτιν Ζακ, ακαδημαϊκός και συγγραφέας μιας νέας μελέτης που διερευνά αυτή την προοπτική, λέει ότι είναι καιρός να αρχίσουμε στη Δύση να εξοικειωνόμαστε με την ιδέα ότι ο κόσμος θα μοιάζει όλο και λιγότερο οικείος
Ενα θεμελιώδες σφάλμα εντοπίζει ο Ζακ σε όλες σχεδόν τις αναλύσεις και τις προβλέψεις σχετικά με την αναπόφευκτη ανάδειξη της Κίνας στη μεγαλύτερη παγκόσμια δύναμη: Θεωρούν αυτονόητο ότι η είσοδός στην εποχή της μοντερνικότητας δεν μπορεί παρά να σημαίνει ότι θα «δυτικοποιηθεί». Αυτό αποκλείεται, σύμφωνα με τον Βρετανό ακαδημαϊκό και δημοσιογράφο. Στα 65 του χρόνια σήμερα, ο Ζακ είναι επισκέπτης καθηγητής στο Τμήμα Ασιατικών Μελετών του London School of Economics και αρθρογραφεί τακτικά στον βρετανικό Τύπο. Παραμένει, ωστόσο, περισσότερο γνωστός ως ο πρώην διευθυντής της επιθεώρησης «Marxism Today» -από το 1977 έως το 1991, οπότε και έκλεισε. Στο βιβλίο του με τίτλο «When China Rules the World: The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World», που κυκλοφόρησε στη Βρετανία στις αρχές του καλοκαιριού και έχει προκαλέσει έντονες -συχνά και αρκετά θερμές- συζητήσεις, ο Ζακ υποστηρίζει ότι η ηγεμονία της Κίνας θα μας φέρει αντιμέτωπους με μια ολότελα νέα πραγματικότητα, η οποία θα διαμορφώνεται από τις πολιτικές και πολιτισμικές παραδόσεις ενός πολιτισμού που μας είναι άγνωστος -ακόμη και αν νομίζουμε το αντίθετο. «Στη Δύση είμαστε εντελώς αδαείς όσον αφορά τους άλλους πολιτισμούς. Νομίζουμε ότι είμαστε κοσμοπολίτες, ενώ στην πραγματικότητα είμαστε εντελώς επαρχιώτες. Φταίει το γεγονός ότι ήμασταν πάντα σε θέση να συνδιαλεγόμαστε με τον υπόλοιπο κόσμο με τους δικούς μας όρους. Αυτό φαίνεται ότι αλλάζει, οπότε θα χρειαστεί να αρχίσουμε να μαθαίνουμε…», λέει.
This article appears in the Church of England Newspaper, August 21, 2009 edition, on page 16.
One interpretation of the global economic crisis is that it marks an important moment in the shift of power from the US to China. In his new book When China Rules the World (Penguin, £ 30.00) Martin Jacques argues that the fact that China is such a huge creditor and the US such a colossal debtor ‘reflects a deep shift in the economic balance of power between the two countries’. He sees China seeking to establish a new international reserve currency to replace the dollar and pushing to create an alternative to the the IMF, a the body in which China participates but which it has criticised in the past.
We are now witnessing a historic change destined to transform the world. Not bad, that, for an attention-getting opening, and it is a foretaste of many provocative statements in this hand grenade of a book.
Such as the subtitle: The Rise Of The Middle Kingdom (China) And The End Of The Western World. The end? How soon? Oh, in a mere 20 or 30 years.
Economic forecasters at Goldman Sachs predict that China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy in 2027. By 2050, China’s economy will be twice the size of those of the U.S. and India, its only rivals. The only European economies in the top ten will be the UK (ninth) and Germany (10th).
This long and repetitive book is exactly about what it says on the cover. Unlike Martin Jacques I hesitate to say the same thing again and again, but his point is that the Chinese have a very long, tenacious, unified, and enduring culture that is overtaking the ‘West’ – he means the United States, a country of recent origin compared to the 5,000-year-old Chinese civilisation-state. Some time in the mid-term future the Chinese will be global masters.
MARTIN JACQUES’S MAMMOTH study of the rise of China begins well enough, emphasising the country’s otherness while insisting that otherness does not have to mean alien. He is frank, too, about China’s unembarrassed racial and hierarchic view of the world. He is also right to dismiss demands for instant democracy as impracticable, though perhaps an innate anti-Americanism prevents him adding that they usually come from the people who smirk at US naivety in seeking to impose it on Iraq.
Very soon, however, his zealotry in cutting the West down to size becomes tiresome. The rise of China is to be welcomed, and there might be something in his thesis that for the first time since the rise of the nation-state (China, he argues is a civilisation-state) modernity will not be an exclusively western concept.
Watching Tim Geithner, the US treasury secretary, in Beijing last month, it was easy to be struck by how times have changed. Most visiting American dignitaries not long ago seized the opportunity to harangue the Chinese over human rights, or over their undervalued currency that was unfairly helping export sales at the expense of competitors. Geithner instead beseeched the Chinese to keep buying US government bonds, as they have done by the hundreds of billions, or else sink the US by impairing its ability to raise money. He went out of his way to reassure the Chinese that the steps taken by the Obama administration were going to work to restore growth.
The collapsed global economy stands as a damning criticism of unfettered capitalism and the light regulation that would seem to separate the West from countries such as China. As if that were not a big enough blow, the West has also taken to asking China for far greater assistance with a host of other problems, from North Korea to the environment. China isn’t on the ascent any more; it has risen.
Martin Jacques has written movingly and angrily about the death of his Indian-Malaysian wife in a Hong Kong hospital, claiming that the tragedy arose from a deep Chinese prejudice against anyone with a dark skin. So it comes as quite a surprise to discover that, far from warning of the dangers of a world likely to be dominated by a racist superpower, the author admires the Chinese enormously and views China’s self-proclaimed “peaceful rise” with a remarkable degree of equanimity.
Jacques claims that “In an important sense, China does not aspire to run the world because it already believes itself to be the centre of the world, this being its natural role and position”, and discusses sensitively and in depth what it means to be the “middle kingdom”. He also argues that China is essentially a “civilisation state” rather than a western-style nation state. “The term civilisation normally suggests a rather distant and indirect influence and an inert and passive presence,” he notes. “In China’s case, however, it is not only history that lives but civilisation itself: the notion of a living civilisation provides the primary identity and context by which the Chinese think of their country and define themselves.”
Well before it was published, even before the author had typed his final chapters, this book was causing a stir. What Martin Jacques set out to do – and has done in meticulous detail – was to challenge what he regards as a dangerously false premise: that the rise of China will be benign. Don’t lull yourself into a false sense of security, he warns. China’s ascent to global dominance is inevitable, and the Western world has much to fear.
In so saying, Jacques takes on a formidable global establishment and breaks a series of taboos. Chief among them is the idea that Western civilisation reflects the pinnacle of universal achievement and that the success of individual countries will forever be measured by how closely they match that model.
The first problem with this book is its title. There is no prospect of China ruling the world. This is a country whose uncertainties of identity and economic frailties prevent it from ever projecting hegemonic hard and soft power. Its authoritarian institutions, far from being a source of strength, are a source of weakness. China is simultaneously big but poor, powerful but weak. And there, until wholesale political change occurs, it will stay, notwithstanding its considerable growth rates and economic achievement. Indeed, its current economic model, dependent on high exports and mountainous savings, is disintegrating, as both insiders and close observers recognise.