Europe

The subject of this long (much too long) book is important: the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a fast-rising power and the rest of the world had better take note. China’s challenge to the democratic world is perhaps greater than the Soviet Union’s ever was, because of its economic success. The mixture of autocracy and capitalism is an attractive model to authoritarians and aspiring authoritarians everywhere.

Martin Jacques, however, is not concerned with politics. Culture, history, tradition, roots, race, “China’s genetic structure”, are what interest him. He believes that a future clash between “the West” (a concept he does not define) and China will be a cultural one. The Chinese, he writes, have always regarded their civilisation as superior, and the rest of the world as barbarians. To be Chinese, he explains, is to belong to a superior race. This means China’s world leadership will result in a “cultural and racial reordering of the world in the Chinese image”. Apart from the fact that “race” is a relatively modern concept, I’m not sure what this would mean. That the African lingua franca will be Chinese? That foreign diplomats will have to offer tributary gifts to the Communist party secretary in Beijing? The main point seems to be that western norms will no longer be regarded as universal. But if we leave politics out of this, the significance remains obscure.

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On his first visit to China as US treasury secretary, at the start of this month, Timothy Geithner attempted to reassure an audience at Peking University that there is no need to worry about the enormous holdings China has built up in US government bonds. “Chinese assets are very safe,” he declared. Geithner’s statement produced loud laughter from the largely student audience.

Unlike most western commentators, who still give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt, China’s emerging elite know there is no prospect that the United States will pay back its debts at anything like their current value. The only way the US can repay its vast borrowings is by debasing the dollar – a process in which China will inevitably be short-changed. Significantly, the students’ response was not anger, but derision – a clear sign of how the US is now perceived. Resentment at US power is being replaced by contempt, as the impotence and self-deception of the American political class in the face of the country’s problems become increasingly evident.

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Books about China ruling the world used to be prefaced by “if”. Now, more often, they are preceded by the assumptive “when”. Such is the age we live in. Martin Jacques’ 550-pager on the ascent of China finds little space to consider the question of whether its rapid economic progress is unstoppable. It ignores almost entirely the other popular – and perfectly plausible – premise for books on the Middle Kingdom: “When China’s miracle goes phut”.

Jacques’ book is based on the extrapolation that, by 2050, China will be the biggest economy in the world, surpassing the US and India which, by then, will be third. By virtue of what Jacques calls the “merciless measure” of gross domestic product, China will be politically and militarily the most powerful country in the world.

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THERE have been many rivals for America’s crown as the world’s greatest power. In the 1950s the Soviet Union threatened its military hegemony; in the 1980s Japan challenged its economic might. These days the pretender is China. The evidence of America’s decline seems obvious. The limits of its military power were exposed after the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the flaws of its capitalist system were revealed by the global financial crisis that started on Wall Street. The West now looks to China to prop up its financial system, and to the Chinese consumer to stimulate the global economy.

Is the long era of Western dominance, first by European powers and then by America, finally coming to an end? For Martin Jacques, a British commentator and recently a visiting professor at universities in China, Japan and Singapore, the answer is clear. The title of his book says it all: “When China Rules the World”.

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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