The expanded paperback edition of Jacques’ highly sympathetic assessment of China clearly places this “civilization state” (as opposed to nation state) in the context of east Asian economic history.

Jacques’ central thesis is that, although China was late to industrialise and is still developing, its exponential economic growth is supported by two millennia of broad political unity.

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On his first visit to China late last year, Barack Obama stuck closely to the script mapped out by his predecessors George W Bush and Bill Clinton.

He asserted that America welcomed China’s growing wealth and power. Relations between the US and China were not, he insisted, a “zero-sum game”. America was comfortable with a rising China.

Stefan Halper, a senior research fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge and a former official in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations, is having none of it. He believes that the coming decades will see an increasingly overt competition between the two nations. China, he asserts, “poses the most serious challenge to the United States since the half-century cold war struggle with the Soviets”. What is more, Halper is not particularly optimistic about America’s chances in this new struggle. His book is subtitled “How China’s Authoritarian Model will Dominate the Twenty-First Century”.

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Last week a Tibetan mastiff was flown into Xian airport in central China, where it received a welcome fit for an emperor.

The dog was swept into town by a convoy of 30 Mercedes-Benz cars. Tibetan mastiffs are a rare and noble breed – and the pampered pooch had cost his new owners Rmb4m ($586,000, €402,000, £351,000). Reporting the story, the China Daily newspaper commented nervously that such an extravagant display of wealth might “heighten tension between rich and poor”.

This shaggy dog story is just a particularly weird example of the new wealth of modern China. When I last visited the Pudong district of Shanghai, in the mid-1990s, it was a ramshackle area of factories and warehouses. Last week, I found it transformed into a forest of neon-lit, modernist skyscrapers. China has shrugged off the global recession and should grow by 8 per cent in 2009.

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Amid the avalanche of summer reading crashing on to my desk falls another hefty tome about China’s re-emergence as a global power.

The theme is familiar: the present century will belong to Asia in general and to China in particular. The book’s title, When China Rules the World, permits none of the doubts and vacillation about the future course of events that often afflict this columnist.

By unhappy accident, publication has coincided with the most serious unrest since the Cultural Revolution, in China’s Xinjiang province. More than 150 have been killed in ethnic clashes. Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, this week felt obliged to cancel his appearance at the Group of Eight summit in Italy to fly back to Beijing.

Skipping a gathering of some of the world’s most powerful politicians was no small thing for the leader of a regime that that places a high premium on the image it shows the rest of the world. Yet it was also a reminder that China’s politicians are rarely quite as confident as western observers about their country’s destiny. In my experience, the west’s awe is as often as not matched by China’s anxiety.

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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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21/11/00 - The Financial Times

When Martin Jacques, a British journalist based in Hong Kong, approached a doctor at a Hong Kong public hospital to inquire about his wife, who had been admitted after an epileptic fit on January 1, the doctor was brusque. When he told his wife, Harinder Veriah, a Malaysian of Indian origin working for a London law firm, about the incident, she replied: “I am at the bottom of the pile here.”

The following day, Ms Veriah, 33 and until then in good health, died after suffering a respiratory arrest followed by a cardiac arrest. The boundaries that demarcate where rudeness ends and racism begins are difficult to draw, but Mr Jacques’ impassioned denunciation of the prejudice he believes his wife faced at the government hospital has cast into focus what critics charge is a pervasive strain of discrimination in Hong Kong.

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10/01/90 - The Financial Times

There was a knock on the door.

‘Come in,’ I called. It was the moment for which I had been waiting. He was slightly shorter than I had expected but no less imposing, with long hair, now mainly grey, and a beard. His complexion was rather darker than I imagined. Of course, I thought: ‘The old Moor.’ I offered him a seat, thanking him for making time for the interview. He shrugged his shoulders, looked at the tape recorder with some puzzlement, and waited for me to begin.

‘Mr Marx, you wrote in the Communist Manifesto, on the eve of the 1848 revolution, that: ‘A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of communism.’ The spectre haunting Europe now looks more like capitalism.’

I began to explain what had happened in 1989, but he interrupted with some impatience. ‘I know, I know. I have been following events, I don’t sleep while I am in the Reading Room.’ Of course, I thought, seat G7. As he seemed well up with the news I hastily revised my interview.

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This week, I received an e-mail from a friend in Tokyo tagged: “Greetings from Number Three, Japan.” He was mourning the passing of an era.

The quarterly numbers he was alluding to suggest that, even in dollar terms, China is now the world’s second-biggest economy. There it will remain until, catastrophe or stagnation aside, it overtakes the US to become Number One.

Dollar comparisons are pretty arbitrary, as much influenced by currency fluctuations as by economic activity. They do not take into account that it is much cheaper to buy a house, a meal or a foot massage in Beijing than in Tokyo. In purchasing power terms, China’s economy surpassed Japan’s nearly a decade ago. But symbolism counts. And by that measure, China’s usurpation indeed ushers in a new order. For the first time since 1968, when Japan overhauled the then West Germany to become the second-largest capitalist economy, there is a new pretender to the US throne.

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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