As relations warm with both Taiwan and Japan, China is resuming its centuries-old position as the linchpin of east Asia

Observers have long agreed that the two most difficult foreign policy questions that confronted the Chinese leadership were relations with Taiwan and with Japan. The last few years have seen both deteriorate markedly. The election of the nationalist Chen Shui-bian as president in 2000 and his re-election in 2004 was a nadir in the relationship between Taiwan and the mainland. The premiership of Junichiro Koizumi heralded a serious deterioration in Sino-Japanese relations, with Koizumi’s insistence on an annual visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in his official capacity. Such was the growing antagonism between the two nations that in 2005 there was a wave of anti-Japanese demonstrations in major Chinese cities. This year, however, there has been an extraordinary turnaround in China’s relations with both Taiwan and Japan which has exceeded all but the most optimistic expectations.

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Poverty once drove their mass emigration, but the overseas Chinese now revel in the status and wealth of their homeland

Already 2008 has proved a tumultuous year in terms of global perceptions of China, and there are still 59 days to go until the Beijing Olympics. The tragedy of the Sichuan earthquake followed hard on the heels of the riots in Tibet and the demonstrations surrounding the Olympic torch relay. Sympathy and compassion, combined with admiration for the rescue efforts of the Chinese government, served to soften the harsh memory of the riots in Lhasa and the blue-tracksuited Chinese officials. The world is having a crash course on China.

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Max Mosley’s survival is a victory for the right to privacy. The News of the World should be worried

So Max Mosley has survived as few men have done. To be caught by the News of the World with your trousers down in the company of five prostitutes in a sado-masochistic orgy, which is simultaneously made available for the world’s delectation on video, and still live to tell the tale is quite some achievement, especially in the (allegedly) upright world of the Caravan Club of Great Britain and the American Automobile Association. Normally, such exposure leaves the hapless victim hobbled and humiliated. But Mosley is just not that kind of guy.

If you are the son of the fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, then you will have had more than your fair share of denigration and derision. And if you are the product of an extremely rich background, private tutors, public school and Oxford, then the resulting sense of superiority and disdain towards fellow mortals (which Mosley, a man of aristocratic manner and bearing, possesses in bucketfuls) can arm you with a thick skin, a mighty self-righteousness and an unshakeable self-confidence. There is, in fact, much to admire in the way that Mosley has fought his corner.

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Driving habits mirror politics. So, as the neocon moment passes into history, the Hummer brand has fallen on hard times

Politics comes in many different shapes, sizes and forms. The car is one of the most important. For the last 60 years it has dominated transport in an era when personal mobility has become increasingly valued. If one wanted to find a modern symbol of personal freedom, the motor car is right there near the top of the list. But a car has come to mean much more than that.

It has become a powerful statement about who you are and how much you earn. Car advertising long ago abandoned functionality and practicality in favour of image, romance, hedonism and status. There may be little practical difference between a Ford Mondeo and a BMW three series, but in terms of perceptions of who you are and what you are, then they are worlds apart.

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To judge by the preoccupations of western, and especially American, politics, the defining event of this decade was, without a shadow of doubt, 9/11. Which only goes to show how leaders and societies alike can fail to see the wood for the trees. 9/11 was a hugely overblown event that only assumed its overarching importance a) because it was done to the United States and b) because of the way the US reacted.

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Governments and the media need to wake up to the fact that east Asia can increasingly look after itself and doesn’t need or want western help

The mood music has changed. David Miliband has fallen silent. The railing of John Humphrys on the Today programme has subsided. The agenda has changed. A week ago it was all blood and thunder, western righteousness and the imperative of some kind of military action.

Then suddenly, on Monday, the penny finally dropped and the bubble of bluster burst. The idea of helicopters from assorted western warships moored off the southern coast of Myanmar (Burma to the Foreign Office and the British media, but few others in the world) dropping aid from a great height over the Irrawaddy delta – dismissed by aid organisations as counter-productive and even dangerous to the local population – died a quiet death.

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Britain’s foreign secretary, David Miliband, is promoting military intervention in Burma. This is dangerous imperialist idiocy

We seem to be living in a time-warp. The mentality that has informed British and western attitudes towards the humanitarian crisis in Burma rests on the belief that we are the only ones that can really help. I suggest that David Miliband, our foreign secretary, whose elevation to the Foreign Office seems to have been conducted in such a seamless fashion that he is still singing exactly the same old tunes of his former prime minister, should take a crash course in “the modern realities of East Asia”. In an interview with Radio 4’s World Tonight, he managed to speak about the crisis in Burma (more of that name anon) without, as far as I could hear, a single mention of cooperation with Asian powers. What age does he live in?

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This is supposed to be China’s year – and by travelling to Japan, its president is showing fresh willingness to tackle one of its most difficult relationships

This was supposed to be the year when China saw its extraordinary economic rise crowned by the global recognition that it has long craved – and long been denied – by a hugely competent and successful staging of the Olympic games. If one thinks of all the exhibitions, television programmes and column inches that have been devoted to every aspect of Chinese society in this country over the course of the year as a microcosm of what is happening globally, China’s hopes have not been dashed.

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The use of fascist symbols, the threat of violence, the demonisation of minorities … hasn’t Italy been here before?

It is now clear that the left’s victory in the Italian general election of 2006 represented no more than a brief pause in the country’s remorseless shift to the right.

One hoped that election might have signalled an end to the degenerative and anti-democratic trends that had accompanied the rise of Silvio Berlusconi over the previous decade. In fact, it represented no such thing.
It is already clear that the third Berlusconi government will be markedly different from its two predecessors, which were primarily about Berlusconi’s desire to use public power to protect his private empire and to change the law in order to prevent legal action being taken against him. He was successful on both counts. Meanwhile the concentration of immense private and public power in the hands of one man signalled a serious corrosion in the fabric of democracy.

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London elections ’08: Ken Livingstone is a remarkable and far-sighted politician. Londoners would do well to vote him in for a third term

Ken Livingstone has been a most unusual figure in British politics for almost 30 years. He is like no other. Demonised and then condemned to outer darkness by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, he remained much loved by a wide cross-section of Londoners well beyond his own political constituency. Dismissed by Blairites as a hangover from the “loony left”, he survived their every effort to prevent him from becoming mayor, even having him expelled from the party. He has survived because he is a remarkable politician who combines four most unusual characteristics.

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Updated and expanded new Chinese edition just released.


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