What Martin Jacques had outlined in his lecture is of great importance to us Filipinos who are caught in the big geopolitical power game between the US and China

Jacques narrated that even before the Western Financial Crisis Goldman Sachs had already projected that the Chinese economy will soon surpass that of the US and that in 2050 the Chinese economy will be double the size of that of the US.

Citing BNP Paribas projections, Jacques stated that the post-crisis date when China overtakes the US is now 2020. “China is going to change the world in two fundamental respects. First of all, it’s a huge developing country with a population of 1.3 billion people, which has been growing for over 30 years at around 10 percent a year,” Jacques said.

He added: “Never before in the modern era has the largest economy in the world been that of a developing country, rather than a developed country. Secondly, for the first time in the modern era, the dominant country in the world — which I think is what China will become — will be not from the West and from very, very different civilizational roots.”

Jacques cited the “widespread assumption in the West that, as countries modernize, they also Westernize.” He said: “This is an illusion. It’s an assumption that modernity is a product simply of competition, markets and technology. It is not; it is also shaped equally by history and culture. China is not like the West, and it will not become like the West.”

To understand China, Jacques suggests that we should not apply conventional approaches and Western yardsticks. He offered three building blocks for understanding China.

Civilization and not nation State

Jacques asserted that China is not really a nation State. Jacques said: “what gives China its sense of being China, what gives the Chinese the sense of what it is to be Chinese, comes not from the last hundred years, not from the nation state period, which is what happened in the West, but from the period, if you like, of the civilization State.”

He amplified: “I’m thinking here, for example, of customs like ancestral worship, of a very distinctive notion of the State, likewise, a very distinctive notion of the family, social relationships like guanxi, Confucian values and so on. These are all things that come from the period of the civilization State. In other words, China, unlike the Western states and most countries in the world, is shaped by its sense of civilization, its existence as a civilization State, rather than as a nation State.”

Jacques cited two profound implications of being a civilization State, rather than a nation State, as follows: “The first is that the most important political value for the Chinese is unity,” the maintenance of Chinese civilization. He recalled how Europe had fragmented after the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire and had remained divided ever since. “China, over the same time period, went in exactly the opposite direction, very painfully holding this huge civilization State together,” He added.

The second implication that Jacques cited was that China will naturally evolve into a single civilization with many systems, with Hong Kong as a good example.

Different conception of race

For his second building block, Jacques said: “The Chinese have a very, very different conception of race to most other countries. Do you know, of the 1.3 billion Chinese, over 90 percent of them think they belong to the same race, the Han. Now this is completely different from the other world’s most populous countries. India, the United States, Indonesia, Brazil — all of them are multiracial. The Chinese don’t feel like that. China is only multiracial really at the margins.” He added: “A history of at least 2,000 years, a history of conquest, occupation, absorption, assimilation and so on, led to the process by which, over time, this notion of the Han emerged — of course, nurtured by a growing and very powerful sense of cultural identity.

Jacques cited a down side of this conception of race — “They really believe in their own superiority, and they are disrespectful of those who are not.” He mentioned the Chinese treatment of the Uyghurs and the Tibetans.

The State is a patriarch

Jacques cited the Chinese State as his third building block — highlighting how State and society are viewed differently in China compared to the West. He said: “Now we in the West overwhelmingly seem to think — in these days at least — that the authority and legitimacy of the state is a function of democracy. The problem with this proposition is that the Chinese State enjoys more legitimacy and more authority amongst the Chinese than is true with any Western State.”

Per Jacques, the State in China “enjoys a very special significance as the representative, the embodiment and the guardian of Chinese civilization, of the civilization State. This is as close as China gets to a kind of spiritual role.” He added: “for 1,000 years, the power of the Chinese State has not been challenged. It’s had no serious rivals.” Jacques noted that the Chinese views the State as “the head of the family, the patriarch of the family.”

Cautioning the West about their arrogance and ignorance, Jacques explained that East Asia is where a third of the world’s population lives and it is the largest economic region in the world. He added that: “people from East Asia, are far more knowledgeable about the West than the West is about East Asia.

Jacques added: “What is happening is that, very rapidly in historical terms, the world is being driven and shaped, not by the old developed countries, but by the developing world. We’ve seen this in terms of the G20 — usurping very rapidly the position of the G7, or the G8.”

He warns of two consequences. The first is that the West is rapidly losing its influence in the world. The second is “that the world will inevitably, as a consequence, become increasingly unfamiliar to us, because it’ll be shaped by cultures and experiences and histories that we are not really familiar with, or conversant with.”

“For 200 years, the world was essentially governed by a fragment of the human population. That’s what Europe and North America represented. The arrival of countries like China and India — between them 38 percent of the world’s population — and others like Indonesia and Brazil and so on, represent the most important single act of democratization in the last 200 years. Civilizations and cultures, which had been ignored, which had no voice, which were not listened to, which were not known about, will have a different sort of representation in this world. As humanists, we must welcome, surely, this transformation. And we will have to learn about these civilizations,” Jacques said.

We are indeed entering the China century. The big question that must be posed is this — why is our foreign policy still glued to a sole strategic partnership with the US?

– William M. Esposo