The Western portrayal of China’s future tends to “blow hot and cold”, but the heat of China’s rise is here to stay, British scholar Martin Jacques said in a recent interview with Xinhua.
Commenting on a resurfacing “Chinese Century” debate among global media, Martin said that the reason behind this hot discourse is simple: the fact that China’s development continues.
“The Western commentary about China’s rise is erratic, and tends to be a bit negative. And then from time to time, they sort of wake up and realize that the trend continues,” said the author of the international best-seller “When China Rules the World”.
In an article for the Vanity Fair magazine, U.S. economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate, foresaw the arrival of a “Chinese Century” in 2015 on the grounds that China has surpassed the United States to become the world’s largest economy in terms of GDP based on purchasing power parity.
Similar predictions of a “Chinese Century”, often initiated by foreign observers, have occurred on and off since the turn of the century. While most Chinese stay cool-headed, the proclamation has once again aroused heated argumentation among scholars and policy-makers around the world over the potential of China’s future.
“From time to time, the West is reminded that China is growing rapidly and is bigger and bigger, and then you get some discussions about the ‘Chinese century’,” added Jacques, who is also a senior fellow at the department of politics and international studies at Cambridge University.
He noted that China’s development globally was sometimes “beneath the radar” in the West, and Westerners didn’t really “see the picture in its full extent.”
WORLD INCREASINGLY SHAPED BY CHINA
Nearly six years after he published his sensationally titled “When China Rules the World”, which triggered serious discussions about China’s role in the 21 century world order, the scholar said that “history has been on my side.”
“We are so used for 200 years to Westernization that we think that is the only show in town, but it’s not. My argument was that what we are going to see is a world shaped not by the West, but increasingly by China,” he elaborated.
“China is very different from the West and it is not going to be a Western-style country. China comes from a very different history and culture. This is a very important point some Westerners do not grasp or understand,” he continued.
Compared to six years ago, the author observed, there is now a much wider recognition worldwide on China’s transformation.
Prior to the financial crisis, the presumption in the West was that sooner or later China’s growth would come to an end, based on the assumption that its system was “unsustainable” and “politically fragile,” he noted.
“I always thought that is wrong. Now there is a bigger recognition in the world that China is for real, and its heat and its transformation are here to stay,” he said.
CHINA “MORE WORLDLY”
Jacques, who regularly travels across China and Asia, has been keenly aware of the changing perceptions and realities in China and in the West.
“Over the last few years, China is becoming increasingly knowledgeable about the world and involved with the world. The Chinese government, businesses and citizens are becoming more worldly and, therefore, more accessible to the rest of the world,” the scholar said.
On the other hand, China has drawn countries toward it from all around the world, which have come to see China in a different way, he noted.
“They want to engage with China. They want to have relations with China. They see China offering them a new kind of possibility, and Britain is just one example, which is repeated a hundred times around the world,” he told Xinhua.
“China’s growing involvement, mainly economically, in other parts of the world, has brought it to the attention of a lot of countries and institutions,” he said, adding that this has led to growing interest in trying to understand China’s present and past.
“NEW NORMAL” NECESSARY
Addressing China’s economic “new normal”, Jacques said: “This is inevitable. It’s very necessary. If it’s not done, then China and the Chinese economy would get into more serious difficulties, so it’s very necessary.”
China needs to move from “demographic economic growth” based on cheap labor and cheap exports to a more sophisticated economy with more educated labor force and more value-added production, he said.
“That is not an easy transition. It cannot be achieved overnight. It’s a long-term process which has been happening gradually,” the expert said.
Given the shift in the central gravity of the Chinese economy, an annual economic growth rate of 6 percent or 7 percent would still be good for the nation, he added.
Nothing that Western responses to China’s future remain “difficult to project”, Jacques suggested that China “carry on with its policy of maintaining a relatively low profile.”
“China has tried to seek win-win partnerships, mutuality and cooperation, and I think it is very important that the Chinese carry on with that position. This is not just for this period. This must be a long-term strategic prospect,” he said.