Former Journalist Martin Jacques Attempts To Shed Light On China’s Economic Prowess In His New Book

AUTHOR Martin Jacques pulls no punches when he writes about the Chinese people and their ­perceptions about race in his book When China Rules the World.

He calls a spade a spade and much of his need to ­understand the psyche of the Chinese is perhaps ­influenced by the death of his ­Malaysian wife in a Hongkong hospital. He had filed a racial discrimination suit against the hospital after her death.

On her death, Jacques writes: “After a major campaign in response to the death of Harinder Veriah, a Malaysian of Indian descent in 2000 who complained about serious racial discrimination in a Hongkong hospital, the government was finally forced to acknowledge that racism is a serious problem and in 2008, mainly as a result of this case, belatedly introduced anti-racist legislation for the first time.”

Jacques was the editor of ­Marxism ­Today from 1977 until its closure in 1991 and was previously deputy editor of The Independent. He also co-authored The ­Forward March of Labour Halted (1981), The Politics of ­Thatcherism (1983) and New Times (1989) and co-founded the think-tank Demos. He has also been a columnist for major newspapers.

Jacques’ interest in Asia began in 1993 when he came to Tioman island for a holiday and met his future wife.

“I was so fascinated by what I saw that I wanted to try and understand (about Asia). Asia was more developed than I thought. The question I was asking as I left was this: was all this just ­mimicking western-style economy or was it significantly different,” said Jacques.

After he got married, he made more trips to various parts of Asia for work purposes. “The vast ignorance about Asia started to chip away,” he said.

But it was only in 1997 that Jacques decided to write a book. “I signed up to do it in 1998 and made plans with my wife to be based in Hongkong for three years. She was going to work for a law firm and I was going to use the opportunity to write the book. I really started in earnest at the end of 1998. I had such a craving to understand.”

But then his wife died and it took him another five years to restart work on the book as he had to deal with her death and to raise his young son, Ravi.

“Five years after Hari died, ­something at the back of my mind kept prompting me to write again. I was ­trying to think about race. I knew I had to write about it. And I must be able to write about it in an analytical way as opposed to an emotional way.”

In 2005, Jacques began to work on the book in earnest when he went to Japan for one of his assignments.  He finally finished the book in December 2008 and it was published this year.

Jacques mentions in the book that the Bush administration had ignored the warning signs about the US ­economy and states that he seems more optimistic about President Barack Obama.

“Every leader operates within the constraints of his society and the ­history of the society itself. If you have unbound optimism, you are in for a wake-up call. I think it is a fantastic thing that they elected a black ­president who is also shrewd, intelligent and progressive.”

Despite referring to some of the things that Obama has done so far as being disappointing, Jacques feels Obama is a better political leader than his predecessor.

In the case of China, its ­manufacturing sector was once ­considered second rate but now it is going all out to rectify that perception.

“I think it will take a while, but China will steadily climb up the value chain and exert an influential economic impact on world ­market. Their car industry is a good ­example. They are still producing cheaper cars and their share of the market is steadily ­increasing. It is an indication of what is ­going to happen.”

Jacques who was in ­Beijing in August was amazed that the people around him were wearing high quality ­fabrics, whereas just a ­couple of years ago, they looked significantly poorer.

As for the government, which is essentially the Communist Party, Jacques pointed out that it has ­undergone significant ­changes over the years since Deng Xiaoping took over as the nation’s paramount leader and opened up China to the world.

In Jacques’ view, in the era of ­‘contested modernity’, the central ­player will be China. Far from ­becoming a Western-style society, he believes China will remain highly distinctive.

China’s rise will change the world – from one controlled by the West to one shaped by her own hands.

 S. Indra Sathiabalan