Renowned British author, broadcaster, scholar and journalist MARTIN JACQUES discusses his latest book, When China Rules The World: The rise of the Middle Kingdom and the end of the Western world with BUNN NAGARA in a comprehensive, 90-minute interview. Excerpts:
Is the provocative title to celebrate China’s rise, warn the West of its decline or fuel China-bashing?
None of them. It is to give a rough idea of what the book is about, to attract people’s attention.
Literal titles are boring, so it’s not a literal title. If and when China becomes the dominant power, the book shows what form of hegemony it would take.
Isn’t the US the only real superpower, being dominant in multiple dimensions: economically, diplomatically, militarily, technologically, etc.?
That is quite true as things are for now. The book doesn’t suggest that China has already reached the level of the United States.
But it projects forward, showing how to imagine what the future would be. The US is in relative decline – every superpower’s strength depends on its economic position.
What would the West do or like done to undermine China’s rise?
Since the Mao-Nixon rapprochement in the 1970s, the US has broadly sought to engage China.
The US has subordinated other considerations to do this, mainly to its own interests, e.g. with China’s entry into the WTO.
Generally during the decline of a hegemonic superpower and the rise of a new one, there is instability.
Aren’t you assuming too much that despite China’s huge challenges it will remain a unitary state?
The greatest threat to China is internal. It is an extremely complex country, with a huge population, embracing great diversity.
China’s history suggests that just holding the country together is extremely difficult. Such problems as in Xinjiang and Tibet are only on the margins of the country. The real problem is one of implosion, among the majority Han, making governance extremely difficult. If that becomes a great movement, …. it probably will not happen, but we cannot rule that out.
Would China really “replace” the West rather than complement it in global co-governance?
We are moving towards a more multipolar world. There was a point in World War II when the US had a huge share of global GDP.
Now we see the rise of developing countries and the decline of the developed world, relatively. It is a complex process of global governance, in which the US cannot get its way the way it did. But there is also nothing else to replace it, China being only halfway through its process of economic take-off.
The US will remain the foremost global player, but China is already the second-biggest economy.
Could China’s “distinctiveness” be diluted by globalisation?
No. That argument tends to neglect the importance of history and culture, as if these would simply melt away into technology and markets. There is a globalising tendency, but also powerful countervailing forces. I’m struck by the individual distinctiveness of Malaysia and Japan.
The West is in decline, without question; we need to think in those terms. My book is saying we’re already witnesses to historic change, but we’re not understanding it.
Are capitalism and democracy “Siamese twins” as some say?
It’s not true they are bedfellows. Britain had capitalism and only later democracy, with women’s enfranchisement.
Democracy is not a precondition for capitalism; quite the opposite.
It’s an argument used by the West, but it’s hypocritical. Why should everyone else have to do this when they themselves didn’t?
In the case of the “Asian tigers,” authoritarian regimes were in power when they had economic take-off.
Will China be democratic? I would expect China to be increasingly open, transparent and accountable, and in that sense increasingly democratic. Will it be a Western-style democracy? I doubt it.
I would refute the idea that Japan is a Western-style democracy. Sovereignty does not reside with the people in Japan.
China will deeply reflect Confucian traditions of the country. The state is a very different creature in China than in the West.
Sovereignty in China will continue to reside with the state. The Chinese state is superior to the Western state; people talk about democracy, but nobody talks about the competence of the state.
Do you see the Communist Party of China celebrating its 100th anniversary in power?
I don’t know; it’s possible, but 40 (more) years is a long time. I’d be surprised. The party could still be in power but in a different form.
Some say democratic countries don’t go to war against others.
This is a sleight-of-hand argument, typical of Western-style thinking, involving a fundamental bifurcation between the developed and developing worlds.
It’s true that since World War II, advanced Western countries have not gone to war with one another. But they’ve been happy to invade and destabilise others. It’s sophistry.
What difference is there between China today and in 1920, when foreign capital also penetrated the economy and dominated it?
The argument (that it’s the same) is used by some in China, but largely misses the point.
The difference is that during the revolutionary period from the turn of the century, China lost control of its cities. These were occupied by European powers, with virtually no constraints on what foreign capital could do.
China lost control of the most advanced parts of its economy through foreign-controlled enclaves. But that is not so now.
China’s economic success today is a function of a very shrewd state strategy, not just the market.
China needed a huge injection of foreign capital and expertise. Is there a price to pay? Yes. Are there conflicts involved? Yes.
– Bunn Nagara