Long before it was trendy to do so, Martin Jacques was a firm believer that China would become a global power, and his latest book “When China Rules the World,” is attracting a lot of attention worldwide for his bold views.
The British intellectual, author and Guardian columnist was in Taiwan earlier this week for several talks on his book, through which he makes a powerful assertion – that not only will China rise, but that this will mean an end to the Western-dominated world. Nonetheless Taiwan can benefit from this, he believes, but it must grasp the opportunity to get closer to China or risk being left behind in the region.
Jacques notes China will be a superpower, but with different characteristics from the West. No more, he says, will global institutions, currency, language, and culture be entirely shaped by the West (the U.S. and Western Europe) in the future. Despite the success of the West, it is not something that is infinite nor is it the only model for development. He argues that East Asia, Taiwan included, provides a good example, with countries like Japan and South Korea having successfully become developed nations, incorporating Western systems such as electoral democracy but retaining elements of their own culture.
China’s immense and unique history – its long-standing existence as a unified entity, which Jacques describes as a civilization-state in comparison to the conventional nation-states – means that its rise will certainly not see it becoming like the West, despite what many think.
“Based on Western hubris [that believes] the world would always be Western, with China’s rise, many think it’s only economic. … One’s society is not just product of technology, but history and culture. I think it’s just an illusion to think China will end up as a western society,” Jacques told The China Post.
Jacques stresses that China’s rise will occur without it being a rich nation. “China will become the most powerful nation by virtue of its huge population not because it’s got the most sophisticated economy.”
While Jacques’ optimistic views on China’s rise are hardly uncommon nowadays, there was a time when he was just one of a handful of believers. It was on a 1993 visit to East Asia that Jacques first realized the potential of China’s rise. While impressed by Hong Kong and Singapore, he was particularly struck by China, “with southern China it was not how modern it was, but the fantastic energy of transformation, it felt like being back in the British Industrial Revolution, except on an extraordinary scale.”
Jacques came back fully convinced of the significance of East Asia, “I was extremely unusual,” he admits. But he was right and 16 years later, hasn’t been proven wrong. Since then Jacques has made many trips to the region, taught at several universities and lived in Hong Kong for over two years.
The idea to write a book on China first came in 1996 but the tragic passing of his wife, which affected him deeply, led to its postponement until earlier this decade.
When it comes to Taiwan, Jacques is much less sanguine. This being his first visit here in 10 years (fourth overall), he admits to feeling disappointed, “I’m struck by not how much it’s changed but by how little it’s changed, this feeling that Taiwan’s been marking time.”
The recent warming in cross-strait relationships seem to please Jacques, who strongly urges Taiwan to get closer to China. “Taiwan has to ask how it can stand outside transformation in the region. Taiwan has to be part of this, cannot be a spectator, can’t look for its salvation to U.S.” stressed the author.
Not surprisingly, the ongoing financial crisis serves as a major indicator of the decline of the West for Jacques, “sometimes it requires a great event to throw longer-term trends into some kind of relief and demonstrate underlying forces which changes things. I think the global financial crisis was a catalyst for bringing into perspective the rise of China and decline of the U.S., the rise of the developing world and decline of the developed world G-20 vs. G-7. And the underlying problem of American indebtedness was suddenly revealed to world as serious weakness. China’s strengths became much more [noticeable].”
It may be too soon to see if China will become a superpower for certain, but Jacques’ assertion that China’s rise will be on its own terms is worth thinking about from Taiwan’s perspective.
– Hilton Yip