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Sunday October 28, 2012

Martin Jacques' latest views on China

An author shares his views on the growing clout of the world’s second largest economy.

AUTHOR and academic Dr Martin Jacques released an updated and expanded second edition of his widely acclaimed book, When China Rules The World: The End Of The Western World And The Birth Of A New Global Order, earlier this year.

During a recent visit to Kuala Lumpur when he attended an Asian Centre for Media Studies event, Jacques (pic) spoke to The Star about his book and its approach to the subject. Some excerpts:

How is the second edition different from the first?

Time. Because China is growing so quickly, China time is fast. There’s been a lot of updating throughout the second edition.

When I wrote the first edition, the 2008 (US-centred) financial crisis had just happened. The last chapter is about the crisis, which was little commented on before.

The second edition looks at the beginnings of a Chinese economic world order.

How far is the second edition a response to critics of the first?

I don’t think what I’ve done is a response to the critics. The inaccuracies in the first edition were very few, and I’ve certainly responded to those.

There was a bit of a jump in the argument between the rise of China and its relations with other countries.

Here I look at not just China-US relations, but the rise of developing countries generally, of which China is a part.

I use the phrase “rule the world” as a metaphor. I’ve learned a lot from meetings and discussions.

There was never much in the first edition I wanted to change. The structure of the book is basically the same.

Do you see China’s rise as continuing into the future?

Yes, definitely. Along the lines of the book, without any doubt whatsoever.

How might a new China-centred tributary system emerge in East Asia?

There are echoes of a tributary system. The most obvious return to that is the rise of China.

East Asian economies today are much more China-centric. There’s the fact we’re now moving to a new China-centric system.

China is probably the most important market for countries in the region, for trade and investment, with its high-speed rail links, and so on. Getting on with China will be absolutely crucial for countries in this region.

Can economic dominance translate into clout in other spheres?

If China is economically dominant, that gives it a great deal of influence over other countries.

The draw of China will be that much greater. China will be a huge cultural presence in the region.

Lots of people in this region will study in Chinese universities. Beijing will be a tremendous draw.

You can see that in the flight patterns of Malaysia Airlines, for example. Previously, Malaysians travelled to Britain, not so much to other East Asian countries; it would be interesting to see the changes.

The attraction of Shanghai will be that of a big city like New York. People are attracted to power.

We’ll be much more familiar with Chinese governance and institutions. From being a mystery, they’ll be familiar; we were used to the United States before, but much more with China (in future).

What of Greater China, the mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan?

All the ties will get stronger.

Hong Kong will remain very much as now, I don’t expect it to change. It will become increasingly integrated (with the mainland) and Sinicised, and (still) in many senses not very Chinese.

I would expect Taiwan to move ever closer to China. Taipei feels it has nowhere to go except closer to China.

There are already a large number of Taiwanese working in China. There has been growing economic integration.

Over the next 20 years, Taiwan will probably accept Chinese sovereignty. It will come because it is absolutely the logical step.

What of the prospects of China’s collapse, as some predict?

There are gradations on the scale. China isn’t going to sail into the sunset without problems. But what I’m extremely sceptical about are predictions about the problems leading to economic meltdown and Armageddon.

Some day China may see a multi-party system, although unlikely. China may be more open, but it will still be very much Chinese.

A collapse is not impossible, but extremely unlikely.

Can China’s economic power translate into cultural influence?

It will take a long time. China is still a poor country.

Rich countries don’t aspire to be like a poor country; economic power is the basis (of cultural influence).

The Beijing Olympics is an example: China was unable to stage it 10 years before.

Since the rest of the world is not familiar with Chinese culture, the process of feeling comfortable with China culturally and politically will take a long time.

Because Chinese culture is so different from Western culture, it will take a century for the West to be familiar with it. I’m sceptical that it won’t happen.

How is China’s rise regarded by India?

India has a big problem with China, as it has a very strong view of China. India is a long, long way behind (in growth).

Indians are traumatised by China; their relationship with China is erratic, fickle and fearful. Because of the border wars, China looms very large in the Indian imagination.

The issue doesn’t disturb the Chinese, but for Indians it’s an issue. India is so far behind that the thought of overtaking China (economically) is the talk of fantasists in dreamland.

India needs to learn as much as possible from China and pursue a strong relationship with it. It needs a clear strategy in dealing with China.

India should stop this petty rivalry. At the moment there’s not much of that happening.

What of China’s relations with South-East Asia?

In historical terms for this region, 100 years (since the end of China’s dynastic rule in 1912) is not such a long time.

There is a familiarity with China in this region that is not found in other parts of the world.

This marks out relations with China as different here. Countries in this region relate with China in a multifarious process.

Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar are dealing (economically) with China mostly through Chinese provinces closest to them.

It’s a situation most nation states don’t allow in their regions. But Chinese provinces close to these countries will deal more with them in future.

As for relations with the United States?

It will take the US at least 10, maybe 20 years from now to treat China as an equal.

It will happen in a series of baby steps here and there, for example by treating China as a partner in the region, rather than as a problem like now.

But it won’t happen within 10 years. In certain circumstances it may happen quicker, such as a (Western) financial crisis, or it would take longer.

And Europe?

There’s been poor coverage of China in the rest of the world, mainly from ignorance. Coverage tends to be Eurocentric.

Soviet reforms under Gorbachev with glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) were well received in Western Europe. But the Soviet system could not be reformed.

China’s communist revolution had better historical roots than the Soviet’s.

What remains of the ‘Washington Consensus’ (ie, US-style economic doctrine)?

It’s dead. In the developing world, China is the main show. Why look at America?

China is actively doing (the alternative): there are general lessons in its emphasis on infrastructure, the importance of the state, of political stability, and so on.

Will there be a third edition?

I probably won’t do a third edition. It was hard work with the (second edition), being governed by the framework of the existing book.

I’d probably work on something fresh. More on the lines of “understanding China,” so that people can understand the conceptual thinking.

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