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This event is in collaboration with the Chennai Centre for China Studies

Professor Martin Jacques commenced his talk on “Understanding How China will Change the World” by emphasizing the impact, of China’s immense economic growth, on the world. The position of China today, has triggered a transformation of the established set of values, which has been predominantly shaped by the West, through its conceptual language.

The challenge posed by the rise of China, to the rest of the world, is both conceptual and concrete. This challenge takes a serious turn in the present era, as there is a shift from a unipolar to a multipolar world, China being the largest power in this shift east. Conceptually, it questions the language of modernity. It is a widely accepted notion that modernization is nothing but westernization. According to the west, the concepts, which ensure modernity in the world, are nation states, democracy, individualism, human rights, rule of law etc. The rise of China, backed by its two thousand year old history, exemplifies an alternative framework of modernity that challenges the existing understanding of the same.

Jacques argues that although, for the last hundred years, China calls herself a nation state, in reality it is a civilizational state. He goes on to say that the Chinese identity has not been derived from the concept of nation states but on the basis of China as a civilizational state, shaped by Confucian values, guanxi (norms of interpersonal relationship), middle kingdom complex, tributary system etc. These values are entirely different from those the western countries have been founded on and therefore, are not understood by the west. Jacques invited the audience’s attention towards the legacy of the Qin and Han dynasties to present the long history of centralized and unified Chinese, to bring to light to its large size, racial profile, economic diversity etc. Therefore, China is a difficult country to govern and this provides new model of governance which challenges the notion of “one nation one system” framed by the West. The very sense of a civilizational state can be understood by the way China acquired Hong Kong, i.e. based on “one nation two systems”. Hong Kong and China’s relation exists based on this system, one which is still not understood by the west. According to Jacques, China in the long run may extend this model to Taiwan.

Another distinctive feature Jacques identified was that the Chinese identity is predominantly Han, with 90% of the population from Han ethnicity. The cultural pride and achievement of being Chinese is defined as being Han. Hence deliberate attempts of Hanisation have been quite common phenomena we can witness in China. This brought attention to the possible extension of the “One Nation Two Systems” framework to Tibet. Jacques denied any possible move from the Chinese side on the extension of Hong Kong model to Tibet, due to the religious factor and the absence of a predominant Han community, as the case in Hong Kong is. According to him, the nature of the Tibet (and Xinjiang) issue is ethnic and spiritual and this has been approached by China differently.

Another important factor that sets China apart from the rest of the world is its definition of legitimacy of the state. As per western notion, legitimacy and authority of a state is a function of democracy. Being a non-democratic authoritarian state, the Chinese government enjoys more legitimacy and authority in the eyes of its people because of the values of a civilizational state. The Chinese look at the state as a guardian or protector. Moreover, the Chinese see the state as an embodiment of what they are. This deviates China from the rest of the world in general and the West in particular mainly because the Western Liberal perspective has defined the state as a necessary evil/alien. Jacques argued that level of happiness/satisfaction the Chinese people enjoy is substantially higher with respect to their Central, Provincial, and local government, than other countries enjoy.

The tributary system, as the speaker argues, has shaped China’s relation with its immediate neighbours especially Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, Japan and Myanmar. This particular system has also contributed towards the Chinese sense of superiority in East Asia. As a huge market for these countries, China asserts its economic power. Jacques argued that this economic dominance leads to immense political power in favour of China and China’s claim to the islands and waters of the South China Sea is an example of this superiority. The speaker also reminded the audience that, in spite of having increasing economic and political power, Chinese military expansion has not been prioritized.

The above-mentioned challenges become significant in the current global shift of power from the west to the east, not just an economic shift, but also a political one. Goldman Sachs has reported that, China will overtake the United States in 2018. Both, the export and import balance of trade and the share of global consumption have been in favor of China. The percentage of the share of the total trade with China and the rest of the world has been increasing for the last ten years. The amount of loan released by the China Development Bank to other developing countries has been more than what the IMF and other international banks lend. Moreover the use of Renminbi in trade settlement, and therefore its role in global trade, is growing enormously.

After much discourse on the deviation that China brings to the world with support of its rich legacy, Jacques enlightened the audience on how these deviations can change the world. He argues that the rise of China and the corresponding changes in the world are natural and inevitable. The result of the same will be the shift in power from developed to developing countries i.e. from the west to the east. This change naturally triggers the need for reform in international financial institutions. Institutions like the IMF and World Bank are the ones to start with, followed by the rest. The BRIC has already institutionalized a BRIC Bank, which could potentially attract developing countries in the years to come. Thus, by throwing light on the inevitability of institutional reforms, the floor was opened to questions.

Martin Jacques’s talk initiated a great deal of interest and debate with the audience. Various aspects on China’s rise and the corresponding changes in the world expanded the scope of the discussion from Indo China relations to Chinese loans to developing countries. Important observations were made on the engagement between India and China and how India deals with China’s growing influence. China’s global power and its history of being a reactionary power create curiosity regarding the possible response of China to the world as and when it replaces the US. This concern led to the next topic of discussion, on the possible international world order China may try to create in the years to come. Questions arise as to whether China will maintain status quo or transform the world order, as it becomes a larger political player.

The discussion also brought to light issues like mass protests occurring in China, the role of virtual space in both, ascertaining China’s space in the world and its role as a catalyst for change. The possible Dollar Renminbi conflict also invited discussion as the latter has showed its presence in economic transactions and has received acceptance among the East Asian countries.

The discussion ended with a note on how India should learn from the Chinese experience. According to Jacques, the economic, political and the strategic questions posed before India has to be addressed in a positive way. The world is transforming rapidly the power shift is leaning in favour of the developing countries, positioning China and India at great advantage, one that they must treat carefully and positively.

( Courtesy: IIT Madras , China Study Centre, Chennai. The above is a report on a lecture delivered by Prof Martin Jacques of London School of Economics and Author, “When China Rules the World” , at Chennai on 21 July 2012.)

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