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Martin Jacques: China acts as responsible player in world system

By Jiang Hong | 2016-05-20 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Martin Jacques is a famous British academic and journalist. He is a senior fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University and a visiting professor at Tsinghua University. His bestselling book When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order was first published in 2009. The updated second edition of the book was published in 2012. 


On April 12, China Social Sciences Press launched the “China Insights” book series at the 45th London Book Fair. At the concurrent symposium, Martin Jacques elaborated on China’s political governance system. CSST reporter sat down with Jacques to hear his thoughts on China’s rise and its influence.


CSST: Your book When China Rules the World has drawn widespread acclaim as well as controversy. How do you respond to your critics?


Jacques: When my book came out in 2009, it was not based on the conventional wisdom in the West about China. My argument was that the rise of China was predominantly economic then, but China would become a very influential power not just economically but also politically, ideologically and culturally.

Basically, the Western view at that point was that maybe China could carry on economically, but it would not exercise much broader influence on the world, because people were so convinced in the West that modernization is Westernization and were talking about Western hegemony. It was an overwhelmingly dominant idea. As Paul Kennedy puts it, as a country rises economically, subsequently it will have a fuller role. And this will happen to China.

Second, the overriding Western view was serious to some extent that there is only one way of being modernized—Western-style modernization. But I disagree with this. Actually there are many ways of doing that. China will not be modern in the sense of patterns dictated by the West. It will remain distinctively different because China comes from a different history and culture. So the rise of China will be a new phenomenon.

On the other hand, because of what happened—because of China’s success and continued rise—how long can you go on defying facts? You need to explain it. So people were very interested in my book, though some said it is wrong. What is really driving a shift of opinion in the West about China is the rise of China. It is a phenomenon, a fact, and it is true. You cannot carry on with the same old ideas that do not work anymore.


CSST: You introduced some new materials in the second edition, and wrote a new introduction for its Chinese edition explaining the difference between the Deng Xiaoping era and the present. Could you elaborate?


Jacques: Some of the priorities and propositions of the Deng era are still relevant, but also quite a few are not relevant in the way they were before. Since 2012 especially, I think China has entered a new era. The Deng era was characterized by the priority for economic growth and the reduction of poverty, and everything was subordinated to that priority. Now the situation has changed apparently because of the success of that era, and China is thinking differently.

I suppose it is summed up by the Chinese Dream, which is that China is no longer simply concerned with lifting itself out of poverty. Now China is free to think about what it wants to be and what sort of place it wants to occupy in the world.

China has not been in the position to think like that since the mid-19th century. I’d like to quote American Sinologist Lucian Pye, who said China was a civilization forced to pretend to be a nation state by certain weakness at the end of the 19th century in order to adapt to the European norms of the international system.

But China is no longer in that situation. It does not have to be on the receiving end of Western power. It can begin to think what the world should be like and provide leadership in the world. I think these big changes have caused a shift of the economy—an expansion of priorities beyond the narrow scope of economic growth and reduction of poverty to a much broader canvas of possibility of increasingly exercising political, cultural, moral, and ethical input to the world.

CSST: The Chinese Dream is not just about having a richer and better life. As President Xi said, it is about the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. What is your comment on that?


Jacques: I think this is a very important thought. Of course a lot of commentators have focused on increasing prosperity and transforming the lives of people, which is sort of the material essence of the Chinese Dream. But I think it is also important in terms of what it means for China as a nation and civilization in the world. China is in the process of becoming a big power and is going to be hugely influential in the world, but what kind of power will it be?

I think the idea of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is very important. My position is that China cannot be classified as a normal nation state. It is partly a nation state and partly a civilization state. So when we say the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, I think it is also the rejuvenation of the Chinese civilization.


CSST: You also talked about the transition of the Chinese economy. Some experts are very pessimistic about its prospects, and some even said it would collapse. What do you think?


Jacques: This is not a new attitude. I would say those in the West who are pessimistic about China’s economy have always been more inaccurate than those who are relatively more positive and optimistic. I think that China’s economic transformation is something new, given just the sheer style and size of China’s economy. So there has always been some skepticism about that, which I understand. But I do not think that was the main reason why the pessimists have generally been more inaccurate. The reason is political. Most of them do not believe the transformation of China is sustainable.

There is also anxiety now among Western economists and commentators about what could happen in the global and Western economy if China’s economy gets into serious trouble. Now there is the recognition that because China is such a successful and important player in the global economy, the consequences of China getting into trouble will be very serious. The West has not fully recovered and is still in the post-financial crisis period, with weak growth, so they worry about what might happen in China.

My own attitude about China’s economy is that it is tricky because we have some real problems. China does need to make a structural shift away from huge investment and its orientation toward exports. China has to develop an economy driven by added value, and that is not easy. It might take a decade or even longer. It does not mean China cannot succeed. It’s just not easy.


CSST: As China advances economically, what kind of power and values do you think will China project to the world? How will that vary from the Western way?


Jacques: I think we could already begin to see this now. China will work very hard to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. “One Belt, One Road” is an example of this. The rhetoric and the substance of the way China approaches the developing world is very different from the Western tradition.

The Chinese governance system is very different. Until recently, the Western view has been very negative toward the Chinese governance system. But on the other hand, there is recognition this is an extraordinary achievement and maybe we can learn something from it. So the idea that you experiment, the idea that you can be pragmatic while thinking in the long term of what you should do, the idea that you have to search for consensus if you are to make major decision—I think these will become very important in the West because clearly the Western political model is failing. That does not mean that the West is going to adopt the Chinese system, but it does mean that the West could learn things from the Chinese.


CSST: You seem pretty sure that China will rise peacefully, and China will not adopt the Western style of military expansion. What evidence do you have to support your point of view?


Jacques: I think that China’s mentality is very different from the Western mentality. The Western mentality is colonization, i.e. to export the European institutions, the European race, Christianity, education and values and so on. America has a slightly different way of doing it but also has a kind of evangelical view of itself.

I do not think China has that. China is not evangelical. It does not expect the rest of the world to be like China. The Chinese have a more subtle way of thinking about it. I think the Chinese certainly have a very strong view of themselves and the achievements of the Chinese civilization, but they do not expect everyone else to be the same.


CSST: Britain wants to be China’s best partner in the West. Why is that? What does that imply?


Jacques: I think it is based on, firstly, a realization about how the world is changing and the growing importance of China. Britain’s future success is dependent on having a much closer relationship with China. Secondly, linked to that, obviously, is the economic interest. Britain, like all the other Western countries, has been very short of capital since the financial crisis, so Britain hopes China can help with projects like nuclear plants and high-speed rail. In the future, the RMB is going to be a major international currency and will even probably replace the dollar as the main currency. The City of London is very important to Britain, and London needs to be a major center for the RMB.


Jiang Hong is a correspondent based in London,  from the Chinese Social Sciences Today.