Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why China Won't Rule the World

There has been quite a buzz lately over Martin Jacques' When China Rules the World. I will confess, I have not had the chance to read the book, so this should not be taken as a review of it; that would not be fair to him - let alone all of you. Still, I have had the chance to look over Jacques' comments in an interview with Macleans, and I can already tell his thesis has problems - problems that make the entire notion of China - or, to be more precise, the Chinese Communist Party - running the planet to be utterly laughable.

The first problem with Jacques' theory is that he apparently takes the cadres' economic growth statistics at face value. Anyone who has been tracking the regime for a while should know by now the danger in that. National statistics in Communist China are just amalgamations of provincial statistics, which are themselves summations of county, city, village, and town numbers. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but with cadres at every level trying to justify their existence, the "fudge factor" can be significant. A few years ago, Communist economic chicanery was estimated to add almost 1.5% of false growth to their GDP statistics. Stretch that out to the supposed date the CCP passes the U.S. in economic size (sometime in midcentury), and one sees a lot of padding.

Criticism number two is centered around the notion (at the end of the interview) that the Chinese are a patient people. This has long been marked as a virtue that someday would lead China to pass the shortsighted Western powers. There's only one problem: the Chinese Communist Party has no such patience. While Western observers fret over Beijing's plans for the next century, the leaders in Zhongnanhai are too busy plotting against each other's plans over the next decade, at most. One could even argue that most high-ranking cadres can't even think past three years (i.e., the 2012 CCP Congress, which could very well include a major shakeup), let alone three decades.

One would expect Jacques, "an academic and journalist working throughout East Asia" would have taken the factionalism of the CCP into account - until they notice his glaring error with one of the most hackneyed examples of the "patience" theory (Macleans again).
You remember what Deng Xiaoping was supposed to have said when Henry Kissinger asked whether he thought the French Revolution was a good thing: “It’s too early to say.” That to me is a very good insight into the Chinese mentality.

In fact, it was Zhou Enlai, not Deng, who dropped that famous line about the French Revolution - Deng was not even rehabilitated by the regime until after Kissinger and Nixon's trip to Beijing. While this doesn't necessarily impeach Jacques' views about the Chinese culture, it certainly calls into question his knowledge of the Chinese Communist Party.

All that aside, what really sinks Jacques' vision of a CCP-dominated world is his regional bias, i.e., toward East Asia. Normally, this is hard to spot, as Eurocentricism remains the dominant bias nearly everyone tries to combat. However, in his discussion about the fate of the globe, Jacques focuses entirely on the CCP's relationship with its eastern neighbors (Japan, Vietnam, etc.), while its western neighbors are barely an afterthought. Thus, Jacques falls into the common yet catastrophic China-and-India trap (one more time with Macleans).
We’re moving into a world where former colonized countries like China and India will become the big players. This is going to shake up the global value system. So I’m not arguing personally against democracy, but I’m trying to imagine what the world’s going to be like when countries have different imperatives, different histories, and therefore different priorities.

I am continually and perpetually amazed at how many people treat Communist China and democratic India as indentical twins. Nothing could be further from the truth. While India could probably care less about what Europe wants (and that's not necessarily a bad thing, by the way), its entire foreign policy has evolved into a deep mistrust and concern for the CCP. Beijing and New Delhi still don't have an agreed-upon border, and the Indian people know full well that Pakistan - which lacks either the will, the ability, or both to prevent terrorists from crossing into India and killing hundreds to thousands of people - is protected by Zhongnanhai.

The idea the India would be willing to play second fiddle to the CCP would be hilarious if it weren't so insulting. That India furthermore would not use its democratic history as part of its rivalry with Beijing is to further insult the intelligence of the Indian people and its elected leaders.

Again, I don't want this to appear to be a criticism of Jacques' book itself (although I don't have high expectations for it), but it is clear that the author has a worldview that is lacking not only in vital information about Asia, but even about China itself. More to the point, these areas of ignorance are the only things that have allowed Jacques to even entertain the notion that the CCP could ever "rule the world."


Anonymous said...

The British Magazine The Economist reviewed his book as well and found it "lacking".

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