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When China Rules the World
I want to ponder what the world might be like in twenty, or even fi fty, years’ time. The future, of course, is unknowable but in this chapter I will try to tease out what it might look like. Such an approach is naturally speculative, resting on assumptions that might prove to be wrong. Most fundamentally of all, I am assuming that China’s rise is not derailed. China’s economic growth will certainly decline within the time-frame of two decades, perhaps one, let alone a much longer period. It is also likely that within any of the longer time-frames there will be profound political changes in China, perhaps involving either the end of Communist rule or a major metamorphosis in its character. None of these eventualities, however, would necessarily undermine the argument that underpins this chapter, that China, with continuing economic growth (albeit at a reduced rate), is destined to become one of the two major global powers and ultimately the major global power. What would demolish it is if, for some reason, China implodes in a twenty-fi rst-century version of the intermittent bouts of introspection and instability that have punctuated Chinese history. This does not seem likely, but, given that China’s unity has been under siege for over half of its 2,000-year life, this eventuality certainly cannot be excluded.
The scenario on which this chapter rests, then, is that China continues to grow stronger and ultimately emerges over the next half-century, or rather less in many respects, as the world’s leading power. There is already a widespread global expectation that this may well happen. As can be seen from Table 6, a majority of Indians, for example, believe that China will replace the United States as the dominant power within the next twenty years, while almost as many Americans and Russians believe in this scenario as think the contrary.
Table 6
There is a well-nigh global consensus that the Chinese economy will one day be as large as that of the United States, if not larger (see Figure 41). Furthermore, as can be seen from Figure 42, this is regarded, on balance, with a surprising degree of equanimity. In a widely cited report published in 2007, Goldman Sachs projected that China’s GDP, in terms of US dollars, will overtake that of the United States in 2027 to become the world’s largest. These predictions fi nd refl ection amongst the Chinese themselves in the extraordinary optimism that they display about the future, greater than that of any other people, Americans included, and which is obviously based on the transformation in their living standards over the past three decades (see Table 7).
As China begins to emerge as a global power, what forms will its growing strength take? Or, to put it another way, what will a globally hegemonic China look like? How will its power be expressed and how will it behave in such a scenario? As we peer into the future, history can in a limited way serve as some kind of guide. Over the last two centuries, there have been two globally dominant powers: Britain between 1850 and 1914, and the United States from 1945 to the present. Given that it is the more contemporary example, the American experience, while in no sense acting as a model, can nonetheless serve as a reference point in seeking to understand what a Pax Sinica might be like, including how it
Figure 41. Responses to the question, ‘Do you think that it is more likely that someday China’s economy will grow to be as large as the US economy or that the US economy will always stay larger than China’s?’
Figure 42. Responses to the question, ‘If China’s economy were to grow to be as large as the US economy, do you think that would be mostly positive, mostly negative, or equally positive and negative?’
Table 7. Personal optimism (Nov 2005).
Figure 43. Projected size of major economies, 2006–2050 (GDP at market exchange rates).

might be different. So what are the characteristics of America’s global hegemony?
• I t has the world’s largest economy.
• It has one of the world’s highest GDPs per head.
• It has the world’s most technologically advanced economy and also the most innovative, as exemplifi ed by Silicon Valley.
• It is by far the world’s strongest military power, which, based on its maritime and air strength, enables it to exercise its infl uence in every region of the world.
• I ts overall global power means that it is a key factor in the calculations and attitudes of more or less every country in the world. All countries, as a consequence, enjoy, in varying degrees, limited sovereignty, from the UK and Israel to Mexico and even China.
• The international economic system was predominantly designed and shaped by the United States and its rules are still determined largely by the US.
• It is home to the best universities in the world and has long attracted some of the most able global talent.
• English has become the global lingua franca largely because of the power and appeal of the United States.
• Hollywood dominates the global fi lm market and, to a rather lesser extent, that of television as well.
• A merican corporate brand names like Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart tend to predominate over those of other nations.
• The United States is not only by far the most important country in the world but New York is also, de facto, the world’s capital. What is American also frequently tends to have a global presence.
• American history has become part of the global furniture, with its most important landmarks, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Civil War and the frontier spirit, familiar to the entire world. Similarly, its customs, from Thanksgiving Day to Halloween, often have a global resonance.
• A merican values – be it individualism, democracy, human rights, neoliberalism, neo-conservatism, the market, freedom or the frontier mentality – often enjoy a preponderant global infl uence.
• A merican supremacy has been associated with the global dominance of the white race and, by implication, the subordination and subjugation of other races in an informal global hierarchy of race.
Even in the case of the United States, however, whose infl uence is far greater than that of any other nation in history, this overweening power has never been without constraint. The concept of hegemony elaborated by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci – which should be distinguished from the pejorative Chinese use of the term – entails the complex interaction of coercion and consent, force and leadership, and, though it was originally advanced to explain the nature of power within societies, it is also relevant to international relations. Gramsci’s idea bears some resemblance to the distinction between hard and soft power employed by the American writer Joseph Nye, though Nye’s appoach is less conceptual and more classifi catory in nature. Far from hegemony being set in concrete, it is constantly contested and redefi ned, the balance of power never static, always in motion. Nor is it ever absolute. Even though the United States possesses almost as much military fi repower as the rest of the world put together, that does not mean that it can do whatever it likes wherever it chooses, as its disastrous occupation of Iraq illustrated. Moreover, as we have observed, while it enjoys military supremacy, its economic preponderance is steadily being eroded. Although the US is the world’s sole politico-military superpower, its infl uence varies from sphere to sphere and region to region – and in some cases it remains extremely limited. Take the unlikely example of sport. Although the US generally tops the medals tables in the Olympic Games, there are many sports in which it is not dominant and others from which it is virtually absent. The most popular American sports have remained largely confi ned to the US in their appeal, with the exception of basketball, while the world’s most popular game is football, a European export. Similarly, apart from its domination of a key sector of the fast-food market, American cuisine enjoys little or no global infl uence.

So what about China? As in the case of the United States, Chinese global hegemony will refl ect the country’s particular characteristics, both historical and contemporary. The task here is to identify those characteristics and how they might leave their imprint on the future. It should also be borne in mind that forms of hegemony are constantly shifting and mutating in response to wider cultural, technological, military political and economic changes. In the era of European supremacy, for example, the characteristic form of political domination was colonialism and the key expression of force-projection was the navy, but after 1945 colonialism, for a variety of reasons, became unsustainable. The American era, in contrast, is associated with air power, a global network of military bases, huge military superiority, an informal empire, dominance of the international economic system, and a global media. It is impossible, beyond a point, to anticipate the new forms of modernity with which a future Chinese hegemony might be associated.
The long reach of chinese history
Global history has hitherto been essentially a Western history. With the rise of China, however, that will no longer be the case. Chinese history will become familiar not just to the Chinese, or even East Asians, but to the entire world. Just as many around the globe are conversant with major events in American history (the same also being true of decisive episodes in European history – such as the French Revolution, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and the Renaissance – as a consequence of Europe’s earlier supremacy), so key landmarks in Chinese history will similarly become global property. This process is already under way, as the huge interest that surrounded the Terracotta Army exhibition at the British Museum in 2007–8 illustrated. Of course, the grandeur and richness of Chinese history means that aspects of it, such as the Great Wall, are already quite well known. But this is minor compared with what lies in the future. As an indication, already in 2005 the Great Wall, one of the defi ning symbols of the Middle Kingdom, attracted more foreign tourists than Florence, the epicentre of Europe’s Renaissance.
Apart from its extraordinary longevity and bursts of effl orescent invention, the most striking feature of Chinese history is the fact that while Europe, following the fall of the Roman Empire, fragmented into many parts, and ultimately into many nations, China was already moving in exactly the opposite direction and starting to coalesce. It is this unity that has ensured the continuity of its civilization and also provided the size which remains so fundamental to China’s character and impact. Unity is one of the most fundamental propositions concerning Chinese history, if not the most fundamental. If Europe provided the narrative and concepts that have informed not just Western but world history over the past two centuries, so China may do rather similarly for the next century or so, and thereby furnish the world with an entirely different story and set of concepts: namely the idea of unity rather than fragmentation, that of the civilization-state rather than the nationstate, that of the tributary system rather than the Westphalian system, a distinctive Chinese notion of race, and an organizing political dynamic of centralization/decentralization rather than modernization/conservatism. Given the nodal importance of Chinese unity, the year 211 bc – marking the victory of the Qin, the end of the Warring States period (403–221 bc), and the beginning of modern China – will become as familiar to the world as 1776 or 1789. Qin Shihuang, the fi rst Chinese emperor, who not only bequeathed the Terracotta Army but founded a dynastic system which was to survive until 1911, will become as widely known as Thomas Jefferson or Napoleon Bonaparte, if not much more so.
There are many other aspects of Chinese history which will reconfi gure the global discourse: the fact, for example, that China has been responsible for so many of the inventions that were subsequently adopted elsewhere, not least in the West, will help to dispel the contemporary myth that the West is history’s most inventive culture. For our purposes here, the voyages of Zheng He, which predated those of Europe’s great maritime explorers like Christopher Columbus, can serve as an example for this process of reconfi guration. It is widely accepted that, in ships that dwarfed those of Europe at the time, Zheng He embarked on a series of seven voyages that took him to what we now know as Indonesia, the Indian Ocean and the east coast of Africa in the early fi fteenth century. The voyages of the great European explorers like Vasco da Gama and Columbus marked the beginning of Europe’s long-running colonial era. For the Chinese, on the other hand, Zheng’s voyages had no such consequence. There was no institution in Ming China that resembled a Navy Department and therefore, as the historian Edward Dreyer suggests, ‘there was no vested interest to argue the case for sea power or for a blue water strategy, nor did China exercise what later naval theorists would call “control of the seas” even during the period of Zheng He’s voyages.’ Zheng’s voyages never had a sequel: they proved to be the fi nal curtain in the Ming dynasty’s maritime expeditions as China once again slowly turned inwards. Zheng’s missions were neither colonial nor exploratory in intent: if they had been, they would surely have been repeated. They were infl uence-maximizing missions designed to carry out the very traditional aim of spreading China’s authority and prestige in what was its known world. The Chinese had no interest in exploring unknown places, but in making peoples in its known world aware of the presence and greatness of the Chinese empire. Zheng He’s expedition lay fi rmly within the idiom of the tributary state system, though his journeys took him much further afi eld than had previously been the case.
History is always subject to interpretation and reinterpretation, constantly reworked in the light of a contemporary context. Given their extraordinary nature, and bearing in mind subsequent European exploits, it is not surprising that both the purpose and reach of Zheng’s expeditions has been the subject of much conjecture. As China again seeks a closer relationship with South-East Asia, the fact that China has recently sponsored several commemorative exhibitions of Zheng He’s expeditions in various ASEAN countries is predictable: as it turns outwards once more, it remembers and reminds the world of the last such great occasion. The British historian Gavin Menzies has taken the process several steps further by arguing that the Chinese were the fi rst to discover the Americas in 1421 and also discovered Australia. While there has been much interest in, though little support for, the idea that the Chinese discovered America, when President Hu Jintao visited Australia in 2003 he gave implicit endorsement to the idea that China discovered Australia when, in an address to a joint meeting of the Australian parliament, he declared: ‘Back in the 1420s, the expeditionary fl eets of China’s Ming dynasty reached Australian shores.’ These kinds of claims are likely to increase as Western-written history is contested by the growth in Chinese-written history and as China seeks to burnish its contemporary image not only by promoting its own past but also, no doubt, aggrandizing and embellishing it. The Chinese ambassador to South Africa suggested to Africans in 2007 that:
Zheng took to the places he visited [in Africa] tea, chinaware, silk and technology. He did not occupy an inch of foreign land, nor did he take a single slave. What he brought to the outside world was peace and civilization. This fully refl ects the good faith of the ancient Chinese people in strengthening exchanges with relevant countries and their people. This peace-loving culture has taken deep root in the minds and hearts of Chinese people of all generations.
On a light-hearted note, there is evidence to suggest that the game of golf originated in China. A Ming scroll entitled The Autumn Banquet, dating back to 1368, shows a member of the imperial court swinging what resembles a golf club at a small ball, with the aim of sinking it in a round hole. In
INSERT ARTWORK Golf picture.
Chinese the game was known as chuiwan, or ‘hit ball’. It is reasonable to surmise that many of the sports that have previously been regarded as European inventions, and especially British, actually had their origins in other parts of the world: the British, after all, had plenty of opportunity to borrow and assimilate games from their far-fl ung empire and then codify the rules. As we move beyond a Western-dominated world, these kinds of discoveries and assertions will become more common, with some, perhaps many, destined to gain widespread acceptance.
Beijing as the new global capital
At the turn of the century, New York was the de facto capital of the world. Nothing more clearly illustrated this than the global reaction to 9/11. If the same fate had befallen the far more splendid Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the disaster would have been fortunate to have commanded global headlines for twelve hours, let alone months on end. New York’s prominence owes everything to the fact that it is the fi nancial capital of the world, the home of Wall Street, as well as a great melting pot and the original centre of European immigration. New York’s global status is, however, largely a post-1945 phenomenon. In 1900, during the fi rst wave of globalization, the world’s capital was London. And in 1500, arguably Florence was the most important city in the world (though in that era it could hardly have been described as the global capital). In 1000 perhaps Kaifeng in China enjoyed a similar status, albeit unknown to most of the world, while in ad 1 it was probably Rome. Looking forward once again, it seems quite likely that in fi fty years’ time – and certainly by the end of this century – Beijing will have assumed the status of de facto global capital. It will face competition from other Chinese cities like Shanghai, but as China’s capital, the centre of the Middle Kingdom and the home of the Forbidden City, Beijing’s candidature will be assured, assuming China becomes the world’s leading power.
But this is not simply a matter of Beijing’s status. We can assume that Chinese hegemony will involve at least four fundamental geopolitical shifts: fi rst, that Beijing will emerge as the global capital; second, that China will become the world’s leading power; third, that East Asia will become the world’s most important region; and fourth, that Asia will assume the role of the world’s most important continent, a process that will also be enhanced by the rise of India. These multiple changes will, fi guratively at least, amount to a shift in the earth’s axis. The world has become accustomed to looking west, towards Europe and more recently the United States: that era is now coming to an end. London might still represent zero when it comes to time zones, a legacy of its once-dominant status in the world, but the global community will increasingly set its watches to Beijing time.
The rise of the civilization-state
The world has become accustomed to thinking in terms of the nation-state. It is one of the great legacies of the era of European domination. Nations that are not yet nation-states aspire to become one. The nation-state enjoys universal acceptance as the primary unit and agency of the international system. Since the 1911 Revolution, even China has sought to defi ne itself as a nation-state. But, as we have seen, China is only latterly, and still only partially, a nation-state: for the most part, it is something very different, a civilization-state. As Lucian Pye argued:
China is not just another nation-state in the family of nations. China is a civilization pretending to be a state. The story of modern China could be described as the effort by both Chinese and foreigners to squeeze a civilization into the arbitrary and constraining framework of a modern state, an institutional invention that came out of the fragmentation of Western civilization.
It is this civilizational dimension which gives China its special and unique character. Most of China’s main characteristics pre-date its attempts to become a nation-state and are a product of its existence as a civilization-state: the overriding importance of unity, the power and role of the state, its centripetal quality, the notion of Greater China, the Middle Kingdom mentality, the idea of race, the family and familial discourse, even traditional Chinese medicine.
Hitherto, the political traffi c has all been in one direction, the desire of Chinese and Westerners alike to conform to the established Western template of the international system, namely the nation-state. This idea has played a fundamental role in China’s attempts to modernize over the last 150 years from a beleaguered position of backwardness. But what happens when China no longer feels that its relationship with the West should be unidirectional, when it begins to believe in itself and its history and culture with a new sense of confi dence, not as some great treasure trove, but as of direct and opera tional relevance to the present? That process is well under way and can only get stronger with time. This will inexorably lead to a shift in the terms of China’s relationship with the international system: in effect, China will increasingly think of itself, and be treated by others, as a civilization-state as well as a nation-state. As we saw in Chapter 9, this has already begun to happen in East Asia and in due course it is likely to have wider global ramifi cations. Instead of the world thinking exclusively in terms of nationstates, as has been the case since the end of colonialism, the lexicon of international relations will become more diverse, demanding room be made for competing concepts, different histories and varying sizes.
The return of the tributary system
The Westphalian system has dominated international relations ever since the emergence of the modern European nation-state. It has become the universal conceptual language of the international system. As we have seen, however, the Westphalian system has itself metamorphosed over time and enjoyed several different iterations. Even so, it remains what it was, an essentially European-derived concept designed to make the world conform to its imperatives and modalities. As a consequence, different parts of the world approximate in differing degrees to the Westphalian norm. Arguably this congruence has been least true in East Asia, where the legacy of the tributary state system, and the presence of China, mean that the Westphalian system exists in combination with, and on top of, pre-existing structures and attitudes. The specifi city of the East Asian reality is illustrated by the fact that most Western predictions about the likely path of interstate relations in the region since the end of the Cold War and the rise of China have not been borne out: namely, that there would be growing instability, tension and even war and that the rise of China would persuade other nations to balance and hedge against it. In the event, neither has happened. There have been fewer wars since 1989 than was the case during the Cold War, and there is little evidence of countries seeking to balance against China: on the contrary, most countries would appear to be attempting to move closer to China. This suggests that the modus operandi of East Asia is rather different to elsewhere and contrasts with Western expectations formed on the basis of its own history and experience. A fundamental feature of the tributary state system was the enormous inequality between China and all other nations in its orbit, and this inequality was intrinsic to the stability that characterized the system for so long. It may well be that the new East Asian order, now being confi gured around an increasingly dominant China, will prove similarly stable: in other words, as with the tributary system, overweening inequality breeds underlying stability, which is the opposite to the European experience, where roughly equal nation-states were almost constantly at war with each other over many centuries until 1945, when, emerging exhausted from the war, they discovered the world was no longer Eurocentric.
The idea that East Asia in future will owe as much to the tributary system as the Westphalian system will inevitably infl uence how China views the wider international system. Moreover if East Asia, as the most important region in the world, operates according to different criteria to other parts of the global system, then this is bound to colour behaviour and norms elsewhere. In other words, the tributary state system will not only shape China’s outlook but, in the context of its global hegemony, also serve to infl uence the international system more widely. As the writer David Kang suggests, the modalities of East Asia in terms of interstate relations, from being ignored or marginalized until the end of the Cold War, will increasingly assume the role of one of the world’s major templates.
Two key characteristics of the tributary system were the overwhelming size of China in comparison with its neighbours and a mutual acceptance of and acquiescence in Chinese superiority. In the era of globalization, these characteristics, certainly the fi rst, might be transferred on to a wider canvas. Such will be the relative economic size and power of China that it is likely to fi nd itself in relationships of profound inequality with many countries outside, as well as within, East Asia; as a result, they are likely to fi nd themselves highly dependent on China. The most obvious example of this is Africa and to a lesser extent various Latin American countries like Peru and Bolivia; in other words, developing countries which are predominantly commodity-producers. As China’s voracious appetite for raw materials grows apace, more and more such countries are likely to enter into its orbit. It has even been mooted that China might lease, or even buy, overseas farmland in Latin America and Australia in order to boost its supply of food. There is an understandable tendency to see China’s emergent relationship with these countries in the same terms as those of the West, past and present. This, however, is to underestimate the difference between China and the West, and therefore the novelty of the situation. Given the huge disparity in size, rather than seeing it in basically colonial or neocolonial terms, perhaps it would be more appropriate to think of this relationship in neo-tributary terms. To what extent the other characteristic of the tributary system – an acceptance of China’s cultural superiority – might also become a factor is more diffi cult to judge, although, in light of the Chinese mentality, there will certainly be powerful elements of this. It is important, however, to place these points in a broader context. China’s rise will be accompanied by that of other major developing countries, such as India and Brazil, and these are likely to act in some degree as a constraint on China’s power and behaviour.
Weight of numbers
At the height of the British Empire in 1913, Britain accounted for only 2.5 per cent of the world’s population, while Western Europe represented 14.6 per cent. By 2001 Western Europe’s share had fallen to 6.4 per cent. In 2001, when the United States was the world’s sole superpower, it comprised a mere 4.6 per cent of the world’s population. The proportion accounted for by the West as a whole – including Eastern Europe and countries like Australia but excluding the former USSR – was 13.9 per cent in 2001. China, in contrast, comprised 20.7 per cent of the world’s population in 2001. Moreover, whatever the obvious commonalities – historical, cultural and ethnic – that serve to link and cohere the Western world, this is very different from the unity and cohesion that China enjoys as a single nation. The true comparison is China’s 20.7 per cent against the US’s 4.6 per cent. In other words China, as the world’s leading country, will enjoy a demographic weight that is qualitatively different from that of any previous hegemonic power in the modern era.
The basis of democracy is that numbers count. Hitherto this proposition has been confi ned within the boundaries of each individual nation-state. It has never found any form of expression at a supranational, let alone global, level, with the possible exception of the United Nations General Assembly – which, predictably, enjoys virtually no power. Institutions like the IMF and the World Bank have never sought to be democratic but instead refl ect the economic and political clout of those countries that founded them, hence the dominance of the United States and to a lesser extent Europe, with the US enjoying in effect the power of veto. The Western world order has – in its post-1945 idiom – placed a high premium on democracy within nationstates while attaching zero importance to democracy at the global level. As a global order, it has been anti-democratic and highly authoritarian. The emergence of China as the globally dominant nation is very unlikely to usher in a new kind of democratic global governance, but the rise of developing nations like India, Brazil and Russia, along with China, should herald, in a rough and ready way, a more democratic global economy. The huge mismatch between national wealth on the one hand and size of population on the other that has characterized the last two centuries will be signifi cantly reduced. For the developing world, including the most populous countries, poverty has meant marginalization or effective exclusion from global decision-making; economic power, in contrast, is a passport to global enfranchisement. Or, to put it another way, a global economic regime based on the BRICS (namely Brazil, Russia, India and China), together with other developing countries, will be inherently more democratic than the Western regime that has previously prevailed. Furthermore, the fact that China, as the top dog, is so numerous will in itself introduce a more democratic element, albeit in the crudest sense, to the global polity. One-fi fth of the world, after all, is rather more representative than the US’s 4.6 per cent.
That China, as a global power, will be so numerous will have many consequences. China will exercise a gravitational pull and also have a centrifugal impact on the rest of the world. There will be many aspects to this push-pull phenomenon. The size of the Chinese market means that, in time, it will inevitably become by far the world’s largest. As a result, it will also assume the role of de facto yardstick for most global standards and regulations. The size of its domestic market will also have the consequence that Chinese companies will be the biggest in the world, as will the Chinese stock exchanges. In the 1950s Europeans were astounded by the scale of all things American; in the future, these will be dwarfed by the magnitude of all things Chinese. Even the position of Las Vegas as the gambling capital of the world is under threat, with the gaming revenues of Macao on the verge of overtaking those of the former by 2007. An example of China’s centrifugal impact is offered by Chinese migration. China will be a net exporter of people, as Europe was until the mid twentieth century, but unlike the United States, which remains a net importer. A small insight into what this might mean is provided by the rapid migration of hundreds of thousands of Chinese to Africa in the fi rst few years of the twenty-fi rst century. If the economic relationship between China and Africa continues to develop along the same lines in the future, Chinese settlers in sub-Saharan Africa could come to represent a signifi cant minority of its population. It is not inconceivable that large numbers of Chinese might eventually migrate to Japan to compensate for its falling population, though this would require a sea-change in Japan’s attitude towards immigration. It is estimated that the Chinese minority there, legal and illegal, presently numbers up to 400,000. The Chinese are already a rapidly growing minority in Russia, especially in the Russian Far East. In comparison with Americans, then, if not necessarily with the Europeans before them, the Chinese will be far more ubiquitous in the world.
Another example will be provided by tourism. The United Nations World Tourism Organization predicts, rather conservatively, that there will be 100 million outward-bound Chinese tourists by 2019 (compared with almost 28 million in 2004), and an estimated global total of 1.6 billion in 2020. The World Travel and Tourism Council has predicted that by 2018 the value of Chinese tourism will almost be as great as that of the United States. The
Figure 45
impact will be greatest in East Asia, especially South-East Asia, and Australia, where many destinations will seem as if they have been taken over by Chinese tourists, a phenomenon that hitherto has been almost exclusively Western, but which will happen on a far grander scale with the Chinese. The Chinese language, similarly, will assume global importance simply because it has so many native speakers; this will contrast with recent periods of history when the USSR and later Japan were riding high but which, partly because of their relatively small populations, had little linguistic impact, apart from on Eastern Europe in the case of the Soviet Union, outside their own borders. In terms of language, it is already possible to glimpse the future through those who use the internet. Though the proportion of China’s population who are internet users is far smaller than that in the United States, by 2008 the number of Chinese internet users had already overtaken the number of American users.
The chinese racial order
For the last two centuries Caucasians have enjoyed a privileged position at the top of the global racial hierarchy. During the period of European colonial empires their pre-eminent position was frequently explained in terms of racial theories designed to show the inherent superiority of the white race. Since the mid twentieth century, with the defeat of Nazism followed by colonial liberation, such explicitly racial theories have been in retreat in most regions of the world and now enjoy only minority appeal in the West. Nonetheless, if such racial theories are no longer regarded for the most part as acceptable, there remains an implicit and omnipresent global racial pecking order, with whites invariably at the top. Various factors helped to shape this hierarchy, including levels of development, skin colour, physical characteristics, history, religion, dress, customs and centuries-old racist beliefs and prejudices. Throughout the world, white people command respect and deference, often tinged with fear and resentment, an attitude which derives from a combination of having been globally dominant for so long, huge wealth and power, and genuine achievement. The rise of China to surpass the West will, over time, inevitably result in a gradual reordering of the global hierarchy of race.
Although possessed of an inner belief that they are superior to all others, the Chinese sense of confi dence was shaken and in part undermined by the century of humiliation. This found expression during the 1980s in what Wang Xiaodong has described as ‘reverse racism’, or a desire to ape and copy the West, and denigrate things Chinese. That phase, however, is increasingly giving way to a growing sense of self-belief and a return to older attitudes. The idea that China must learn from the West is being joined by the proposition that the West needs to learn from the East. The fact that the Chinese sense of superiority survived more than a century of being hugely outperformed by the West is testament to its deeply ingrained nature. As China becomes a major global player, this feeling of superiority will be supported and reinforced by new rationales, arguments and evidence. Chinese racial discourse, furthermore, as we saw in Chapter 8, differs in important respects from that of Europe, primarily because its origins lie in China’s existence as a civilization-state rather than as a nation-state.
In a few limited areas, such as football, athletics and popular music, the global predominance of Caucasians has come under signifi cant challenge. But the ubiquity of the white role-model in so many spheres – business, law, accounting, academe, fashion, global political leadership – still overwhelmingly prevails. Figures like Barack Obama and Tiger Woods remain very much the exception, though the former’s election as American president is highly signifi cant in this context. Nelson Mandela came to enjoy enormous moral authority throughout the world but enjoyed little substantive power. With the rise of China, white domination will come under serious challenge for the fi rst time in many, if not most, areas of global activity.
The pervasive importance of racial attitudes should not be underestimated. International relations scholars have persistently neglected or ignored their signifi cance as a major determinant of national behaviour and global relations, preferring instead to concentrate on nationalism; yet, as we saw in Chapter 8, race and ethnicity are central to the way in which nations are constructed. This has been well described by the Chinese international relations scholar Zi Zhongyun in the case of the United States. The fact that there has been virtually no challenge to, or questioning of, widely held racial prejudices in China, that they are regarded as normative rather than abnormal and that there is no culture of anti-racism, means that they will continue to exercise a powerful infl uence on how China sees the world, how the Chinese at all levels of society regard others, and how China will behave as a nation. Of course, as China becomes increasingly open to the world and mixes with it on a quite new basis following centuries of being relatively closed, then some of the old prejudices are bound to wither and disappear, but the persistence of these kinds of attitudes, rooted as they are in such a long history, will remain. As the dominant global power, China is likely to have a strongly hierarchical view of the world, based on a combination of racial and cultural attitudes, and this will play a fundamental role in shaping how China views other nations and peoples and its own position at the top of the ladder.
A chinese commonwealth?
The concept of the West is intimately linked to European expansion and the migration of its population to far-fl ung parts of the world. This is a neglected issue, something that is largely taken for granted and little scrutinized. It was European emigration that led to the creation of the United States as a whitedominated society in the northern part of the American continent, and likewise in the case of Canada. The term ‘Latin America’ derives from the Spanish and Portuguese colonization of South America and to this day fi nds expression in the fact that the elite in these countries remains predominantly white and is largely descended from the original colonial families. Similarly, British migration created a white Australia – which, together with New Zealand, formed in effect an Asia-Pacifi c outpost of the West – based on the suppression, decimation and subsequent marginalization of the indigenous Aborigine peoples. But for that, Australia and New Zealand would today be Aboriginal and Maori countries respectively, with entirely different names, languages and cultures. If European migration to South Africa had been on a much greater scale, then the large white minority population might have been in a majority, thereby making white rule permanent. The European, or white, diaspora has had a huge impact on the nature and shape of the world as we know it.
Unlike the white diaspora, which was a product of relative European power and wealth, the Chinese diaspora was largely a consequence of hunger and poverty at home, combined with the use of Chinese indentured labour by the British Empire. This notwithstanding, the Chinese diaspora in South-East Asia enjoys, relatively speaking, disproportionate economic power, while Chinese ethnic minorities more or less everywhere have experienced increasing economic success in recent decades. From being industrious but poor, the Chinese are steadily rising up the ladder of their respective adoptive homelands in both economic and cultural terms. That process is being driven in part by the growing power of China, which is serving to raise the self-confi dence, prestige and status of the overseas Chinese everywhere. The multifarious links between the mainland and the Chinese diaspora, in terms of trade and Mandarin, for example, are predictably helping to enhance the economic position of the overseas Chinese. In some Western countries, notably Australia and also in Milan in Italy, where there have been clashes between the increasingly prosperous Chinese community and the local police, there has been evidence of strong resentment towards the local Chinese. The recent success of the Chinese, who have traditionally been regarded as inferior and impoverished, has proved disconcerting for sections of the Milanese population. But as China becomes steadily wealthier and more powerful, the Western world will have to get used to the idea that growing numbers of Chinese at home and abroad will be richer and more successful than they are.
The other side of the coin is China’s attitude towards the overseas Chinese. As mentioned earlier, one of the narratives of Chinese civilization is that of Greater China, an idea which embraces the ‘lost territories’ of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, the global Chinese diaspora and the mainland. The Middle Kingdom has always been regarded as the centre of the Chinese world, with Beijing at its heart and the disapora at its distant edges. All Chinese have held an essentially centripetal view of their world. The way that the diaspora has contributed to China’s economic transformation is an indication of a continuing powerful sense of belonging. The rise of China will further enhance its appeal and prestige in the eyes of the diaspora and reinforce their sense of Chineseness. The Chinese government has sought, with considerable success, to encourage eminent overseas Chinese scholars to work and even settle in China. Meanwhile, as discussed earlier, Chinese migration is on the increase, notably to Africa, resulting in the creation of new, as well as enlarged, overseas Chinese communities. It is estimated that there are now at least half a million Chinese living in Africa, most of whom have arrived only very recently. There are over 7 million Chinese living in each of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, over 1 million each in Myanmar and Russia, 1.3 million in Peru, 3.3 million in the United States, 700,000 in Australia and 400,000 in the UK; the approximate fi gure for the diaspora as a whole is 40 million, but this may well be a considerable underestimate.
How will this relationship between China and the diaspora develop? Will the mainland at some point consider allowing dual citizenship, which at the moment it does not? Is it conceivable that in the future there might be a Chinese Commonwealth which embraces the numerous overseas Chinese communities? Or, to put it another way, what forms might a Chinese civilization-state take in a modern world in which it is predominant? A commonwealth would no doubt be unacceptable to other nations as things stand, but in the event of a globally dominant China, the balance of power would be transformed and what is politically possible redefi ned. The impact of any such development would, of course, be felt most strongly in South-East Asia, where the overseas Chinese are, relatively speaking, both most powerful and most numerous.
Economic powerhouse
Chinese economic power will underpin its global hegemony. With the passing decades, as the Chinese economy becomes increasingly wealthy and sophisticated, so the nature of that power will no longer rest primarily on the country’s demographic clout. It is impossible to predict exactly what this might mean in terms of economic reach, but, given that China has a population around four times that of the United States, one might conjure with the idea that China’s economy could be four times as large as that of the US. In mid 2007, before the credit crunch, with rapidly rising share prices on the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchanges, Chinese companies accounted for three of the ten largest companies in the world by market value (see Figure 46), and by the end of October that fi gure had risen to fi ve out of ten. Citic Securities, the biggest publicly traded brokerage in China, trailed only Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch in market value among securities fi rms, while Air China was the world’s biggest airline by market value, having overtaken Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa. Of course it may transpire, as happened with the value of Japanese companies in the asset bubble of the late eighties, that these figures prove to be considerably infl ated, but nonetheless they are probably a rough indication of likely longer-term trends.
The potential volume of Chinese overseas investment, as China’s capital account is steadily opened and the movement of capital liberalized, is huge, especially given the level of China’s savings. In 2007 China had $4,800 billion in household and corporate savings, equivalent to about 160 per cent of its GDP. On the assumption that savings grow at 10 per cent per annum, China will have in the region of $17,700 billion in savings by 2020, by which time China should have an open capital account. If just 5 per cent of savings leaves the country in 2020, that would equal $885 billion in outward investments. If outfl ows reach 10 per cent of savings, $1,700 billion would go abroad. To provide some kind of perspective, in 2001 US invisible exports totalled $451.5 billion. At the time of writing, Chinese overseas investment is still, in historical terms, in its infancy, but it is growing extremely rapidly: China’s net overseas investment reached $21.16 billion in 2006, with an annual average growth rate of 60 per cent over the previous fi ve years. A hint of what the future might hold was provided by the investments made by Chinese banks in Western fi nancial institutions, which, in late 2007, found themselves seriously short of capital as a result of the credit squeeze which began in August of that year. By the end of 2007 Chinese fi nancial institutions owned 20 per cent of Standard Bank, 9.9 per cent of Morgan Stanley, 10 per cent of Blackstone, and 2.6 per cent of Barclays. This, however, proved to be the high-water mark, as the Chinese government, increasingly aware of the depth of the American fi nancial crisis, advised its banks to desist from becoming involved in rescue packages for beleaguered American and European banks.
There is plenty of evidence that China is steadily climbing the technological and scientifi c ladder. At present it is still a largely imitative rather than innovative economy, but the volume of serious scientifi c research is rising rapidly, as is expenditure on research and development. China is already the fifth leading nation in terms of its share of the world’s leading scientifi c publications and it is particularly strong in certain key areas like nanotechnology. In 2006, according to the OECD, China overtook Japan to become the world’s second largest R & D investor after the US. With 6.5 million undergraduates and 0.5 million postgraduates studying science, engineering and medicine, China already has the world’s largest scientifi c workforce. In 2003 and 2005 it successfully carried out two manned space missions, while in 2007 it managed to destroy one of its own satellites with a ballistic missile, thereby announcing its intention of competing with the United States for military supremacy in space. In due course, it seems highly likely that China will emerge as a major global force in science and technology.
One of the more fundamental economic effects of the rise of China will be to transform and reshape the international fi nancial system. By 2007, for the fi rst time since 1918, when the dollar began to replace the pound as the world’s leading currency, it found itself with a new rival in the form of the euro. After 2002 the value of the dollar was steadily undermined by the effects of the United States’ twin defi cits (namely the balance-of-payments defi cit and the government’s own defi cit) combined with the slow long-term decline of the American economy discussed in Chapter 1. The decline in the dollar’s external value was precipitous: against the euro, by the end of 2007 it had depreciated by 40 per cent since its peak at the end of January 2002. It recovered signifi cantly in late 2008, but this is likely to be a temporary respite. The fi nancial crisis triggered in September 2008 suggests that the US is no longer economically strong enough to underwrite the present international economic system and sustain the dollar as the world’s premier reserve currency. The signifi cance of the dollar’s decline, moreover, is not confi ned to the fi nancial world but has much larger ramifi cations for Washington’s place on the international stage. Flynt Leverett, a former senior National Security Council offi cial under President George W. Bush, has argued that: ‘What has been said about the fall of the dollar is almost all couched in economic terms. But currency politics is very, very powerful and is part of what has made the US a hegemon for so long, like Britain before it.’ Similarly Kenneth Rogoff, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, wrote: ‘Americans will fi nd global hegemony a lot more expensive if the dollar falls off its perch.’ The consequences of a falling dollar could be manifold: nations will prefer to hold a growing proportion of their reserves in currencies other than the dollar; countries that previously pegged their currency to the dollar, including China, will choose no longer to do so; the US will fi nd that economic sanctions against countries like Iran and North Korea no longer carry the same threat because access to dollar fi nancing has less signifi cance for them; countries will no longer be so willing to hold their trade surpluses in US Treasury bonds; US military bases overseas will become markedly more expensive to fi nance; and the American public may be less prepared to accept the costs of expensive overseas military commitments. To put it another way, the US will fi nd it more diffi cult and more expensive to be the global hegemon. The same kind of processes accompanied the decline of the pound, and Britain’s position as an imperial power, between 1918 and 1967.
The decline of the dollar, meanwhile, will coincide with the rise of the renminbi. As yet, the role of the renminbi is fundamentally constrained by the absence of convertibility. But over the next fi ve to ten years that will begin to change, and by 2020 the renminbi is likely to be fully convertible, enabling it to be bought and sold like the dollar. By then, if not earlier, most, if not all, of East Asia, perhaps including Japan, will be part of a renminbi currency system. Given that China is likely to be the main trading partner of every East Asian nation, it will be natural for trade to be conducted in the renminbi, for the value of their currencies to be fi xed against it rather than the dollar, which is largely the case now, and for the renminbi to be used as the reserve currency of choice. As the dollar continues to weaken with the relative decline of the US economy and the emergence of developing countries like China and India, it will steadily lose its global pre-eminence, to be replaced by a basket of currencies, with power initially being shared by the dollar and the euro, and perhaps the yen. When the renminbi is made fully convertible, it is likely to become one of the three major reserve currencies, along with the dollar and the euro, and in time will replace the dollar as the world’s major currency. This is a likely scenario within the next fi fty years, more probably twenty to thirty years.
As I discussed in the last chapter, the present international fi nancial institutions could well, in time, be superseded by new ones. Of course, it is possible that the IMF and the World Bank will be transformed into something very different, with, for example, China and India eventually usurping the role of the US, but a new institutional architecture may be more likely, operating alongside a progressively marginalized IMF and World Bank in which US infl uence remains predominant. Both the IMF and the World Bank enjoy rather less power and infl uence than was the case even a decade ago, and this process may well continue.
China’s behaviour as a great power
In their heyday the major European nations sought to impose their designs on the rest of the world. Expansion by means of colonialism was at the heart of the European project, wedded to an aggressive mentality that stemmed from Europe’s own seemingly perpetual habit of intra-European wars. Not surprisingly, the United States inherited important parts of this legacy, though its very different geopolitical circumstances, ensconced as it was in its own continent, also bred a powerful insularity. The United States, which was founded on the missionary zeal of the Pilgrim Fathers and their contemporaries, and later articulated in a constitution that embodied an evangelizing and universalistic credo, was possessed of a belief in its manifest destiny and that its spiritual purpose was to enlighten the rest of the world. This history of manifest destiny (an expansionist ideology that dates from the original settlers), the destruction of the Amerindians, and the restless desire to expand westwards, helps us to understand the behaviour of the United States as a global superpower. What, then, of China, whose origins and history could hardly be more different?
There are two factors that have to be considered. The first, associated with the so-called realist school of international relations, lays emphasis on the importance of interests and therefore stresses how great powers tend to behave in a similar fashion in the same circumstances. ‘Rising powers,’ as Robert Kagan argues, ‘have in common an expanding sense of interests and entitlement.’ Accordingly China will, in this view, tend to behave like any other global superpower, including the United States. The second factor, in contrast, emphasizes how great powers are shaped by their own histories and circumstances and therefore behave in distinct ways. As in the case of the United States, these two different elements – the one convergent and the other divergent – will combine to shape China’s behaviour as a superpower. The convergent pressure is obviously a familiar one, but the divergent tendency, a product of Chinese particularism, is less knowable and more elusive.
The historian William A. Callahan argues, in this context, that there are four different narratives present within Chinese civilization. The fi rst is what he describes as zhongguo, or China as a territorial state. The obvious metaphor for this is the Great Wall – the desire to keep barbarians out – linked to the nativist sentiment, a constantly recurring theme in Chinese history, as evident in the Boxer Rebellion and continuing resentment towards foreign infl uences, notably American and Japanese. This view appeals to a defensive and inward-looking sense of Chineseness. It might crudely be described as China’s equivalent of American insularity. The second is da zhongguo, a metaphor of conquest. This has been intrinsic to the expansionary dynamic of the Chinese empire, as we saw in Chapter 8. In the conquest narrative, Chinese civilization is constantly enlarging and annexing new territory, seeking to conquer, subdue and civilize the barbarians on its borders. In the contemporary context, the conquest narrative aims fi rst at restoring the ‘lost territories’ and then seeking to reverse the ‘century of humiliation’. Yan Xuetong, a leading Chinese intellectual cited earlier, sees this in relatively benign terms: ‘the Chinese regard their rise as regaining China’s lost international status rather than obtaining something new . . . the Chinese consider the rise of China as a restoration of fairness rather than as gaining advantages over others.’ However, the conquest narrative also clearly lends itself to a much less benign and more expansionist and imperialist interpretation. The third narrative is da zhonghua, or conversion. This strand is as fundamental as that of conquest: the belief in the inherent superiority of Chinese civilization and the desire to convert others to its ways. To quote Mencius, the disciple of Confucius: ‘I have heard of the Chinese converting barbarians but not of their being converted by barbarians.’ The key issue here is neither conquest nor recovery but rather defi ning and spreading the characteristics of Chinese civilization. As we have seen, this is implicitly, sometimes explicitly, linked to race. Cultural China, as Callahan describes it, is an open and expansive concept, resembling the notion of soft power but not reducible to it. The fourth and fi nal narrative is that of the Chinese diaspora, of the notion of Greater China as refl ected in the continuing sense of Chinese identity embodied in the diaspora. Each of these narratives is present in, and serves as a continuing infl uence on, contemporary Chinese attitudes. Which of the fi rst three – which are the relevant ones here – might predominate in the future, or at any one time, is a matter of conjecture.
It is important to bear in mind the difference historically between Western and Chinese patterns of behaviour. The former have long sought to project their power overseas to far-fl ung parts of the world, commencing with the Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish; the Chinese, in contrast, have no tradition of expansion other than continental-based territorial incrementalism. The Europeans, perhaps conditioned by the maritime experience of the Mediterranean, were, from the late fi fteenth century, seeking to expand across the oceans. China, in contrast, has always seen itself as a land-based continental power and has never regarded itself or sought to become a maritime power with overseas ambitions. The very different purposes of the voyages of Zheng He on the one hand and the great European explorers on the other are an illustration of this. To this day, the Chinese have never sought to project themselves outside their own land mass. Even now, the Chinese have failed to develop a blue-water navy. This does not mean that the Chinese will not seek in future to project their power into distant oceans and continents, but there is no tradition of this. It is reasonable to assume that China, as a superpower, will in due course acquire such a capability but, unlike the West, it has hitherto not been part of the Chinese way of thinking and behaving.
There is another factor that may reinforce this historical reserve. Although the ‘century of humiliation’ is often seen as a reason why China might seek to extract some kind of historical revenge – one might recall Germany and the Treaty of Versailles – it could also act as a constraining factor. The experience of invasion and partial colonization, the fact that China suffered for so long at the hands of the Western powers and Japan, is likely to counsel caution: the German example, in other words, is entirely inappropriate – including the timescales involved, which are of an entirely different order. China will be the fi rst great power that was a product of colonization, the colonized rather than a colonizer. As a result, China may act with considerable restraint for long into the future, even when its own power suggests to the contrary. The evidence for this lies in the present. The Chinese have gone to great lengths to act with circumspection and to reassure the world that they do not have aggressive intentions, the only exception being their attitude towards Taiwan. It is true that over the last half-century China has been involved in wars with the Soviet Union, India and Vietnam, but the fi rst two were border disputes. This relative restraint touches on another dimension of the Chinese mentality, namely a willingness to be patient, to operate according to timescales which are alien to the Western political mind. This is eloquently summed up by former Chinese premier Zhou Enlai’s reported response to Henry Kissinger’s question in 1972 about the consequences of the French Revolution: ‘It is too early to say.’ Such thinking is characteristic of a civilization-state rather than a nation-state. And it is clearly refl ected in Figure 47.
Figure 47
It has been argued that Chinese military doctrine – stemming from the ancient military strategist (who lived c. 400–520 bc, during the Warring States period) Sun Zi and others – sets much greater store on seeking to weaken and isolate the enemy rather than in actually fi ghting him: that force, in effect, should be a last resort and that its actual use is a sign of weakness rather than strength. As Sun Zi wrote, ‘Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.’ This is certainly a very important strand in Chinese strategic culture, but it would be misleading, argues the international relations expert Alastair Iain Johnston, to regard this, rather than the contrary view that confl ict is a constant feature of human affairs, as the dominant element in Chinese history. He writes: ‘My analysis of the Seven Military Classics [the seven most important military texts of ancient China, including Sun Zi’s The Art of War] . . …shows that these two paradigms cannot claim separate but equal status in traditional Chinese strategic thought. Rather the parabellum paradigm [that war is essential] is, for the most part, dominant.’ His view has been strongly contested by Chinese scholars, however. Whichever view is correct, it seems likely that China will in due course acquire a very powerful military capability. In a 2003 survey of over 5,000 students drawn from China’s elite universities – a potentially signifi cant indicator of future Chinese attitudes – 49.6 per cent believed that China in future should become a world military power, while 83 per cent felt that Chinese military power was inadequate (see Figures 48 and 49).
What conclusions might we draw? For perhaps the next half-century, it seems unlikely that China will be particularly aggressive. History will continue to weigh very heavily on how it handles its growing power, counselling caution and restraint. On the other hand, as China becomes more selfconfi dent, a millennia-old sense of superiority will be increasingly evident in Chinese attitudes. But rather than being imperialistic in the traditional Western sense – though this will, over time, become a growing feature as it
Figure 48. Response of Chinese youth to the question, ‘Do you hope that China’s future military power is ...’
acquires the interests and instincts of a superpower – China will be characterized by a strongly hierarchical view of the world, embodying the belief that it represents a higher form of civilization than any other. This last point should be seen in the context of historian Wang Gungwu’s argument that, while the tributary system was based on hierarchical principles, ‘more important is the principle of superiority’. This combination of hierarchy and superiority will be manifest in China’s attitude towards East Asia and also, one strongly suspects, in a variegated way towards other continents and countries, notably Africa. Wang Gungwu suggests that even when China was forced to abandon the tributary system and adapt to the disciplines of the Westphalian system, in which all states enjoyed formal equality, China never really believed that this was the case. ‘This doubt partly explains,’ argues Wang Gungwu, ‘the current fear that, when given the chance, the Chinese may wish to go back to their long-hallowed tradition of treating foreign countries as all alike but equal and inferior to China [my italics].’
The size of its population and the longevity of its civilization mean that China will always have a different attitude towards its place in the world from Europe or the United States. China has always constituted itself as, and believed itself to be, universal. That is the meaning of the Middle Kingdom mentality. In an important sense, China does not aspire to run the world because it already believes itself to be the centre of the world, this being its natural role and position. And this attitude is likely to strengthen as China becomes a major global power. As a consequence, it may prove to be rather less overtly aggressive than the West has been, but that does not mean that it will be less assertive or less determined to impose its will and leave its imprint. It might do this in a different way, however, through its deeply held belief in its own inherent superiority and the hierarchy of relations that necessarily and naturally fl ow from this.
Figure 50. Response of Chinese youth to the question, ‘What role do you think China should play in international affairs?’
A new political pole
Although the West fi nds it diffi cult to imagine a serious and viable alternative to its own arrangements, believing that ultimately all other countries, whatever their history or culture, are likely to converge on the Western model, China represents precisely such an alternative. To understand the nature of the Chinese polity – and how it differs from the West – one has to move beyond the present Communist regime and see China in a much longer-term context. Its underlying characteristics, as discussed in Chapter 7, can be summed up as follows: an overriding preoccupation with unity as the dominant imperative of Chinese politics; the huge diversity of the country; a continental size which means that the normal feedback loops of a conventional nation-state do not generally apply; a political sphere that has never shared power with other institutions like the Church or business; the state as the apogee of society, above and beyond all other institutions; the absence of any tradition of popular sovereignty; and the centrality of moral suasion and ethical example. Given the weight of this history, it is inconceivable that Chinese politics will come to resemble those of the West. It is possible, even likely, that in the longer run China will become increasingly democratic, but the forms of that democracy will inevitably bear the imprint of its deeply rooted Confucian tradition. Moreover, rather than seeing the post-1949 Communist regime as some kind of aberration from the norm of Chinese history, in many respects the Communist regime (especially the Deng and post-Deng era – more than the Maoist years) lies within the national tradition.
As China emerges as a major global power, it will present a different political face to that of the West. Since the Communist government has presided over a highly successful transformation of the country, it enjoys a great deal of internal prestige and support, as refl ected in the self-confi dence that the Chinese display about their future prospects (see Figures 51 and 52). As a result, for the next two decades – perhaps rather longer – the Communist Party is likely to continue in power. Given its achievements, it would not be surprising, moreover, if it did not also enjoy a revival in, and major enhancement of, its global reputation, a process already under way. In this context, we should think of China’s Communist regime quite differently from that of the USSR: it has, after all, succeeded where the Soviet Union failed. It has also, since Deng, pursued an entirely different strategy, moving away from socialism and towards capitalism, including a signifi cant dose of neo-liberalism. China’s socialist legacy has nonetheless left a deep and continuing mark on society: the destruction of the old feudal elite in the Maoist land reform (in contrast to India); an attachment to the notion of a classless society even though this is now in rapid retreat; a strong belief in egalitarianism even amongst the urban intelligentsia; and the continuing appeal of a socialist vocabulary, as in the
Figure 51. Response of Chinese youth to the question, ‘Are you satisfied with your current living condition?’
Figure 52. Response of Chinese youth to the question, ‘Do you believe you can live a better life in the future?’
recent commitment of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao to build a ‘socialist countryside’. Whatever the fortunes of the Communist regime, however, the main political impact of China on the world will be its Confucian tradition, its lack of a Western-style democracy or tradition, the centrality of the state and the relative weakness of any civil society that is likely to develop. Even a more democratic China will be profoundly different from the Western model.
In short, China will act as an alternative model to the West, embodying a very different kind of political tradition – a post-colonial, developing country, a Communist regime, a highly sophisticated statecraft, and an authoritarian Confucian rather than democratic polity.
A contest of values
The dominance of the West for the last two centuries has served to couch the debate about values overwhelmingly in terms of those that are civilized, a synonym for Western values, against those that are backward or reactionary, which has meant more or less all others, not least those of the Muslim world. In reality, values and cultures are far more complex and nuanced than this suggests. During the Cold War, the confl ict over values was fought in highly ideological terms between capitalism and socialism. In the era of contested modernity, which will shape this century and well beyond, the debate over values will be rooted in culture rather than ideology, since the underlying values of a society are primarily the outcome of distinctive histories and cultures. Although on the surface these values may appear very different, in fact, there are often striking similarities. As John Gray has pointed out, there is nothing uniquely Western about tolerance, for example: ‘The Ottomans practised religious toleration at a time when we did not, as did the medieval Moorish kingdom in Spain and the Buddhist kingdom of Asoka in India. Toleration could thus be described as a universal value. It’s not peculiarly liberal, and it’s not even peculiarly modern.’ Nonetheless, there is often confl ict and tension between the various values that different peoples hold dear. In a world of multiple and often competing values, it will be important to fi nd a way of enabling and allowing such confl icting values to coexist. This will be a precondition, in fact, for a globalized world of contested modernity to live in a relatively peaceful and harmonious way. It will pose the greatest challenge of all to the West because the latter has become accustomed to thinking of its own values as the norm and regarding itself as justifi ed in imposing these on other countries and insisting that they be accepted by the international community.
There are two senses in which China will be a major protagonist in the debate about values. First, China has strongly resisted Western arguments that have sought to impugn its international reputation in terms of human rights, notably its lack of democracy and the relative absence of free speech. China largely succeeded in resisting American efforts in the nineties to condemn it in these terms, mainly because it managed to mobilize the support of many developing countries. In opposition, China and its supporters argued that what should take priority were not political rights in the domestic context but economic and social rights in the international context. The argument was essentially over the differing priorities, interests and experiences of the developed countries on the one hand and the developing countries on the other. By the end of the nineties, that argument began to fade into the background as China’s growing infl uence began to shift the balance of power and the nature of the debate. Indeed, in the fi rst decade of this century, it was the United States rather than China that found itself on the defensive in the debate over values because of its conduct in Iraq and its behaviour at Guantánamo.
The second sense in which China will be a protagonist is less immediately politically charged but in the longer run rather more important. As we have seen, the Chinese political order has a strong ethical component rooted in the Confucian tradition. In Chinese culture a powerful distinction is made between right and wrong, as refl ected, for example, in the emphasis placed in children’s education at home and at school on their correct moral behaviour. Confucianism is essentially a set of precepts that prescribe appropriate forms of behaviour and in that sense, though secular rather than spiritual, is not dissimilar from major religious texts like the Bible and the Koran. These Confucian teachings underpinned the conduct of the state and the nature of Chinese statecraft during the dynastic period and are presently experiencing something of a revival. The continuing infl uence of Confucian culture is refl ected in the highly moralistic tone that the Chinese government frequently adopts in its attitudes and pronouncements. The profound differences in the values of China (and other Confucian-based societies like Japan and Korea) in contrast to those of Western societies – including a community-based collectivism rather than individualism, a far more family-orientated and family-rooted culture, and much less attachment to the rule of law and the use of law to resolve confl ict – will remain pervasive and, with China’s growing infl uence, acquire a global significance.
Can you speak mandarin?
One of the consequences of the Chinese being so numerous is that there are twice as many people in the world who speak Mandarin as their fi rst or second language as English, with the great majority of them living in China. With the rise of China, however, growing numbers of people around the world are beginning to acquire Chinese as a second language. Since 2006 this process has been actively promoted by the Chinese government with the establishment of Confucius Institutes in many different countries, often linked to local universities. In 2007 there were 156 such institutes in 55 countries, with the aim of 200 by the end of that year. Coming under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, the object of the Confucius Institutes (which are broadly modelled along the lines of the British Council, Alliance Française and the Goethe Institut) is primarily the teaching of the Chinese language, including the training of Chinese teachers, together with the promotion of Chinese culture. It is estimated that 30 million people worldwide are now learning Chinese and that 2,500 universities in 100 countries run Chinese courses. The spread of Mandarin is most striking in East Asia. It is making rapid strides in Hong Kong, where Cantonese is the fi rst language, and amongst overseas Chinese communities in South-East Asia. In South Korea there are 160,000 students studying Mandarin, an increase of 66 per cent within the past fi ve years. In South Korea and Thailand all elementary and middle schools now offer Mandarin, and the Thai government hopes that one-third of high school students will be profi cient in Mandarin by 2011. One of the biggest obstacles is the paucity of Mandarin teachers, so the Chinese Ministry of Education has begun dispatching groups of language teachers, partially funded by the ministry, for one- and two-year stints in Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Kenya, Argentina and many other countries. The attraction of Mandarin in East Asia, of course, is obvious: as China becomes the centre of the East Asian economy, the most important market for exports of countries within the región and also their major source of inward investment, the ability to speak Mandarin will be of growing importance for trade, diplomacy and cultural exchange.
In contrast Mandarin is little taught in the West, but even here there has been an outbreak of Mandarin-fever, albeit in a much milder form. In a survey of US high schools in 2006, 2,400 said they would consider teaching Mandarin if the resources were available. Chicago, which has set itself the aim of becoming a hub of Chinese learning, had about twenty public schools teaching Mandarin to 3,500 pupils in 2006. A survey in 2004, however, revealed that only 203 US high schools and about 160 elementary schools were teaching Mandarin. In total, there are thought to be about 50,000 American school children studying Mandarin at public schools and a similar number in private and specialist schools, with the major constraint being the lack of trained teachers. The UK reveals a similar picture, with just 2,233 entries for GCSE in 2000, and 3,726 in 2004. More private schools are beginning to offer Mandarin as an option, and there are plans under way to do the same in the state system. The number of students at UK colleges and universities taking Mandarin as their main subject doubled between 2002 and 2005, while similar increases have been recorded in other European countries. The relative slowness of the Western response speaks, especially in the US and the UK, to their abiding linguistic insularity and their failure to comprehend the wide-ranging implications of China’s rise.
In the era of globalization, and an increasingly globalized media, language is an important component of soft power. The emergence of English as the global lingua franca – the interlocutor language of choice – carries considerable benefi ts for the United States in a myriad of different ways. It is far too early yet to say what the reach of Mandarin might one day be, but it will in time probably join English as a global lingua franca and perhaps eventually surpass it. The example of the internet is interesting in this context. Bret Fausett, who runs the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) blog, has argued: ‘We’re at the peak of the English language on the internet. As internationalized domain names are introduced over the next few years, allowing users to conduct their entire online experience in their native language, English will decline as the central language of the internet.’
Predicting the future of a language is fraught with diffi culty. As the linguistic authority David Crystal writes: ‘If, in the Middle Ages, you had dared to predict the death of Latin as the language of education, people would have laughed in your face – as they would, in the eighteenth century, if you had suggested that any language other than French could be a future norm of polite society.’ The rise of English has coincided with, and been a product of, the global dominance of the United States. By the same token, the decline of the United States will adversely affect the position of English: the global use of a language does not exist in some kind of vacuum but is closely aligned with the power of a nation-state. The nascent competition between English and Mandarin for the status of global lingua franca, a contest which is likely to endure for this century and perhaps the next as well, is fascinating not least because, as languages and cultural forms, they could hardly be more different: one alphabetic, the other pictographic; one the vehicle for a single spoken language, the other (in its written form) embracing many different ones; English having grown by overseas expansion and conquest, Mandarin by a gradual process of territorial enlargement.
The rise of chinese universities
An important way in which the United States has left its mark on the world has been through its universities. It possesses what are generally regarded as the world’s best universities, which attract some of the fi nest academics and students from around the globe. At the top US universities, researchers can enjoy facilities and resources second to none, while a degree from a university like Harvard, Berkeley or MIT carries more kudos than a degree from anywhere else, with the possible exception of Oxbridge. Great universities, of course, require huge national wealth and resources, be they public or private institutions. It is not surprising, therefore, that hitherto the West has dominated the league tables for the top universities. In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2007, US universities accounted for six of the top ten and the UK four. In the top twenty there were two Asian universities, with Tokyo University 17th and Hong Kong University 18th. There were six Chinese universities in the top 200, with Beijing University 36th, Tsinghua University 40th, Fudan University 85th, Nanjing University 125th, University of Science and Technology of China 155th, and Shanghai Jiaotong University 163rd. There were fi ve Chinese universities in the top 200 in 2004. The Shanghai Jiaotong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universities and a similar one published by the China Scientific Review Research Centre confi rm that the top Chinese universities are making progress up the global rankings. China is also emerging as a main centre of top-fl ight business education, according to a Financial Times ranking of Executive MBAs, which shows four of the top twenty programmes are based there (including Hong Kong).
Growing numbers of foreign students are taking courses at Chinese universities. During the 2003 academic year, 77,628 foreign students were seeking advanced degrees at Chinese universities, of whom around 80 per cent were from other Asian countries. South Korea accounted for by far the largest number, almost half, but others came from Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Nepal and elsewhere. In addition, Chinese students study abroad in large numbers, especially in the United States but also in the UK. The number of Chinese studying in the United States has been around 60,000 a year since 2001, while Chinese enrolments in the UK leapt to over 50,000 in 2003–4.
Figure 53. Origin of international students in the United States, 2007.
It seems likely that Chinese universities will, over the next two decades, rise steadily up the global rankings to eventually occupy positions within the top ten. In order to accelerate this process the government is making determined attempts to attract leading overseas Chinese scholars to take up appointments at Chinese universities. Universities like Beijing, Tsinghua, Fudan and Renmin will, in time, become institutions of recognized global excellence that are increasingly able to attract some of the best scholars from around the world, Chinese or otherwise, while the trend already evident for Chinese universities to become a magnet for students in East Asia will grow as they begin to perform an equivalent academic role in the region to that played by the Chinese economy.
Chinese culture as soft power
When a country is on the rise, a virtuous circle of expanding infl uence tends to develop. As China grows more powerful, more and more people want to know about it, read about it, watch television programmes about it and go there as tourists. As China grows richer and its people enjoy expanding horizons, so the cultural output of the country will increase exponentially. Poor countries have few resources to devote to art galleries or arts centres; can sustain, at best, only a small fi lm industry and a somewhat prosaic television service; can afford only threadbare facilities for sport; while their newspapers, unable to support a cohort of foreign correspondents, rely instead on Western agencies or syndicated articles for foreign coverage. A report several years ago, for example, showed that only 15 per cent of Chinese men aged between fi fteen and thirty-fi ve actively participated in any sporting activity, compared with 50 per cent in the US, while on average the country has less than one square metre of sports facilities per person. As China grows increasingly wealthy and powerful, it can afford to raise its sights and entertain objectives that were previously unattainable, such as staging the Olympic Games, or producing multinational blockbuster movies, or promoting the Shaolin Monks to tour the world with their kung fu extravaganza, or building a state-of-the-art metro system in Beijing, or commissioning the world’s top architects to design magnifi cent new buildings. Wealth and economic strength are preconditions for the exercise of soft power and cultural infl uence.
Hollywood has dominated the global fi lm industry for more than half a century, steadily marginalizing other national cinemas in the process. But now there are two serious rivals on the horizon. As Michael Curtin argues:
Recent changes in trade, industry, politics and media technologies have fuelled the rapid expansion and transformation of media industries in Asia, so that Indian and Chinese centres of fi lm and television production have increasingly emerged as signifi cant competitors of Hollywood in the size and enthusiasm of their audiences, if not yet in gross revenues . . . Media executives can, for the very fi rst time, begin to contemplate the prospect of a global Chinese audience that includes more moviegoers and more television households than the United States and Europe combined.
Over the last decade, mainland fi lm directors like Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige have joined the Taiwanese Ang Lee in becoming increasingly well known in the West, as have Chinese fi lm stars like Gong Li, Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi and Hong Kong’s Jackie Chan. In recent years there has been a series of bigbudget, blockbuster Chinese movies, often made with money from China, Hong Kong and the United States, which have been huge box offi ce successes both in China and the West. Obvious examples are Hero, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers, The Forbidden Kingdom and Curse of the Golden Flower, which together mark a major shift from the low-budget, art-house fi lms for which China was previously known. The blockbuster movies are generally historical dramas set in one of the early dynasties, drawing on China’s rich history and punctuated with dramatic martial arts sequences. Not surprisingly, the storylines and approaches of Hollywood and Chinese movies differ considerably, refl ecting their distinctive cultures. While Hollywood emphasizes the happy ending, this is never a major concern for Chinese fi lms; action ranks highly for Hollywood, martial arts for the Chinese; cinematic realism matters for the US, social realism for Chinese audiences. In the longer run the Chinese fi lm industry is likely to challenge the global hegemony of Hollywood and embody a distinctive set of values. It also seems likely that, in the manner of Sony’s takeover of Columbia, Chinese companies will, in time, acquire Hollywood studios, though this will probably have little effect on their output of Hollywood-style movies.
It is worth noting in this context the extraordinary infl uence that martial arts already enjoy in the West. Fifty years ago the pugilistic imagination of Western children was overwhelmingly dominated by boxing and, to a much lesser extent, wrestling. That picture has completely changed since the 1970s. The Western pugilistic traditions have been replaced by those of East Asia, and in particular China, Japan and Korea, in the form of tae kwon do, judo and kung fu, while amongst older people t’ai chi has also grown in infl uence. The long-term popularity of martial arts is a striking example of how in the playground and gym certain East Asian traditions and practices have already supplanted those of the West.
The economic rise of China, and of Chinese communities around the world, is changing the face of the market for Chinese art. Chinese buyers are now as numerous as Western ones at the growing number of New York and London auctions of Chinese art, a genre which, until a few years ago, was largely neglected by the international art market. In 2006 Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the world’s biggest auction houses, sold $190 million worth of contemporary Asian art, most of it Chinese, in a series of record-breaking auctions in New York, London and Hong Kong. At the end of that year a painting by contemporary artist Liu Xiaodong was sold to a Chinese entrepreneur for $2.7 million at a Beijing auction, the highest price ever paid for a piece by a Chinese artist. With auction sales of $23.6 million in 2006, Zhang Xiaogang was second only narrowly to Jean-Michel Basquiat in the ArtPrice ranking of the 100 top-selling artists in the world: altogether there were twenty-four Chinese artists in the list, up from barely any fi ve years ago. These changes refl ect the growing global infl uence of Chinese art and artists.
China, however, still lags hugely behind the West when it comes to the international media. Recently the Chinese government has attempted to expand their international reach, upgrading Xinhua, the state news agency, creating new overseas editions of the People’s Daily and an Englishlanguage edition of the Global Times, professionalizing the international broadcasting of CCTV, and enabling satellite subscribers in Asia to receive a package of Chinese channels. Compared with the international audiences achieved by Western media like CNN and the BBC, the Chinese media have barely begun to scratch the surface, but the success of Al-Jazeera suggests that mounting a serious challenge to the Western media is not as diffi cult as it once seemed. Over the next decade or so, we can expect a major attempt by the Chinese authorities to transform the reach of their international media, employing a combination of new international tele vision channels, perhaps an international edition of the People’s Daily and new websites. The potential of CCTV, for example, should not be under estimated. It already reaches 30 million overseas Chinese, while its broadcast of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics commanded an average home audience of half a billion, rising to 842 million at its peak. Its revenues in 2008 were expected to top $2.5 billion, compared with about $1 billion in 2002.
With this kind of domestic base, its international potential, as China reaches out to the world, and vice versa, could be enormous.
The beijing olympics
Sport is not an activity in which China has traditionally excelled, but over the last twenty years Chinese athletes have become increasingly successful. The government has invested large sums of money in sports facilities in order to try to raise China’s level of achievement, with the main emphasis being on those disciplines represented at the Olympics, where success has been seen as one of the requisite symbols of a major power. Although China has only been competing in the modern era since the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, the investment was rewarded at the Athens Olympics in 2004 when China won thirty-two gold medals, behind the US but ahead of Russia. China fi rst applied to hold the Olympics in 1993 but only in 2001 did its bid fi nally succeed. The 2008 Beijing Olympics was the fi rst occasion that China had ever hosted a great global sporting event and it was clear during the build-up that the Chinese government saw them as an opportunity to demonstrate to the world what China had achieved since 1978. The preparations were enormous and lavish, with little expense spared. Magnifi cent new stadiums were constructed, new parks laid out, and many new roads and subway lines built – with the Games costing, including the many infrastructural projects, an estimated $43 billion. The centrepiece was the Bird’s Nest, which has rapidly become one of the world’s iconic landmarks – a work, notwithstanding its scale, of beauty, intricacy and intimacy. It was designed by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron in collaboration with the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, and contains many traditional Chinese motifs. The Chinese authorities went to great lengths to try to deal with the pollution that envelopes Beijing on most summer days, including banning around 2 million cars a day from its streets, a measure that proved relatively effective and which has been continued subsequently.
The Games themselves were generally agreed to have been a tour de force. They were very well organized and ran perfectly to time, the athletes were well cared for and there were no serious mishaps. The Chinese topped the medal table for the fi rst time, with fi fty-one gold medals compared with thirty-six for the United States, although the latter’s total medal haul exceeded China’s by ten. Arguably the most impressive event was the opening ceremony, which was directed by the Chinese fi lm director Zhang Yimou. The elaborate show included 15,000 performers and a three-part production focused largely on China’s history; it was suffused with many typical Chinese elements, including the choreography of dancers on a giant calligraphy scroll and the serried ranks of 2,008 drummers on a traditional Chinese percussion instrument, the fou. It was a demonstrably confi dent, sure-footed and highly accessible statement to the world about Chinese history and culture. After the Games, there was general agreement that China had raised the Olympic bar to a new level which it would be well-nigh impossible for others to equal, let alone surpass; as the baton passed to London, which holds the 2012 Games, there was some trepidation in the UK as to how it might stage an Olympics which did not pale in comparison. Notwithstanding that China is a poor country and Britain a rich one, the UK authorities made it clear from the outset that the 2012 Games will be a much more modest affair.
Apart from the Olympic events, Chinese players have managed to make a mild impact on the tennis circuit, with six fi guring amongst the top 120 women in 2007, and Zheng Jie reaching the Wimbledon women’s semi-fi nal in 2008. The most dramatic success so far has been the emergence of China’s Yao Ming as one of the top basketball players in the US’s NBA and a huge star in China. Like the leading European football clubs, the NBA sees China as offering a major new market for their sport. The Chinese government – unlike Japan or India – sees sporting success as important to the country’s status and prestige, and consequently over the coming decades China is likely to become a major player in a range of prominent sports.
Chinese food and medicine
There are two ways in which China already enjoys a major global cultural infl uence: food and, to a rather lesser extent, traditional Chinese medicine. The global spread of Chinese cuisine has been taking place for many decades, consequent upon Chinese migration, to the point where it is now highly familiar in most parts of the world. Even if people know little about China, they are often familiar with a Chinese dish or two, and are conversant with chopsticks even if they cannot use them. Interestingly, the global infl uence of Chinese food stems not from China’s rise but from the opposite – its previous poverty and the desire of poor Chinese to seek a better life elsewhere. Typically, migrants either sought to establish a Chinese restaurant in their adopted homeland or, more likely, get a job in one as a stepping stone to later owning a restaurant of their own. The spread of traditional Chinese medicine outside the mainland has largely been an outcome of the same process, with overseas Chinese taking the traditions of Chinese medicine with them and slowly introducing them to the host population. Both Chinese food and medicine are products of China’s long and rich history and its ancestry as a civilization-state. Indeed, it is interesting to refl ect that what most of the world knows about China is through these two quintessentially civilizational legacies. Although their diffusion long predates China’s rise, the country’s growing infl uence can only accelerate this process. For over two centuries the Chinese cuisines familiar to foreigners have been those associated with the regions from which Chinese migrants have predominantly come, notably Guangdong and Fujian provinces; but the knowledge and availability of other cuisines is now spreading rapidly. The richness and diversity of Chinese cuisine means that it is highly fl exible, able to cater for many different tastes and needs, from cheap takeaways at one end to lavish, upmarket banquets at the other. Until recently it has been mainly associated with the former, but in recent years that has changed. The growing popularity of Chinese food is closely linked to the post-war spread of restaurant eating in the West, a relatively new Western phenomenon, but one which dates back over a millennium in China.
The global reach of traditional Chinese medicine is also likely to continue expanding. Every Chinese hospital has a department devoted to Chinese medicine, with doctors frequently qualifi ed in both Western and Chinese medicine. When Western-style drugs are prescribed they are often combined with traditional Chinese treatments (which was my own experience in a Beijing hospital). The major constraint on the development of Chinese medicine in the West has been that it is not subject to the same kind of regulation as Western medicine (though clinical trials are quite common in China). Western drugs have made some headway in China, but traditional Chinese medicines are still favoured by most people, including the affl uent middle class and the highly educated, on the grounds that they have thousands of years of experience behind them, are cheaper, and also devoid of toxic side effects. It is accepted that Western drugs are superior for diseases like cancer, but even when these are used, people will generally revert to Chinese medicines subsequently. The contrast between Chinese and Western medicine eloquently sums up the difference between civilizational wisdom and scientific knowledge. Chinese medicine, rather like the world’s cuisines, is a product of thousands of years of trial and error, of the everyday experience and resourcefulness of hundreds of millions of people and their interaction with their plant environment; Western medicine is a rigorous product of the scientifi c method and the invention and refi ning of chemicals. With the exception of those fundamentalists of the scientifi c method who believe that they enjoy a monopoly of true knowledge, there is a widespread and growing acceptance in the West that medicinal palliatives and cures derived from civilizational experience are a valid and important part of medicine, even if we do not understand, at least as yet, how the great majority of them actually work.
The decline and fall of the west
The purpose of this chapter has been to explore the ways in which Chinese global hegemony is likely to grow over the next half-century. There is another side to this coin which we should consider before we conclude. The most traumatic consequences of this process will be felt by the West because it is the West that will fi nd its historic position being usurped by China. The change that this will represent can hardly be exaggerated. For well over two centuries, in some respects much longer, the West, fi rst in the form of Europe and later in the shape of the United States, has enjoyed overwhelming global pre-eminence. Since 1945 Europe has been obliged to adjust to the fact that it is no longer the dominant player in world politics. The sense of being less and less central to a world that it had previously dominated has been a traumatic experience for European states, especially Britain and France. One response has been the construction of the European Union as a way of mitigating the decline in the power and status of individual states. The fact that European dominance was replaced by that of the United States, however, has helped to lessen this sense of loss. Driven by the Cold War antagonism towards the Soviet Union, an enhanced and transformed concept of the West was forged which effectively enabled Western Europe, at least until 1989, to remain a major global player alongside the United States, even though it was very much the junior partner. This was no ordinary relationship between nation-states based on specifi c interests, however. On the contrary, the United States was a product of European migration: it had been built by Europeans (together with African slaves) and saw itself as the New World joined at the hip with the Old World whence it came. In other words, history, civilization, culture, ethnicity and race, as well as the exigencies of geopolitics, served to weld and underpin the Western alliance.
The rise of China will have no such compensations, either for a declining Europe or a dethroned United States. Europe, at least, has had some preparation for this eventuality: it has spent the last half-century adjusting to decline and dethronement. Even now, though, Europe still fi nds it extremely diffi cult to understand its increasingly modest place in the world and to adjust its sights accordingly. The case of Britain is most striking in this context. In a desperate attempt to remain a global power with a metaphorical seat at the top table, it has tenaciously hung on to the coat-tails of the United States, constantly walking in its shadow, seemingly always prepared to do its master’s bidding. Its foreign policy has long been a clone of that of the United States and its defence and intelligence policies are almost entirely dependent on and deeply integrated with those of the US. The UK’s dependence on the US is a measure not simply of its own weakness and of its failure to fi nd an independent place in the world following the collapse of its imperial role, but also of how traumatic it has found the idea of no longer being a great power. The relationship with the United States has been a surrogate for its lost past. Europe’s continuing existential crisis underlines how diffi cult it is for countries to adjust, not least psychologically, to a world in which their importance is greatly diminished. Europe’s decline, furthermore, will certainly continue into the indefi nite future. Its remarkable role over the last four hundred years will never be repeated and will become an historical curiosity in the manner of the Greek and Roman empires, whose present-day incarnations as Greece and Italy refl ect the grandeur of their imperial past in little more than the survival of some of their historic buildings.
If Europe will suffer, that is nothing to the material and existential crisis that will be faced by the United States. It is almost completely unprepared for a life where it is not globally dominant. Under the Bush administration it sought to redefi ne itself as the world’s sole superpower, able to further its interests through unilateralism and shun the need for alliances: in other words, far from recognizing its relative decline and the prospect of a diminution in its power, it drew precisely the opposite conclusion and became intoxicated with the idea that US power could be further expanded, that America was in the ascendancy, that the world in the twenty-fi rst century could be remade in the country’s image. The dominant ideological force during the Bush era was neo-conservatism, which was predicated on the belief that the United States could and should assert itself in a new way. In the wake of 9/11 Washington was in thrall to a debate about empires and whether the United States was now an imperial power and what that might mean. The Bush administration represented the most extreme expression so far of an aggressive, assertive and expansionist America, but even after it was widely seen to have failed as a result of the Iraq debacle, there were not many in the United States who drew the conclusion that the country was in longerterm decline, that far from it being on the eve of a new global dominance, its power had, in fact, already peaked; on the contrary, there was a widespread perception that the United States simply needed to fi nd a less confrontational and more consensual way of exercising its global leadership. Not even the advances made by China in East Asia were interpreted as the harbinger of a major shift in global power.
The heart-searching that accompanied the 2007–8 primary and presidential campaign around Barack Obama’s candidature did not, at least until the fi nancial meltdown just before the election, reach the conclusion that the United States would have to learn to live with decline. Even the precipitous decline in the value of the dollar in 2006–7 did not provoke fear of American decline, though a small minority of observers recognized that in the longer term the position of the dollar might come under threat. The United States thus remained largely blind to what the future might hold, still basking in the glory of its past and its present, and preferring to believe that it would continue in the future. Britain displayed a similar ignorance – and denial – about its own decline after 1918, constantly seeking to hold on to what it had gained, and only letting go when it could see no alternative. Indeed it only began to show an underlying recognition of its own decline in the 1950s, when it became obvious it would lose its colonies. The turning point in the United States may well prove to have been the fi nancial meltdown in September 2008, with the near collapse of the fi nancial system and the demise of neo-liberalism. The US National Intelligence Council report in November 2008 represented a 180-degree shift compared with its previous report just four years earlier in 2004. While the latter predicted continuing American global dominance, ‘positing that most major powers have forsaken the idea of balancing the US’, the new one anticipated American decline, the emergence of multipolarity, and a world in which the US would increasingly be obliged to share power with China and India. It declared: ‘By 2025, the US will fi nd itself as one of a number of important actors on the world stage, albeit still the most powerful one.’ The task facing Barack Obama’s presidency is far from enviable. The worldwide euphoria that greeted his election sits uneasily with what appears to be the most diffi cult task that has confronted any US president over the last century: managing long-term decline in an immediate context of the worst recession since 1945 and a commitment to fi ghting two wars. Encouragingly, Obama’s election indicates that the US is capable of opting for an imaginative and benign response to its travails. But these are very early days yet: we are only at the beginning of a protracted process with many acts to follow over several decades if not more. The American Right is powerful and entrenched, with deep wellsprings of support. The biggest danger facing the world is that the United States will at some point adopt an aggressive stance that treats China as the enemy and seeks to isolate it. A relatively benign example of this was the proposal of the Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain for a ‘league of democracies’, designed to exclude China and Russia (which he also wanted to expel from the G8) and thereby create a new global division. The longer-term fear must be that the US engages China in military competition and an arms race in something akin to a rerun of the Cold War.
The fact that China derives from utterly different civilizational and historical roots to those of the West, and is possessed of quite different geographical coordinates, will greatly accentuate the Western sense of loss, disorientation and malaise. It was one thing for Britain to have been confronted with the United States – given the obvious affi nities and commonalities that they enjoyed – as its rival and successor as the world’s dominant power, but it is an entirely different matter for the United States to be faced with China – with whom it has nothing in common in either civilizational or political terms – as its usurper and ultimate replacement. For the United States, the shock of no longer having the world to itself – what has amounted to a proprietorial right to determine what happens on all major global questions – will be profound. With the rise of China, Western universalism will cease to be universal – and its values and outlook will become steadily less infl uential. The emergence of China as a global power in effect relativizes everything. The West is habituated to the idea that the world is its world, the international community its community, the international institutions its institutions, the world currency – namely the dollar – its currency, and the world’s language – namely English – its language. The assumption has been that the adjective ‘Western’ naturally and implicitly belongs in front of each important noun. That will no longer be the case. The West will progressively discover, to its acute discomfort, that the world is no longer Western. Furthermore, it will increasingly fi nd itself in the same position as the rest of the world was during the West’s long era of supremacy, namely being obliged to learn from and live on the terms of the West. For the fi rst time, a declining West will be required to engage with other cultures and countries and learn from their strengths. The United States is entering a protracted period of economic, political and military trauma. It fi nds itself on the eve of a psychological, emotional and existential crisis. Its medium-term reaction is unlikely to be pretty: the world must hope it is not too ugly.
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