When China Rules the World

By Martin Jacques
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Martin Jacques
Martin Jacques is the author of "When China Rules the World: the Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World."The second edition of the book – greatly expanded, revised and updated – was…
Martin Jacques

PART 5: Militarism Not on the Horizon

Robert Scheer: The book is “When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order.” I’ve been talking to Martin Jacques. This is the fifth in the series that we’ve been having [with this author]. It’s a pretty big book, so five 10-minute segments are certainly warranted, and fascinating. And what we’ve established is that the title is a bit provocative; it may be accurate, but it doesn’t mean we’re all going to be walking around in chain gangs with Chinese overlords. But just to clear that up …

Martin Jacques: Certainly not.

Scheer: … Just to clear that up in our final section, right now we have this crazy relation to China. These Commies, the yellow horde, the Red ants, have turned out to be in some ways better at capitalism, certainly at capitalist finance, than we have. At a time when our economy is floundering, they seem to be pulling out of a recession that we created, much more rapidly than we are. And that’s disturbing, particularly to American free-market zealots—the Alan Greenspan, Ayn Rand school—who thought that not only is this the most efficient system, but also gives rise to all of the good values in life. So how, basically, filed to conclude this discussion, how does this impact us? Are they going to continue to carry our debt? Are they taking unfair advantage of our economy? Is the yen-dollar relationship, is that false? Will they attack us militarily? What is your projection for the future in terms of the impact of this great change in the next decades in China? How does it impact people here in the United States?

Jacques: Well, I think in some ways the shift in power is going to be … some aspects will be rapid, and some will be quite slow and protracted. Because the rise of China is as, ultimately, the biggest economy in the world—but it will still be a poor country compared to the United States.

Scheer: Per capita.

Jacques: Yeah. In 2050, which is when the Chinese economy is predicted to be twice the size of the American economy, living standards in China will be about half those in the United States. So we should have a sense of historical perspective about this; this is a protracted rather than a sudden process. But certain stages will happen.

Scheer: But what the hawks would say—of course, this has come up … you know, right now, we have a military budget that’s equal to the whole world combined. Still, Joe Lieberman, Sen. Lieberman, says; “No, we have to have these new subs, because the Chinese are building their navy.” So even if you take their aggregate wealth, they could finance a pretty big military.

Jacques: China could.

Scheer: Yeah.

Jacques: Yes, but I don’t think they’re going to, particularly, go down that road.

Scheer: Why?

Jacques: Because, first of all, the Chinese have never really majored on military expenditure. They’ve never been an expansionary force, globally. They have the tributary state system, but they didn’t colonize the region. They had much more advanced naval ability in the 15th century than Europe did, but they didn’t colonize anywhere. And if you look at them now, the period since 1978, military expenditure for much of that period, till recently, has been responsible for a declining proportion of GDP. This is very different from the Soviet experience. So I think that the Chinese will be very, very cautious about military commitment. I think it will definitely develop a modern military capability; it will do that. But it will not seek to confront the United States or compete with the United States on this front, unlike what happened with the Soviet Union—which eventually helped to break the Soviet Union. The Chinese won’t make that mistake. And if America wants to follow Lieberman’s advice, then [that’s unfortunate for] America. Because actually what America needs to sort out is its economic efficiency, its economic powers, and so on. It shouldn’t be diverting resources into constantly thinking that what really matters in the world in hard military power, but what matters for America, its future, is the renewal of America.

Scheer: So, implicit in what you’re saying is that the example of Tibet and their relations to Taiwan is not a model of imperial expansion?

Jacques: Well, I don’t think Taiwan is, no. Definitely, because Taiwan has intimately been part of China; it’s part of what happened in 1949 after the revolution.

Scheer: And you think they’ll patch it up?

Jacques: I think that what’s going to happen is Taiwan will decide to accept Chinese sovereignty, and in return China will offer an extremely flexible and generous constitutional arrangement which will include Taiwan keeping its military forces and also keeping its present electoral system. Along the lines of Hong Kong, but more flexible, if you like.

Scheer: And Tibet, which gets a lot of attention in this country?

Jacques: Well, Tibet is part of China since the Qing conquest of western China, from the 16th century onwards. And I think that there’s no way that Tibet … it is possible to consider that period, in one sense, as a period of … it has certain aspects of a colonial expansion; that’s what I feel about it, certain aspects of it. But that’s the only example one can think of in relationship to China. It could have colonized Southeast Asia easily, but it never did. But now Tibet has been part of China for such a long time, I think the solution to the problem with Tibet is essentially along the lines of allowing the Dalai Lama back and Tibet enjoying more autonomy within the context of China—which is the Dalai Lama’s position, actually. I think that would be the way forward. But China’s not going to be a globally … I think China will be a less expansionist, aggressive force than Europe and the United States have been.

Scheer: Military, but what about economically?

Jacques: I’m only talking militarily.

Scheer: Let’s talk economically, then, and concluding this: Are they a threat economically? Will they take jobs from Americans? Will they take our oil?

Jacques: Of course there are going to be conflicts of interest, but I think it’s important to see two things in this context. First of all, that the rise of China has been hugely beneficial for the global economy, just like the rise of America after 1870 was very beneficial for the global economy. Of course some groups have lost out, in the United States and elsewhere, but if you look at the global picture, most countries, most people have benefited from the rise of China and will continue to; likewise with the rise of India. And the second point is, when I say “the end of the Western world” and so on, and “the rise of China,” we’re not talking about the demise of the West, the end of the West; we’re just talking about the end of a world shaped so much as in the past. …

Scheer: “The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order.” We can’t conclude this without you telling me why I shouldn’t be afraid of … I was afraid of it when George Bush, the father, was talking about a new global order. Why shouldn’t I be afraid of China’s new global order?

Jacques: Well, it’s going to happen, and I think … the point I wanted to make is that, as we move into this era, 50 years down the line—I know about these things because I’m British, and my life has been framed by British decline. And Britain has lost huge status compared with 1945. But Britain is hugely richer. We Brits are, to a person, much richer than we were in 1945. So Americans will continue to get richer and richer in this new world. It’s not that they’re going to suffer in that sense; it’s just that America will lose power and status in the world.

Scheer: But the worldwide pie will expand?

Jacques: Of course it will.

Scheer: So it’s not coming out of our hide.

Jacques: Well, there are other factors that will affect this, like climate change—but treat that as an exogenous factor.

Scheer: That’s your next book. Thank you.

Jacques: Thank you very much, Bob.

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