Jacques addressed a meeting of Singapore’s Foreign Correspondents Association on Friday, when he argued strongly that the world would be a very different (and better) place with China, not the US, as the dominant power.
- China is a civilization-state, not a nation state like most European countries or the US.
- China used to govern East Asia through a tributary state system and East Asian economies are now being reconfigured to be China-focused.
- Unlike Brazil, India and the US, China is not a multi-racial country, with 92% of the population describing themselves as Han. There is a very weak conception of cultural difference, as evidenced by the treatment meted out to the Tibetans and Uighurs.
- The Chinese polity is constructed in a different way to the West, with the Chinese state seen as representing the embodiment of Chinese culture (see 1). Unlike in the West, the pre-eminence of the Chinese state has rarely been contested – i.e. China has not experienced the challenges to the central state from the people, the church, merchants and municipal councils that were commonplace in the West. Hence the Chinese state is used to operating through supplication and favour rather than bargaining.
While his historical argument about the heterogeneity of China's development is convincing, I find it hard to share his quixotic and rather Utopian view of China's wider influence. The presence of a single, hegemonic superpower is potenitally a threat to the wider world, whether the top dog is the US or China.
The push-back against China’s growing global influence has already begun in Australia, in some African countries and, closer to home, in Vietnam.
Interestingly, Jacques admitted that his “single greatest concern” about China’s rise was the lack of recognition of different racial and religious groups. I wonder if that has anything to do with the tragedy that befell his Indian-Malaysian wife, who died in a Hong Kong hospital in 2000 after receiving sub-standard treatment because of Chinese racism, according to Jacques.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user gadgetdan.