China is no. 1

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa - The Philippine Star

With the inevitable rise of China as no. 1 in the world economy it is important that we re-examine our foreign policy about it. I find it useful to quote once again from a talk by Martin Jacques, a British author who came to Manila in November 2012. He predicted that in a decade, China would surpass the American economy.

Well, with the news that it is now no.1 according to IMF figures, it has come sooner than expected. Jacques’ talk then was about findings that he put together in a book that became a world best seller “When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order.” It was published in 2009 and it has continued to enjoy a wide readership. It has since sold over a quarter of a million copies and translated into 11 languages.

Jacques also has a blog where his lectures are posted.  I was able to talk to him while in London recently and his position about China’s rise was unchanged.  In his talk in Manila, he was keen to impart to Filipinos that we ought to be ready for the Chinese economic supremacy. The author had the credentials to deal with both Eastern and Western culture and developments.

He was a visiting senior research fellow at the London School of Economics, IDEAS, a centre for the study of international affairs, diplomacy and grand strategy but also a visiting professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and a fellow of the Transatlantic Academy, Washington DC.  

Philippine STAR was among the sponsors of his lecture in Manila.

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Martin Jacques’ 2-hour lecture was a one-man theater production — no microphone just a stage on which he walked up and down as he talked, gesticulated showing maps and graphs. I excerpt from the many things he said in that lecture which are useful now with the announcement of China’s rise as no. 1 economy in the world:

“China is going to change the world in two fundamental respects. First of all, it’s a huge, developing country with a population of 1.3 billion people, which has been growing for over 30 years at around ten percent a year. And within a decade, it will have the largest economy in the world. Never before in the modern era has the largest economy in the world been that of a developing country, rather than a developed country.

Secondly, for the first time in the modern era, the dominant country in the world, which is what I think China will become, will be not from the west and from very, very different civilizational roots.?

…It’s a widespread assumption in the West that as countries modernize, they also westernize. This is an illusion…China is not like the west, and it will not become like the west. It will remain, in very fundamental respects, very different.

How do we try and understand what China is? “I want to offer you three building blocks for trying to understand what China is like, just as a beginning. The first is this: that China is not really a nation-state.?Okay, it’s called itself a nation-state for the last hundred years. But anyone who knows anything about China knows it’s a lot older than this…?

What gives China it’s sense of being China, comes not from the last hundred years, not from the nation-state period, which is what happened in the West, but from the period, if you like, of the civilization-state. Customs like ancestral worship, of a very distinctive notion of the state, and likewise a very distinctive notion of the family, social relationships like guangxi, Confucian values, and so on, these are all things that come from the period of the civilization-state.”

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“The relationship between the state and society in China is very different from that in the West. We in the West overwhelmingly seem to think, these days at least, that the authority and legitimacy of the state is a function of democracy. The problem with this proposition is that the Chinese state enjoys more legitimacy, and more authority, among the Chinese, than is true with any western state.?

It’s obviously got nothing to do with democracy, because, in our terms, the Chinese certainly don’t have a democracy. But the reason for this is, firstly, because the state, in China enjoys a very special significance, as the representative, the embodiment, and the guardian of Chinese civilization, of the civilization-state. This is as close as China gets to a kind of spiritual role.?

For one thousand years, the power of the Chinese state has not been challenged...The Chinese view the state as an intimate. Not just as an intimate, actually, but as a member of the family. Not just, in fact, as a member of the family, but as the head of the family: the patriarch of the family.?

So there we have three building blocks for trying to understand the difference that is China: the civilization-state, the notion of race, and the nature of the state and its relationship to society. And yet we still insist, by and large, on thinking that we can explain China by drawing on western experience, looking at it through western eyes, using western concepts.”

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“Well, what should our attitude be toward this world we see very rapidly developing before us? I think there will be good things about it, and bad things about it. But I want to argue, above all, a big-picture positive for this world. The arrival of countries like China and India, between them 38 percent of the world’s population, and others like Indonesia and Brazil and so on, represent the most important single act of democratization in the last 200 years….As humanists, we must welcome, surely, this transformation.

We cannot win the battle of ideology between China and the West simply by spirit. The success of China’s reforms and development is the real driving force of changing the world’s fixated thought patterns. “

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First, some corrections on yesterday’s column on Alejandrino Day in Arayat:

Launched in July of this year, 2014 and not 2013. And the name of the Mayor of Arayat is Emmanuel “Bon” Alejandrino.

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A principal guest speaker of the event was Rep. Oscar S. Rodriguez of the 3rd district of Pampanga. Like Mayor Alejandrino, he, too, was a political activist in his youth and worked in the underground for a time before he became a politician. He was my colleague in the 2005 Constitutional Commission.

I remember him as a staunch supporter of parliamentary federalism during the discussions. It was good to see him in a different setting, among Arayat residents celebrating the 144th anniversary of the revolutionary hero, Gen. Jose Alejandrino.

I sat next to him and asked him if he supports constitutional reform for parliamentary federalist government being advocated by Bayanko. He said he does. So in one day, we had a mayor and a congressman supporting Bayanko’s non-partisan advocacy for constitutional reform.

But it was especially poignant in a place like Arayat where revolutionary leaders are hailed as patriots. It was possible for elected officials to serve their constituencies faithfully and see the towns and districts outside cities flourish. Both Mayor Alejandrino and Rep. Rodriguez exemplify good elected officials and they must be credited for that.

It is important that while we censure and condemn erring and corrupt public officials we also give credit and encourage those who do their job well. That is the way to build meritocracy in government.

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