When China Rules the World
On November 17, 2009, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) invited author Martin Jacques to speak on his newly published book When China Rules the World, with a response by Robert Kagan, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The event was moderated by Andrew Small, transatlantic fellow at GMF. The speakers presented their views on the rise of China, how it may be similar or different from the rise of powers in the West, and what implications this might have for the United States, Europe, and Asia.
Jacques argued that the assumption that rising Asian economic powers would necessarily Westernize was illusory. He presented four main reasons why the rise of China would be different from that of other powers in recent history, and how these factors might shape Chinese modernity. First, he argued that China did not conceive of itself as a nation-state state in the traditional sense, but rather a civilization-state. This allowed for accommodations such as the ‘One country, Two Systems' arrangement with Hong Kong, and possibly with Taiwan in the future. Second, China had historically been at the center of a tributary state system. Today, this informs Chinese economic relations with other states in its region, as well as its relations with Africa. Third, unlike other large powers, which pride themselves on their pluralism, China is 90 percent Han-dominated, and proud of its cultural unity. Finally, the Chinese state's relationship with its people and society is markedly different. The Chinese guardian state is seen as legitimate, and has historically not had to compete with other sources of legitimacy, such as the church or nobility in many Western states.
Kagan agreed with the notion that China's rise would not necessarily make it more like the West, but disagreed about the power transition being a smooth one. He argued that China, as it rose, would become a less attractive power to states on its periphery, who are still hedging against China's rise, rather than bandwagoning. The Chinese government, however, was negotiating this dilemma well so far, despite falling victim to the conflicting inferiority and arrogance that marks most rising powers. Yet, Deng Xiaoping's call for a low-profile foreign policy may be unsustainable in the long run. Kagan also warned against straight line projections resulting in economic determinism.
During the question and answer session, Kagan and Jacques fielded questions about the different possible futures of China (e.g., one based on its history, one based on the West, or a possible hybrid of the two), the attractiveness of China to the West, the Chinese role in the future Asian economic landscape, and the potential impact of the lack of democracy on China's ability to become a world power. Martin Jacques concluded the event with insight on China's economic focus, and its propensity to take a long-term view on its rise to power.