At the recent Camden Conference in Maine in the United States, focusing this year on "Is This China's Century?", Martin Jacques, a senior fellow at Cambridge University and a visiting fellow at Tsinghua and Fudan universities, delivered a keynote address entitled "What China Will Be Like as a Great Power?".
The Camden Conference was founded in 1987 as a nonprofit, non-partisan educational organization whose mission is to foster informed discourse on world issues. The 32nd Camden Conference was held on February 22-24 this year.
In his speech, Jacques posed the question: What will China be like as a global power? This question was framed in the context of two major changes that have taken place over the past decade. "First, there's the decline of the United States, following or accentuated by the Western financial crisis. And secondly, there's the rise of China, again following the Western financial crisis, and the doubling in size of China, the Chinese economy, in the subsequent 10 years, compared with the American economy, growing by about 10 percent in that period."
Under the new leadership, Jacques said, "there's been a shift in Chinese foreign policy, which I think we're all aware of, which is moving from Deng Xiaoping's idea of 'moving carefully, quietly, hiding your capability, hiding your leadership' to something which is much more outgoing and extensive”. China has moved from the role of a being "a recipient of globalization" to "a maker and shaper of globalization."
He said this shift has challenged the West’s understanding of China, because "we didn't believe it was sustainable, and now I think we have to face the fact that this is a remarkable change that's taking place, and we somehow have to be able to make sense of it, to understand it." The lack of understanding about China is, he believes, the "Achilles heel in the West", which comes from the view that Western values are universal, and that everyone will one day "be like us, that there's only one modernity in the world; it's our modernity." He called this paradigm unsustainable, “because we see not only the transformation of China, but so many developing countries, which do not come from the same historical, political, cultural roots as the West." China has never been and never will be like the West, he said, and although there are similarities, "there are some fundamental differences, which are enduring differences.”
Jacques spoke about four core differences, the first of which relates to the fundamental concept of the nation state. "China is not in any simple way a nation state," he said. "So to understand China, we've got to understand it in my view primarily not as a nation-state, [but] primarily as a civilization state." His view of China as a "civilization state" comes from its inherited ideas about the relationship that exists between the Chinese state and Chinese society and the role of Confucian values, along with "traditions like 'guanxi', a certain type of relationship networks in China," and Chinese food and the Chinese language. He said that these were all passed down through history before the advent of China as a nation state.
Martin Jacques, a senior fellow at Cambridge University and a visiting fellow at Tsinghua and Fudan universities, delivers a keynote address at the 32nd Annual Camden Conference in Camden, Maine, the United States on February 22, 2019. The talk was entitled “What China Will Be Like as a Great Power”. [Screenshot: China Plus]
The second core difference Jacques identified was the country’s decentralization of governance. "…we think of China as a very centralized country run from Beijing and so on, which isn’t true actually. It would be impossible to run a country the size of China, 1.4 billion people nearly, from Beijing." He points to the long period of imperial rule where the state was held together on the basis of what he called "one civilization, many systems." This philosophy, he said, he reflected in more recent times by Deng Xiaoping's idea of "one country, two systems" that ties Hong Kong with the Chinese mainland. This kind of relationship, Jacques said, is not one that would be conceived of by a nation state.
Third, he highlighted what he described as a crucial difference in the relationship between the state and society in China. "We think of governance in countries as essentially about universal suffrage, multi-party systems, and China doesn't have that." Jacques said that because the Chinese state doesn't conform to the Western worldview, it's viewed as unsustainable and illegitimate. Pointing to the Pew Global Attitudes surveys about the level of satisfaction Chinese people have regarding Chinese governance, Jacques said that the system "enjoys a great deal of support and legitimacy." The basis of this legitimacy needs to be measured on different terns, said Jacques, because in the West the assessment is made against a measure of Western democracy, whereas in China it is measured against three factors. "First of all, the state is seen as the guardian and the embodiment of society. Secondly, the idea of governance in China is drawn powerfully from the notion of the family, so it was a family unit that acted as the microcosm, if you like, of China as a country. Thirdly, the tradition of meritocracy." When viewed through this lens, Jacques said Chinese governance is "extremely effective."
The last of the four differences between the conceptualization of the state in China and the West is regarding how they see their roles in the world. "They both, in a sense, regarded themselves to be universal... Europe interpreted this proposition essentially as an evangelizing mission to transform the world. To take the message of civilization to those who were not civilized, through the colonial mission, through Christianity, through language, through the culture and so on. China's interpretation of universality was entirely different. China did not see it in terms of externalizing itself. Because the Chinese idea of their universalism was we are the Middle Kingdom. We are the land under Heaven. We are the highest form of civilization. So why leave China? What's the point of leaving China when is it were we are all that could be. So the Chinese interpretation of its universalism was essentially a stay-at-home universalism, whereas the European version was to go overseas, to go around the world." Understanding this different worldview is very important, he said, to understanding how contemporary China views its role in the world in contrast to the West, and especially the United States.
On top of these differences, Jacques said, there has been a marked difference in how the West and China have used military and political power. The West engaged in colonialism, which was "extremely important in the way in which the Western tradition has related to the rest of the world. Now, China is rather different." Pointing to the 500 years up to the middle of the 19th century, he said that China only fought one war with another country, its war against Vietnam, which it lost. He contrasted this with the 140-or-so wars just between Britain and France. China, he said, "did not by and large interfere in the politics of other countries. So there isn't a strong tradition, or any real tradition… of exercising military or political power. What mattered to the Chinese was cultural power." So whereas, Jacques said, the Western tradition had a strong emphasis on military and political power, China traditionally valued cultural power.
Turning to the present day, Jacques said it was important to recognize China's economic power, and its economic transformation. He said that it already represents “16 or 17 percent of global GDP, which is remarkable given in 1980 China represented about one percent of global GDP; but in 2030 or 2035, China would account for a third of global GDP." In his view, these projections "broadly speaking, will come true," but noted that "things that can happen in the meantime that could change that situation. But I think that we would be, given recent history, we would be mistaken in not taking these kind of possibilities very, very seriously.”
Martin Jacques, a senior fellow at Cambridge University and a visiting fellow at Tsinghua and Fudan universities, delivers a keynote address at the 32nd Annual Camden Conference in Camden, Maine, the United States on February 22, 2019. The talk was entitled "What China Will Be Like as a Great Power". [Screenshot: China Plus]
Speaking about China's relationship with the developing world, Jacques said that this was a greater strategic priority for China than its bilateral relationship with the United States. This comes from China's affinity with the developing world that resulted from the poverty it experienced prior to the reform and opening up that started in 1978, when it was "poorer than a lot of African countries in terms of per capita income." Because of this experience, he said, China "feels also that it understands developing countries, it understands what the problems are developing countries." Jacques countered the criticism China has faced for its relationship with African countries by highlighting public opinion polling in the continent by the Pew Group among others, which has found that “the majority attitude, 65 percent of Africans… have what's called a favorable attitude towards China.” He said that, given the global south will account for 67 percent of global GDP by 2030, China's ties with the developing world are part of what will make it a great power in the years to come.
He also stressed the role of the Belt and Road Initiative in transforming global governance, saying that “…I think what we are going to see is a transformation in the idea of the nation state with new regional entities being created; in other words, a revolution in governance across the region". And China's currency was likely to play an increasingly important role in the participating countries, "especially if Europe and the United States are not involved in it", along with Chinese ideas of how these kinds of projects should be organized and governed.
He also thinks that China has "learned a lot about dealing with the developing world." The enthusiasm of countries along the Belt and Road springs from a recognition of the possibilities it offers for transformation. He contrasts this with the approach of the United States, giving as an example its decision not to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He said this decision was a mistake, because it has forfeited the opportunity to play a role in defining its rules and its projects. Jacques acknowledged that China had encountered problems with the implementation of the Belt and Road, but that these problems weren't severe enough to scuttle it.
Looking ahead, Jacques pointed out that China and the United States are in “new territory as far as the relationship between China and the U.S. is concerned. The era that started with Nixon and Mao in 1972 has come to an end, because the U.S. has shifted its position; not just Trump, I think that is more widely across American society." This shift was due, in his view, to America not seeing China as a rival, because of their unequal relationship. Now that has changed, he said, "there is a feeling in America that China in some way is a threat or certainly a challenge to the U.S." Jacques doesn't believe that the United States can stop China's rise. He also doesn't think that the United States should "exaggerate the importance of Chinese military expenditure. China is not Russia. China is not essentially regarding military power with the same priority as is true in the West and certainly in the case of Russia.”
As for the problems in the relationship between China and the United States, he said their disputes are not fundamentally about trade. "It is fundamentally about innovation," he said. "There has been a very strong point in the West that China is not capable of strong innovation. China is good at copying and imitating, but when it comes to creative and radical changes, China would not be able to succeed. I think it's a profound misconception." He said that China's strength lies in "a process of incremental innovation," instead of radical change. This led to an enormous buildup of innovative capacity in China, which has reached the stage where China can compete in areas that the West was not expecting. "China's economic rise is going to be a formidable challenge to the U.S.," he said. “It is a mistake to America to react in a protectionist way to this. It is very important that American firms are competing in China, because China is becoming such a ruthlessly competitive and dynamic economy, so you have to be part of it and learn from it”.
Jacques ended with a clear message to the United States. "The assumption can no longer be we are the number one in the world, and we will just defend what we have achieved, because the situation has changed and China is a serious competitor in many fields now to the U.S. We have to learn to live in a world which is not the same as we have lived in for a long time." When it comes to technological innovation, the United States will have to live with being in a world, he said, where China is a competitor. China's rise as a great power will require the West and the United States to deal with new forms of cooperation, but also rivalry.
Note：for more of the speech, please watch the following video: