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Martin Jacques: Chinese modernization will bring inspiration to developing countries

During the first session of the 14th National People's Congress, Foreign Minister Qin Gang said, "Achieving modernization for a country of more than 1.4 billion people will be an unprecedented feat in human history, one of profound global significance in itself."

Qin Gang pointed out, "The reason why the Chinese path to modernization works is exactly because it is developed in China and rooted in Chinese culture, and fits in well with China's national conditions." Martin Jacques, former senior fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University told Southern Finance Omnimedia Corp., "China's modernity will be very distinct. There will be commonalities, but it will also be very distinct. And this is very precious. It's a reflection of the richness of human history and humanity."

Qin Gang further suggested, "The process of Chinese modernization is a boost to the force for peace, justice and progress in the world. We hope and believe that as more and more countries begin their own journey of modernization, the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind will become true."

Martin, during the interview, also suggested, China's accomplishments in the past decades, are a demonstration to the rest of the world, especially to the developing world what can be achieved and what it is possible to do. And this idea of a common future for humanity, is a core idea for seeking to find a way for humanity to solve its biggest problems and overcome its divisions as well.

SFC Talk: 2023 is the first year to fully implement the guiding principles of the 20th CPC National Congress. What is the significance of this year's Two Sessions?

Martin Jacques: The work of governance is done in these two institutions, a lot of experts involved and so on. It's an ongoing operation. And if anyone wants to understand why Chinese governance is often very impressive, and competent, these two institutions really help us to understand them.

SFC Talk: In recent years, there are growing emphases on Chinese modernization. And in your book When China Rules the World, you point out that the rise of China has not followed the Western model of a transition to modernity. Can you elaborate on that? In what ways does it differ from the "Western model"?

Martin Jacques: Well, I think we need to be clear what modernity is, and who does it belong to. Historically speaking, modernity started, I suppose, with the Britain's Industrial Revolution. And then it spread during the course of the 19th century to quite a lot of what we now know as Western nations.

Now, the West view has been that essentially, modernity is singular, there is only one form of modernity, and that is Western modernity, and all other countries were expected to travel the same path, including China. 

But it doesn't mean that there's only one modernity. On the contrary, there are multiple versions of modernity. We should not be surprised by the idea that Chinese modernity is distinct. I mean, if it's not distinct, then there's something gone wrong, it would be a product of a kind of hugely, a gross shock therapy American style to try and turn China into an American style society. First, that's impossible. Secondly, it would be hugely resisted by the Chinese. And thirdly, I suppose, it would also be a total failure.

So it's very important to recognize that there's not one modernity, there aren't two modernities, there are many modernities. Even within the Western modernity, there are different examples. For example, Germany and Britain are very different in lots of ways.

So the real key point here, I think, is that as China emerges now into a new level of development, new level of prosperity, new level of economic achievement, its modernity will be very distinct. 

The fact of the matter is that China is not a nation state in the manner of the West, it is partially a nation state, it is really a civilization state. So it's in absolutely fundamental ways, China is and will remain different, and therefore its modernity will be very distinct. There will be commonalities, but it will also be very distinct. And this is very precious. It's a reflection of the richness of human history and humanity.

SFC Talk: The world has been shifting dramatically at a very fast pace in recent decade. The Chinese modernization, as the pioneer of an alternative model of modernization, what inspirations can it bring to other developing countries?

Martin Jacques: Well, I think that the great change since 1945 and the end of the Second World War is the rise of the developing world. If you take the mid 1970s, for example, the rich world, the Western world, plus Japan, in this context, accounted for about 2/3 of the global economy. And the developing world, where 85% of the world's population lived, accounted for only 1/3. Now, the great transformation is that today, the situation is exact inverse. And that is the developing world now accounts for 2/3 of the global economy. This is a huge transformation.

The future lies, essentially, in the long run with this developing world where the majority of humanity lives. And I think we can see this not only as good economically, but also economic influence begins to reflect where most people live, not the power of a minority, which has been the nature of the Western world.

Obviously, the lead economy, the key influence, the driver of this change has been China. China has been the leader, in the driving seat of the development of the developing world. The growth of Chinese trade, growing investment abroad, new kinds of trading relationships, the Belt and Road, there are many examples of the way in which China has a very special relationship, and seeks special relationship with the developing world in a way the West has never thought to do this.

I think looking forwards, the central gravity of the global economy has shifted in the developing world, the central gravity of the global politics is shifting in this direction. This will be reflected, in my view, in the reform of global institutions, global governance. It's now still basically Western oligarchy that runs the global economy for the most part, but really irresistibly, this is in the process of change.

SFC Talk: I want to talk about poverty alleviation. How do you evaluate the success of China's fight against poverty?

Martin Jacques: Well, I think there's one word I'd probably use for it, which was brilliant. I mean, this was a fantastic achievement, and reflected the values and the priorities of the Chinese government and Chinese society, which was to rescue those who were in severe poverty, no fault of their own, through circumstances, often geography and economic activity.

China has taken something like 800 million people out of poverty since 1978, accounts for most of the world's poverty reduction in that period. This is a fantastic achievement, and has transformed the lives of so many people. And it's a demonstration to the rest of the world, especially to the developing world, what can be achieved, what it is possible to do, with economic growth, with the role of the state and with the kind of values that informed China's development.

Now, that said, we're now in a new era, and that new era is what I'll call post-poverty or perhaps better, post-severe poverty. The question now, I think, is the problem of inequality. I know, with common prosperity, this is a start, I support this very much, but it's only a beginning. And I think that's going to be a very important question in China over the next 10, 20 years, if not longer.

SFC Talk: Chinese modernization is the modernization of over 1.4 billion people, and that is an ambitious goal. How do you understand the essence and the significance of achieving common prosperity?

Martin Jacques: I think the essence of it is, look, we've come a long way, we've totally transformed this society. We've achieved extraordinary things, which China absolutely has, but we've got problems. And one of the problems is that this form of growth has led to growing inequality across Chinese society.

To be frank, I think it was inevitable, because China was a very poor country. It was impossible for China to get the government to invest in everything at the same time, in all areas at the same time. So it went for what I might call spatial specialization. It opened the new industrial zones and new economic zones, not everywhere, it started in Guangdong Province and Fujian Province and they slowly spread, and then they went to the Yangtze and then Shanghai and Beijing and so on. I think, if they just spread that investment very thinly across the country, they would never have got the growth they did.

Now, China needs to create a more prosperous, civilized, cooperative, solidaristic, egalitarian society. I think that is fundamental for the next stage of Chinese development. And that I think is what common prosperity is. The use of the term common is the key here. Prosperity has to be common, it has to be shared, it has to be true, and apply to all groups in varied wealth ways, not in any simplistic way. Not everyone wears the same clothes or something like that, but in a creative way.

SFC Talk: What message does China's emphasis on "building a community with a shared future for mankind" sending to the world?

Martin Jacques: Well, I think this is a very important idea. I think that the emphasis is on what we have in common rather than on differences and those things that divide.

We know we live in a world which is very divided. The nation state system, as we've all grown up with and has operated for a long time is also divided in lots of ways. China bears an interesting relationship to this, because China's tradition in this context is very different. It's not a nation state, and the civilizational values of China emphasize commonalities to a greater extent than the nation state tradition. I think that China's idea of a common future, those things that the world shares that has in common, is very much a product of Chinese history, civilizational history.

On the other hand, it's a product of the era of globalization, where it's perfectly clear that the world has become smaller, has become more interactive, and has also created problems that cannot be solved in a singular way or even by blocks. It requires global cooperation. The classic example of this is climate change. There is no way that climate change can be handled by individual nations on their own, without collaboration, without plans, without strategies and so on. This is an enterprise for humanity, not an enterprise for the United States, China, Europe, etc., operating in isolation from each other.

And this contraction of the world, even with the divisions that we see now that have grown up recently since 2017 with Trump America onwards and so on, I think this idea of a common future for humanity is a core idea for seeking to find a way for humanity to solve its biggest problems and overcome its divisions as well.

SFC Talk: You just mentioned globalization. What, in your opinion, is the future for globalization?

Martin Jacques: This is still a speculative debate. We're not really clear how important and how far certain trends will go. What we can say, in general, I would make this point in very general historical terms, that globalization is an irresistible historical trend. But that doesn't mean that it goes the same way, at the same pace, all the time.

1870 to 1914 was a really powerful era of globalization, but the First World War broke that, reversed it, and that process of reversal carried on through the period after the war, 1918 to 1939, and then the Second World War and so on. So the period of reversal was from 1914 to 1945. It was only after 1945, that the process of globalization began to be renewed.

Certainly the West had a fairly successful process of globalization, which began to gain further momentum after 1980. And you've got globalization in what was called a unipolar world because the United States was the supremacy. That process of globalization was from roughly 1980 to 2018. And that was the nature of that period of globalization. Now, I think that particular form of globalization was over. 

The other thing I should add to that is that China has been a major beneficiary of that period of globalization, but also increasingly a major shaper of that globalization, but in a different form. For example, the Belt and Road has nothing to do with the United States. That kind of cooperation between China and the developing world was a very distinctive new development within that era.

Now, if you look at the situation, what's going to happen now? Personally, I don't think it is possible for the United States, much as it would like, to sever its relationship with China. I think the interdependence and interactive nature of the relationship economically between China and the United States is too strong. More than that, I think it's impossible for the United States to sever China's relationship with all the other countries that it has relations with. China is a much bigger trader than the United States. Therefore, its relations are much stronger. The United States is relatively speaking in a weak position in seeking to do this.

But certainly, what the United States wants to do is to try and find ways of isolating China, containing China, stopping it developing, particularly in high-tech. So where is this going to all lead? I think that what we're seeing is a growing development of probably two blocks, one around the United States, and one around China. But there will still be a lot of interactive, interconnection and so on. So in that situation, globalization will be shaped by the circumstances.

I don't think this historical era that we've now entered or are entering is the end of globalization. It will shape globalization in a different way, but it won't end globalization. And it will not be indefinite, it will be a historical phase which will come to an end, and something else will resume afterwards.

I think that's the future. It's a future of growing division, tendency towards blocks. But I'd be careful, because I don't think that the nature of the Western block is the same as the nature of China's relationships with the countries, such as the Belt and Road and ASEAN and so on. I think that's a different kind of thing. One is militarized, the Chinese approach is essentially economic.

SFC Talk: Finally, what advice would you give to policymakers and business leaders both from U.S. and China, who are trying to navigate the rapidly changing global landscape?

Martin Jacques: Well, I would say that for America and for China, the future must be based on cooperation fundamentally, and not conflict.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of powerful voices in the United States who are absolutely sworn to contain and even destroy China as we know it. And that makes cooperation much more difficult, certainly politically. But I think it's very, very important that voices, both Chinese and American, are raised in favor of the importance of finding forms of cooperation alongside those areas, where clearly there's going to be, continuing to be, will be a lot of conflict.

There's a big difference between two countries being sworn enemies and having virtually nothing to do with each other, and two countries which conflicted on very important areas, but at the same time recognize the need for cooperation. If the United States and China don't cooperate on climate change, then we will lose the battle with climate change. It's impossible without cooperation between the two countries, and climate change will be, in my view, the biggest issue of the next half century.

Source: Southern Finance Omnimedia Corp.

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