‘China time’ is fastChina will become the center of the world. And when the capital of the world shifts from New York to Beijing, the world order will be changed in the 21st century and Asia will return to its old tributary system with smaller states becoming subservient to the reigning power, so boldly declared British journalist and scholar Martin Jacques in the 2010 book “When China Rules the World: The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World.”
Western society generally believes the world, or the current international order, won’t change so completely regardless of the tremendous pace of China’s rise and its economic development. China, having tasted enormous benefits from opening up to the world and modernization, will follow the common trajectory of global powers, or the so-called Western model of economic and political progress, it believes.
Jacques disagrees totally. China remains defiant and challenges the traditional Western model, having no need for such luxuries as democracy, transparency and accountability. Instead, with its self-developed model of modernity and progress, he claims China will defy Western rule and take over as the world’s dominant power, bringing about sweeping changes in its geopolitical landscape. Once China ascends to sole superpower status, it will - as other powers have done before it - want to control and influence the world through its historical and cultural perspective - its inherent superiority, which means the superiority of the Chinese race.
As China’s assertiveness mounts under fifth-generation leader Xi Jinping, I can’t help but wonder if Jacques could be right in his prophecy. Coincidentally, Fudan University, an elite school in Shanghai, opened a research institute last month with an interesting name: “The Research Center for Chinese Development Model.”
The name of the think tank is, undeniably, eye-catching. It is the first research institute committed to the so-called Chinese model of development. In China, where everything is still heavily controlled, names and titles cannot be chosen freely. The Communist state is especially particular about the use of the word “renmin,” or people. The Renmin Ribao, or People’s Daily, and Renmin Publishing House, earned their names through special authorization by the Communist Party. Common people are not at liberty to attach that word to their enterprises. The term “people” is not for common use by the people. Heaven forbid.
The think tank’s moniker suggests a nod from the Chinese authorities. The center is headed by Zhang Weiwei, director of the Institute of China Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, who was once an English interpreter for Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s and authored “The China Wave: Rise of a Civilizational State,” which swept up various prizes in China in 2011. Xi presented the book to Robert Zoellick, then-World Bank president, who visited Beijing that year.
What’s important is the goal of the research center. At its opening ceremony, Party Secretary Zhu Zhiwen of Fundan University asked the research arm to develop academic studies on the Chinese development experience in a language that anyone in the world could understand. What he meant was to package the unique Chinese development model and pitch it abroad. The world’s second-largest economy, which has caught up so quickly to America, has become confident enough to share and preach its success story to the world. The university already persuaded Oxford University to hold an international seminar on the Chinese model and is preparing publishing and scholarly exchanges this year.
Chun Sung-heung, a professor of Chinese politics at Sogang University, says that certain conditions must be met in order for the Chinese model to gain universal recognition. The success model - in particular, fast growth - must first be sustained.
Second, the model should have a unique character. Joshua Cooper Ramo, who coined the term “Beijing consensus” as an alternative economic development model to the Washington consensus symbolized by the IMF, World Bank and U.S. Treasury, explained Beijing’s unique development model of blending opposite factors through the Chinese character “dan,” a compound of fire and water. China simultaneously pursues the incompatible concepts of authoritarianism and capitalism, characteristics of the Communist and democratic worlds.
The third question is whether the model is applicable to other states. Proponents claim it is most suitable for developing states in Africa and Latin America with authoritarian legacies. Critics, however, warn of anomalies and limitations of the Chinese model. Zhang Weiying, a prominent economics professor at Peking University, disagrees with Zhang Weiwei and warns of disillusion with the Chinese model. China is a latecomer whose development pace was inevitably fast since it followed a path already paved by others. Modern innovations and inventions like the Internet could not have come about under its system of rigid control.
So far, the Chinese are enthralled with the other Zhang’s version of Chinese supremacy, and his research center will likely work rigorously to come up with great packaging under the patronage of the Chinese government.
What should concern us is the impact of changes in China’s status. Will the feudal tributary system really be revived? In today’s world, China won’t demand grain and gold, but it will want respect in different forms. China calls the other nations “neighboring or peripheral countries.” It puts the United States on the same footing. With its Middle Kingdom psyche, China categories nations as being central, peripheral, big and small.
Jacques wrote, “Because China is growing so quickly, China time is fast.” We, too, must hurry in preparing for a new geopolitical environment. History advises us not to waste our time in ideological wars.
*The author is a JoongAng Ilbo specialist on China.
by You Sang-chul