Today, more and more people are exploring institutional advantages driving China’s development. Why does China’s system work? How does it work? What are the influences it leaves for the rest of the world?
“China is not a nation state, but a civilization state”
China Report ASEAN: Do you think China chose the right path and is exploring the right path?
Martin Jacques: China is profoundly different from Western countries in many ways. For example, it has a different history and culture, which makes it difficult for Western people to understand China. No other country so big is so different from the West. China has longevity. In my opinion, China is not a nation state, but a civilization state. It is totally different from the tradition in Europe. Western countries including Europe and the United States are mostly single-nation states. China has a totally different cultural tradition from the West.
The West is having a hard time understanding the rise of China. It doesn’t make sense to them in the Western terms. They felt threatened because they don’t understand it and they don’t know what the world will be like if China’s rapid growth continues. These countries have dominated the world for a long time, and their supremacy is being challenged. I think that the Chinese are trying to understand this and making efforts to reassure the West. China rises as a responsible country. Let’s look at the rise of the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and even Japan, historically. Without exception, they went to war during that period. China has no war. Some have accused China of being aggressive in nature as it develops. But I think that is completely nonsense.
China Report ASEAN: Since the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), China has been trying various systems. In the end, the CPC established socialism in China and found success. What do you think are the key reasons China chose the CPC and a socialist system?
Jacques: In the late 18th Century, China experienced a progressive decline compared to Europe. For a long time, Chinese people could not accept it and wouldn’t admit the decline. China had maintained a leading position in the world over a long period of time. It had maintained its ancient traditions and ways of doing things. Obviously, feudalism wasn’t working very effectively at that point. This is the reason China declined in the late Qing.
China wasn’t an isolated case. In face of the rise of Europe and later the United States, many countries experienced a similar problem. They made mistakes at first. Ultimately, the Qing government realized it was impossible to revive the nation. Any attempts either were defeated or totally failed. There was also an attempt by the Kuomintang. It was very difficult to pull China together. The period between 1912 until the end of the Second World War was very painful for China. The CPC found a way to make the system work. It overcame difficulties and made remarkable achievements. It unified the country so that society could operate on this basis. Solidarity is a priority to China and the Chinese way of thinking. It is not only true of the leadership, but also of ordinary people.
The notion of state is very important in China, which is not the case in every country. In India, society is more important than country. In China, society doesn’t really operate very well without a strong state. In 1949, the achievements of the CPC were pulling China together, driving invaders out and unifying the nation. Another achievement is that it reconstructed the heart of China, an entity that continues to operate well after finding the capacity to reconstruct and redefine China in a new and very different era.
“China should be a global leader”
China Report ASEAN: China has been advancing reforms in many areas including politics, economics, technology and ecology since the 18th CPC National Congress. Which measures impressed you most?
Jacques: Two things were particularly prominent. First, China lifted the country from extreme poverty into a manufacturing powerhouse. The development process has reached the extreme. Chinese society has consensus that China now needs a different strategy. It is not enough to just develop fundamental manufacturing, make cheap products and focus on exporting. China needs to pay attention to research and development and improve its productivity and potential. This is a tremendous challenge. The speed of China’s transformation is also surprising and amazing. China leaped to the forefront of technological change very quickly. Chinese people should be proud of that. For example, by any standards, Huawei is an outstanding and innovative company. Huawei has taken an approach different from Western companies and been successful. It is something that has impressed me.
Another impressive area has been China’s efforts to modernize state governance, especially mechanisms in the economic sector. This includes both economic development and economic processes. There must be breakthroughs in economics. Without economic development, there is no money or resources. Other things are out of the question. China’s development at the next stage transcends the economic level. It is beginning to build itself into a political power with political, cultural and ethical influence. China should be a global leader. It should look at its position in the world from a different perspective. Discussion of the Chinese Dream is about not only people’s living standard and quality, but also the position of the Chinese people in the world.
China Report ASEAN: In recent years, many policies introduced by China have gained popularity in the international community. These include the Belt and Road Initiative. Does this evidence the effectiveness and success of China’s system?
Jacques: There is no question that the Chinese approach and the Chinese system have been successful. When a country makes that kind of transformation, the question has to be how you do it. This is a hugely difficult process, but clearly China needed good leadership. You have to say that overseeing this transformation—remarkable transformation—doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t just fall out of the sky. You need a government, or a party that can provide leadership to society, give it a sense of direction, and line up goals in a very practical sequence. It has to be pragmatic.
How did you do it? That’s a tough question. And I think China has been gifted with remarkable leadership. But I would also say that this is a historical feature of China. It goes back a long time. It’s in the tradition, the genes of China. Statecraft is part of what China is very good at. Chinese society is dependent in a way on having a strong capable state.
The relationship between China and the world is win-win
China Report ASEAN: The CPC has pledged to achieve the modernization of its system and capacity for governance by the time the People’s Republic of China celebrates its centenary. Do you think the CPC can achieve this goal? If it does, what are the implications for China and the rest of the world?
Jacques: China will achieve this goal. China has the capacity to emerge as a modern country with global influence. I believe China will make it. Undoubtedly, there will be problems and setbacks on the way forward, but I believe China has already overcome the most difficult part.
For example, when there’s nothing to use, it is necessary to find an approach to moving forward through constant negotiation. It is very difficult to start from scratch. It is difficult to get somewhere with no resources available. Today, China has made remarkable achievements in modernization. In the long run, as its modernization advances, many problems will emerge. For example, obviously, China will rise to become a superpower. So it has to learn how to be a superpower. It must be different, take a unique path and can balance the interests of itself and its partners.
Consider the Belt and Road Initiative: China has to learn how to listen and talk people out of so-called “China-centralism.” It is natural for any country including China to think on its own terms. Because you live in China and you are a Chinese, you tend to think about the interests of Chinese people. But if you are a global leader, you cannot think only about your own interests but instead look at your relationship with others in a more equal way. The mutual relationship is about a win-win approach. The win-win approach is a good notion. But what does it mean in practice? We are always confronted with many problems. How to cope with them? I think that when China develops itself externally, it has to master these new skills, and I believe it will.
Guangdong is an interesting province because it was the place where China’s economic reform and transformation started in 1978. It was a forerunner in opening up to the outside world. Before that, Guangdong lagged in economics and industrial development, but it was enterprising. Also in terms of mindset, Guangdong was probably the most open province in China. That mindset dated back several centuries ago because coastal areas in Guangdong could connect to the rest of the world via maritime routes. This was also the reason Deng Xiaoping decided to setup special economic zones in Guangdong in 1978. Guangdong has other edges. For example, local people are enterprising and pioneering not only in the technology sector but also in every profession or trade. Compared with other areas, Guangdong is cosmopolitan. Located in the Greater Bay Area, it enjoys an advantageous geographical location. The only city rivaling it is Shanghai. China has Shenzhen, Guangzhou and smaller cities like Dongguan. Of course, it has Hong Kong and Macao.
These cities are different and complement each other. The Greater Bay Area also boasts favorable climate. The pleasant climate makes it an attractive place to live. This is applicable to China and the rest of the world. I believe the Greater Bay Area will welcome a lot of new immigrants. Most employees at Huawei and Tencent are Chinese. But if you go to the Silicon Valley, you will find most working there are Chinese and Indians. In the future, Chinese companies and governments will also see such cultural integration. The provincial government should take this into consideration. If China is to become a global center, it will be home to all types of people. For it to emerge as a global leader, it has to achieve globalization to a certain degree.
We all want to have the best people in the world, no matter where they are. One of the reasons for the United States’ success has been its ability to attract talent in various ways. High payments, interesting jobs and high-level research are all ways of attracting talent. There are many smart people in California. The climate is pleasant. People are attracted to a certain place for various reasons. In history, China didn’t attract many foreign immigrants. But China maintains a tradition of migration. Guangdong is a typical example. Already, many Africans live in Guangzhou, reflecting the longstanding tradition of openness in Guangdong. The tradition can be traced back several centuries. I think Guangdong is probably a very important constituent part of the Greater Bay Area project.