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How China Will Change the Global Political Map

How China Will Change the Global Political Map

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This policy brief looks at the influence that China is likely to have on democracy around the world.
This policy brief looks at the influence that China is likely to have on democracy around the world.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Mar 25, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The reconguration of global power suggests two likelyfuture trends. Firstly, there will bea decline in the relative weightand inuence of Western democ
racy as the West decreases inimportance. Secondly, demo
cratic forms in the developing world may well prosper, but theyare quite likely to be increasinglyhybrid in form. They will becomeless Western in inspiration andmore indigenous. China is not aproduct of Western democracyand shows very little sign of moving in that direction. Howwill the West adapt to a world,after two centuries, in which it isno longer dominant? Until now,the idea of China offering analternative form of governanceto the Western liberal order hasseemed sufciently implausibleto be ignored. Sooner or later,the West will be obliged to cometo terms with the reality of Chinaas it is rather than as the Westwould like it to be and thinks itshould be.
How China Will Change the GlobalPolitical Map
by Martin Jacques
March 2013
China has the world’s second largesteconomy. As it overtakes the UnitedStates in the relatively near uture, andbecomes the world’s largest economy,China will exercise a growing globalinuence. Meanwhile, the West — thehome o Western liberal democracy — is in relative economic decline. By 2030, it will, by one estimate, accountor only 28 percent o global GDP,compared with 33 percent or Chinaand 67 percent or the developingworld.
In such circumstances, theWest’s political inuence is boundto decline. China is not a product o Western democracy and shows very little sign o moving in that direc-tion. Tere are numerous examples o Western-inuenced democracies inthe developing world — most notably India, but also Brazil, Indonesia, SouthKorea, South Arica, and many others.But while these countries have somekey eatures o Western democracy (by which I mean here universal surageand a multi-party system), they arealso distinctive. Japan, or instance,is oen classied as a Western-styledemocracy but it also displays sometypical characteristics o a Conucian-style polity. In addition, there aremany countries where the eatures o Western-style democracy are worn
Hu Angang, China 2030, Springer, forthcoming.
relatively lightly and combined withmarkedly authoritarian modes o rule,Russia, Ukraine, and Singapore beingobvious examples.Te reconguration o global powersuggests two likely uture trends.Firstly, there will be a decline inthe relative weight and inuenceo Western democracy as the Westdecreases in importance. Tis isirrespective o whether democracy inthe West prospers or not, a point I willreturn to later. Secondly, democraticorms in the developing world may well prosper, but they are quite likely to be increasingly hybrid in orm. Tey will become less Western in inspira-tion and more indigenous. Tey willdraw rom other traditions and values.We should remind ourselves that ideaso accountability, representivity, andtransparency are not specic to theWest but are shared with many othercultures. In other words, democracy will become increasingly pluralisticin orm and subject to a much widerrange o cultural inuences. TeWestern orm will become one o many rather than the dominant typeand inuence. Or, to put it anotherway, accountability, representivity, andtransparency in governance are likely to become increasingly commonplace,perhaps one day even universal, rather
The Western nancial crisis shouldbe seen, in important measure, asan expression of this new globalera and thereby also a portent of what is to come.
than simply the specic orms o democracy that we asso-ciate with the West.
Future of Western Democracies
Tis brings me more specically to the prospects ordemocracy in the West. Aer two centuries o globaldominance, how will the West adapt to a world where thisis no longer the case? Tat dominance allowed Europe andlater North America to enjoy a position o privilege, deter-mining the ground rules o an emergent global economy and the terms o trade between manuactures and naturalresources. A key consequence was the long-run depressiono commodity prices during the colonial era and then inthe second hal o the 20
century. In the early 21
century,these privileges have been in rapid retreat. Commodity prices have risen since around the turn o the century asa consequence o growing demand rom the developingworld, most notably China. Tis has greatly enhanced thebargaining power o commodity-producing nations, mosto which are developing countries, while at the same timeobliging Western countries to pay much higher prices ortheir commodities. Tis shi in the balance o power ispermanent; the weakened bargaining position o the West isthe new norm and it will continue to deteriorate over time.Although the question has received relatively little atten-tion, the Western nancial crisis should be seen, in impor-tant measure, as an expression — the rst, in act — o this new global era and thereby also a portent o what is tocome. Its prolonged nature (with the outlook still bleak ormany European countries in particular), the act that mostEuropean economies are still smaller than they were in2007, and with living standards having declined markedly in most Western countries — and in some very consider-ably — suggest a grave crisis that has deep structural causes.Te rise o the developing countries and the relative declineo the developed countries is one o the most undamentalo these, characterized by the increase in commodity prices,the shi in manuacturing rom west to east, the indebtedstate o Western economies, the credit-worthy conditiono many developing countries, especially in East Asia, andthe intensiying and widening competitive pressures onWestern economies rom the developing world.Not surprisingly, even long-established Western democra-cies are showing the political strains o these economicpressures, perhaps most acutely in Italy, but also in Greece,Spain, and elsewhere. Ultimately, the support enjoyed by a political system is a unction o the ability o that systemto meet the needs and aspirations o its citizens. I a demo-cratic system persistently ails to do this, then its principlesand precepts are likely to come under growing threat.Te prestige enjoyed by Western democracies in the eyeso their people has been because, in global terms, theirnations have been economically highly successul and, as aconsequence, have been able to dominate the world or overtwo centuries. But how will their present systems survivenot only the growing economic pressures I have outlinedbut also a situation where these countries are no longerdominant in the world? What will be the eect o having tolive with a China that is based on a very dierent politicalsystem and that becomes the dominant economic power inthe world? Perhaps this will not come to pass: but it is anincreasingly plausible scenario.Until now, the idea o China oering an alternative ormo governance to the Western liberal order has seemedsufciently implausible to be ignored. Te Western hubristhat owed rom its sense o democratic virtue has meantthat all other alternatives have been dismissed out o hand,especially since the ignominious implosion o the SovietUnion and its various acolytes. Furthermore, it has beenwidely held — still is, in act — that as China lacked thesedemocratic attributes, its economic transormation wouldin time prove unsustainable. But the certainty with whichthis view is held has been steadily weakening, as a result o the Western nancial crisis and the toll this has taken onthe standing o its political, nancial, and business elites,combined, o course, with the continuing rise o China,notwithstanding the endless stream o Western prognos-tications to the contrary. Following the Western nancial
China will be taken increasinglyseriously as offering an alternativeform of governance to the Westernliberal order.
crisis, it is now projected that China will overtake the U.S.economy in size in 2018, and threatens to be twice the sizein around two decades;
since 2000, China has emergedas a major global economic player and arguably now hasa bigger impact on the shape and nature o globalizationthan the United States. Sooner or later, we will be obligedto come to terms with the reality o China as it is ratherthan as the West would like it to be and thinks it should be.We will probably bear witness to this process o grudgingacceptance over the next decade, as the West acquiesces inChina’s dierence not as some transient phenomenon butas a permanent eature o the global landscape. China will,in the process, be taken increasingly seriously as oering analternative orm o governance to the Western liberal order.
Chinese Governance
Te starting point here is to understand the nature o Chinese governance. Surprising as it may seem to many Westerners, Chinese governance enjoys great legitimacy,arguably more than any Western country.
Unlike the West,the legitimacy o Chinese governance does not rest ondemocracy. Notwithstanding the conventional wisdom inthe West, which tends toward the belie that democracy ismore or less the sole source o legitimacy, in act it has arange o dierent sources. What are its sources in China?Most undamentally, it is bound up with the idea o Chinesecivilization. China has called itsel a nation-state or littlemore than 100 years, but China is at least two millennia old,dating back to 221 BC. China’s sense o what it is and whothe Chinese are has been overwhelmingly shaped not by itsexperience as a nation-state but by its civilizational history.Its sheer longevity, its huge geographical and demographicscale, its diversity, and the overarching nature o the Hanidentity are some o the eatures o China as a civilization-state.Holding such a vast country together or two millennia hasbeen hugely difcult: the underlying dynamic that lies at theheart o Chinese society is the conict between the centrip-etal orces that hold it together and the centriugal orcesthat threaten its unity. Tis is why the most important polit-ical value or the Chinese is the unity o the country, whichis intimately linked to the priority attached to order andstability. Te institution charged with maintaining the unity 
For example, surveys by Tony Saich, Kennedy School, Harvard University (based on4,000 respondents, 2003-2009).
o the country — and Chinese civilization — is the state.Tis is by ar its most important responsibility and gives ita unique status and importance in the Chinese mind. Testate is regarded as the embodiment o Chinese civilization;and is seen by the Chinese as, in eect, an extension andexpression o themselves.Te amily is crucial to an understanding o how theChinese see the state. For Conucius, the amily was thetemplate or the state. Te state was the amily writ large;with the emperor’s role akin to that o the ather. In theWest, the state is seen in utilitarian and instrumentalterms, whereas the Chinese state, modeled on the amily, isregarded quite dierently. Te Chinese view the state as anintimate, or literally, the head o the amily, the amily thatis China. Te relationship between the state and society inChina, in other words, is entirely unlike that in the West.Tis helps to explain the relative absence hitherto o democ-racy in the Chinese tradition. Conucius, in act, believedthat the state should be immune rom popular pressure,that it should govern according to ethical principles ratherthan popular demands. o this end, he believed the very best people should be selected on a meritocratic basis torun the state. Te examination or the selection o theimperial bureaucracy dates back to the Han dynasty twomillennia ago. While the West holds dear the notion o democracy, the equivalent or the Chinese is the principleo meritocracy. o this day, it continues to suuse Chineseculture: the huge importance attached to examinations, thenationwide competition to enter the top universities andthe act that gaining admission to the civil service — againdone by open examination — is seen by the Chinese as themost prestigious orm o employment. Not surprisingly, theChinese state is a highly competent institution attractingthe brightest and best talent. It is worth reecting, in thiscontext, on the extraordinary achievement o the Chinese

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