Contributed by Sandesh Kabir Singh and H R Dipendra
Justice Mah Weng Kwai who moderated this session began by introducing the speaker Martin Jacques. Justice Mah also highlighted the power and energy presence of the People’s Republic of China and stressed that China had attained the highest gross domestic product at purchasing power parity per capita. He proceeded to raise several fundamental issues to be considered by the speaker, namely the effect of China’s sharp economic rise on the world and the possibility of China ruling the world in the future.
The speaker, Martin Jacques began by recalling his fond memory of Malaysia and that of his late wife Harinder Veriah who died tragically. Martin Jacques is the author of the best-selling book “When China Rules the World” which has sold over 250,000 copies.
Martin begun by highlighting the two major issues facing China:
1. Country of 1.3 billion people and it is fast growing. Since 1978, China’s economy was 1/20th of America. Presently it is growing at a rate of 10% per year, which marks a huge transformation that is affecting the world.
2. What is China? Refuting the Western view of China, Martin quickly pointed out that China was never colonised and was in reality a civilisation state. This was in direct contrast to western countries which were “nation states” rather than “civilisation states”.
The Chinese sense of identity is drawn from the Chinese civilisation which is prominent in its food, culture medicine, and education. This is their sense of identity, as opposed to the sense of nationalisation. Politically, the main difference between China and Western modern nations lie in the concept of Chinese unity. Unification of China started over 2000 years ago and they have stayed together ever since. With this comes stability and order, China is poised to blossom. It was under Chairman Mao and Deng Xiao Peng that China’s ascension started.
Martin was also quick to point out that there is a misconception when Hong Kong was handed over to the China. Recognising that Hong Kong is based under a different system, China adopted the one country, two systems policy. As long as the other territories (to which China maintains as part of its own) accept the principle of Chinese sovereignty, they can have their own separate systems. This included Taiwan. This concept is, unfortunately, alien to the western democracies.
It is important to note that China had never expanded or colonized beyond its territory although it could have easily done so. This is an important difference between the Western and the Chinese concept of expansion. This resonates with the Chinese concept of “Middle Kingdom” and being in the centre of the Earth. China, in truth, need not find the need to step into the other territories.
Indeed Tibet and the Spratly Islands are part of this larger understanding.
Martin Jacques, who consistently used the phrase "we” signified that he is part of the larger Chinese equation, then presented a chart flow of "Proportions of Exports from South East Asia countries to China" wherein the amount has grown in tremendous amount over the recent years. He thus predicts that the new economic system of the world will be China centric with its quick and vast growth of economy. The Chinese, as Martin Jacques emphasised, draw their strength from the fact that the people regard themselves as one race although they are the product of many different sub-race and culture.
What then is the weakest point of the Chinese System? Martin Jacques says that it is easy to categorise the poor human rights record and the lack of democracy as key weaknesses. Martin, however, said that a recent survey suggests that the man on the street is satisfied with the government of the day. In fact, the Chinese economy is strong that it only suffered a minor setback during the 1998 financial crises.
Martin also justified that China will continue to defend its sovereignty at all costs. He cited the Indo-China war as an example where China quickly reclaimed the lands occupied by India and did nothing more.
In conclusion, he ended it by stressing that the whole world will feel the growth of China. We are at the beginning of China’s global transformation. Given the shortness of time, not many questions were allowed. This author for one, would have wanted answers on what role Martin Jacques saw Malaysia playing in the larger China transformation.