When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order by Martin Jacques (2009), “The Future of American Power. Dominance and Decline in Perspective” by Professor Joseph Nye (2010) in Foreign Affairs (Nov/Dec).
There is a close nexus between ruling and power. As Machiavelli well instructs us one cannot rule, and even less govern, without power.
To consider political-economic-military power in its various vicissitudes and intricacies conjures up not only Machiavelli’s Prince, but also Karl Marx’s Das Kapital,not to speak of Vico’s philosophy of history in his New Science concerned with the rise, dominance, decline, decay and final fall of entire civilizations. To merely repeat what these eminent authors have written on the history of power is to run the risk of reinventing the wheel. Yet, it remains beyond me how anyone can possibly grasp and explain the present status of global power without possessing at least a cursory knowledge of its historical record on a regional or global level. It would be like driving a car without a rear-view mirror; a possibility to be sure, but misguided and dangerous too. To employ another metaphor, it is not unlike a doctor prescribing a prognosis without first conducting a diagnosis.
So, as a solution to this conundrum of mine I have decided to situate my contribution within a Vichian-MacLuhan “back to the future,” framework, attempting to envision modernity as it may be lived in the 21st century. It is intriguing to me that of the two centuries within which the theme is situated, the 20th century is already in the past while the 21st century is mostly in the future. The question then is this: How does one bridge that great divide? Leonardo would have no problem with bridging any kind of divide, be it physical or mental, but he was a Renaissance man, not a logical positivist, and I am no Leonardo. Nevertheless, let us attempt it.
I will first proceed with the examination of a book and an article which take opposite views of the diagnosis of power within modernity and then propose a few interpretations and a possible prognosis of my own; which is to say that in this essay, history (which is made by man but profoundly affects man and his culture) shall take center stage as the protagonist of the human drama. I shall bypass an inane identification and description of the mediocre visionless politicians and bureaucrats who presently hold the levers of power in our brave new global world. The two nations that will be closely examined are the United States, which is still widely considered the number one superpower in the world, and China which seem to be bent on competing for that title. As far as civilizations are concerned we will of course examine and compare the age old civilization of the West and that of the far East or Asian civilization.
For over five hundred years now we have lived in a western-made world, one shaped by colonialism and imperialism wherein the very notion of being modern was synonymous with being western. It was assumed that such a state of affairs would be permanent for no other civilization could claim to be as modern and scientifically advanced as that of the West. But lo and behold, in 2009 a book came out which challenges such a taken for granted assumption. I refer to When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order by British journalist and scholar Martin Jacques.
The book has aroused a vehement debate in the United States and elsewhere about the role of China in the creation of the new 21st century world order. The book argues that the twenty-first century will be different: with the rise of increasingly powerful non-Western countries, that the west will no longer be dominant and there will be various ways of being modern. In this new era of ‘contested modernity’ the central player will be of course China which is already signaling the end of the global dominance of the West and the emergence of a world which will become increasingly disconcerting and unfamiliar to those who live in the west.
Indeed, the book’s claim was disconcerting from its first appearance, for it challenges some politically correct, almost sacred assumptions by claiming that China’s future economic strength will heavily alter the political and cultural landscape of the world. In other words, China will rule the 21st century. The book’s original subtitle is quite revealing in this respect: “The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World”. So, here is a bold prediction of the end of a civilization and the rise, or perhaps we should talk of a rebirth, of another quite different civilization, one that while being intriguing to most Westerns, remains a mystery wrapped up in a riddle.
Martin Jacques forcefully argues that far from becoming a western-style society, China will remain highly distinctive. It is already having a far-reaching and much-discussed economic impact, but its political and cultural influence, which has hitherto been greatly neglected, will be at least as significant. Continental in size and mentality, and accounting for one fifth of humanity, China is not even a conventional nation-state but a ‘civilization-state’ whose imperatives, priorities and values are quite different. As it rapidly reassumes its traditional place at the centre of East Asia, the old tributary system will resurface in a modern form, contemporary ideas of racial hierarchy will be redrawn and China’s ages-old sense of superiority will reassert itself.
The whole narrative of When China Rules the World has caused a profound academic debate. This is understandable since it questions Western hegemony and the future of American power in the 21st century. On the other hand, as one could expect, the book was highly praised in China and East Asian countries, where it was perceived by some pundits as the best and most understanding analysis of Chinese society and economics. I suspect it will be mentioned by other contributors in the context of this theme too and that would be all for the good so that we don’t run the risk of reinventing the wheel. In any case, whether one agrees with it or not, the book remains a lively one full of provocations and predictions.
The book can be summarized in twelve key arguments: 1) There is not one western modernity, instead we are witnessing the birth of multiple modernities. This is perhaps the core argument. 2) Chinese modernity will be very different from western modernity. 3)We are fast moving into a world of contested modernity. 4) China will become the largest economy in the world within less than two decades and then proceed to rapidly out-distance that of the United States. 5) China’s impact on the world will not simply be economic; it will also have profound political, cultural and ideological effects. 6) For thousands of years, China was at the centre of the tributary-state system in East Asia, which only came to an end with the arrival of European colonialism at the end of the nineteenth century. 7) As the East Asian economy is rapidly reconfigured around China, we should expect elements of the tributary system to reappear 8) At its core, China is a civilization-state rather than a nation-state, a fact which will become steadily more apparent. 9) The Chinese state is very different from the western state: it has existed for over two thousand years, and for over a millennium it has had no competitors (e.g., church, merchants) nor limits to its power; it is regarded with reverence and deference by the Chinese as the guardian and protector of Chinese civilization. 10) The Chinese have a deep and living sense of their own culture and civilization which they regard as superior to all others. 11) 92% of the Chinese believe that they are of one race, the Han Chinese, unlike the other most populous nations such as India, the United States, Brazil and Indonesia, which recognize themselves to be highly multi-racial and multi-cultural. 12) The similarities between the communist period and the Confucian era are more striking than the differences. This is another intriguing assertion which belies a desire to collapse Communism into Confucianism.
What in fact strikes the reader immediately about the overall analysis is the fact that Communism, the political system which still today runs China, is somehow conceived not in Marxist-Leninist terms but a something already existing in the traditional culture of China. But the ineluctable historical fact remains that, as a philosophy and an ideology it is imported from the West unless one wishes to claim that Karl Marx was Chinese. Such an ideology, I submit, has profound western assumptions even when critical of the traditional capitalistic tenets of liberal democracy as Das Kapital indeed is. So in this book the whole issue of freedom and liberal democracy in The People’s Republic of China seems to have been side-stepped. So Jacques’ assertion that China is somehow “outside the history or experience of Western societies” is historically untenable and belies a certain disconcerting inattentiveness to both Chinese politics, from at least 1911 onwards, as well as international relations more broadly. One begins to wonder if the author has begun with a bias, conscious or unconscious, and then has gone looking for its support and justifications.
But this is not the only glaring problem with Jacques’s thesis, there are others. Take this assertion: “…China is not primarily a nation-state but a civilization-state. For the Chinese, what matters is civilization. For Westerners it is nation. The most important political value in China is the integrity and unity of the civilization-state.” He’s taking an idea – China as “civilization state” – first forwarded by Lucien Pye and misapplying it by putting it in the service of a facile historical exceptionalism. Here again history belies Jacques statement, for the very concept of nation which comes from the West is in fact very important to the Chinese. One may call the phenomenon cultural colonialism but the fact remains that following Western notions of sovereignty, many political and intellectual Chinese leaders have for over a hundred years now embraced the concept of national identity and attempted to reconcile it, as best they could, to the more international aspects of the Communist ideology. In any case both nationalism and communism happen to be distinct Western imports. This curious conundrum is in no way addressed by Jacques.
The fact that Jacques’ training is that of an economist focusing on Marxism may explain why he so cavalierly discounts the importance of nationalism in China, but he ought to know that Marxism is not an Asian ideology. The question arises: has Jacques really missed the boat here? While it is true that China has gained a great deal of economic and political and military power in the past three decades, other “Western” powers have behaved in similar ways beginning with the Romans and ending with the British Empire. It remains unclear that China will “rule the world” any time soon. It will undoubtedly be more powerful; it will get its way in some areas where in the past it did not, but global power is diffuse, capital is dynamically mobile, advantages come and go, and that pattern seems to be accelerating as globalization makes everything – production, information, understanding, faster and faster and faster.
Assertions of cultural exceptionalism thus seem untenable in a world that fragments and shifts and changes so quickly. Nostalgia for a world that never existed is simply misplaced, as with this line from Jacques: “The Chinese idea of the state could hardly be more different [than that of the “West] They do not view it from a narrowly utilitarian standpoint, in terms of what it can deliver, let alone as the devil incarnate in the manner of the American Tea Party. They see the state as an intimate, or, to be more precise, as a member of the family – the head of the family, in fact. The Chinese regard the family as the template for the state. What’s more, they perceive the state not as external to themselves but as an extension or representation of themselves.”
In this assertion we have the collapsing of Confucianism into Communism. Yet Han Feizi rejects the government-as-family metaphor, not to speak of the constant tyrannical attacks, since Mao’s era, on families and family institutions beginning with the so called “Great Leap Forward.” That misnomer is typical of a mindless progressivism that declares that anything that arrives at the end of a process is always the best and that progress always goes forward and cannot be stopped. Is Jacques asserting that the death of tens of millions of deaths is politically and culturally insignificant within the larger scheme of things? Does the refusal to answer that question make the CCP more or less legitimate than the West? So far Jacques has no ready answers to such questions.
This is not is not my lament only. There is a powerful rebuttal to Jacques’s assertions coming from a Harvard Professor Joseph Nye who wrote an article in Foreign Affairs (Nov/Dec. 2010) titled “The Future of American Power.” He begins with a definition of power as “the ability to attain the outcomes one wants, and the resources that produce it vary in different contexts…” Then he goes on to point out that “This century is marked by a burgeoning revolution in information technology and globalization, and to understand this revolution, certain pitfalls need to be avoided.”
Which exactly are those pitfalls? First, he warns against the misleading metaphors of organic decline. “Rome remained dominant for more than three centuries after the peak of its power, and even then it did not succumb to the rise of another state. For all the fashionable predictions of China, India, or Brazil surpassing the United States in the next decades, the greater threat may come from modern barbarians and non-state actors. In an information-based world, power diffusion may pose a bigger danger than power transition. Conventional wisdom holds that the state with the largest army prevails, but in the information age, the state (or the non-state actor) with the best story may sometimes win.” This is quite an eye-opener resembling Vico’s warning about the “barbarism of the intellect,” a sort of barbarism which has to do with the disappearance of the values and the narrative buttressing an entire civilization.
He then treats us to another metaphor, that of the chess game. “Power today is distributed in a pattern that resembles a complex three-dimensional chess game. On the top chessboard, military power is largely uni-polar, and the United States is likely to retain primacy for quite some time. On the middle chessboard, economic power has been multi-polar for more than a decade, with the United States, Europe, Japan, and China as the major players and others gaining in importance. The bottom chessboard is the realm of transnational relations.” He acknowledges that in the near future the most important factor will be the continuing return of Asia to the world stage. “In 1750, Asia had more than half the world’s population and economic output. By 1900, after the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the United States, Asia’s share shrank to one-fifth of global economic output. By 2050, Asia will be well on its way back to its historical share. The rise of China and India may create instability, but this is a problem with precedents, and history suggests how policies can affect the outcome.”
Next Professor Nye brands as misguided the fashionable comparison of the United States’ power to that of the United Kingdom a century ago and the prediction of a similar hegemonic decline. There will be some decline but it will not be absolute, he tells us, and it does not have to lead to decay and ultimate fall. The United States does not have geographical empire, although some have made the case for a commercial capitalistic entrepreneurial global empire. Then the Professor this to say: “Power measured in resources rarely equals power measured in preferred outcomes, and cycles of belief in decline reveal more about psychology than they do about real shifts in power resources.”
Then Professor Nye takes on frontally the issue of the rise of China and Jacques’ book asserting that “China has a long way to go to equal the power resources of the United States, and it still faces many obstacles to its development. Even if overall Chinese gdp passed that of the United States around 2030, the two economies, although roughly equivalent in size, would not be equivalent in composition. China would still have a vast underdeveloped countryside, and it would have begun to face demographic problems from the delayed effects of its one child policy… China’s authoritarian political system has shown an impressive capability to harness the country’s power, but whether the government can maintain that capability over the longer term is a mystery both to outsiders and to Chinese leaders. Unlike India, which was born with a democratic constitution, China has not yet found a way to solve the problem of demands for political participation.” So, much remains to be seen in the light of future events which remain mysterious.
On the military front Nye states that “Some have argued that China aims to challenge the United States’ position in East Asia and, eventually, the world. Even if this were an accurate assessment of China’s current intentions (and even the Chinese themselves cannot know the views of future generations), it is doubtful that China will have the military capability to make this possible anytime soon.” The U. S.- Japanese alliance and the improvement in U.S. -Indian relations mean that China cannot easily expel the Americans from Asia which validly claims to be a Pacific power. From that position of strength, the United States, Japan, India, Australia, and others can engage China and provide incentives for it to play a responsible role” Here is another eye opener for those contemplating an imminent assertion of Chinese hegemony in Asia.
On internal decay Professor Nye opines that it would be a great mistake for the US to seriously curtail immigration. “With its current levels of immigration, the United States is one of the few developed countries that may avoid demographic decline and keep its share of world population, but this could change if xenophobia or reactions to terrorism closed its borders. Although too rapid a rate of immigration can cause social problems, over the long term, immigration strengthens U.S. power. Today, the United States is the world’s third most populous country; 50 years from now, it is likely to still be third (after India and China)… When Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew concludes that China will not surpass the United States as the leading power of the twenty-first century, he cites the ability of the United States to attract the best and brightest from the rest of the world and meld them into a diverse culture of creativity. China has a larger population to recruit from domestically to be sure, but in his view, its Sinocentric culture will make it less creative than the United States, which can draw on the whole world.” This statement ought to be a warning for the EU which is considering limiting its young Moslem immigrant population as its own native population ages.
Another informative statement is this: “Today, however, even after the financial crisis and the ensuing recession, the World Economic Forum has ranked the United States fourth (after Switzerland, Sweden, and Singapore) in global economic competitiveness. (China, in comparison, was ranked 27th.)” Also important to consider those statistics: In terms of investment in research and development, the United States was the world leader in 2007, with $369 billion, followed by all of Asia (S338 billon) and the European Union ($263 billion). The United States spent 2.7 percent of its GDP on research and development, nearly double what China spent (but slightly less than the three percent spent by Japan and South Korea). In 2007, American inventors registered about 80,000 patents in the United States, or more than the rest of the world combined. A 2009 survey by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor ranked the United States ahead of other countries in opportunities for entrepreneurship because it has a favorable business culture, the most mature venture capital industry, close relations between universities and industry, and an open immigration policy.
A well-educated labor force is another key to economic success in the information age. At first glance, the United States does well in this regard. It spends twice as much on higher education as a percentage of gdp as do France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The London-based Times Higher Educations 2009 list of the top ten universities includes six in the United States, and a 2010 study by Shanghai Jiao Tong University places 17 U.S. universities-and no Chinese universities-among its top 20. Americans win more Nobel Prizes and publish more scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals-three times as many as the Chinese-than do the citizens of any other country. These accomplishments enhance both the country’s economic power and its soft power. American education at its best-many universities and the top slice of the secondary education system-meets or sets the global standard.
Next Professor Nye deals with the thorny issue of decline and blames the alarmists for offering misleading metaphors and warns us that “There is always a range of possible futures, not one… As for the United States’ power relative to China’s, much will depend on the uncertainties of future political change in China. Barring any political upheaval, China’s size and high rate of economic growth will almost certainly increase its relative strength vis-à-vis the United States. This will bring China closer to the United States in power resources, but it does not necessarily mean that China will surpass the United States as the most powerful country-even if China suffers no major domestic political setbacks.” Projections based on gdp growth alone are one-dimensional. They ignore U.S. advantages in military and soft power, as well as China’s geopolitical disadvantages in the Asian balance of power…American power is based on alliances rather than colonies and is associated with an ideology that is flexible. . . . Together they provide a core of relationships and values to which America can return even after it has overextended itself. The United States is well placed to benefit from such networks and alliances, if it follows smart strategies. Given Japanese concerns about the rise of Chinese power, Japan is more likely to seek U.S. support to preserve its independence than ally with China.” On the question of absolute, rather than relative, American decline, the United States faces serious problems in areas such as debt, secondary education, and political gridlock. But they are only part of the picture.
Plenty of food for thought here! I suppose what the professor is reminding us of is that civilizations have come and gone throughout history but sometimes they have also been reborn. The phenomenon of Renaissance, well known in Europe, is after all a classical Greco-Roman civilization that is reborn anew, albeit synthesized to a phenomenon the ancient Greeks and Romans did not know, Christianity. Rinascimento, after all literally means “rebirth.” So rebirths and resurrections remain historically in the realm of possibility for any civilization, Eastern or Western. As Vico has well taught us, there are recurring historical cycles and they are not deterministic since they are not closed circles.
Finally Professor Nye offers his most intriguing insight: “It is time for a new narrative about the future of U.S. power. Describing power transition in the twenty-first century as a traditional case of hegemonic decline is inaccurate, and it can lead to dangerous policy implications if it encourages China to engage in adventurous policies or the United States to overreact out of fear. The United States is not in absolute decline, and in relative terms, there is a reasonable probability that it will remain more powerful than any single state in the coming decades…Because globalization will spread technological capabilities and information technology will allow more people to communicate, U.S. culture and the U.S. economy will become less globally dominant than they were at the start of this century. Yet it is unlikely that the United States will decay like ancient Rome, or even that it will be surpassed by another state, including China.” This new narrative, professor Nye reminds us, will require a deeper understanding of power, how it is changing, and how to construct “smart power” strategies that combine hard-and soft-power resources in an information age. The country’s capacity to maintain alliances and create networks will be an important dimension of its hard and soft power.
Indeed, power is not good or bad per se, it is the intention behind it and the how it is wielded that makes all the difference. More of it is not necessarily better if the intention is to use it badly. According to professor Nye, “a smart-power narrative for the twenty-first century is not about maximizing power or preserving hegemony. It is about finding ways to combine resources in successful strategies in the new context of power diffusion and the rise of the rest…The coming decades are not likely to see a post-American world, but the United States will need a smart strategy that combines hard and soft-power resources-and that emphasizes alliances and networks that are responsive to the new context of a global information age.”
Obviously, what we have here are two differing views of who will rule, or better who will have hegemony and power to throw around in the 21st century. It remains an open question despite the views of Professor Nye or Martin Jacques. Many in the West are understandably concerned that the view they reject may come about, many in the East believe that their time for power has finally come as confirmed by Jacques’s assertions.
I am afraid they are both wrong. The real question at this point is this: can the two views be bridged and synthesized, or are they mutually exclusive? I tend to believe that a bridge between the two, a la Leonardo, or closer at home a la Edward Said is possible and desirable (see my Ovi article on Said’s bridging of East and West at http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/2112 . To build such a bridge we need to go back to the issue of “multiple modernities”; that is to say, abandon the idea that there is only one way of being modern, the Western mode. The Western mode, as a matter of fact may be flawed to begin with.
What do I mean about the flaw in the Western conception of modernity? I have already addressed this flaw in various article in Ovi over the last five years or so, but allow me to repeat it succinctly in this context. The flaw in the Western conception of modernity lies in its misguided notion that only what arrives at the end is truly progressive and the best, that what is traditional, such as religion and its practices, needs to be repudiated and jettisoned as so much obscurantism and primitivism. Here is where Jacques’ theory of multiple modernities could have been useful but he fails to carry the notion to its proper conclusion and opts to side with those who believe that China’s destiny in the 21st century is somehow inevitable and written in stone.
Nevertheless, the concept of multiple modernities which refuses to reject religion as mere superstition has been argued by influential modern philosophers such as Whitehead and Habermas and various others (the inquisitive reader may wish to consult in this regard the article I wrote on Habermas’s philosophy of multiple modernities some four years ago in Ovi magazine at the following link: http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/4225), philosophers these who have convincingly argued that multiple modernities are not only possible but desirable in the EU, the West at large as well as more traditional religious communities such as India and other Asian places.
Unfortunately that kind of hard look is found unappetizing by Western man bent on finding truth via science and ignoring a simple fundamental question such as that posed by Heidegger: why is there something rather than nothing? Since Voltaire’s age of reason and Galileo’s age of science that question appears slightly ridiculous to modern “enlightened” man, but I would submit one more time that it remains an imperative to achieve a modicum of cultural identity and a definition of what it means to be a European or a Western man in order to be then in a position to confront other cultures and other traditions and find a modus vivendi with them. As I have repeatedly in previous articles: the Enlightenment has still to enlighten itself.
So, once again let me submit to the attentive reader, and at the same time urge the inattentive reader to consider the fact that the flaw in the Western approach to modernities lies exactly in the failure to perceive that religion and faith, independent of its intrinsic spiritual value for human nature which seems to have arisen within it, can be a powerful cultural glue, a centripetal force, a center to keep disparate cultures with different languages together in any sort of planned political union. This political insight was certainly not lost on an emperor Constantine, or a Charlemagne, two political geniuses whatever their overt or covert views on religion per se.
For some strange reason this political genius which refuses to jettison religion from the body politic seems to be lost on many current intellectuals and politicians who think of themselves as moderns or post-moderns and conceive logical positivism as the non plus ultra of modernity. Alas, it seems to also have been lost on the present Communist leadership of China, bent on a Machiavellian grabbing and exercise of power and on distracting the people from their real needs with material prosperity. As already argued they tend to lose sight that Communism is an imported Western phenomenon. But then, to their credit, one must consider that they do not consider themselves Westerners and do not wish to become such, nor should they; they just need to get better informed about the West and what they have ideologically bought from it.
A concluding modest proposal: as the 21st century progresses let’s keep watching carefully those two continental nations by which I don’t mean China and the US, which will surely continue their obsessive competition for power, rather I mean India, which even more than the US honors its religious heritage and accepts multiple modernities, and China which, in embracing the the imported Western Communist ideology has jettisoned its religious heritage and accepted a modernity based on materialistic entrepreneurship and the accumulation of wealth proclaiming, via ideology if nothing else, that by bread alone does man live and democracy and freedom are mere unnecessary frosting on the cake, not really that relevant for the achievement of prosperity. In the final analysis history will tell. It always does, sooner or later, and what it reveals about the past and the future is often surprising, even miraculous. It has happened before in the West and it was called Rinascimento which translates as “rebirth.” A new Renaissance may be needed, one that places less emphasis on mere political power and consumerism and focuses on the common good. As Einstein aptly put it: when modern man will have reached the positivistic pinnacle of scientific rationality, he may be greatly surprised to find out that the philosopher and the theologian are already there waiting for him. Food for thought!
The SCO needs strategic consensus and cooperation in an era of uncertainties
During his latest state visit to Russia, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Putin agreed to bring the two countries’ relationship to a “new era of greater development at a higher level”. Given this, the two core member states and the driving force of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), China and Russia, will be expected to facilitate a broader prospect for the cooperation among the SCO member states in accordance with the “Shanghai spirit” during the 19th meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the SCO that was scheduled on June 4in Bishkek.
Founded in 2001, the original six-states of the SCO—China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan—signed “The Shanghai Cooperation Organization Charter”. It puts the priorities on mutual trust and neighborliness among the member states; and joint efforts to ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and to build up a democratic, fair and rational international order. Since then, these are enshrined into the “Shanghai Spirit” that upholds internally mutual trust, reciprocal consultations, respect for cultural diversity and common development and externally non-alignment, non-targeting any third party, and inclusiveness. From the very beginning, it has been an important mission for the organization to fight against the “three evils”, which refer to terrorism, separatism, and extremism. The concept was first defined in June 2001 during the first SCO summit. Since then, taking regional security and stability as a priority, the SCO has been making unremitting efforts to crack down on the “three evils” in joint efforts to advance the cooperation and development.
True, the SCO has undergone a substantial development since its inception and now becomes a comprehensive regional organization with the profound dimensions beyond the region. Looking into the geographical locations of the eight SCO member states, it is surely the largest regional security organization in the world, accounting for nearly half of the world’s population and over 1/5 of global GDP, not to mention two permanent members of UN Security Council—China and Russia; and two most populous nations on the Earth—China and India. During the previous 17 years, the SCO has developed into a vigorous platform with upholding the Shanghai Spirit based on the inclusiveness and common development. According to the current SCO Secretary-General Vladimir Norov, the SCO will continue close cooperation with the aim of implementing the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy including joint activities and recommendations of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. For sure, with its all full members alongside four observer states and six dialogue partners, the SCO has acted actively as an international cooperation organization. Considering the uncertain circumstances of the world, the 19thSCO summit will focus on security and development among other cooperative tasks.
Here, security involves a much broader spectrum. In effect, the SCO has highlighted joint efforts to ensure peace, security and stability in the region. During the latest summit between Xi and Putin, they assured that the comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination of the two countries has not only benefited the two peoples, but has also become an important force for safeguarding global security and strategic stability. To that end, China and Russia would continue to strengthen coordination on major international and regional issues, jointly deal with the challenges of unilateralism and protectionism, and maintain global peace and stability. As Putin put it, since Russia is ready to provide China with sufficient oil and gas, including more soybeans and other farm produce exported to China, the two sides expect a faster alignment between the Eurasian Economic Union and the Belt and Road Initiative. This requires security cooperation involving all member states of the SCO.
If we take a close look into the Qingdao summit of the SCO which was held in 2018, it highlighted the security cooperation in the fields such as cross-border organized crime, gun smuggling, drug trafficking and internet security as they have become the new security challenges for the region and beyond. , now all the SCO member states agree to expand the fields of security cooperation to drug trafficking and organized crime. To that end, China and Russia have closely worked alongside all other members with a view to building an efficient intelligence-sharing system among SCO member states. Now as a highly integrated security organization, the SCO needs to collectively deal with the common challenges according to their shared responsibilities.
In an era of globalization, which is full of challenges and opportunities as well, all member states of the SCO are aware that while security acts the condition for development, the latter is the insurance of long-term stability. Due to this, one of the Shanghai Spirit’s original goals is to seek common development. Since 2013, Xi has urged the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) taken deep roots and substantially benefit the SCO member states and beyond. As the BRI is the basic path to realizing common wealth, the SCO has not only continued to sublimate the Shanghai Spirit, but also to serve the interests of all the member states and the whole region as well.
During the meeting at the presidential residence in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, right after Xi Jinping and his entourage arrived on June 13, Chinese President Xi and his Kyrgyz counterpart, Sooronbay Jeenbekov discussed joint efforts to promote bilateral ties. Xi also stated that China is ready to share experience in state governance with Kyrgyzstan to achieve common development and prosperity, hailing the solid outcomes in the joint construction of the Belt and Road. The two sides agreed to step up coordination within multilateral frameworks, including the SCO and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, stick to multilateralism, and oppose protectionism and unilateralism, so as to contribute to building a community with a shared future for humanity.
Now the SCO Summit takes place in Kyrgyz located in central Asia and aims to synchronize its position towards Eurasian unity. The SCO serves a platform for jointly upholding multilateralism and the free trade system and opposing unilateralism and bullying tactics. To that end, the SCO and BRI would like to be integrated with the pace of the security and development in which a new vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable path would suit Asia and boost the common interests of all. For China, Xi is obviously looking forward to receiving the firm and frank supports from the SCO to take further measures by Beijing in safeguarding peace and stability and cracking down three evils in China’s borders areas, such as Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Tibet.
Civilisationalism: Ignoring early warning signs at one’s peril
A controversy about a University of British Columbia invitation to a Chinese advocate of forced re-education and assimilation of ethnic minorities highlights the risks involved in ignoring early stage civilisationalism, the emerging system of principles of governance underwriting a new world order that defines states in civilizational rather than national terms and legitimizes violations of human rights.
While the invitation sparked opposition that raised freedom of speech issues, it also spotlighted the consequences of US, European and Muslim failure to recognize initial indications that China was moving away from its long-standing policy of promoting inter-communal harmony by preserving minority cultures and ensuring that they benefitted from economic growth.
The erosion of China’s long-standing policy has consequences far beyond the boundaries of Tibet and China’s troubled north-western province of Xinjiang that is home to its Turkic Muslim population. It legitimizes repression of minority rights across the globe raising the spectre of inter-communal strife in societies that have long sought to foster variations of multi-culturalism and social harmony.
Calls for a rethink of China’s ethnic policy emerged in 2012 after two men set themselves on fire outside Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest temple in the center of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. The International Campaign for Tibet, an advocacy group, last year published the names of 155 Tibetans who have self-immolated since 2009.
Back in 2012, military officials, businessmen, intellectuals, netizens, and dissidents asserted that the self-immolations attested to a failure of policy in what was a public debate of a long secretive and sensitive topic.
The debate was fuelled by concerns that China’s official recognition of 56 different nationalities resident within its borders risked it becoming another example of the post-Communist break-up of states such as the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.
It was also informed by a series of incidents in Xinjiang and other parts of China, including inter-communal violence in 2004 between Han Chinese and Hui Muslims, widely viewed as China’s most integrated Muslim community, that left some 150 people dead.
It was in that environment that Hu Angang, an economist and founding director of Tsinghua University’s Center for China Studies, one of China’s most influential think tanks, urged the government to adopt an imposed melting pot approach that would create a “collective civic culture and identity.” It was an invitation extended to Mr. Angang that sparked controversy at the University of British Colombia.
Mr. Hu’s policy recommendations, articulated in a widely published article co-authored in 2011 by fellow researcher Hu Lianhe, a pioneer of terrorism studies in China who has since become a senior official of the Chinese communist party’s United Front Work department in Xinjiang, appear to have provided a template or at least a framework for China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims.
Xinjiang serves as a prime example of the risks of failing to respond to civilisationalism’s early warning signs.
Up to one million people are believed to have been detained in re-education camps dubbed “’vocational education’ and employment training centres” by the government where inmates are taught Mandarin, allegedly forced to violate Muslim dietary and religious practices, and browbeaten with the notion that Xi Jinping thought, the precepts of China’s president, supersede Islamic teaching.
Messrs. Hu warned that regional ethnic elites and interests enabled by China’s acceptance of what amounted to minority rights could lead to separatism on the country’s strategic frontiers. They suggested that the central committee of the Communist party had recognized this by pushing in 2010 for “ethnic contact, exchange and blending.”
To achieve that, the two men advocated removing ethnicity from all official documents; demographic policies that would water down geographic concentration of ethnic minorities and ensure a ‘proper’ population mix; emphasis on the use of Mandarin as the national language; promotion of China as the prime identity of minorities; and taking steps to counter religious extremism.
James Leibold, a China scholar, who raised alarm bells early on and focused attention on Messrs. Hu’s analysis and the Chinese debate, lamented at the time that “few in the West…seem to be listening.”
Mr. Leibold echoed his warning six years later when Mr. Lianhe last August stepped for the first time onto the international stage to defend the Chinese crackdown at a meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
“The emergence of Hu Lianhe portends a significant shift in both the institutional and policy direction emanating out of Beijing, and suggests that what is happening in Xinjiang is the leading edge of a new, more coercive ethnic policy under Xi Jinping’s ‘New Era’ of Chinese power, one that seeks to accelerate the political and cultural transformation of non-Han ethnic minorities,” Mr. Leibold said.
Describing Mr. Lianhe as an influential party official and intellectual, Mr. Leibold suggested China was acting in Xinjiang and Tibet on the official’s assertion in 2010 that “stability is about liberating man, standardizing man, developing man and establishing the desired working social order.” Mr. Lianhe advocated adopting his approach across the country.
In Xinjiang, standardization translates into government announcements that local officials are visiting Uyghur homes during this year’s fasting month of Ramadan to ensure that they are not observing the religious commandment.
“We must take effective action to end the gossiping about high level Party organs; finding fault, feigning compliance, and praising in public while singing a different tune in private or when alcohol is on the table”, Mr. Leibold quoted a confidential memo written by local officials in Xinjiang as saying.
In hard-line remarks to this weekend’s Shangri-La Asian Security Dialogue in Singapore, Chinese defense minister Wei Fenghe, wearing a military uniform with a chest full of ribbons, asserted that “the policy in Xinjiang is absolutely right because over the past two years there is no single terrorist attack in Xinjiang.
The living standards of the local people have improved. The number of tourists to Xinjiang is over 150 million people…. The average GDP of people in Xinjiang is 7,500 US dollars… Xinjiang has carried out vocational education and training centres to ensure that there are no terrorist attacks, to help these people deradicalize and help these people have some skills. Then they can better reintegrate into society. Isn’t that a good thing?” General Wei asked.
It is good thing on the assumption that economic progress can ultimately and sustainably trump cultural and/or ethnic aspirations and that it justifies a policy that critics have dubbed cultural genocide by in the words of Mr. Leibold abolishing “non-Han cultural, linguistic and religious practices” and eroding social trust.
The policy’s success depends on the sustainable Uyghur internalization through re-education and repression of religious and cultural practices as a survival strategy or out of fear.
General Wei’s defense of the policy notwithstanding, renowned China scholar Yitzhak Shichor concluded in a recent study that the defense minister’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has so far refrained from involvement in maintaining internal security in Xinjiang, making it the responsibility of para-military forces.
“That could change if the civilian police force and PAP fail in their mission,” Mr. Shichor quoted former US army and military intelligence China expert Dennis J. Blasko as saying. Mr. Blasko was referring to the People’s Armed Police by its acronym PAP.
General Wei and Mr. Hu’s Xinjiang’s statements are but the most extreme example of civilizationalist politics that have globally given rise to Islamophobia; Hindu nationalism; rising anti-Semitism; jihadist massacres of minorities including Christians and Yazidis, lax attitudes towards white supremacism and efforts by some leaders to recreate ethnically and/or religiously homogeneous societies.
Civilisationalists’ deemphasizing of human, women’s and minority rights means reduced likelihood that incidents of radicalization and ethnic and religious conflict can be pre-empted. The risk of conflict and societal strife are enhanced by increased obsession with migration that erases escaping to safer harbours as an option.
Security in the Korean Peninsula remains fragile
North Korea’s nuclear program was initially conceived useful to provide necessary wiggle room to Pyongyang to attain the objectives of normalizing relations with the US ensuring its security as well as lessening its overdependence on China. However, the country later pursued a hard-line approach in the face of heightened US sanctions. In this context, the first summit meeting between the heads of North Korea and the US in Singapore on June 12, 2018 was conceived to break new grounds in ushering in peace in the Korean Peninsula by ending long-years of isolation of North Korea from US and its allies and heralding the process of denuclearization in the peninsula.
However, many relevant questions needed answers as the process of dialogue ensued. For instance, the North Korean regime sought answers whether the denuclearization process would involve the simultaneous process of wrapping up of American extension of nuclear deterrence and missile defence system to South Korea? Second, whether the withdrawal of US troops from the Korean Peninsula was to be discussed? Third, the question that bothered the US leaders and officials alike was whether North Korea would be sincere to the denuclearization process and objectives? Based on its perception of the other party to the negotiation, US chose to insist on the unilateral abandonment of North Korean nuclear program and refused to waive sanctions until North Korea denuclearized completely. The negotiation process has been conceived as a zero sum game by Washington whereas Pyongyang is expecting returns for each move it takes. This has brought the process of negotiations to a stalemate and mutual distrust has reached its peak.
The American approach seems to be guided by the conviction that a deep-sense of insecurity, aggressive nationalism, and consolidation of power by the leader Kim-Jong-un drives North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. While many experts argued that the nuclear program was intended to serve as a deterrent against foreign military intervention to the internationally isolated North Korean regime, the regime must have been emboldened to pursue a hard-line approach toward developing nuclear arsenal by learning from the instances how relinquishing Libya’s nuclear program would have made it easier for the US-supported uprising to topple and assassinate Muammar Gaddafi. On the other side, many skeptics who suspect that North Korea would not disarm argue that the country has been relentlessly pursuing nuclear program for coercive purposes rather than for deterrence with an objective to drive a wedge between the US and South Korea and forge a unified Korea. The obfuscated perceptions that each carried about the other stifled the negotiation process.
John R. Bolton, the White House national security adviser condemned recent North Korean short-range ballistic missiles tests and said how the tests clearly violated United Nations Security Council resolutions and President Trump expressed his unhappiness with the tests initially but then played down their importance. On the other side, North Korea has not only blamed the US for its continuing sanctions campaign as well as the seizure of one of the country’s biggest cargo ships, it has not cringed from accusing the latter of showing bad faith in negotiations by conducting nuclear and missile tests and military drills as a way to forcefully subjugate North Korea while it advocated dialogue at the same time. It has been alleged that the US had conducted a subcritical nuclear test on February 13, just days before the second summit meeting. North Korea points to how high-ranking US officials did not budge from insulting the dignity of its supreme leadership and calling North Korea a “rogue regime”. Meanwhile, the South Korean Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that Kim Hyok-chol and foreign ministry officials who conducted working-level preparations for the summit meeting in Hanoi in February were executed a month later.
While the US accused the North Korean regime from backing away from its promises and questioned the regime’s sincerity in following up the first summit’s denuclearization targets, North Korea considered that the summit in Singapore is the first move towards peace in the Korean peninsula to be followed by more such dialogues. The Korean regime alleged the US was expecting too much from a single summit without reciprocating to Pyongyang’s initial efforts at destroying the tunnels at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site (the only nuclear site), freezing of nuclear and missile tests and returning of American prisoners. North Korea argues for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War (1950) and security guarantees from the US that would prevent America from attacking North Korea in future. While Russia and China wish to see a denuclearized North Korea for regional peace and trade but they view the American stringent measures as attempts to dwarf the influence of potential threats and spread its own. While Russia and China would seek to prevent North Korea from succumbing to US-led sanctions, Iran was skeptical and critical of the American move from the beginning and warned North Korea against trusting the American President who could cancel the agreement within hours. Mounting American pressures on North Korea without considering efforts at reaching out to the long-isolated country with deeper engagements would only build mutual distrust and would force Pyongyang to look out for assistance from countries which share similar concerns on American hegemony. While it is evident that the US policy of putting North Korea under sanctions until it denuclearizes itself is aimed at forestalling brewing tensions in the Korean Peninsula with rising threats from the regime’s muscular ambitions of developing nuclear and missile programs, the unilateral thrust in the policy is unlikely to yield results unless US considers negotiating peace a steady as well as a reciprocal process.
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