22 May 2012

China and the future of everything

I have made a comment on an opinion piece at Project Syndicate which argued "Why China won't Rule"

The article concluded:
China has a choice: it can either accept Western values, or it can try to carve out an East Asian sphere to insulate itself from them. The latter course would provoke conflict not only with the US, but also with other Asian powers, particularly Japan and India. China’s best possible future thus probably lies in accepting Western norms while trying to flavor them with “Chinese characteristics.”
My comment as follows:
The 'choice' you posit is itself part of a 'western' wish for sustenance of western perspectives and power through paradigms probably of declining relevance. We have to open our minds to the evolution of international power in as yet unknown ways in the next several decades. Whether this contains threats or opportunities we do not add to security or exploit opportunities by sticking with old thinking.
China, with long established foreign policy principles, does not know now how these principles will need adaptation, development and change as its power grows.
Having been in Beijing in the beginning of the reform period, I am very conscious of the way the best Chinese leaders constantly search for new ways of thinking about issues and resolving them - much more than 'the west' does, where freedom to think in new ways is so limited in government, academia and elsewhere. This Chinese freedom seems not understood, not brought into the equation by western political, academic and media observers.
Looking back on the evolution of China in the past 35 years, it is important to see that there have been no overall models for them in the former USSR, the USA, India or elsewhere, though there have been myriad borrowings at relatively micro levels. My observation is that the west, in those 35 years, has begun a downward spiral in the quality of its governance, its management of economies, its ways of dealing with externals other than by violence... Why would China aspire to them?
That's why China has to figure it out in its own way. Much advice, gratuitously tendered, even when greeted with smiles, tells Chinese leaders more about the advisors than about running China. Running very large countries is very difficult, it's not just a linear scale. The revolution in China in the past 35 years is without question the fastest and most profound in human history. And it's far from finished, it has both a 'forward' momentum and internal contradictions to work themselves out or be levered about.
We do not serve ourselves well in the 'west', intellectually or politically, to try to pin the fish scales of western notions of the nation state or its international behaviour onto the imagined skin of this emerging phenomenon. To do so is simply to put scales over our own eyes.