China At Sev­enty

Its me­te­oric rise holds out both pos­i­tives and chal­lenges for the world

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - An Epiphany Of Ideas -

As the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China cel­e­brates 70 years of its found­ing to­day, there is no deny­ing that the world’s sec­ond­largest econ­omy has come to oc­cupy a sig­nif­i­cant po­si­tion in the in­ter­na­tional or­der. The last three decades have seen its stun­ning rise to su­per­power sta­tus, up­end­ing global geopol­i­tics. Its re­mark­able eco­nomic achieve­ments over the last 40 years – when it lifted more than 700 mil­lion peo­ple out of poverty, be­came the world’s largest man­u­fac­turer, the largest trader in goods and the largest holder of for­eign ex­change re­serves – have proven to be in­spi­ra­tional else­where in the de­vel­op­ing world, in­clud­ing in In­dia.

Nev­er­the­less, as China’s party-state sys­tem has mor­phed into an au­thor­i­tar­ian tech­noc­racy, a large ques­tion mark looms over whether there is a ‘China model’ that can be repli­cated else­where. It had been hoped, es­pe­cially af­ter China joined the WTO and the in­ter­na­tional trad­ing sys­tem in 2001, that it would grad­u­ally trans­form into more of an open so­ci­ety and co­op­er­ate more with other coun­tries in evolv­ing global norms and so­lu­tions. But that hasn’t hap­pened as the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party (CPC) has tight­ened its hold over the coun­try, trans­form­ing it into a neo-mer­can­tilist, hy­per-na­tion­al­ist power that fright­ens other coun­tries.

The Chi­nese lead­er­ship to­day is con­fi­dent that China can re­gain its an­cient ex­alted Mid­dle King­dom sta­tus and is not afraid to use its new­found eco­nomic and mil­i­tary might to cre­ate a Chi­nese or­der – which has brought it into col­li­sion with other coun­tries even as its mer­can­tilist/ na­tion­al­ist at­ti­tude has been widely im­i­tated. This has un­for­tu­nately con­trib­uted to a cli­mate where na­tion­al­ist claims are priv­i­leged over global co­or­di­na­tion to solve com­mon prob­lems. We see this promi­nently in the South China Sea where Bei­jing is ag­gres­sively push­ing its ex­ten­sive mar­itime claims by mil­i­taris­ing is­lands and build­ing ar­ti­fi­cial ones. But we see it in the sub­con­ti­nent too where Bei­jing un­der­mines re­gional se­cu­rity by pur­su­ing a nar­row vi­sion of its na­tional in­ter­est, for ex­am­ple by pro­vid­ing diplo­matic cover to Pak­istan’s spon­sor­ship of ter­ror.

The Chi­nese state’s grow­ing high-tech sur­veil­lance in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing a so­cial credit sys­tem to con­trol so­cial be­hav­iour, presents a huge chal­lenge to lib­eral val­ues. What’s emerg­ing, there­fore, is a new Cold War be­tween the lib­eral camp led by the West and the tech­noau­thor­i­tar­ian camp led by China. As grow­ing pro-democ­racy protests in Hong Kong show, the clash of val­ues is well un­der­way. How it shapes up could well de­ter­mine the course of the rest of this cen­tury.

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