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Blog Article - 19 June 2015

China’s Rise as a Global Power

Thank you for this invitation, I really feel honoured to speak at the SID bread and brains about the breath taking developments in China.

Since almost two years I live and work in Hong Kong. Today is an important and extremely surprising day in HK. The Legco, legislative council, the parliament, has just a few hours ago  voted down a reform package to elect the CEO, chief executive of Hong Kong. The electoral package, proposed by China,  would allow a one man one vote in Hong Kong, but only on candidates approved by a 1200 member nominating committee from the Chinese Communist Party. These three candidates of course, would be pro Beijing candidates. Surprisingly this packagae has been voted down and it is to see what will happen now. It is this packagae, this proposal that caused the Occupy movement, officially the “Occupy Central with Love and Peace”-movement,  was protesting agianst. These protest were against this package, but broader against the growing influence of mainland China in Hong Kong. These protests developed from Occupy to Umbrella movement when students stook over and paralised the city for 76 days, occupying vital areas in the city. Now you might say, the protesters have won: Hong Kong has rejected the proposal, which was of course much more a demand from Beijing. It is to see how Beijing will react. Polls showed that the population of Hong Kong is divided, about 50 % pro democarcy, pro students, about 50 % pro Beijing.  

When I speak with leaders of pro democracy political parties in Hong Kong, they stress the broad importance of this fight for democracy. They say that if in Hong Kong people succeed in opposing China's wish, by asking more democracy, that could be the start of a process of democratizing whole China…

I find them very naive and lacking sense of reality.

Beacuse, what is Hong Kong to China? A SAR, a special administartive region. For China a rather small city, with its 7 to 8 million inhabitants. And economically HK is less and less interesting: at the time of the hand-over, -in 1997 the British handed Hong Kong over to China-, the GDP of Hong Kong was 25% of the GDP of China. Today it is only 3 %.

So, Hong Kong as such is not that important to China, though it might play a role for China as one of its priorities is showing the world that it is a is a trustworthy international stakeholder, and that,  with still has 7% annual economic growth ( a dream for many EU countries) it deserves it rightful place in the world.

China needs that 7% annual growth, because at that level there are enough new jobs created to keep the population satisfied. Keeping the population satisfied is a mayor priority for the Chinese government, that has 3 priorities for its internal affairs: to keep control, to keep control,  to keep control. And I can understand that, with a population of 1.3 billion people, as a government your mayor concern is to keep control and thus, to keep that 7% growth. Therefor  China needs raw materiels, and it goes for them, in Africa and Latin America.  Chinese development cooperation policy is a policy of mutual benefit amongst equals: I need raw materiels and jobs and you need infrastructure, so I give you the infrastructure, roads, stadions, buildings, canals and whatever ánd the people who build them, ….and you give me your raw materials.

China takes it rightful place in the world. 

The name of China in Chinese is Zhongguó. That means the country in the middle. The centre of the world. China represents 7000 years of civilization, 7000 years of influential emperial dynasties. It is only the last 150 years that China has not occupied its rightful place in the centre of the world. That was also because of  fraudulous behaviour of the British, in the opium wars, that China lost is influence. In 1912 it became a republic, decades of civil wars started that ended in 1949 when Mao Zedong took power. We all know the history, from the great leap forward to the cultural revolution.

I want to mark a few important dates in the history of China.

1972, is such a date, when US president Richard Nixon and his security advisor Henry Kissinger went to Beijing to cut a deal with Mao Zedong ( saying that America would stop pretending that the nationalist regime in Taiwan was the government of China… and in return, China would stop contesting America's position in Asia and stop supporting communist insurgencies around the region…)

1979 is another important year, because in that year that Deng Xiaoping started China's repudiation of Marxist economics that allowed it to finally join the global economy. And once it did so, the immensity of its population has assured China of becoming among the most powerful economies in the world.

Another crucial year to understand the rise of China as a global power is, in my vision, 2008.

2008 was a crucial year for three reasons: it was the year of the Olympic games, China showed the world what it is capable of. Not only in terms of great sport performances, but also showing the world that China is a disciplined country and at least as capable as any western country to reach high expectations in managing a mass event like this. That same year the country was hit by a severe earthquake. The effects were so devastating that the government had to accept, for the first time, the help of civil society organisations. This was a crucial experience for the government, and for civil society. It was new for people in China to volunteer and experience the power of cooperation as a population. And for the govenment it was a first experience in how to deal with a population that organizes itself in civil society and that you need, because as a government you can not do it all by yourself….This experience I think is crucial for the possibilties for China to really become a global power, to take its rightful place in the world,  ..I  will come back tot his later.

Thirdly, 2008 is, of course is the year of collapse of the world economy, the start of the economic crises that hit all western world and that changed our world from a single or bipolar world to a multipolar world. Economic growth was no longer to be found in the west, but rather in the south and certainly in the east. And since 2008, that image has only become stronger. Ministers of foreign affairs from all influenctial countries tend to make their first foreign visit to China and since I have been living in Hong Kong, I have seen many govenment and business delegations coming by, paying respect to Chinese government and… making strong trade deals. Mark Rutte is a good exemple.

In 2012 Xi Jingping took office as president of the China Communist Party, and thus of the government. He follows up on two decades of policies that are centred around growth and harmony. He adds one more element, the Chinese dream, adding rejuvination and a bette rand stronger society. Basically, that dreams translate in practise into (what interior policy is concerned) to fight corruption and promote harmony. Where foriegn policy is concerned the dream tanslates in showing the world that China is a trustworthy stakeholder, a not to be underestimated player on the world stage.

To promote rejuvination, western influence should be as little as possible and we read in the press how the minister of education wants to ban all western influence. We also see that when it comes to religious organisations, they are welcomed and there is cooperation when they take over tasks, like taking care of the elderly, orphans of disabled people. But, for instance when it comes to theology, the state demands a Chinese theology. To promote harmony, human righst are not respected. To promote harmony there is no access to global information, like  internet, facebook, twitter and everything is under strickt controle.

A stronger China is promoted through foreign  policy and  there are at least two crucial developments that proof China's desire to be taken seriously as a strong, global power. We see it what China does in the South China Sea, the heart of the SEAscape that Asia is in contrary to the LANDscape that Europe is. All countries around the South China Sea are in need for energy, and it is said that the South China Sea contains more oil than any area of the globe except for Saoudi Arabia. China makes it very clear that the South China Sea is the region where they rule (and as a women from  the Carribean it reminds me of the way the USA rules that region, the Caribbean).

Another crucial proof is the foundation of the AIIB, Asia Infrastructuire Investment Bank. China's answer to IMF and Worldbank that for yers now are working on reforms that would allow China to have a more influencial position in the board of these institutions. Now China is tired of waiting and has created its own bank, which was established november last year. Inmediately the  US warned: do n oet joint his bank! It will  not respect ILO conventions and be of no good for the environment. But but now there are 57 founding stakeholders, amonsgt whom Germany, France, the UK, the Netherlands and Australia .

So, there is no way of denying what is so obvious and clear: China wants to be a global power.

And to a certain extend it already is. Look at Europe. This year we celebrate 40 years of deplomatic relations between China and the EU and there are more chinese investments then ever before. Almost all of the French wine producing companies are in hands of China, China has a strong position in the food producing industries in Italy and deals are made now for China to start with investing in infrastructure in Europe. No denying of the Chinese influence in EU or USA, also through the presence of Chinese students at most USA and EU Universities.

But the question is, will China succeed in becoming the global leader, to take its rightful place in the centre of the world?

And the second question is, what does this mean to the rest of the world?

To answer the first question: I am not sure. The potency is there, defenitely. But for now as I look at the leaders, I do not see global leaders. For now, China is a low calorie version authoritarian capitalist economy with little governing ideology. And its leaders can be described perhaps as competent engeneers and regional governors dedicated to emprove a balanced growing economy. And there is no mandatory retirement age, which also is a problem.

Secondly: the fact that civil society is only allowed to play a very limited and marginal role, will prevent China from becoming the world leader. World leading countries are countries that have strong civil society organisations, that critize their leaders, that provide checkes and balances. I do not see that in China, but things can change.

To answer the question, what it would mean to the world if China succeeds in becoming the country in the centre again, is difficult. But having lived in China for almost two years now I can only make a strong call on all of you here to open your eyes and at least start looking beyond the European borders and see what is really happening in that part of the world.

Beacuse I am sure, that one way or the other we are all going to have to deal with a world in which not Europe, not the west, but Asia stands at the centre.

Zhongguó. 


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