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‘China is exemplar of what’s possible for developing world’

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By Talibeh Hydara

Martin Jacques, a former senior fellow at Cambridge University, has said China’s rapid growth and modernisation in the past four decades is an example of possibilities for the developing world.

Speaking on a panel discussion themed New Development of China, New Opportunities for the World at the Lanting Forum in Shanghai Friday, Jacques, a British author and political commentator, stressed the importance of China’s rise and how it can spur other countries to realise their development objectives.

Giving a brief history of modernisation, Jacques said from British Industrial Revolution to the United States and Europe, the western model of modernisation came with a cost to majority of underdeveloped countries across the world.  

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“Western-style modernisation divided the world into two: the rich world, that was the West, and the great majority most of whom were colonised. The turning-point came in the second half of the twentieth century. The Chinese Revolution in 1949 and decolonisation created the possibility for modernisation to spread to the great majority of the world’s population,” he said.

According to Jacques, China’s unique style and rich heritage enabled it to devise its own path and develop faster than everyone else.

“China was to prove the decisive factor in this new possibility. Its demographic size, its sense of independence and identity, its rich historical inheritance, and a remarkable political leadership enabled it to achieve a Chinese path to modernisation. It was not the first East Asian country to do so but it was by far the most important. And its success has greatly enhanced the ability of other developing countries to undertake the process of modernisation. We now find ourselves at a great historical juncture. Hitherto modernisation was the preserve of a small minority of privileged countries in the world, with the great majority of the world excluded. Now modernisation is no longer for a tiny sliver of humanity but is increasingly accessible to the great majority. This is an extraordinarily important historical moment.

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We stand on the eve of a very different kind of world. China has been the author and architect of this possibility. It has been the exemplar of what is possible for the developing world to achieve: the huge reduction in poverty, extraordinary economic growth, the transformation in the lives of the people, an economy to match that of America: who would have thought in 1950 that a former semi-colony, its economy virtually stagnant for the best part of two centuries, could have reached such a point in, historically speaking, the blink of an eye. When we think of modernisation we think, probably more than anything else, of technology. When we recall Britain’s Industrial Revolution, we remember the steam engine and railways. China’s remarkable technological advances – WeChat, high-speed rail, 5G, space exploration, quantum computing, AI, and its electric cars that are about to take the world by storm – are a source of great pride not only for China but for the whole of the developing world, a demonstration of what can be achieved. And, of course, they are the compelling evidence that China now stands on the verge of becoming the world’s technological leader,” he added.

Jacques said while West’s history of modernisation was rooted in colonialism, China developed without resorting to such endeavours and it is now helping boost economies of developing countries, with the Belt and Road Initiative a shining example.

“Modernisation Chinese-style promises something very different. While the West colonised large tracts of the world, China, in contrast, offers them a win-win relationship and the Belt and Road Initiative. Or take global governance. The Western-made world was a minoritarian world, a global order dominated by a small oligarchy of rich countries in the G7 representing little more than 12% of the world’s population. For the first time in modern history, we can now see the possibility of a majoritarian form of global governance based first and foremost on the peoples of the developing countries, including China, which together account for over 85% of the world’s population. Such a prospect would have been unimaginable in 1950, let alone 1900. While the Age of the West was the Age of the Small Minority, the Age of China will be the Age of the Great Majority. The whole world will be enfranchised,” he stated.

He added that the West didn’t only stop at colonising other civilisations, it also destroyed their norms and traditions, assimilating continents to western culture and demolishing the fabric of their humanities.  China, he however noted, is doing quite the opposite.

“There will be a new kind of respect for countries and cultures. They will be encouraged to pursue their own path based on their own distinctive history. Western-style modernisation required them to follow a Western path and pursue a Western-style modernity. One of the tragedies of colonialism (and neo-colonialism, indeed) was that it sought to undermine, eliminate, and destroy the indigenous traditions, customs, and practices of those who were colonised. In the process, much of the history and continuity of these societies was lost. The present-day Western hostility to the idea of civilization is because the very term is testament to, and an acknowledgement of, independence and difference, which the West sought to excise in the name of modernisation and Westernisation. On the contrary, civilizations and civilizational difference need to be recognised, honoured, and respected in the manner articulated in China’s Global Civilization Initiative. China as a civilization-state has a deep understanding of the value of civilizational difference,” he posited. “It seems highly likely that the era of Chinese-style modernisation will coincide with a dramatic new phase of technological innovation which will transform the world in ways far greater than anything we have ever seen in the past across a range of fields from artificial intelligence to medical science. While the potential dangers and pitfalls are many, the future holds huge hope for humanity.”  

The panel discussion, which included several other technocrats, was hosted by Cui Tiankai, the former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of China and former Chinese ambassador to USA.

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