Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Martin Jacques is at it again

Martin Jacques is at it again.

The ex-Marxist intellectual has jumped on the occasion of the Chinese president's controversial visit to Britain to pen an article for the Guardian, in which he lauds David Cameron's cosying up to China as "the boldest change in British foreign policy since the Second World War". Apparently it shows that "Britain can prosper in the Asian-oriented and Sino-centric world rapidly unfolding before us".

For the record, I have no problem with the British government cultivating a good relationship with China. Engagement with other countries will only change China for the best. Still it's funny to see a leftist intellectual congratulating a conservative prime minister for his courage in grovelling for money and investment at the feet of a government whose prime ideological mover is basically raw nationalism, but China does strange things to people.

I have already claimed on this blog that if you want to gain a real understanding of China, the last person you should turn to is Martin Jacques. To anyone who has lived in China long-term and/or knows the country properly, his views appear superficial and uninformed. Jacques speaks no Chinese, and the only time he actually lived in Mainland China was when he spent a term teaching in Renmin University, Beijing. If someone who had only spent a few months living in San Paulo and spoke no Portuguese claimed to be an expert on Brazil, most would be skeptical. When it comes to China though, people are a little more gullible.

Judging from Jacques' bestselling book, "When China Rules the World", he seems to be entirely unaware of China's massive problems, and in any case has never offered any explanation of how they could be solved within the country's current system. His arguments are based on pseudo-Confucian mythologizing and the simple fact, known to all, that China's GDP is very large and getting larger. He claims that the world of the future is going to be a "Sino-centric" one, even though China's cultural and ideological influence on the rest of the world remains close to nil, something that fawning Sinophiles like him are quite unable to explain. He seems to be entirely oblivious to the increasingly strident nationalism in China, and its tensions with its neighbours.

In his new article Jacques makes the claim, which is always trotted out in any pro-Beijing polemic, that over the last three decades China has lifted 600 million people out of poverty, which has been "the single biggest contribution to human rights over the last three decades". Although China's economic growth has indeed been impressive, I think that calling the creation of wealth by any means necessary a contribution to human rights is a very debatable proposition. Let's also remember that other countries in Asia have seen huge economic growth as well, and it's only because of their smaller populations that the total number of people lifted out of poverty looks less impressive.

He also claims that China has become a much freer society over the same period. This is true if you compare the situation today with 1980, but it ignores the fact that China has not been getting any freer over the last ten to fifteen years, and in fact over the last three years it has actually got decidedly less free. Inevitably, Jacques claims that we have to resign ourselves to the fact that China will never be like the West, and understand it on its own terms. I think everyone agrees that China, just like Japan, Korea or India, will always be very different from the West. The problem with understanding China "on its own terms" is when this comes to mean blindly accepting the self-serving narrative of its ruling class.

Of course, the article doesn't make any reference to the obvious slowdown in China's economic growth, or to the recent stock market crash, instead just repeating the prediction that China's economy will be twice the size of the US economy by 2030, and that the whole world depends on China for growth and capital. Be it as it may, it is clear that Beijing's huge reserves of cash just waiting to be spent are still appetizing enough for the Chinese president to get the red-carpet treatment on his state-visit to London. It is hardly surprising that Martin Jacques should be pleased.


justrecently said...

People from the political left & right have a lot of obvious things in common. One is that they don't easily abandon old friends and environments. My guess is that a (former) communist sinologist is a sinologist first, and that a friend of the Chinese people is a friend of the Chinese people first.

Same thing the other way round. There's nothing as reliable and comforting as an old, established network. Such networks exist between basically every country and China.

Obviously, both Beijing and their proxies are lauding the British government. But it should be as obvious that they'll only believe in such relationships once they've become time-tested.

If Jacques Martin understands that, I don't know. I'm not going to offend myself with one of his articles this early in the morning (CEST).

justrecently said...

Some more thoughts, after having read this collection of wet dreams of a sino-analphabet (if it is true that he doesn't speak or read Chinese): it is bad news that London is "authoring" this "boldest change in British foreign policy since the second world war". But it is obvious that only a Tory-led government can survive such a move. Imagine Mr. Corbyn doing the same thing. He'd be toast soon after such an announcement.

And of course, Mr. Jacques' article is another sample of sino-centered narcissism (you don't need to be Chinese to have this problem, and not all Chinese people suffer from it). There was a previous change in Britain's foreign policy after WW2, after the Suez crisis. In fact, London abandoned an independent foreign policy after being forced out of Egypt by Uncle Sam's phone calls.

Well-crafted propaganda cares about facts (for the sake of credibility), but on the one hand, I believe Mr. Jacques is a lousy propagandist anyway, and secondly, much of the public is so uninformed about (recent) history these days that even lousy propagandists can have their say without getting ridiculed.

Meursault said...

I never understood Martin Jacques' unchecked Sinophilia and groveling to the CCP. Earlier in his career his wife suffered horribly from Chinese prejudice (she was of Indian descent and living in Hong Kong) and eventually died due to maltreatment in a Hong Kong hospital. The Martin Jacques of that era was more open to criticism of aspects of China, but strangely he lost this after his wife's sad departure.