Some would argue – and I’m probably one of them – that a major impact on the world’s future peace and prosperity is the relationship the West manages to forge with the ultimate Asian tiger economy – China.
With increasingly belligerent noises coming from Beijing, a programme of growing its own islands in disputed waters in the South China Sea and a still burgeoning domestic economy many may feel grounds for pessimism. But there is an alternative view – a much more optimistic one. It was encapsulated recently in a fascinating speech made by Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of that major country in China’s backyard – Australia. His title was ‘Are China and the US doomed to conflict?’ and his answer was a strong ‘No’.
Mr Rudd can claim to be an expert on the topic, not just because the proximity of his native land to China, but also because he set off to learn Chinese at a young age, largely to avoid life on an Australian cattle farm which would otherwise have been his lot.
As he says: “It’s projected that China will become, by whichever measure — PPP, market exchange rates — the largest economy in the world over the course of the decade ahead. They’re already the largest trading nation, already the largest exporting nation, already the largest manufacturing nation, and they’re also the biggest emitters of carbon in the world. America comes second. So if China does become the world’s largest economy, think about this: It’ll be the first time for centuries that in the world we will have as the largest economy a non-English speaking country, a non-Western country, a non-liberal democratic country”.
His not surprising conclusion is that transformation in the power balance we’ve become used to is going to have dramatic consequences – for all of us. Are they all going to be bad? Well not according to Mr Rudd.
For him there was an early win. “The great thing about learning Chinese is that your Chinese teacher gives you a new name. And so they gave me this name: Kè, which means to overcome or to conquer, and Wén, and that’s the character for literature or the arts. Kè Wén, Conqueror of the Classics. It’s a major lift from being called Kevin to being called Conqueror of the Classics”, he said to strong laughter from his US audience.
So how can two nations, two cultures, with such disparate views of the world order – which The Conqueror of the Classics eloquently outlined in his address – find a way of living and working together?
Here’s what this Australian guru had to say: “We can do it on the basis of a framework of constructive realism for a common purpose. What do I mean by that? Be realistic about the things that we disagree on, and a management approach that doesn’t enable any one of those differences to break into war or conflict until we’ve acquired the diplomatic skills to solve them. Be constructive in areas of the bilateral, regional and global engagement between the two, which will make a difference for all of humankind. Build a regional institution capable of cooperation in Asia, an Asia-Pacific community. And worldwide, act further, like you’ve begun to do at the end of last year by striking out against climate change with hands joined together rather than fists apart”.
It seems to me that it is in this last area that Sino-Western co-operation can really develop, hand in hand. A dire side effect of the Chinese economic revolution of the past 50 years its serious impact on much of the domestic environment and the creation of the world’s most serious air quality issues. But this means that Chinese knowhow is now hard at work backed by massive resources tackling these problems, problems that we in the West are only now beginning to face.
Mr Rudd’s conclusion for China’s relationship with America and the West? “The head says there’s a way forward. The head says there is a policy framework, there’s a common narrative, there’s a mechanism through regular summitry to do these things and to make them better. But the heart must also find a way to reimagine the possibilities of the America-China relationship, and the possibilities of China’s future engagement in the world. In China, they now talk about the Chinese Dream. In America, everyone’s familiar with the term ‘the American Dream’. I think it’s time, across the world, that we’re able to think also of something we might also call a dream for all humankind. Because if we do that, we might just change the way that we think about each other”.
On behalf of all of us, Amen to that.
Blog by Martin Hayes
APR United Kingdom