Mandarin, Anyone?

by Juan L. Mercado

How are your Chinese lessons?” we asked our grand daughter Kristin, 8. “So, so,” replied this International School second grader. “Why?”

“You’ll need the Mandarin kid,” we said. “So, will Kathie.”  Katarina, 5, is in kindergarten.  Both grapple with Swedish, their mother’s language. Playmates and their nanny speak Cebuano.

China  will irresistibly shape our future, writes Martin Jacques. His Observer op-ed updates his 2009 book “When China Rules the World”. Beijing ’s economy would overtake that of the US in size after 2020.

That proved an underestimate. China will overtake America in 2018, Economist projections assert. No, the Guardian disagrees. International Monetary Fund’s world economic outlook database of April imply 2016. 

This crystal-bowling will continue. But there are hard facts.  China, for example, dislodged Japan as the world’s second-biggest economy in 2010. Flush with cash, housewives made China ’s grocery shopping the world’s largest.

China ‘s surge started 1978. The economy then was a 20th that of  the US. Beijing ’s global impact was minuscule. Not anymore. At 21st century’s start,  China had tucked, under it’s belt,  years of  “growing in the region of 9-10% annually”. Overall size rose to a quarter of America’s economy.

China chipped away at US dominant global power status. Trade is the most dramatic expression. In 1990, no country had China as main trading partner. By 2000, you counted a  few on your fingers. Most clustered  in east Asia.

A decade later, the list grew to include: Japan, Africa, Australia, Chile, Brazil, India, Pakistan, the US and Egypt In 2011, Beijing emerged as the world’s largest producer of manufactured goods.  America yield a standard it bore for 110 years. 

These are tectonic shifts. “The  global effect is of an entirely different order,” adds Observer.  “The world is tilting on its axis in even more dramatic style” than when Europe ruled the roost —- until dislodged by an upstart colony of then 13 states.

“We no longer have any alternative but to abandon our western parochialism,” Jacques argues.   “(We must) seek to understand China on its own terms.  But the shift in mindset that faces us is colossal.”

During the 19th and 20th centuries,   every non-western country was compelled  to understand the west in its own terms. “Now, it is now our turn to make sense of a country so different from our own.  It will be a Herculean task. We always look west, hardly ever east”.

The result is we  “insist on living in a world that was rather than is.  We are so far behind the curve.”  Why?  Does part of this hang-up stem from a question of ill-fitting prisms?

Ascendancy bred, first in Europe, then the US,   a western-centric mentality. The west is the fount of all wisdom. The only universal model of modernization that worked was westernization “Our sense of superiority closed our minds”.  Few  entertained the idea that a backward China, shorn of democracy and bereft of Enlightenment principles, would flourish.

“We were not even curious,” Jacques recalls. We insisted “on seeing China through a western prism. We refused to understand China in its own terms. Our arrogance bred ignorance”.

Few heard of China Development Bank and  China Exim Bank. Yet, they lent more to the developing world than the World Bank in 2009 and 2010, “just as the Rothschilds funded much of Europe ‘s industrialization in the 19th century.

China began making the renminbi available for settlement of trade. Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation foresees half of China’s trade, with the developing world, will be paid for in renminbi by 2015.” Is this first stage in a process where the renminbi could dislodge the dollar as the world’s dominant currency?”

Overall figures can mislead though.  China’s huge population base whittles down per capita income.  Well-being is reflected  better in  modern  human development indices. These factor in education, health, justice, etc. Other equity measures include political freedom and human rights.

Norway tops 187 countries in human  development ranking, gauged by UN. The next four are:  Australia , Netherlands, US and New Zealand.  China is  in  slot No. 101.  Given the massive poverty, Beijing won’t break into the magic circle of 47 countries with very high human development anytime soon.

In  the Philippines,  we’re  wedged between Moldove and Egypt at Slot 112. Like China, we huddle with 47 other countries with middling “medium human development.”

The west has primarily been shaped by its experience of nation, the analysis claims.  In contrast, China is not even primarily a nation state.  It is a civilization state. China has been moulded by its sense of civilization.

“Unlike Europe, China never sought to acquire overseas colonies. Instead, Beijing established a tribute system in east Asia. The Chinese state bears a fundamentally different relationship to society compared with any western state. (This) lies at the heart of the Chinese pysche.

The  Bo Xilai scandal  rocks a  China set for a leadership change November. Tibet’s  rash of  immolations continue. Asean countries are edgy over  Chinese claims that butt into seas  within  their  exclusive  economic zones.   US stationed troops in Australia November  for a “region has some of the busiest sea lanes in the world,” President Obama said.

Learn Mandarin, we tell Kristin and Kathie. As a Chinese proverb says:  “When the sea is wide, the mountains are high — and the emperor is far away, my heart is at rest.”


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