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Frozen Europe and Fast-Changing China: Martin Jacques on the Sino-European Dilemma

Manya Koetse

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British journalist and scholar Martin Jacques speaks about current Sino-European relations as a keynote speaker at the opening conference of the Leiden Asia Centre. According to Jacques, the way Western media and politics are approaching China is deeply flawed – and it is causing Europe to miss the boat while China is marching forwards. Live blogged.

February 9th 2017 marks the much-anticipated opening conference of the Leiden Asia Centre, the expertise centre for socially relevant and applicable knowledge on modern East Asia based in the Netherlands.

The conference focuses on Sino-Dutch relations and the relations between Europe and China at large.

One of today’s key speakers is British journalist and scholar Martin Jacques (@martjacques), the author of the global best-seller When China Rules the World (2009). One of his key arguments is that China’s impact on the world goes beyond economics, and that it will also have extensive political, cultural and ideological consequences.

 

“China is looking for the ‘cracks’ in the global system; that where it is at its weakest.”

 

In introducing Martin Jacques, Professor Frank Pieke, one of the three academic directors of the Leiden Asia Centre, first talks about a separate “global China”, that is different from Western patterns of globalization.

China is looking for the “cracks” in the global system; that where it is at its weakest. Its presence is growing in Africa, Latin America, and also in regions like southern Europe. China is not looking for challenges, but it is looking for space, Pieke says.

One of the reasons why this is happening, Pieke argues, is that China is hamstrung by the fact that within its own region it is often perceived as a potentially hostile power by, for example, Japan or Korea. It does not have its own sphere of influence from where it can expand into the world.

 

“China is not ‘like us.’ It has never been and it will never be.”

 

Martin Jacques agrees with Pieke in the sense that “China’s globalization” is different from “globalization” as it is often perceived in the West.

There is a fundamental problem with how China is framed and discussed in western media, politics and academia, Jacques argues, as it often come down to the idea that China should be ‘like us.’

“We are the ‘global leaders’ and we supposedly define what modernity is, and modernity is singular. And therefore modernisation is westernization, and therefore China will end up just like us. Well, this is complete rubbish,” Jacques says: “China is not ‘like us.’ It has never been and it will never be.”

Jacques stresses that the concept of ‘modernity’ is plural, and that there is not one modernity because it is not shaped in neo-liberal terms, but it is shaped by history and culture. And since China’s history and culture is profoundly different from that of any Western country, we have to understand China in its own terms – not in our terms. The main reason why Western media or politics got China “so wrong” in the last decennia, Jacques argues, is because they failed to do this.

The assumptions people have about China are therefore generally flawed, and have failed to predict how China would evolve in the future.

China is not a nation state, but a ‘civilization-state’, and is very different from any European nation state. It is a huge united country – and the fact that it is stable and unified is the country’s top priority. The key political values of the Chinese are influenced by this idea, and also fundamentally different from Europe.

Why China is politically never going to be the same as Europe is because its key political concepts of unity, stability, and order, based on its long history, are what have shaped and are shaping China.

 

“China has not followed anyone’s route, but has chosen its own.”

 

China has not followed anyone’s route, but has chosen its own, Jacques argues. “The idea that Chinese governance is going to be like Western governance is profoundly mistaken. China is not going in that direction. I am not saying they will not change – there have been large changes already – but it will change in its own ways.”

China is historically also very different from Europe in the sense that it has not colonized the way Europe has, and has been less aggressive.

“Consider that China from being dirt poor is becoming the world’s second economy, and this all in a relatively peaceful process.”

Jacques emphasizes that China is in the process of transforming the world. Not only due to its size, but also due to its difference, that is bound to going to project itself and bring its history, values, and traditions to the rest of the world.

 

“China is not the leader of globalization, but it is certainly true to say that China is shaping globalization profoundly.”

 

All discourse about China’s rise has always been economic – discussed within the framework of American hegemony. But Jacques wants to stress that the rise of China goes much further than economics alone: 1.4 billion people are in the process of transformation is all sorts of ways, which is impacting China and the world in numerous ways.

Jacques notes that China has sometimes been blamed for being a ‘free rider’ in the international society, or for not ‘contributing’ anything, but this is changing. Since Xi Jinping has risen to power there have been some extraordinary initiatives, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Jacques predicts that also through these kinds of initiatives, its influence is growing, and that those ever said China is not ‘contributing’ will be biting their tongues.

“It is not true to say China is the leader of globalization, but it is certainly true to say that China is shaping globalization profoundly.”

Jacques is pessimistic about the prospect of Sino-European relations. China is going ahead, and Europe is basically “stuck”, as it is increasingly turned inwards.

 

“Tencent, Alibaba, Huawei, Baidu, JD.com, Xiaomi, and other tech companies show that in many ways China is now ahead of Silicon Valley.”

 

Lastly, Jacques addresses the importance of China as a global power and crucial global influencer in various ways.

China’s online growth has shown it is the global leader in terms of internet commerce. Tencent, Alibaba, Huawei, Baidu, JD.com, Xiaomi, and other tech companies show that in many ways China is now ahead of Silicon Valley, with China’s online sales being well ahead of those in countries like the USA. Jacques also mentions that the functionality of apps like Weixin/WeChat is more advanced than its western counterpart Whatsapp – meaning that ‘the world’ will also be looking at China when it comes to its digital developments.

The country is also moving quickly in other ways. China is also the leader when it comes to issues such as climate change and foreign investments. He also mentions the ‘One Belt, One Road’ project (“it’s probably going to be extremely important.”)

 

“If Europe can’t hitch a ride with China in its transformation, then it will become marginalized.”

 

There is one last thing Martin Jacques wants to add to his speech, and it is about Trump, whom he calls “the most frightening president the US has ever had”, and how he will change the EU-USA-China dynamics.

Under Trump, he said, America will look after its own interests and will interact with the rest of the world in terms of bilateral relationships rather than from a plural, global position.

What will the Chinese do? “They will retaliate,” Jacques says. As China-US relations deteriorate, with China pushing America back, they will deepen the agreements with their own neighbors. The One Belt, One Road is an important part of this strategy.

Jacques foresees that the rise of Trump will also change Sino-European relations, as Europe -like China- also has little interest in Trump.

“I started off by saying Europe and China are very different, which is true,” he says. But despite his somewhat pessimistic views on Sino-European relations that find its roots in the western frameworks applied to China, there is also some light at the end of the tunnel: “Unlike the USA, both Europe and China have a long history. And there has been little rivalry with China. There is a logic for Europe to move much closer to China.”

Jacques stresses the importance for Europe to keep up with China. It is not China that needs to change, he argues – Europe does.

“China will keep marching on. China will keep its dynamic transformation. It will continue to grow. China is not the problem. Europe is. And we need to face up to that. If we can’t hitch a ride with China in its transformation, then we will become marginalized.”

Liveblog ended

– By Manya Koetse
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©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Media

No Hashtags for Mahsa Amini on Chinese Social Media

“Why is that every time Mahsa Amini is mentioned, it somehow gets linked to America?”

Manya Koetse

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While the death of Mahsa Amini and the unrest in Iran is a major news story worldwide, the incident and its aftermath received relatively little attention in Chinese media, where the narrative is more focused on how Western responses to the issue are intensifying anti-American sentiments within Iran.

Her name in Chinese is written as 玛莎·阿米尼, Mǎshā Āmǐní. Mahsa Amini is the young Iranian woman whose death made international headlines this month and triggered social unrest and fierce protests across Iran for the past ten days, killing at least 41 people.

The 22-year-old Amini was arrested by morality police in Tehran on 16 September for allegedly not wearing her hijab according to the mandatory dress code for women while she was visiting the city together with her family. According to eyewitness accounts, Amini was severely beaten by officers before she collapsed and was taken to the hospital where she died three days later.

The protests following Amani’s death were visible in the streets, but also on social media where Iranian women posted videos of themselves cutting off their hair as a sign of mourning and protest, asking others to help raise awareness on Amini’s death and violence against women amid internet shutdowns in the country.

There were also protests outside of Iran in other places across the world. In London, protesters clashed with police officers during a demonstration outside the Iranian embassy on Monday.

On Chinese social media platform Weibo, Chinese news site The Observer (观察者网) reported Amini’s death and the ensuing protests on September 22, but the hashtag selected to highlight the post did not focus on Amini.

Instead, it emphasized the reaction of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, which accused the United States and other Western countries of using the unrest as an opportunity to interfere in Iran’s internal affairs (hashtag: “Iran Denounces the US and other Western Countries #伊朗谴责美西方#).

The hashtag decision is noteworthy and also telling of how the developments in Iran have been reported by Chinese (online) media sources, which evade the topic of anti-government protests and instead focus on pro-regime marches and anti-American sentiments.

On China’s Tiktok, Douyin, as well as on Weibo, the Chinese media outlet iFeng News posted a video showing Iranian pro-government, anti-American protests on September 25, featuring interviews with veiled women speaking out in support of their country and showing “down with America” slogans and people burning the American flag.

In the comment sections, however, people were critical. One of the most popular comments said: “It must have been difficult organizing all these people.” Another person wrote: “Ah now I am starting to understand that it must have been Americans who beat the girl to death for not properly wearing her hijab.”

But there were also Chinese netizens who said that Iran was seeing a “color revolution” (颜色革命) initiated by the West, suggesting that foreign forces, mainly the U.S., are trying to get local people to cause unrest through riots or demonstrations to undermine the stability of the government.

China Daily also published a video on Douyin in which they featured Iranian political analyst Foad Izadi who said that the demonstrators in Iran could be divided into two groups: one group cared about “a young woman losing her life,” but a second group are people “linked to terrorist organisations based outside Iran.”

Chinese media commentator Zhao Lingmin (赵灵敏) posted a video in which she spoke about the situation in Iran and provided more background information on the history of the country, during which she noted how one Iranian official had supposedly said that “the only two civilizations in Asia worth mentioning are Iran and China.”

Zhao explained how Iran officially became the Islamic Republic in April of 1979 as 98.2% of the Iranian voters voted for the establishment of the republic system in a national referendum.

Videos using the Douyin hashtag “Iran’s Amini” (#伊朗阿米尼) were seemingly taken offline while various images included in Weibo posts about Mahsa Amini and the unrest in Iran were also censored.

“It’s good that we can follow the situation here [on this account], because it’s been removed at others,” one commenter said in response to one post about the many protests following the young woman’s death.

Searches for Amini’s name came up with zero results on the website of Chinese state media outlets CCTV and Xinhua, where the last article about Iran was about how Iranian people think “America can’t be trusted.”

The official Weibo account of the Iranian Embassy in China did post a statement about Amini on September 23, writing that Iranian authorities have ordered an investigation into her tragic death and that the protection of human rights is an intrinsic value to Iran, “unlike those who use ‘human rights’ as a tool to suppress others.” “America must end its economic terrorism instead of shedding crocodile tears,” the last line said. That post received over 11,000 likes.

“Why is that everytime the Mahsa incident is mentioned, it somehow gets linked to America?!” one popular comment said, with another person also responding: “Sure enough, the U.S. gets blamed for everything.”

“So it was the Americans who killed her?” some Chinese netizens sarcastically wrote in response to the post by The Observer, which also mentioned the U.S. in their report of Mahsa’s death.

“I don’t know the exact circumstances, but I support the right of women not to wear a veil,” others said. “Men and women are equal, women should have the freedom to wear what they want and have education and get a job and have some fun,” another Weibo commenter wrote.

One Zhejiang-based Weibo user wrote: “The courage of people marching in the streets for freedom is moving. I wish that women will no longer have their freedom restricted through a hijab. What will the 21st century look like? The answer is still blowing in the wind.”

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China Media

News of Pelosi Bringing Son on Taiwan Trip Goes Trending on Weibo

News of ‘Little Paul’ quietly joining Pelosi to Taiwan received over 380 million views on Weibo on Friday.

Manya Koetse

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Perhaps one would not expect Chinese state tabloid Global Times to care about American taxpayers’ money being spent responsibly, but in today’s trending headline on Weibo, they suggest they do:

As American media have discovered, Pelosi’s son Paul Pelosi Jr., who is not an official nor an adviser to her, has followed Pelosi around Asia at the expense of the American taxpayer,” Global Times wrote.

The topic “Pelosi Secretly Brought her Son to Visit Taiwan” (#佩洛西窜台偷偷带儿子#) garnered over 380 million views on Weibo on Friday.

Earlier this week, various American media outlets, including The New York Post, reported that the 53-year-old Pelosi Jr. ​traveled together with Nancy Pelosi during her Asia trip, but his name was not included in the official list of officials on the trip released by the speaker’s office.

The Chinese-language Global Times report on this issue is largely based on America’s Fox News host Jesse Watters reacting to Nancy Pelosi bringing her son on the Asia trip in his ‘Primetime’ show, with many of his words being directly translated in the Chinese news report: “He is not an elected official, he is not an advisor Nancy, he doesn’t even live in Washington, but he was greeted as royalty by the President of Taiwan.”

Jesse Watters’ suggested that Pelosi Jr. was involved in “shady” business, being on the payroll of two lithium mining companies and then visiting Taiwan, a world leader in lithium battery production. “Prince Pelosi will go wherever the money is,” Watters said, a sentiment that was reiterated by Global Times.

During a press conference, Pelosi confirmed that her son had joined her on the trip, saying: “His role was to be my escort. Usually, we – we invited spouses. Not all could come. But I had him come. And I was very proud that he was there. And I’m thrilled – and it was nice for me.”

When Pelosi was asked if her son had any business dealings while they were in Asia, she replied: “No, he did not. Of course, he did not.”

In response to Pelosi’s highly controversial visit to Taiwan, the Chinese government took sanctions against Pelosi and her immediate family.

According to Global Times, this might also affect Paul Pelosi Jr., who allegedly sought business opportunities in China via two companies, International Media Acquisition Corp and Global Tech Industries Group.

Many netizens are also ridiculing ‘Little Paulie’ (小保罗), especially because, based on the reports, they had somehow expected Pelosi’s son to be a child or young man instead of a 52-year-old. Part of the confusion stems from the Chinese translation for “Jr.”, xiǎo (小), which also means “little.”

“He’s 52! I though we were talking about a little kid,” some wrote, with others calling him a ‘mama’s boy.’

“That entire family will just do anything for money,” others wrote.

More than a week after Pelosi’s visit, news of ‘Little Paul’ joining her on the controversial trip just reinforces existing narratives on Chinese social media, led by official media, that Pelosi’s Taipei decision was more about self-interest than serving her country – and its taxpayers.

By Manya Koetse

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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