Europe is about quality of life, America about changing life and China about changing lives.
China transforms without changing ideology.
Is China skipping western modernity to its own modernity?
China’s objective is self sufficiency. Today more urgently than ever, owing to a hostile West.
China went from opening up to closing in.
China became too conservative at home and too aggressive abroad
China will pursue self-reliance.
Soft power is aspirational - has America lost it? China will need to learn the art of soft power. Historically, China is used to controlling as opposed to seducing.
China today: Orwell and Huxley
The composer and their creation is like the duck and the dish
China : will try to satisfy 90% of its population at the expense of 10%, when the West will sacrifice 9 to help 1.
China: still operates by relationships as opposed to the rule of law.
China: conformist outside - yet dynamic inside.
Education in China is answers based, versus in the West which is questions based. Closed as opposed to open. That is China’s long term challenge.
China is trying to find itself, culturally. What is its identity? If it’s answer is Western and it’s actions are Western-like there might be trouble, as China would want to conquer the world. If the answer is Chinese in a Chinese way, caring only for its own well-being, it is less worrisome for the rest of the world.
China lives in a contradiction of cultures and ideologies. Is China Communist, Capitalist, Confucian? It is all of them, together. It’s Taoist past allows all to coexist and for society to function. The ideological West couldn’t.
In China, the focus is on making the whole successful, not just the person. China has a long history of governance of a giant and populous country. People respect authority beyond individual ambition, aiming towards harmony. The ethos of work and learning is constant.
The Chinese party system and the governance of the country reflects a 2000 year old tradition, heir to the Mandarinate - centralized power, whereby subordinates are meant to be chosen on merit, though the reality is often on the basis of relationships.
The Catholic Church & the Chinese Communist Party are alike in that they have a monopoly of power & truth & therefore must continuously self reform.
Xi is trying to complete the cultural revolution, now with nationalism as credo as opposed to Mao's communism.
China: Singapore capitalist model of Sovereign Wealth Funds and State Owned Enterprises, and one party system with economic competition
The Chinese population's main wish is a better life, therefore the country will progress no matter which political system.
In China it’s not about “the truth”, but about “the way”
China’s compass: Excellence, Wisdom, Practicality, Community, Respect
Chinese philosophy: human becomings not just human beings
The West has an aspirational model - what is China’s beyond its borders? The West has produced universal values - can China?
In the West, poverty is a moral issue
In China, poverty is a practical issue, about political stability
Harmony versus freedom
Giving freedom is a sign of confidence.
Without freedom creativity will be limited.
Can China achieve economic and a degree of cultural freedom without some political liberties?
Westerners are too free for the Chinese system, and the Chinese are too conformists to thrive in western messiness.
Clash of civilizations? Two “truths” : can the monotheistic Western society accept coexisting with a parallel version of the “truth” (principally China), culturally and politically? A quantum world...? This would go against the West’s millenia old tradition of believing in the truth.
Countries will have to choose with whom to side : China or US ? It will be difficult for traditional Western allies, especially in Asia: Japan, Korea, Australia, but also for Singapore and Indonesia.
The US had soft power - culture : an ethos that attracts the world immigrants and friends around the world versus China : with no friends and a place people used to leave.
China wants to become number one without a fight - America doesn’t want to become number two without a fight
The inward reposition of the USA will allow the acceleration of China's domination of Asia.
America and China are fighting like children, except that they are not children.
Beyond the difficulties of normal negotiations, the US/China trade conflict is about two parties that operate with different tolerance to pain, objectives and time horizons. They have opposite cultures.
As China comes on the world stage, mutual respect with the West is needed as only coexistence is possible for peace. To counterweight China, the West has to come together. The developing trade war is the signal of the civilizational clash. The West has to strengthen itself, while allowing China to become stronger at the same time. If one feels threatened or cornered: danger!
Trade was the principal reason for cooperation between the US and China - now that it has broken down, what will get China and the US to be on the same page? Global threats = climate, health, technology? They are in a race, especially in AI, biotechnology, and computers. Yet cooperation is needed for a healthy and safe future.
Which is more beneficial but potentially more dangerous: control of technology as in China, or the American open architecture?
If China's authoritarian system has the bad emperor problem, American democracy has the demagogue problem.
China and the West must find areas to cooperate
Imagine the US/China relationship like an arranged marriage...a marriage of convenience - common overall objectives around world issues and deep cooperation, all while maintaining independence in practices and life in general.
China’s top down political power structure vs Western democracy’s bottom up system creates an increasingly schizophrenic world.
It is an unprecedented time when both the West and China have to find a way to respect each other and find a place for each others in being in this world. The West, while protecting and preserving its system of values will have to accommodate a new member of the world order with different cultural and political characteristics. China will have to continue to grow and increase in power while respecting what the West has built. The two will have to co-exist and live with each other so that there is peace and prosperity on earth.
- Nicolas Berggruen and Nathan Gardels, Renovating Democracy
Noone in Asia can be an enemy of China and survive.
The United States is good at trading, Europe is good at regulating and refining, and China is good at both.
Countries in Asia have a plan and direction. The West (USA and Europe) has to get its houses in order.
Does the world need a democratic alliance to balance China?
In a world of rapid transformation, people want to believe in something simple. So far we are failing in the West. China is combining technological and lifestyle change with old fashioned politics.
Which is worst : western legalized corruption or eastern traditional relational corruption?
America and China celebrate individual successes while Europe brings them down. Yet, in China, when respecting the party only.
We could have said: Hong Kong don’t push your luck, and China don’t push your luck? Now both have lost.
As western companies withdraw from Hong Kong, the city and its inhabitants will only be more in the hands of China.
Chinese tend to be less successful in the West when they are individual agents in foreign environments as opposed to a community with power and a culture - the exception is in South East Asia as the ties to China remain strong. Chinese operate best as a group.
In India, people will identify with individual gods as opposed to a simpler coordinated and prescriptive template - they are in the hands of fate, rituals and a caste, less willing to challenge the status quo. The focus is on bettering oneself as individuals as opposed to the whole.
The Indian people have difficulty managing a huge and complex nation in an effective way, yet tend to be very successful as individuals outside of India, where their talents benefit from other nation's infrastructure and governance.
Indians can operate individually.
The idea of Truth :
For Indians destiny is truth. Life is predetermined. Caste defines one's place on earth. You can't be someone you are not - you are of your community. Your actions (and superstitions) will potentially only influence the afterlife. You can’t affect the Soul the way Protestants think. There is no real free will. Life after death is infinite and more important, therefore one can be more accepting and less careful on earth. Destiny is individual (and related to your close ones), just like there are a multitude of gods, thus there is less a sense of duty to society as a whole, allowing each to follow unique paths. The idea of truth is personal and flexible as opposed to the monotheist notion of one unique way of looking at the world. Nothing is absolute. Rainbow.
For Chinese, reality is truth. Experience is truth. Truth is found on earth. Your actions will determine your life; you must find harmony with family and community - from the Confucian influence. Be one with the world, accept change and go with the currents's flow - coming from Taoist teaching. Peace is acceptance - Buddhist learning. Superstitions are about earthly circumstances. The future will be lived, here and not in the afterlife. Chinese combine very different traditions, sometimes contradictory, in an absolutely non-ideological way. There is no black or white, but shades of them.
Structure of Society:
One could characterize India as politically democratic but socially illiberal. The static hierarchy of castes and karmic destiny determines social life versus the political ideals of equality regardless of birth. Therefore, mobility is possible in government, politics and economic achievements but hard in social status. (Indians outside of the country - Non-resident Indians - have an easier time moving up socially.). The Indian paradox is that it is the planet's largest democracy but one that culturally is still governed and stifled by a more than 60 castes system. India is liberal politically but conservative culturally and morally.
China on the other hand is politically un-democratic and socially liberal. The country is dedicated to the ancient Confucian traditions of stability and harmony. The power mechanism of a single Communist Party in charge of administering all of China mirrors the historical Mandarinate of imperial China. The Party is highly hierarchical and so are the powers of its Members. But as opposed to the Indian castes which are inherited, the Party is largely meritocratic and competitive. One can achieve success with hard work and talent, and this is possible in all aspects of society. The limitations placed upon individuals is not to create instability within society or challenge the Party and its government. Freedoms are moral but limited politically.
In contrast to both China and India the West is both politically and socially liberal and democratic.
As opposed to the strong ideological view of the world practiced in the West, both China and India aren't ideological. The West is convinced that there is one Truth, therefore binary outcomes of right and wrong, winners and losers. Religious beliefs, political systems and the morals of society reflect a very clear and comprehensive understanding of the world which excludes alternative visions. This makes for a very competitive environment forcing change, rupture and progress, fostering conflict and instability.
Indians see the world and life events as predetermined by karma and destiny. There is a sequence and rhythm to earthly existence which doesn't need to be challenged. This produces theoretically a more orderly and predictable environment. It also makes change and progress harder.
China is interested in what works. Traditions are practical as opposed to ideological. Confucianism is about harmony and order for the good of society, and Taoism allows for change and encourages to go with the flow of life. Tradition and change together. Work and cooperation are encouraged, not fighting. Deng Xiaoping said: "it doesn't matter if the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice.”
China/Taiwan: create a “Commonwealth of China” between China and Taiwan.
One “roof”, one people, two systems - Tianxia, all under heaven. Not: “one country, two systems”. Similar to Hong Kong today, as opposed to in 2049 after unity. It would be like being of the same religion, yet it doesn’t mean that one would have to go to church or believe in the religion - you just couldn’t blaspheme the religion. Similar to Singapore, relatively free as long a one doesn’t insult or confront the government head-on.
China has succeeded in lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, re-establishing itself as a center of power. It did so without ideology. Yet, as it searches for its cultural heart, it is reverting to the traditional imperial mandarinate which has historically served it but also isolated it - stifling development and risking falling into the middle-income trap that it is trying to overcome. Control and flexibility are both inherent to the Chinese ethos - should one dominate, the very ambitions of a renewed nation will be threatened.
China values harmony, community, hierarchy, order, and balance. Therefore, there should be no surprise that it goes back to its imperial, mandarinate roots and the Confucian principles of the relational between people and of individual modesty. China was never going to become a western style democracy, nor an uncontrolled capitalist economy.
Containing countries economically has not changed their regimes or political cultures, yet it has prevented them from having economic growth and ultimately, power. This has been the case for the Soviet Union, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba.
Engaging in good faith with nations that exhibit an opening to democratic values has been beneficial to everyone, yet what happens when they revert back to their deep cultures? Russia, China, Turkey are such examples, as was Iran, and so may be India.
Would it have been better not to welcome China into globalization?
Bringing China into world commerce has helped more than a billion humans in China and benefited 7 billion economically - the West supplied itself cheaply and efficiently while accessing an enormous and growing consumer market, while China lifted itself out of poverty and imported knowledge and technology. All parties were also culturally enriched by the experience.
Now what? As China returns to the traditional, authoritarian mandarinate, having emerged as a true competitor, should the West try to cut it off, or become more entangled? Isolating China will slow them down and everyone else too, while preventing cooperation on key planetary issues such as climate, health and security.
Continuing to trade with China will potentially allow cooperation on global issues and an adherence to some international values, as well as further economic prosperity for all, with the end effect of making China more powerful.
Do you gamble on rational behavior on the part of China, even though the maintenance of state control has historically been more important than the wellbeing of its people, just as Russia has now demonstrated, or do you preemptively isolate China at the cost of economic growth for all and a lower standard of living for at least a billion humans? Prolonging the relative strength of the West may prevent a direct confrontation.
So, engage and try to be better, even though the numbers are against the West (more than 1.4 billion Chinese versus North America and Europe) or try a containment strategy where everyone looses and which may not succeed at stopping China or averting conflict?
By continuing to trade with China the West and China both benefit, with the result of strengthening China. Should the West cease its economic relationship with China, both suffer, stemming the growth of China. A dilemma?
At a minimum we can agree on some mutually beneficial rules, red lines (sovereignty, regional spheres of influence, domestic non-interference) and cooperation on key planetary objectives. Since climate can only be solved by all, and there isn’t an international organization for it, create a fresh one, founded by China, the USA and Europe. Start small and focused to allow direct cooperation and communication by the most powerful leaders.
A less universalist, more nuanced and concentrated approach.
I used to say:
America does but doesn’t think
Europe thinks but doesn’t do
China thinks and does
I’m now wondering if I should update to:
China doesn’t think nor does.