Cambridge scholar lauds reform and opening-up while underscoring West’s ignorance of nation

By Sun Wei Source:Global Times Published: 2018/10/28 19:43:40

Martin Jacques, a senior fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies, Cambridge University, on October 16 Photo: Sun Wei/GT

Editor's Note:

Martin Jacques, a senior fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies, Cambridge University, wrote in his 2009 book When China rules the world: Western model is not the only option to achieve modernity. He has continued exploring China's development and its impact on the world through the years. Global Times' London correspondent Sun Wei (GT) interviewed Martin Jacques (Jacques) on China's 40th anniversary of reform and opening-up, and China's development shadowed by the recent US-China trade friction. The two-part interview is being published consecutively in Monday and Tuesday's Global Times. 

GT: This year marks the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up. What do you think of the role it has played in China's extraordinary changes?

Jacques: China's transformation started in 1949, but only in 1978 did China's economy start to take off in an extraordinary way. It was only then that the Chinese worked out what the appropriate economic strategy was for the country. This was the stroke of genius of Deng Xiaoping. What he proposed was very radical and represented a major shift in the communist tradition. Basically he said two things: First, socialism is not synonymous with the state and state planning, but that socialism had to combine both the state and the market. And second, he argued that China needed to see itself as part of the whole world, including the capitalist world. China had to live with and compete with and learn from the capitalist world, and not just the socialist world.

This was an intellectual revolution which required a complete rethink and unleashed enormous intellectual energy. This ignited a long process of transformation in China. The year 1978 is one of the most important dates in the 20th century, it prefigured the 21st century: the transformation of China and later the world. 

GT: China has vowed to continue opening up. Some people see this as an opportunity, but others say it's a threat. How do you evaluate these contradictory views?

One of the great things since 1978 has been that China is always thinking, 4always experimenting, always learning, always trying to work out the best way in a situation, in the circumstances that it faces, which are constantly shifting.

There is a general idea of where to go and how to do it. But there's not a tablet of stone about how to do it; instead of a tablet of stone, you "cross the river by feeling for the stones." The Chinese combine a general set of principles with a very strong dose of pragmatism.

It is obviously a lot more complex because China's economy is many, many times larger now, and China's impact on the world is now also huge: there are so many more factors China has to consider both internally and globally. China is very interestingly different and distinctive from both the old Soviet mindset and also the West. China has learnt from the West, but is also very distinct from  it. It is very important to maintain that.

I think one of the reasons for the success of China is its capacity to draw different elements together from different places, different experience, different traditions, and then combine them in a very unique Chinese way.

Of course, some people think China should be more like America. Now? Really? America is in big trouble, it is in serious long-term decline, which is part of the reason why we got Trump. No, China has to be distinctive. It has to combine those elements which it needs to learn from the West with its socialist and Chinese traditions.

GT: Earlier this year, you wrote an article arguing that the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the reform period is a cause of celebration and reflection not only in China, but also around the world. Can you specify the issues that the world, including Western countries, should reflect on most?

The year 1978 led to the most extraordinary economic transformation in the modern era. This is much more remarkable than America's transformation between the 1860s and 1914. It's a very important event to study. But the West doesn't think in these terms about 1978, because it doesn't really understand any of this. The West is very ignorant about China.

But I would say look, reform and opening-up has transformed China. Then, during the 1990s, China began to transform the world and, as a result, the world is now very different from what it was before because of China's  influence.

Since 1978, China has been the most important engine of global change. So every country should study China and the Chinese experience. That doesn't mean that China is a model, but it does mean China is an interesting and important example from which to learn. Many developing countries understand this but the West is still in partial, sometimes total, denial.

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