The China dream versus Western values

_ Krishnan Srinivasan, Indian Foreign Secretary (1994-1995). New Delhi, 1 April 2018.

Within 20 years, old habits of referring to Asia and Europe will be replaced by Eurasia, which is an ‘inescapable reality’ as a single political and economic space. Will it be like the EU, or influenced by Russia and China with new universal values propagated by Russia and China?

Macaes, a former Portuguese minister, has produced a thought-provoking work, based on travels in search of the “centre” of Eurasia across countries, which may be described loosely as Central Asia. But more interesting than his travelogue are his geopolitical analyses and conclusions.

None of the peoples of Asia conceive themselves as being part of a single unit, solidarity or fellow-feeling; the Europeans gave rise in their dealings with Asia to the growth of a common feeling of Asian-ness.

Asia does not exist as a collective actor, and we all have different visions of what a common world should look like. Russia anticipates a Eurasian age of competitive integration between different political models, and Putin believes in international politics as “permanent rivalry and competition.”

Russia believes that chaos is a natural state of man that can only be tamed by a strong sovereign. If Russia is to preserve its political order then it needs global projection, otherwise Russia will just mirror western liberal values.

Speaking for Russia alone, Putin cannot challenge the West’s political ideas with their “patina of universal appeal and validity”. Russia believes that it should dilute the rigid application of western values by making the EU open to political and ideological influences from the East.

In 2011 Putin declared the creation of a Eurasian Union that became the Eurasian Economic Union. Eurasia was a term of challenge to Europe and made Russia a stakeholder in the process of reshaping the world order.

China, on other hand, is so linked with the global economy that disruption must be minimised; it knows its economic power is embedded in world economy. China stresses state capacity; the West, the reverse, a weakening of the state through numerous constraints.

When Russia and China developed their integration projects like the Eurasian Economic Union and the Belt and Road Initiative, they had no claims to universality. They succeeded because the EU was already retreating behind its own borders starting with the Eurozone crisis.

Europe should actively engage with Eurasian integration to combat disintegration within the EU, to strengthen its political capacity.

Natural borders do not exist where Asia merges with Europe. For most of recorded history, the gap between Europe and its near neighbours was slight.

Greek thought was integral to Middle East tradition; and one Middle Eastern religion, Christianity, became a central feature of European life. In Asia the best example of continuity is Buddhism from origins in India all the way to China and Japan.Turkey is a swing state; it might find a future place in the EAEU.

Within 20 years, old habits of referring to Asia and Europe will be replaced by Eurasia, which is an “inescapable reality” as a single political and economic space.

Will it be like the EU, or influenced by Russia and China with new universal values propagated by Russia and China? “Over the 19th century, the term ‘European’ was slowly replaced with ‘Western’ with the obvious intention of signalling both the universal appeal of modern ideas and the binary opposition to the old society.”

Brussels bureaucrats have a simplistic view of world; that states are captured by special interests and can reform if there is outside pressure. If they reform, they will prosper. The EU view of itself is that it benefits from a privileged status and “tends to resist every attempt to dilute the artificial but deep lines demarcating it from the rest of the supercontinent.” The EU is not meant to take political decisions; it is there to create a system of rules that can work on their own without human agency.

Macaes anticipates that increasingly the definitions between Europe and Asia will disappear. “We’ll no longer have Europe on one side and Asia on the other, but one single continent, increasingly interconnected.”

All the big foreign policy questions are to do with Europe and Asia, so EU should have a Eurasian perspective. Different political and social models pose questions that only power, influence and leverage can solve.

“The more deep rooted an idea is, the further into the past it will look for its origins,” writes Macaes. The US took European ideas and made them its own, since it is addicted to global primacy. “In India, religion enters every sphere of activity…and all the main occasions of life,” whereas “The Chinese see themselves in collective terms.”

In East Asia there is an infatuation with technology. Will China push further after it has caught up with the West? Will this be the first technological revolution to be led by China? The new Silk Road is a “giant project of international political engineering,” with a spillover from infrastructure and trade to politics, culture and society. A Chinese is quoted as saying, “There is no way other countries will accept Western values and ideas… but they will accept Chinese roads and power stations.”

“Since the rise of modern Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, the world system has preserved the same essential form. States outside the core were faced with the choice of embracing European ideas and practice or being overrun by European civilisation represented by …an ideology of enlightenment aimed straight at the heart of all traditional ways of thinking.”

Countries like Russia, Japan and Turkey sought to resolve this dilemma and respond to the overbearing ascendency of Western ideas. In the age of Empire, “European nations attempted to take the European way of life to the whole planet. For the EU the mission is a different one, but it is no less universal.”

The China dream plays the same role against universal Western values that Marxism used to play and by taking/overcoming Western domination to a new level. This implies national rejuvenation, collective goals like health, prosperity and filial piety. Political values are based on power and ability to obtain results with no resemblance to western values.

Europeans reserve for themselves the right to define the general structure and rules for the global economy and present them to others as self-evident and ineluctable. “The Chinese of course are able to see through the game…reciprocity is defended by reference to a policy position defined unilaterally by one of the sides.” A Chinese says, “But Europeans say they have already opened their markets and then pressurise us to do the same. That is unilateral — Europe has to understand we are not in the 19th century anymore.”

Macaes believes, “China and India are bound to develop the world’s largest trading relationship and this will have to be based on gigantic infrastructure plans along the Indian Ocean coastline.”

And according to Russian foreign minister Lavrov, the international system should be on “a moral basis formed by traditional values that are largely shared by the world’s leading religions.”

The maps in this book are helpful but there should be more of them, tracking Macaes’ journeys. The photos in it are unclear and redundant.


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