Told you so

Updated: 2012-10-22 09:18

By Andrew Moody (China Daily)

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Told you so

Jacques says the simple take-home from his book is that "we will no longer live in a Western-shaped world". Nick J.B. Moore / for China Daily

Author of When China Rules the World says events have left him more than vindicated. Andrew Moody reports in London.

Martin Jacques says China doom-mongers were typically dismissive when he argued the former Middle Kingdom would have a central role in shaping the 21st century.

In his book, When China Rules the World, which some regard as a potential classic, he forecast China would become the world's largest economy by 2027, albeit using Goldman Sachs data, and that we were all going to be living in a more Sinocentric world.

His critics said the more likely scenario was that China was going to succumb to a crisis that completely knocks it off track.

"They were right in that there was going to be one hell of a crisis. But what no one predicted was that it wasn't going to happen to China, it was going to happen to the West."

Jacques was speaking in the sitting room of his expansive mansion flat in Hampstead, north London, an area favored by intellectuals and film stars alike.

His book is now out in paperback after selling no fewer than 250,000 copies in hardback, many in translation in China.

"It is not bad. It is better than a kick in the teeth. I remember my editor Stuart [Proffitt, publishing director, Penguin Press] saying he would be very happy if it sells 10,000," he says.

The paperback has been substantially revised, some 25 percent longer than the hardback, with a new afterword to take into account the economic crisis, which was only beginning to play out when the book was first published in 2009.

He says the intervening period, if anything, supports his view about the rise of China.

"When I first wrote the book, I didn't know what the ramifications of the crisis were going to be. Now after three and a half years, we know that this is essentially a Western crisis and not a global crisis, which it was always described before,.

"Most Western economies are smaller than they were when the crisis began and there is a profound political crisis of the governing elite, which you can see clearly in Europe."

Jacques, a youthful 66, was still barely out of breath despite returning from a run on Hampstead Heath and up several flights of stairs to his apartment, beating myself and the photographer ascending more sedately in a creaky old lift.

One of the biggest markets for the book has been China, where it has sold more than 100,000 copies in Chinese and made him much in demand as a speaker at conferences and on the lecture circuit.

One of Jacques' biggest frustrations is that many of the critics of the book have never seen beyond the title.

"Anyone who reads the book will see that it is very carefully considered, scholarly and serious. It is an analytical work, that it is not in the least bit glib," he says.

Jacques insists there are two central arguments in the book that still hold true.

"One is that the rise of China will mean we will no longer live in a purely Western-shaped world. Really my book was the first to argue this, you know," he says.

"The second is that you cannot understand China in Western terms. You have got to understand the specificity and nature of Chinese culture. China is not like Western society. It is completely different."

Although he has held a number of academic posts in Asia, including in Japan and Singapore, Jacques was perhaps best-known before writing the book for being editor of Marxism Today, which was one of the most successful political magazines in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s - read by both left and right, alike.

He went on to be deputy editor of The Independent newspaper and is now a regular contributor to newspapers such as the Financial Times and the New York Times.

When China Rules the World has had a huge impact on his life, partly because he had to complete it while still grieving for his late wife, the Malaysian-born lawyer Harinder Veriah, who died as a result of clinical negligence in a Hong Kong hospital, against which he has won a recent legal battle.

"I remember thinking only my closest friends would ever know what finishing the book meant to me and what hell, pain and agony I had been through," he says.

One thing that has changed since the book was published is that the estimates of 2027 when China would take over from the United States as the world's largest economy no longer seem fanciful.

It has already become the second-largest, usurping Japan last year.

"I remember someone saying to me in the audience at a talk that it would happen over a much larger time scale or not at all; 2027 now seems like an underestimate.

"Some are predicting it could be 2018."

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