Will China Dominate the 21st Century by Jonathan Fenby and When China Rules the World by Martin Jacques. These two book offer compelling arguments for and against the logic of China’s continuing rise across the globe. Jacques is firmly in the pro-China camp, although the title of his book is misleading, he never claims that China will rule or dominate the world. But he does believe that the Chinese state is sufficiently flexible and able to take China to another level geopolitically speaking and become a superpower like the USA. Reading it I felt he overlooks difficult questions such as how the country will develop international allies or whether it can continue with its current political set-up without serious reform in a democratic direction or the prospect of social unrest.
In contrast Fenby feels that the Chinese state is not well prepared for the future, it is too riddled with corruption and cronyism and its leadership too conservative to make the necessary changes required to become a middle income country and stave off the threat of internal uprisings. The next decade will show us which of these visions of the future is the most accurate, a weaker, poorer China is of course less likely to invest abroad, and while a more powerful China may bring additional trade and investment to the rest of the world, but it could also result in a more aggressive foreign policy, which will bring its dangers.
While Fenby can be overly negative and perhaps slightly dismissive of China’s achievements, Jacques is the opposite and glosses over the challenges the country faces such as its fast aging population, the difficulties of maintaining a rapid growth rate as it becomes a middle income country not too mention the vast wealth inequality that has grown up over the last 3 decades. That is not to say these problems cannot be overcome, but no one can really say whether China will dominate the 21st century.