the chinese advance

Image: Brett Sayles
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By ANTÔNIO SALES RIOS NETO*

China with its contradictions perhaps it is the last frontier of maintaining order and reason

"When the lassez-faire global collapse, a profound international anarchy will be the most likely prospect for humanity” (John Gray, 1999).

“Any attempt to impose one's will or values ​​on others or to unify the world according to a certain model of 'civilization' will definitely fail (…) No economic system is good for all countries. Each must go his own way, as China does” (Qiao Shi, former member of the Chinese Politburo, 1997).

If there is a country today that combines the greatest contradictions in its development model, in this nebulous and gloomy beginning of the 1989st century, this country is undoubtedly China. Even apparently adapted to the new global geopolitical configuration, which is increasingly multipolar, anarchic (aspects that have a positive side, since chaos and diversity are potentially regenerative attributes of reality), belligerent and ecocidal, China raises a sense of hope – at least among those who still envision the possibility of resurrecting socialism, irrecoverably buried with the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1978 – in a new civilizing arrangement, capable of harmonizing the political, social, economic and, above all, environmental fields, in these times of acute global crisis. Therefore, the impacts of the unfolding of its colossal socioeconomic development, inaugurated with Deng Xiaoping, from XNUMX, will have, for better or worse, an enormous weight in the imponderable path to be trodden by humanity in the coming decades.

China is so contradictory that the attempts to define what it represents in the unstable contemporary geopolitical context are the most disparate possible and, as everything indicates, still a long way from stabilizing a consensus. Most political scientists seem to share the idea that China has opted for a model of totalitarian state capitalism. Despite the fact that some analysts believe that such a characterization is inappropriate, the fact is that China saw its GDP per capita in the period from 1978 to 2020 explode from US$ 156,4 to US$ 10.500,4 (source: World Bank). According to Forbes, China arrived in 2021 with 698 billionaires (including Hong Kong and Macau), almost tied with the 724 of the USA – it must obviously be considered that, proportionally to the population, the USA has four times more billionaires than China . With India in a very distant third place (140 billionaires), the US and China together are home to 51,6% of the select group of lucky people on the planet. In fact, the 1.149 billionaires in the countries that make up the Asia-Pacific circuit already hold US$ 4,7 trillion, surpassing the US$ 4,4 trillion of US billionaires. Maintaining the trends of recent years, China should already surpass the number of US billionaires by 2022.

Others, however, see the revival of the Middle Kingdom – translation of Zhōngguó (Central Land), name given by the Chinese when their territory was unified by the dynasty Cin, during the third century BC – a consistent rescue of socialist ideas, but under new assumptions, as inscribed in the thinking that has been guiding its development since the Deng Xiaoping era, a Marxism-Leninism intertwined with the market economy and adapted to Chinese peculiarities. There are even those who frame the Chinese giant in a complex process of transition towards a “socialist democracy”, guided by the “new design economy” (an idea inspired by studies of references such as the respected economist and writer from Maranhão Ignacio Rangel), which would explain the success of the successful combination between the “best” of Keynesian instruments, the modern monetary economy and Soviet planning, all boosted by the “wonders” of the technological revolution, which allowed for its rapid insertion of the so-called Industry 4.0.

Thus, China seems to encompass in a single nation the entire spectrum of economic political arrangements experienced in the last century, and something else. For this reason, it is perhaps more pertinent to frame it in a broader category, that of the Civilization-State, and not just the Nation-State, as recommended by the experienced British journalist, researcher and political analyst Martin Jacques, for whom, “China It is the most important expression of a broader phenomenon, which is the growth in importance of developing countries, which form home to approximately 85% of the world's population”.

There are still many other views about China. In a world convulsed by laissez-faire imposed by the declining US empire, the emergence of the China phenomenon would represent a kind of new Hegelian synthesis in which the historical dialectical process, guided by the primacy of reason, always leads, inexorably, humanity towards something better. A perspective that encourages some of the analysts who place all their hopes in the new Middle Kingdom for yet another attempt at human redemption, where they glimpse the possibility of irradiating a new model of civilization, an alternative to the failure of American “democratic capitalism” and “socialism”. real” of the former Soviet Union. In this way, China would be consistently on the way to reaching the ideal point between the market economy and democracy, equating the dilemmas of the Hobbesian State of finding lasting peace in the conflicting human coexistence. In short, hope for a model of planetary harmonization in the face of growing socio-environmental disturbances that are troubling not only China, but all of humanity.

Within Chinese borders, this view may actually be possible, since the Chinese appear to be a people culturally and historically adapted to autocratic regimes and the collective yearning, according to research already carried out, is congruent with the objectives of the CPC, currently in course under the strict command of current President Xi Jinping. As projected for the centenary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in 2049, China is expected to become "a strong, democratic, civilized, harmonious and modern socialist country".

However, until then, the future of China and the other global powers, as occurred in the first decades of the 30th century, is too open, given the growing geopolitical instabilities currently underway, which makes it difficult to safely prospect, today, any short-term prognosis, let alone the next XNUMX years.

The bet on renewing the symbiosis of the two Leviathans

China represents an uncertain bet on an experiment not yet carried out by humanity – at least in a country on a continental scale and in a contemporary context of extremely high planetary interconnectivity – which is the option for market socialism, under the direction of a single Party, which is why which it affects the entire dynamic of civilization, in all its aspects, political, social, environmental, economic, technological, behavioral, etc. In view of this, among all the interpretations of what is being created in China, I am inclined to see it through the lens of the French writer and economist Jacques Attali, best known for having been the special adviser of the socialist president François Mitterrand, between 1981 and 1991. For Attali, “the 'Chinese model' does not exist. The Chinese are gobbling up the western world. And they want to be Westerners. Middle-class people, including leaders, want to consume like their Western peers. China is seeking to develop a totalitarian market economy, and all the lessons of history demonstrate that this does not work.” And he adds: “I don't believe in the continuity of the current regime in China, a nation with a magnificent culture, which I admire. The lesson of all this is that democracy is less bad than dictatorship.”

Attali is one of the contemporary thinkers who deserves a lot of attention. Coming from an Algerian Jewish family, he founded, with the support of Muhammad Yunus and Arnaud Ventura, the NGO Positive Planet which, in 22 years, has supported more than 11 million micro-entrepreneurs in creating positive businesses in poor neighborhoods in France, Africa and the Middle East. He is the author of over eighty books, sold in 9 million copies and translated into 22 languages. In recent years, he has been dedicating himself to disseminating the idea that humanity urgently needs to replace the market economy with an economy of life, a proposal defended in his recent book The Economy of Life: Preparing for What's Next (Spanish Edition, 2021), in which the democracia, with all the conflicts that are inherent to it, is the regime essential to the construction and maintenance of this new civilizational dynamic. Therefore, Attali believes that “in the long run, the Chinese will have to choose between democracy or a market economy.” In fact, recent history has shown that market and democracy were never partners, but competitors.

History has also shown that a democracy that generates rights and social and environmental equity has proved to be unfeasible through the sponsorship of both the market and the nation-state, when forged from the Greco-Jewish ideals of progress, reason and justice. individualism. Even so, it seems that China, following its very long autocratic political tradition, chose to renew the embrace of the two Leviathans, that of Thomas Hobbes, the absolute sovereign State guaranteeing order in the conflicting human coexistence, and that of Karl Marx, the insane power of Capital which concentrated wealth, created inequalities and was a predator of Nature, to get out of the ditch into which it plunged under the tragic regime of Mao Zedong (1949-1976). It is estimated that in the period of Mao's disastrous Great Leap (1958-1960) alone, around 30 million Chinese died of hunger, not to mention the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) which, following the tragedy of famine, shattered the rich Chinese cultural tradition.

It is worth mentioning, however, that in this symbiosis, contrary to the dynamics of the West in which Capital has the State in its hands, the Chinese totalitarian State at least tries to tame the destructive impetus (socially and environmentally) of Capital. It is not known how long it will last.

China then decided to try to create a new model of society embracing the dynamics of the market economy. There is no doubt that Deng Xiaoping's pragmatism, by adopting the strategy translated into the maxim derived from the culture of his native province, Sichuan, that "it doesn't matter what color the cat is, as long as it catches the mouse", succeeded in just 40 years promoting the greatest class mobility in contemporary history. According to data enthusiastically published by admirers of Chinese prominence, 850 million people were transferred (as in other small Asian countries) to the so-called middle class, allowing them a material standard of living that only countries like the United States, Japan and the Western Europe had reached since the Welfare State occurred during the so-called Golden Years (1945-1973).

To achieve this extraordinary feat, China promoted, from 1978 onwards, a profound reform that began with the decollectivization of the countryside, going through accelerated industrialization during the 1990s – through cheap labor, foreign capital inflows and a broad agenda of exports – and, as of 2001, won entry to participate in the circuit of the World Trade Organization (WTO), due to the demands of its domestic market of continental dimensions. China has clearly opted for westernization in line with Chinese socialism in order to “catch the mouse” of extreme poverty and geopolitical isolation, inherited from the misconceptions of the Maoist era.

At least four main development axes explain China's colossal growth: 1) adoption of the market economy, with all its postulates of demand and supply, private property, consumption and investment; 2) rapid urbanization and expansion of the middle class; 3) heavy investment in technological innovation. 4) all this under the monopoly of state power in the hands of a single party, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). That's how China achieved the extraordinary feat of moving out of agrarianism, inaugurated about ten thousand years ago – to which it was stuck for most of the 250 years of the Industrial Age –, almost directly to the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution.

However, we must remember that the dilemmas of the Hobbesian State have been a recurrent problem in the history of market societies, this arrangement resulting from the interweaving of market economy and nation-state. History has shown that the utopia of an ideal social pacification, through the imposition of a social life ordered by State instruments, goes hand in hand with regressions. As Gray rightly put it, “all societies contain divergent ideals of life. When a utopian regime is faced with this fact, the result can only be repression or defeat. Utopianism does not cause totalitarianism—many factors are necessary for a totalitarian regime to arise—but totalitarianism always ensues when the dream of a life without conflict is persistently pursued through the use of state power.”

In the same way that many were wrong with liberal democracy, celebrated by Francis Fukuyama (The End of History, 1989) as the last model to be radiated to the world after the successful experience in the Global North, during the golden age of the Welfare State, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union (1991), one should not place too much hope in the Chinese model, as it is just one of the many forms of autochthonous capitalism that has been emerging in response to the failure of neoliberalism, therefore, limited to the Chinese reality. However, we need to understand that China, due to its continental dimension and the high interconnectivity of the contemporary world, has enormous potential to represent a triggering factor for geopolitical instabilities with uncontrollable outcomes. With the decay of the neoliberal project, the world seems to be heading towards an anarcho-capitalism fueled by the Surveillance of algorithms. As the nation-state was not able to promote its self-regeneration, it ended up being absorbed by corporations. That is why it makes more sense today to speak of the corporation-State.

However, in China something different happened. It is one of the few countries that has managed to maintain the integrity of the State in its most refined Hobbesian version, mainly because it has incorporated the best technological tools for “control” of reality in its development project. China perhaps represents, today, the main protagonist of this new way of life supported by the algorithmic revolution, according to which there is no future for humanity outside of 5G, artificial intelligence, big data, among other transhumanist tricks to come.

Reinforcing the dominant religion of the myth of progress

Just as Christianity was the dominant religion in the so-called saeculum obscurum, a period between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, the myth of progress became the new profession of faith to guide the destinies of humanity after the discovery of the “New World”, at the end of the XNUMXth century, and, for some contemporary thinkers more away from Enlightenment fantasies, is also the main responsible for the civilization collapse that looms large over the coming decades. The strongest belief of the techno-economist world view, which has been (de)governing civilization and which has been exacerbated in the last four decades with the neoliberal doctrine, is in the idea of ​​progress, “the main article of faith of liberal societies”, as he says British political philosopher John Gray.

In economic science, the notion of progress is translated into the magic words “growth” and “development”. For economists in general, there is no evolution of countries and their societies if they do not maintain a constantly rising GDP, that is, without economic growth and development. Like the biblical precept “be fruitful and multiply”, the idea of ​​unlimited economic growth, in these times of increasingly declining natural resources, is an invitation to our self-destruction.

With the exception of marginally important indicators such as the Human Development Index (HDI), formulated by economists Amartya Sen and Mahbub ul Haq, which has been adopted since 1993 by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and Gross National Happiness ( FIB), adopted only by Bhutan in 1972, GDP is the international standard par excellence for measuring the development of nations. Deep down, our capitalist world-system is hostage to a kind of PIBism syndrome, which, more than measuring economic growth, actually represents our growing ability to prey on natural resources. And it was not for lack of warning, as the renowned economist Stuart Mill predicted, 150 years ago, the inevitable Malthusian clash between population growth due to industrial progress and the limits of the environment, warning of the need for a “steady state economy”. ”.

Since Deng Xiaoping's reforms, starting in 1978, China has been the country that achieved the best economic growth rates, remaining around 10% per year. This demonstrates that the same notion of progress that guided the expansion of the West was embraced by the establishment China's government, to overcome the failures of the Maoist era. Techno-economic material progress is what gives hue to the “color of the cat” chosen by Xiaoping.

It is noteworthy that the way of life and the rich cultural tradition of real China, whose core is the family and the clan, are historically very different from the dynamics of the government staff. The ancestral customs and cults of the Chinese people, with their Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist influences, are supported by other worldviews that are very peculiar to their millennial history.

This is confirmed in this account by the Belgian-Australian sinologist, essayist and literary critic Simon Leys: “By the middle of the 16th century, the Chinese officialdom consisted of somewhere between ten and fifteen thousand civil servants for a total population of about 150 million. of inhabitants. This tiny group of officials was concentrated exclusively in the cities, while the majority of the population lived in the villages in the interior. (…) The vast majority of Chinese could go their entire lives without ever coming into contact with a single representative of imperial authority.” (Excerpts are from Simon Leys' book, The Burning Forest: Essays on Chinese Culture and Politics – Henry Holt, New York, 1983, cited by Gray).

The Chinese rise, carried out by its rulers in recent decades, in addition to being disconnected from this real China, seems to have a lot to do with the image of retrotopia identified by the renowned Polish sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, that frequent nostalgic return to a failed past that blocks our capacity for political imagination to overcome the death machine that is “parasitic capitalism”, when he claims that “we are devolving from a foolish belief in the future to the childish mystification of the past.”

Bauman's view of our imaginative block is well expressed in the following terms, which he expressed in one of his last interviews: “Isaac Newton insisted that every action triggers a reaction… And Hegel presented history as a conflict/friction between oppositions, which provoke and mutually reinforce oppositions (the interconnected process of dissolution and absorption known as 'dialectics'). If you were to start with Newton or Hegel, you would come to the same conclusion: namely, that it would indeed be bizarre if the retrotopical tendency were not fed by and fed by the enthronement and dethronement of the future (...) The future (once the safe bet for the investment of hopes) increasingly tastes of indescribable (and hidden!) dangers. So, hope, bereaved and devoid of a future, seeks shelter in a past that was once ridiculed and condemned, abode of mistakes and superstitions. With the options available among discredited Tempo offerings, each carrying its share of horror, the phenomenon of “imagination fatigue,” the exhaustion of options, emerges. The approach of the end times may be illogical, but it is certainly not unexpected.”

The fact is that, in this liquid contemporaneity, it is too early to bet on the possibility of moderating the conflicting human condition based on what will result from the transition of society that China has been experiencing. China opted for westernization without giving up its historically despotic political practice. It is very likely that the internal side effects that it already faces today, similar to those that have been dethroning the West (mental pathologies in the working class, corporate corruption, internal political disputes, resurgence of religious tensions, devastating environmental derangements, among others), will begin to also exacerbate there, to the point of making the continuity of its development project unfeasible. Add to this the external side effects, the growing geopolitical instabilities, resulting from the clash of models between Beijing and Washington, caused mainly by the latter, which does not accept the decline of “democratic capitalism”, under way for a long time, and now it tries to blame China for its failure. Such instabilities tend to inaugurate another wave of world conflagration.

The new cyber arena and the emergence of hybrid wars

China, especially because it houses a fifth of the world's population and has many connections with the rest of the world, especially through the capitalism practiced by overseas Chinese, has been triggering several disturbances in world geopolitics. But unlike the Eurocentric drive to impose its worldview on all countries, China does not manifest this claim. As John Gray rightly put it, “Xi's China is unquestionably an imperial power, but it is not driven by any civilizing mission”. However, she has always been implacable with those who tried to intervene in her fate, as President Xi Jinping recently bluntly expressed, on the occasion of the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party: “Anyone who dares to try will have their heads crushed with blood against a great steel wall forged by more than 1,4 billion Chinese” (excerpt reported by CNN).

It is also well known that China has a very long history of expertise in the “Art of War”. Among the biggest conflicts in which it has been involved in the last five hundred years, it only failed to succeed in the Sino-Indian border dispute of 1967, motivated by a litigious dispute in a region of the Himalayas. There are even those who say that the development of firearms in China, during the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, was decisive in forging the birth of capitalism, which always needed to use violence to open up new territories.

Despite the wisdom accumulated in the handling of war strategies, it cannot be categorically stated that China's millenary autocratic history has been driven by any colonizing impulse over other peoples. However, the consequences of its current colossal development, to promote well-being in a country that has a population of 1,4 billion inhabitants, cannot help but spill over into the economic dynamics of the other nations with which it maintains numerous commercial exchanges. The reprimarization of the economies of countries on the periphery, as is the case in Latin America, is the most visible side effect of the new dependency relationships that this new China ends up generating. In this regard, the demographer José Eustáquio Diniz Alves, in an article written in 2015, states that “the name given to this process in international literature, since Rosa de Luxemburgo (1871-1919) and Rudolf Hilferding (1877-1941) , is imperialism. That is, China has imperialist-type relations with Latin American countries and Latin American countries have dependency relations with China.” Wouldn't this new dynamics of the Chinese economy be a subtle form of colonization and subordination to its needs?

The fact is that after the indisputable loss of US global hegemony, notably after the subprime crisis (2006-2008), China stands out on the international scene as the only candidate for the position of greatest economic power, a fact that seems to generate a collective feeling worldwide. of renewal of the capitalist mode of production. That is why the hope that China, even following its despotic tradition, raises among supporters of Marxism is understandable, given that it is a new model of State that is somehow managing to tame the market. The dazzle of both left and right sectors with the strength of China results not only from the predominance of the techno-economist worldview, but also from the desire to escape the colonization of the West. It is not realized, however, that the Chinese model not only represents, potentially, another form of hegemony, but can also trigger sophisticated forms of submission.

It can even be said that China today is at the forefront of the newest modality of the capitalist world-system, the so-called surveillance capitalism, conceived in Silicon Valley in the 1980s. It is helping to delimit, along with Putin's Russia, the new field of geopolitical confrontations in a world guided by a handful of megacorporations, as recently stated by Robert Reich, economist and professor of politics at the University of California, for whom “the next most interesting conflict will not be between China and the United States as such, but between the business elites of the two nations who seek to generate large revenues and the political elites of the two nations who want to protect their countries and, in passing, protect their own centers of power”.

Finally, China may be making, unwittingly, a great contribution to consolidate a dark and brief Age of Surveillance – the libertarian impulse of the human animal would not last for long. Although she has never expressed an ambition to become the world's new policeman, this terrifying prospect for Western standards of freedom always looms in the air. But this does not seem to be the case, as John Gray observes: "the likelihood of China being an authoritarian great power in any realistically imaginable future is too disturbing to contemplate."

However, even a Clausewitzian-style political development cannot be ruled out for the impasse of the current hybrid war (combined use of conventional, commercial, legal, political, media, cybernetic weapons, among others) between the USA x China and Russia, as the tireless American philosopher, sociologist and political activist Noam Chomsky has often feared, that is, a conflict via nuclear weapons whose outcome would represent a terminal “solution” for civilization. One thing is certain: with the ruin of neoliberalism, there is a growing (especially digital) militarization of the State in these new geopolitical conformations of anarcho-capitalist bias that tend to spread dangerously across many countries, as occurred in the early XNUMXth century and at other times. As Gray warns, “The Great Game that is playing out today is wilder and more dangerous than the last.”

The truth is that history has already shown us that the moments of human adventure were very brief that gave rise to a feeling that humanity had found a lasting and consistent model of harmonious coexistence among men. The frivolities of the European Belle Époque (1871-1914), rocked by the liberalism of the Victorian era, as well as the liberal democracy of the American dream (1947-1973) are some examples. The instability of the present moment bears many similarities with the regressions of the first half of the XNUMXth century, and today we are adding new highly destabilizing ingredients such as the technological revolution and, above all, the red light reached by climate change, now confirmed in a way irrefutable by the IPCC that they are a phenomenon of anthropic origin.

A China far beyond ecological limits

The premises of analysis that I use here to try to understand contemporary China are the same that I have reiterated in other articles. The main one is how much the tortuous civilizing path, which began with the agricultural revolution in the Neolithic, has been forged by the long prevalence of culture of patriarchal domination(understood beyond the domination of the masculine over the feminine), which is characterized by the insane desire for control, superiority, war, struggle, procreation, appropriation of truth and destruction of natural resources, that is, by the death drive.

The entire civilizing dynamic was guided by patriarchal worldviews, in each historical circumstance. Our patriarchal way of life, which feeds back on recursive processes, is the result of mistaken interpretations of reality that induced the formation of our beliefs, from which we shape institutions (including science and philosophy) and which, in turn, time, triggered practices disconnected from the complex dynamics of reality, often self-destructive. Unfortunately, this subject has been little studied and has only begun to be better understood by the new complexity sciences, from the second half of the twentieth century. At the core of this cultural phenomenology, which permeates all forms of coexistence ever experienced, is the uprooted human animal, with its conflicting ways and goals of life, which dragged us into the existential crisis that arises in this XNUMXst century.

This finding, that we are conditioned to a patriarchal prison, is well argued, for example, in this passage from the book straw dogs (Record, 2002), by John Gray: “When humans arrived in the New World about 12 years ago, the continent teemed with mammoths, mastodons, camels, giant ground sloths, and dozens of similar species. Most of these native species were hunted to extinction. According to (Jared) Diamond, North America lost about 70% of its large mammals, and South America 80%. The destruction of the natural world is not the result of global capitalism, industrialization, “Western civilization” or any flaws in human institutions. It is the consequence of the evolutionary success of an exceptional primate raptor. Throughout history and prehistory, human advancement has coincided with ecological devastation.”

We arrived in the 8st century with a planet crammed with almost 4 billion people (we had only 12 million inhabitants on the planet XNUMX thousand years ago), with highly degraded ecosystems and with a global climate condition in a growing and irreversible upheaval. Just to mention just one critical point about the scale of the severity of the environmental crisis, there are already climate modeling studies (Hadley Center at the UK Met Office) pointing out that the Arctic ice cover, existing for millions of years, could disappear completely as early as 2035, just 14 years from now. If the planet today is already convulsing with catastrophic wildfires and urban floods, what can be expected as a response from Earth's metabolism without the presence of Arctic ice?

Therefore, China will probably be the last country to experience economic growth, following the same Enlightenment standards of material well-being as the West. She embraced capitalism when the Earth no longer had the ability to regenerate itself from the degradation caused by man. During the last five decades, our ecological footprint, resulting from the capitalist way of life, has been far beyond the Earth's biocapacity, as shown in the graph below. According to the Global Footprint Network (GFN), starting in 1970, humanity began reaching the Earth's biocapacity ceiling (effort to offset the resources we use and absorb the waste we produce) before December 31 of each year. year. That is, we began to consume the Earth beyond what it is capable of regenerating, and this is largely a consequence of the high environmental cost of the Western Welfare State. Our ecological footprint currently consumes the equivalent of 1,7 Earths, which means that it now takes Earth one year and eight months to regenerate what we consume in one year.

By way of clarification, the GFN is an international organization, a global partner of the WWF Network, which monitors global sustainability indicators. According to the GFN, the term “biocapacity” refers to the “capacity of ecosystems to produce biological materials used by people and to absorb waste generated by human beings, under current management regimes and with current extraction technologies”, while the The expression “ecological footprint” is “a measure of how much area of ​​biologically productive land and how much water an individual, a population or an activity requires to produce all the resources it consumes and to absorb the waste it generates, using technology and prevailing resource management practices”. The calculation methodology used for these two sustainability parameters is the standard gha (global hectares). Now in 2021, our total ecological footprint has increased by 6,6% compared to 2020, while total biocapacity has increased by only 0,3%, which demonstrates that we are approaching ever faster the possibility of a climate collapse.

The fact is that in terms of techno-economic progress and its corresponding side effects that generate huge regional inequalities, geopolitical instabilities and profound environmental devastation, China today may not be very far from England in the Victorian era (1837-1901), which consolidated the Industrial Revolution, or the United States (and Western Europe) of the post-World War II period, which promoted the Golden Age of capitalism. It cannot be guaranteed that China will follow a different dynamic, however much it has been assuming the purpose of an “ecological civilization” and effectively implementing good sustainability practices. At most, it can and will probably do something less environmentally impactful than the West, which, ever since the environmental issue entered the world agenda in the early 1970s, has been adopting rhetorical strategies such as “sustainable development”, “decarbonization”, “ energy transition” and “green capitalism”, all of which are not as effective as the climate drama we are experiencing, especially in the field of politics and ethics.

If China really wanted to innovate, forging a new planetary sociability, socially and environmentally inclusive, putting an end to the dynamic prevalence of millenary patriarchal culture, which would be consistent not only with the best of its rich ancestral cultural traditions, which dialogue well better with the imbricated dynamics of the real world than your establishment political, it should first radically rethink its adherence to the myth of techno-economist progress that guided Eurocentrism, seek a diplomatic approach that would convince the West of its mistakes throughout history and promote multilateral agreements to combat deep regional inequalities, growing digital belligerence and the collapse of imminent environment. However, it appears to be more oriented by the blindness of the dynamics of patriarchal culture, in maintaining the rationalism that guided civilization from modernity onwards – an ecocidal path in which man continued to ignore the complexity of the real world and insisted on shaping the world. in his image, which dragged us into the abyss of the XNUMXst century.

It is past time to abandon the chimerical idea of ​​progress, inherited from the Eurocentric Enlightenment. The legacy left by the idea of ​​progress behind the prescriptions of development and economic growth was a civilization that currently consumes 74% more than what Earth's ecosystems can regenerate. The American pattern of consumption alone would need 5 Earths to be viable – a pattern still pursued by almost all nations – and China today is not so far from assuming the forefront of this path that leads us to planetary catastrophe (see graph below), considering that there are still 550 million Chinese to enjoy the material well-being of the desired middle class and that the US ecological footprint tends to decrease along with its economic decline. Faced with the global scourge that is announced, the idea of ​​“progress”, along with its derivations such as “growth” and “development”, should be extirpated from our notion of civilization and replaced by “adaptation”, which is much closer to the dynamics inherent to the complexity of the ecosystems of which we are an integral part.

Climate change calls us to radically reorient what we understand by the civilizing process. First, we need an instance of global governance that would reach the necessary consensus among the most developed countries, with the purpose of changing the capitalist world-system. Second, it is urgent to adopt a civilization policy to rethink the foundations of human coexistence, which includes at least the following approaches: 1) the implementation of strategies to gradually reduce the population burden on Earth, to mitigate the devastating effects of changes climate change already under way; 2) the articulation of a global democracy that tolerates the pluralism of ways of life; 3) the rescue of the sense of community and preservation of common goods, which were destroyed by narcissistic, excluding and predatory market relationships; 4) the formulation of a new relational economy, which recovers its original meaning, which is to give centrality to life and care for our Common Home, and not to accumulation and consumption.

However, the ongoing global dynamic remains the same as ever. China, on the one hand, conquered its prominent place in the capitalist world-system, an objective also pursued by most countries. The US, on the other hand, strives not to lose its position as the greatest economic power. That is, predatory capitalism continues its overwhelming course. Both the current “Biden Plan”, which intends to contribute about US$ 6 trillion to its economy in 2022, progressively increasing to US$ 8,2 trillion in 2031, and the mega-free trade agreement, called the Regional Economic Partnership Comprehensive Agreement (RCEP), celebrated by Xi Jinping in November 2020, represent the continuation of preying on our planet. This trading bloc spans from China to a market of 2,2 billion individuals and 26 trillion dollars, equivalent to one-third of global GDP. Despite the rhetoric and implementations of sustainability embedded in these gigantic undertakings, deep down they represent initiatives that have everything to continue to exacerbate even more the ecocidal dynamics of Capital.

As with five hundred years of Western domination, China, by embracing a market economy, may not only be irretrievably destroying the best of its rich millennial cultural tradition and its vast natural resources, but also contributing to the mercy on our sensitive, fragile and already shaken Earth ecosystem. We no longer have time to experiment hybridly with the failed models of the XNUMXth century. Contrary to Deng Xiaoping's pragmatism, not only the “color of the cat” matters, everything matters. The changing reality of a nation the size of China, within a globalized capitalist dynamic, is much more complex than one imagines.

The great question of our time is how humanity will deal with these impasses between the voracity of capitalist predation and the growing depletion of ecosystems. If we really still have time, considering that the unfathomable degree of affectation of the Earth's metabolism, caused by our predatory conduct, has not already triggered an inertial movement that will take the Earth to another physical level that makes our permanence on the planet unfeasible, we will have two options: (1) planned adaptation, which requires a major and urgent regeneration of the nation-state and our productive system; (2) or forced adaptation, the uncertain bet on the metamorphosis of the current predatory human condition via barbarism, which presents itself as the most likely scenario.

The troubled events of the beginning of this century indicate that we are irremediably entangled in a complex adaptive process, with its chaordic interactions and retrointeractions. Forced adaptation is increasingly present on our tragic horizon. Unfortunately, very few social actors are open enough to absorb the new theoretical contributions of the complexity sciences, especially in politics and ethics. Now we can only believe that, at the core of the emerging phenomena that await us, over which the human animal will have increasingly little margin of dominance and influence, China may be the last frontier for maintaining order and reason, which confronts and suppresses emotions and disorders, without which life (human and other living organisms) would never have accomplished its long, mysterious and uncertain journey.

Antonio Sales Rios Neto is a writer and political and cultural activist.

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JABBOUR, Elias. China – Which Socialism?, The Earth is Round, 20/7/2021. Available here.

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