seven powers

Juan Gris (1887–1927), Checkerboard and playing cards, 1915.


At your destination: live with the success of Chinese civilization.

“China remains a “civilization” that pretends to be a nation-state […] and that has never produced religious themes of any kind, in the Western sense. The Chinese never generated a cosmic creation myth and their universe was created by the Chinese themselves” (Henry Kissinger, about china, P. 28).

The show was meticulously put together, on magnificent sets, and with technically perfect choreography. First was the bilateral meeting between Joe Biden and Boris Johnson, the leaders of the two great powers that have been at the center of world power for the last 300 years. The signing of a new Atlantic Charter was the symbolic way of reaffirming the priority of the Anglo-American alliance over the other members of the G7 and its four guests, who met on the 11th and 12th of June on a beach in Cornwall, south of England, as a ritual return of the United States to the leadership of the “Western community”, after the isolationist years of Donald Trump.

Then, the seven rulers met again in Brussels, at the NATO summit in charge of redefining the strategy of the Euro-American military organization for the coming decades of the 27st century. And right there, in the capital of Belgium, the American president met with the XNUMX members of the European Union for the first time since Brexit and, therefore, without the presence of Great Britain. Finally, to crown this true tour de force of Joe Biden in European territory, the new president of the United States had a cinematic meeting with Vladimir Putin in an XNUMXth century palace, in the middle of a pine forest, on the shores of Lake Leman, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The G7 meeting discussed three fundamental themes: the pandemic, the climate and the recovery of the world economy. With regard to the pandemic, the seven powers announced the collective donation of one billion vaccines to the poorest countries; with regard to climate, they reaffirmed their collective decision to comply with the objectives of the Paris Agreement; and regarding the reactivation of the global economy, they announced an investment project in infrastructure, in poor and emerging countries, especially around China, worth 40 trillion dollars, in clear competition with the Chinese project of Belt and Road, launched in 2013, and which has already incorporated more than 60 countries, including Europe.

At the NATO meeting, attended by Joe Biden, for the first time in its history, the military organization led by the United States declared that its new and great “systemic challenge” comes from Asia, and responds to the name of China. This became the refrain of all the other speeches and pronouncements of the American president: that the world is experiencing a fundamental dispute between democratic countries and authoritarian countries, with emphasis, in this second group, once again, on China. Finally, at the summit between Biden and Putin, which was mostly a show, the two played roles that were strictly programmed, reaffirming their differences and agreeing only on their desire to preserve and jointly manage their global atomic duopoly.

The problem with this show programmed with such care is that its plot and choreography are already outdated. At certain times, even, an inattentive observer could imagine that he had gone back to the years 1940-50 of the last century, when the first Atlantic Charter was signed, in 1941, the Cold War began, in 1946, NATO was created, in 1949, and the current European Union took its first steps in 1957.

Not to mention the launch by the United States – still in the 40s – of its Marshall Plan for investments in the reconstruction of Europe and the Development Project for mobilizing private capital for investment in the “Third World”, in direct competition with the attraction exerted by the Soviet economic model that had emerged victorious in its war against Nazism. The difference is that, in Revival currently, the G7 vaccine pledge is far short of the 11 billion requested by the WHO; likewise, the new climate targets of the seven powers did not innovate in practically anything with respect to what they had previously decided; and finally, the new “development project” proposed by the United States and supported by the G7 involves resources and contributions that have not been defined, private companies that have not been consulted, and investment projects that do not have any kind of detail.

Furthermore, Britain and other European countries are divided and have separate relations with Russia and China; they are weak governments in many cases, because they are at the end of their terms, as in Germany and France, or with parliamentary elections scheduled for 2022, as in the case of the United States, when the Democrats could lose their narrow congressional majority, paralyzing the Biden government.

More important than all of this, however, is that the new American foreign policy and the strategy it proposed to its main Western allies are outdated and inadequate to face the “Chinese systemic challenge”. The American and European political and military elite remains a prisoner of its success and victory in the Cold War, and fails to perceive the essential differences that distinguish China from the former Soviet Union. Not only because China is today an indispensable economic success for the international capitalist economy, but also because China was once the most dynamic economy in the world over the last twenty centuries.

Suffice it to say that in the “18 of the past 20 centuries, China has produced a larger share of the world's total GDP than any Western society. And yet, in 1820, it produced more than 30% of the world's GDP - an amount that exceeded the GDP of Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States combined.[1]. In addition to economic success, what really distinguishes China from the former USSR, and the current situation of the former Cold War, is the fact that China is a “millennial civilization” much more than a national state. It is a civilization that was born and developed entirely independently of Western civilization, with its own values ​​and goals that have not been altered by its new economic success.

Therefore, it sounds absurd to Chinese ears when Western rulers speak of a struggle that separates them from China, between democracy and authoritarianism, without Westerners being able to realize that this polarity is entirely Western. And that, in fact, it is a dispute that is being waged at this moment within Western societies, especially in the United States, but also in some European countries, where democracy is being threatened by the advance of authoritarian and fascist forces.

Chinese civilization has nothing to do with this, nor does it intend to get involved in this infighting in the West. Its history and its ethical and political principles were born and consolidated three thousand years ago, long before the Greco-Roman and Christian civilizations in the West. Until today, the Chinese have not had any kind of official religion, nor have they ever shared their imperial power with any kind of religious institution, hereditary nobility or economic “bourgeoisie”, as happened in the Roman Empire and in all European societies.

During its successive dynasties, the Chinese empire was governed by a meritocratic mandarinate that guided its conduct by the principles of Confucian moral philosophy, secular and extremely hierarchical and conservative, which was adopted as official doctrine by the Han Empire (206 BC-221 AD), and then it remained the ethical compass of the Chinese people and ruling elite to this day. An absolutely rigorous and hierarchical view of what a “good government” is, and what its obligations to the Chinese people and civilization are.

It was the Han Empire that built the "Silk Road" and began to institute China's "hierarchical-tributary" system of relations with its neighboring peoples. Afterwards, China split several times, but it always reunited, maintaining its fidelity to its civilization and its Confucian morality. This happened in the 960th century, with the Song Dynasty (1279-1368), and it happened again with the Ming Dynasty (1644-1644), which reorganized the Chinese State and led a new “golden age” of Chinese civilization, of great importance. creativity and territorial conquests. And the same would finally happen again during the Qing Dynasty, between 1912 and 1839, when China doubled its territory. Afterwards, however, China was defeated by Great Britain and France in the two Opium Wars, in 1842-1856 and 1860-1911, and was subjected to a century of harassment and humiliation by Western powers, even the Chinese. resumed their own command after their 1949 republican revolution, and the victorious communist revolution of XNUMX.

Recent history is better known to all: in the last 30 years, the Chinese economy has been the one that grew the most, and today it is the second largest economy in the world, and should surpass the North American one by the end of the third decade of the 600st century. Over the past five years, China has managed to eradicate absolute poverty from its territory, won the fight against the pandemic, vaccinated more than one billion Chinese and has already exported or donated around 2021 million vaccines to the poorest countries in the world system. At the same time, in the first months of 12, China landed its robot Zhu Ronc on the surface of the planet Mars; began assembling and putting into operation its own space station around the Earth – Tiangong; successfully sent the Shezhou 2024 spacecraft, with three taikonauts, to spend three months in the new station; announced for 300 the launching into orbit of a telescope XNUMX times more powerful than the American Hubble[2]; made public the The roadmap made together with the Russians to create a laboratory and lunar experimentation, with installations placed on the surface and in the orbit of the Moon; completed the construction of the prototype of a quantum computer – named Jihuzang – capable of performing certain types of calculations 100 trillion times faster than the current most powerful supercomputer in the world; advanced in the construction of its nuclear fusion reactor (the Toka Mak Experimental Super Conductor), the “artificial sun” that has already reached a temperature of 160 million degrees centigrade. On the other hand, with its feet on the ground, China is today, after just twenty years of the beginning of its high-speed train program, the country with the largest bullet train network, and has just presented the prototype of its new train with magnetic levitation that will be able to reach up to 800 km per hour.[3]

Thus, despite all the resounding social, economic and technological success, China is not proposing itself to the world as a model of universal validity, nor is it proposing to replace the United States as the articulating center of “global power”. There is no doubt that its success has already made it an extremely attractive showcase for the world. Even so, what most afflicts Western rulers is the success of a civilization different from their own and which shows no interest in disputing or replacing Cornwall's table of values. What it seems that the western powers fail to fully understand is that a new kind of “civilizing equipotence” is installed in the world, which has already broken the ethical monopoly of the West, making public one of the best kept secrets by the victorious great powers of all ages. times: the fact that they alone define the values ​​and rules of the world system, because they alone form part of what the English historian and theorist Edward Carr called the “privileged circle of creators of international morality”.[4]

Today it seems strictly impossible to reverse the Chinese social, economic and technological expansion. And it would be “global temerity” to try to block it through conventional warfare. Even so, if the omnipotence and senselessness of the “catechetical powers” ​​prevail, the West’s “reckoning” with China has already been scheduled and has a set place and time: it will be on the island of Taiwan. But it is not impossible to imagine a future in which the economic and military hyperpower of these great civilizations that will dominate the world in the XNUMXst century prevent a frontal war and allow a long period of “imperial armistice” in which the Chinese proposal of a world in that everyone wins, as Chinese President Xi Jinping has been defending, or even the German proposal of a “competitive partnership” with China, as proposed by Armin Laschet, Angela Merkel's probable successor. The problem is that such an "imperial armistice" requires the "seven powers of Cornwall" to give up their "catechetical compulsion" and their desire to convert the rest of the world to their own civilizing values.

* Jose Luis Fiori Professor at the Graduate Program in International Political Economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Global power and the new geopolitics of nations (Boitempo).


[1] Kissinger, H. about china. Rio de Janeiro, Objective, p. 29

[2] For comparison, the Chinese Space Program was created in 1991, just three years before the creation of the Brazilian Space Agency in 1994.

[3] Still for comparison purposes, Brazil had planned a decade ago to inaugurate its first imported bullet train, on June 30, 2020.

[4] Carr, EH, The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919-1939. New York: Perennial, 2001, p. 80.


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