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Peter Popham: The important lessons China has for the world
April 27, 2013
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China has long been serenely confident of its centrality, and this will be bolstered even further by the news that Stephen Schwarzman, a US billionaire, has set up a $300m scholarship scheme for students from all over the world to study in the country. Based at Shanghai’s elite Tsinghua University, it is designed to rival and perhaps eclipse the Rhodes Scholarships that sent the likes of Bill Clinton to  Oxford. It will bring 200 students from around the world for a one-year Masters programme, all expenses paid. But what might the Schwarzman Scholars actually learn? What does China, in its present mighty manifestation, have to teach us? “Uses of a redundant ideology” would be one fascinating module. Besides Deng Xiaoping’s pithy “to get rich is glorious”, is there a more inflected explanation of how the class struggle culminated in the re-establishment of the Chinese bourgeoisie, this time as the clients of the Communist Party? And if so, could it be taught without both teachers and students risking imprisonment?

Other courses might include:

Managing minorities: The Chinese approach to Tibet. China’s Tibet policy is pitiless, relentless and apparently unstoppable, so for any students wishing to acquire those attributes, it would surely repay close study.

Futurism, Chinese-style: The Chinese have always taken a far longer view than the rest of us, thanks to extreme venerability of their civilisation. So what do the modern sages see in their crystal balls? Once they have dammed every river, covered the countryside with new cities and airports; once the one-child policy has borne its final fruit in a population where the aged vastly outnumber those working; and once the few, or few hundred million, young people who remain prefer swanning around Beijing’s chic Sanlitun Road in Maseratis to assembling iPads at Foxconn – then what? Where will China go from there?

Foreign policy. The point of foreign countries is to bring tribute to the central kingdom. If they don’t do that, they might as well not exist. That, in a nutshell, has long been China’s view of foreign affairs. The question everyone wants to know, from President Obama down, is whether, with the creation of a so-called “string of pearls” – a network of hospitable ports – in the Indian Ocean, with the ongoing spats over the Spratly and Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, and with the rapid expansion of the Chinese navy, that ancient and largely passive posture is set to change. Everyone hopes not.

But undoubtedly the most useful lesson China can teach is enshrined in the scholarship scheme itself, one of the world’s largest educational endowments. While Schwarzman is giving $100m of his own, other big donors include Boeing, JP Morgan Chase and Credit Suisse, BP, and the personal foundation of Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York. The advisory board includes Henry Kissinger and the ubiquitous Tony Blair. None of these is known for chucking money around carelessly. All desire a stake in China’s future and know how to go about it. In the past, lavish presents and the kow-tow were required to gain the Emperor’s favour. Today, $300m will probably suffice.

The Independent

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