IS THE REAL MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE
Last updated at 23:18pm on 11th April 2008
Cecil Rhodes, the businessman-imperialist
of Africa, the creator of Rhodesia, suffered
no flicker of doubt about who were the masters.
"To be born an Englishman," he mused, "Is to win first prize in
the lottery of life."
It wasn't idle boasting. In the jingoistic triumphalism of the
late 19th century, when waving the Union Jack was a simple pleasure, people sang: "Rule Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves"
without any irony. It was a statement of fact.
A quarter of mankind lived under the British flag in the largest
empire the world had ever known.
And many of those parts that weren't under Britain's rule - such as the U.S. - had
been created by Britain.
British missionaries had opened up the Dark
Continent almost unchallenged.
The British Army found it easier to invade troublesome nations
- or most of them - than it does nowadays.
Britain was the workshop of the world, dominating science, manufacturing and trade.
To many Victorians, unquestioning of the ideology that underpinned
much imperialism, British supremacy was a simple matter of racial supremacy - Europeans, and the English in particular, were
fated to be the masters.
The truth is that we are masters of the world no more.
The global power shift from the West to the East is no longer just
a matter of debate confined to learned journals and newspaper columns - it is a reality that is beginning to have a huge impact
on our daily lives.
What would those Victorian masters of old have made of the fact
that Chinese security men were on the streets of London this
week, ordering our own police about and fighting running battles with British protesters while bewildered athletes carried
the Olympic torch on its relay through the capital?
It was a brazen display of how confident China has become of its new place in the world, just as the British Government's
failure to take a firm stand on Chinese abuses of human rights shows how craven we have become.
The dire warnings from the International Monetary Fund this week
that the West now faces the largest financial shock since the Great Depression, while the Asian economies are still powering
ahead, simply underlines our vulnerability in this new world order.
The desperately weakened American dollar appears to be on the verge
of losing its global dominance, in the same way as sterling lost it a lifetime ago.
The credit crunch has brought home to all of us in Britain how over-reliant our country has become on financial
services. Meanwhile, the loss of our manufacturing industries to Asia continues unabated.
Last month, an Indian company, Tata, bought up what was once the
cream of British manufacturing - Jaguar and Land Rover.
A couple of years ago, Nanjing Automotive, a Chinese company, snapped
up MG Rover.
Just as the 19th century was the British century, and the 20th
century was the American century, the 21st century is the Asian century.
But the handover of global power from the UK
to the U.S. was trivial compared to what
is happening now.
The U.S. was
Britain's offspring, based on the same
values and the same language.
It, too, was an Anglo-Saxon country, and passing the baton across
the Atlantic ensured the continuation of the Anglo-Saxon world order, based on democracy,
free trade and a belief in human rights, upheld through international institutions that both powers supported.
But the world order we have grown used to - and comfortable with
- over the last century is coming to an end.
Napoleon III compared China
to a sleeping giant and warned: "When China
awakes, she will shake the world."
After a long hibernation, China,
and her 1.3 billion people - twice the population of the U.S.
and EU combined - is awaking almost overnight.
And not just China.
The world's second most populous country, India,
is industrialising at a historically unprecedented pace.
Their economies are growing on a long-term basis about four times
the speed of the UK's and that of the United States. Goldman Sachs, the bank, recently predicted that by 2050, China and India would have overtaken the
U.S. to be the world's first and second
We have long heard about the benefits this brings, in terms of
plentiful cheap goods from toys to TVs, and huge opportunities for Western companies to sell their wares in these booming
But there are also downsides, which are becoming more apparent.
Unskilled workers in the West have become unsettled by the threat to their jobs as production moves East.
The most vulnerable Western workers have found their wages stagnate
as they struggle to compete in an increasingly global market place.
And competition for raw materials is pitting East against West.
The economic explosion of China,
and to a lesser extent India, has given
them an almost overpowering hunger for raw materials with which to build their factories, homes and cars.
Wherever you turn, the rise of Asia
is making its impact felt on our existence.
Every time you complain about the price of petrol being over £1
a litre, it is to the Far East you have to look to find the culprits.
There are even reports that manholes in Britain have been disappearing to feed the monstrous appetite for scrap steel in
the other side of the world.
China is spending 35 times as much on crude oil as it did eight years ago, and 23 times as much on copper.
As it builds gleaming skyscrapers on its fields, China alone consumes half the world's cement and a third of
What is happening is so extraordinary that economists have had
to invent a new word for it - this is not an economic cycle, but a supercycle, a shift in the world economy of historic proportions.
When demand increases and supply stands still, prices shoot up.
Iron, wheat and oil are all at record prices, despite slackening demand in the faltering Western economies.
The cost of living in Britain is now rising faster than wages, making the British on average poorer year
Asia's expansion means that its influence is starting to be felt more directly around the world.
Asian countries are not just buying up foreign raw materials, but
as their companies try to become global leaders, they are buying up Western companies.
It is not just Land Rover, Jaguar and MG Rover. The Malaysian company
Proton owns Lotus. Indian company Tata owns Corus, once British Steel, as well as Tetley Tea.
The hunger for raw materials is also making China lose its shyness and venture out into the world. Like
Germany and Russia,
China has traditionally been a land empire, focusing its expansionist energies
on countries it had borders with, and it eschewed the world-conquering exploits of Europe's
sea-faring maritime nations.
Europeans have, for half a millennium, been unchallenged as the
global colonisers, but last month the respected Economist magazine dubbed the Chinese "The New Colonists".
While the Congo
in central Africa was once over-run by Belgians, it is now the Chinese that can be found
wondering around its mining belts.
In Lubumbashi, the capital of the
Congo's copper-rich region Katanga,
the Economist reported "a sudden Chinese invasion".
recently shunned Western financial aid because of the amount of Chinese money pouring into it, in return for commodities.
to Indonesia to Latin America, Chinese
firms are gobbling up oil, gas, coal and metals.
Canadian authorities were recently alarmed to find the Chinese
interested in exploring the Arctic Ocean, in a bid to get a share of the minerals beneath
the thawing icecap.
In eastern Siberia, Russians worry that China is by default taking over their empty land.
The West has long seen Africa as its backyard, but Western diplomats
now worry that not just Africa, but South America, too, is being lost to China.
And Western governments are concerned that the rules of the game
are changing. Most worryingly, as China's brutal suppression of the once
independent Tibet shows, this is not a
superpower that respects Western standards on human rights.
From Darfur to Myanmar,
China is cuddling up to murderous dictators.
At home, it holds mass executions of criminals with bullets in
the back of the head while transplant surgeons stand by to harvest their still pulsating organs.
Yet Western governments have been in such awe of China's looming power that their response has not been to
challenge its abuses, but to try to silence their own protesters at home.
From the UN to the IMF to the World Bank, the international institutions
that attempt to govern the planet were made in the image of the victors of World War II. Now power is shifting from West to
East, the whole liberal democratic world order will face its first serious challenge in decades.
Many fear that things could get ugly.
There is only one thing worse than an unchallenged superpower -
it is a superpower with a victim mentality, which feels the world owes it a favour.
And the bitter truth is that, after centuries of humiliation in
foreign affairs, there is a nationalist mood in China
that the country's time has come again, that it can again claim its rightful place as the world's most powerful country.
Its comparative weakness over the last few centuries is, in fact,
but a blip in the last 2,000 years, during which China
was the world's most economically and culturally advanced nation.
It is an accident of history that Europeans took advantage of their
window of opportunity in the last half of the second millennium to take over the world.
The cause was a combination of factors such as the development
of maritime technology in Europe, the competition between European countries that drove them to look outwards and find new
ways to increase prosperity, and the fact China remained firmly locked in its agrarian, introspective past.
Now things have changed, and already the shift in the world economy
is starting to have dramatic effects on migration patterns.
The emigration of poor people from China
and India to the West is slowing down,
as their citizens see more hope in their own rapidly advancing nations.
Instead, their expanding middle classes are paying large fees for
their children to enjoy a Western university education, before returning home.
There are now 60,000 Chinese students in Britain, more than from any other country.
Westerners have become accustomed to being the only tourists in
the world's tourist hotspots, but the Chinese and Indians want to enjoy the fruits of their labour by expanding their horizons,
Chinese tourists are likely to replace American tourists as popular
irritants in Britain, and replace the
Germans as competitors for the ski lifts.
As the opportunities flow from West to East, so too do the people.
India is luring the global Indian diaspora back, with laws that would be judged racist in Britain, offering visas to anyone living in the West with
Indian blood in their veins.
Even some non-Indian Westerners are heading East for opportunities
greater than they find at home.
The West's cultural supremacy is likely to be as challenged as
its economic supremacy.
As their economic confidence grows, Asians are discovering pride
in their own cultures and are less inclined to mimic Western ones.
There is an infectious confidence in Bollywood, and the price of
Chinese antiques is rocketing as the newly rich Chinese decide they want a slice of their history. Western culture, like the
dollar, will soon find its heyday behind it.
But Western attitudes will change as well, with a likely shift
to the political Right. White liberal guilt, the driving force behind political correctness, will subside as Westerners feel
threatened by the global order changing, and their supremacy slipping away.
Anti-Americanism will disappear as Europeans realise how much better
it was to have a world super power that was a democracy (however flawed) not a dictatorship.
There is even speculation that the intense economic pressure on
countries such as Britain will cause them
to trim down their bloated welfare state, simply because it will no longer be affordable at present levels.
Western attitudes of superiority to China and the rest of the East will also subside, as Westerners realise they are
no longer the masters of the world.
company Orient Express complained when Tata tried to buy it, that any association with the Indian company would damage the
Orient Express's premium brand.
Responding, R K Krishna Kumar, a senior Tata executive, thundered
that "Indian companies ... will take their rightful place in the international arena.
"Enterprises and individuals must recognise and adapt to these
fundamental economic changes. We believe that those with a fossilised frame of mind risk being marginalised."
In a world in which we are no longer masters, it is a warning that
we ignore at our peril.