BOOKCASE: The writing on the wall: China and the west in the 21st century

• Will Hutton
• Little, Brown
• $39.99

If Thomas L Friedman nailed the notion that we live in joined up world in his book The World is Flat, then Will Hutton has just spelt out some of the consequences. The Writing on the Wall is masterful, if sometimes daunting, examination of what the rising Chinese juggernaut means to the western world.
Hutton argues that, far from being the muscled-up economic machine of popular mythology, China carries deep within its structure series of flaws that could rock not only its foundations but those of the United States and myriad other countries whose economic tentacles are increasingly intertwined on the world stage.
Not least of China’s problems is the widening gulf between its communist political apparatus and its capitalist market behaviour. Then there are host of issues surrounding China’s weak enterprise system, mounting social pressure, corruption and environmental degradation.
Hutton, former BBC TV reporter and producer and now CEO of The Work Foundation, believes the western world in general, and the United States in particular, must embrace China as partner.
“Underneath the tension lies greater truth,” writes Hutton. “The two sides are co-dependent and essentially benefit from their relationship.” To succeed, the United States will need huge dollops of self-confidence and much generosity of spirit. “If the next century is going to be Chinese, it will only be because China embraces the economic and political pluralism of the West in general and our Enlightenment institutions in particular, modified of course, for the Chinese experience.”
The rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, the freedom of the press, the scientific and research processes in independent universities, and the idea of representative and accountable government are, according to Hutton, not ‘Western’ constructs but the essential checks and balances behind any well-functioning society and economy.
There is lot at stake. Oil, trade and currency remain potential flashpoints between China and the United States. Tensions could be played out over Taiwan. Many scientists believe degradation of the world’s ecosystems is fast reaching tipping point from which it will be virtually impossible to recover. History shows that incumbent world superpowers do not easily surrender pride of place to challenger. The United States will require cool head to help China through its difficult transformation.
Will Hutton has been pumping out thoughtful books for years. The Writing on the Wall is another excellent addition to an already impressive collection.

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