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Surviving in a duo-polar world

Barun Roy 

China usually evokes two kinds of feelings in any discussion of its global role: rivalry and fear. Depending on who’s got what axes to grind, China is either a rogue to be wary of or an ogre to gang up against. Mercifully, Ivan Tselichtchev, in his absorbing book, is influenced by neither and presents China from a totally new angle: as a space of economic opportunity for whoever wants to take a position in it. For this reason alone, China versus the West will, I hope, be read by governments, economists, and businessmen alike with interest.

Thankfully, China versus the West is also a highly reader-friendly, straight-to-the-point book, without any of the tortuous, often strenuous, digressions in which academic studies usually abound. The chapters are short and well structured, almost like a Power Point presentation, and written in a language that’s simple and easy to digest and perfectly suited to its equally simple theme.

Basically, what Dr Tselichtchev, a renowned analyst of Asian and global economy and business who currently teaches at Japan’s Niigata University of Management, is trying to say is this: China has now climbed to a stage of economic competition and growth where it’ll be fruitless for Western economies – and by West he means all developed countries, including Japan – to get locked with it in a face-off, simply because, in the given situation, it’s impossible for them to win. Instead, cooperation would be the best way forward, using China’s growth as an input, as one uses land, labour and capital as inputs.

In that respect, China versus the West is one of the most sensible to come out on the question of the global power shift of the 21st century. It’s a practical guide, so to say, on how governments and business circles should respond to the emerging reality of a rapidly decentralising world. It’s no longer the US alone, but the US and China together that dominate the global landscape, much like, as Dr Tselichtchev puts it, the Petronas Twin Towers soaring above Kuala Lumpur. The sooner nations acknowledge this fact, the better.

Dr Tselichtchev may sound a little professorial, but one has to admire the directness of his approach, especially when he says, almost like advising a schoolchild: “Opportunity is there – move and try to find it. It can be a business, a job, or at least a very valuable experience … Make China part of your world. Even if it does not lead to a good business opportunity, you will gain knowledge and experience that may help you a great deal to live and work in today’s new world.”

Over the bulk of the book, Dr Tselichtchev explains, with the help of a huge array of statistics, why he’s saying what he’s saying. With a speed that’s almost lightning-fast, in just the course of a decade, China has surpassed Japan to become the largest economy in the world after the US and the leader in global manufacturing and merchandise exports. He pinpoints areas where China has surged way past competition and those where Western nations still have clout and should concentrate on, in a division of labour that has become unavoidable. “China is changing history, economic history included,” says Dr Tselichtchev.

His advice is unequivocal. “Our point,” he writes, “is that the US-, Western Europe-, or Japan-based factories have no more opportunities in the low-end mass products segment — even if they use high technologies to make them. Their only chance is aggressive product differentiation, first of all in the high-end segment, preferably coupled with the development of export markets, especially the dynamic markets of China and other emerging world countries. The governments have to help.”

What about fear? Is China really the ogre that many believe it to be? Dr Tselichtchev doesn’t think so and he’s quite emphatic about it. “It [China] will not emerge as a new world ruler either in the coming decades or in a more distant future,” he says. “There will be no new Pax Sinica.” Why? He explains: “The epoch when the leadership of a single country was possible is over … The world is becoming more and more multi-polar and, consequently, increasingly difficult to lead.”

Dr Tselichtchev then goes on to dwell on another very important reason why China won’t want to play games with the world: its overriding concern to create and protect wealth for its people. Anything that puts this goal at risk is considered unwise. I tend to agree with Dr Tselichtchev when he says: “Actually, China does not seem to be even thinking about global influence, insisting only on other countries’ non-interference into its internal affairs.”

One may call it simplistic, but China versus the West certainly lays a lot of things bare. As Dr Tselichtchev asserts, “The global economy has to be viewed as a single economic space, where every company from every Western country has to find the right position in the right countries.” His book provides clinching evidence why.

The Global Power Shift of the 21st Century
Ivan Tselichtchev

227 pages, $29.95

First Published: Wed, July 18 2012. 00:42 IST