The Guardian filled its G2 supplement on 2nd January by asking contributors to reflect on the decade so far, probably so its sub-editors could recover on New Year’s Day. Most of the comment was as you’d expect. But Martin Jacques’ brief comments on China’s burgeoning political influence caught something deeper – and suggested that the West had missed much of it because it had been distracted by the Middle East.

He says it better than I can summarise it:

The most dramatic expression of China’s rise lies hidden from the western gaze in east Asia. In less than a decade, what is now the largest economic region in the world, home to one-third of humanity, has been reconfigured with China not only as its economic centre, usurping Japan in the process, but also as near hegemonic in every respect other than military, thereby displacing the United States.

The fact that the Bush administration, and those in Europe who have followed its 9/11-inspired agenda, somehow believe that the future of the world is being played out in the Middle East and central Asia rather than east Asia has only served to accelerate China’s rise and the US’s decline.

The enormity of the change, perhaps, partly excuses the fact that the western mind still lags far behind events, debating Africa as if Europe was a more important player than China, solemnly opining about Burma as if the western writ went as it did in the old days.

Of course, after the political shift comes a cultural shift.

Martin has a book forthcoming later this year on what it will be like when China rules the world.

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