We are constantly being told of the impending global supremacy of China; and there are good reasons to believe that it is possible: China is asserting its ambitions everywhere, including through its leaders and intellectuals; China is also emerging from this pandemic ahead of the rest of the world; its GDP will surpass that of the United States well before 2030; it already has a navy in the China Sea that is equal to that of the United States; its foreign exchange reserves are gigantic, and the Chinese government is leveraging its reserves to pursue a conquering, if not arrogant, diplomacy.
However, China also has major weaknesses that are economic, demographic, social, environmental and democratic: China’s victory against the pandemic, which it created, remains uncertain; the income of each Chinese national is only a third of that of a European or an American; and, at the current rate, it will take more than half a century before China catches up with the Western standard of living; moreover, China will grow old before it becomes rich, which will make it very difficult for it to put in place the social protection necessary for its elderly; Finally, the market economy is producing a bourgeoisie class, and with it the demand for respect for the rule of law, freedom of expression, the right to free enterprise, and ultimately a demand for democracy. The Chinese Communist Party is well aware of this and for the moment is effectively repressing any attempt to do so, which will eventually undermine its economic efficiency. In the end, either China will join the Western way of life or it will collapse; in both cases, it will be a triumph of the Western development model.
The West, on the other hand, remains a mighty power, economically, technologically and militarily; and the recent recovery plans in the United States and the European countries give the impression that neither of these blocs has given up on holding their own, for a very long time. Although lagging behind China, their growth rates will soon return to very high levels. And China may never be in a position to overtake the West.
However, the Chinese discourse is bearing fruit; in the West, there is concern, and it is well-founded: we have seen giants defeated by dwarfs; we have seen superpowers that were overstretched, too sure of themselves, disappear. History is full of examples of civilisations that committed suicide at the height of their power.
And it can happen to the West. From the strikes of a super powerful China? I do not think so. From a conquering Islam? Not much chance of that.
So, what? The West may in fact disappear by the strikes of its worst enemy: itself.
For a nation, as for an individual, it’s all about self-confidence: Too much confidence and you’re deadly blind. Too little confidence and it is fatal resignation.
America is threatened with decline because it thinks it is super powerful; Europe is threatened with decline because it thinks it is powerless.
And in both cases, they fail to see that what threatens them is their internal divisions, rivalries between groups, deepening of inequalities, enclosure of each community within imaginary borders, bunkering of juxtaposed cultures; simmering hatred, settling of scores between neighbours and revenge taken on generations that are not responsible for these issues. More particularly, in America as in Europe, the unearthing of crimes of the past is contributing to a slow deconstruction of the dominant elites, without a new one emerging to take over and unite around a new project for a common society for all.
This suicide of the West is underway: self-hatred will produce the worst of situations.
To avoid such impending doom, it is necessary in both cases to understand that revenge cannot overcome the demons of the past; it is necessary to build a societal project that goes beyond these absurd divisions, and that makes everyone understand that it is in their interest to claim their full rights to the benefits that a great nation can give them, rather than close themselves off in a cultural, religious, social, or ethnic selfishness that can only be destructive; that it is necessary to tear down the walls that separate and not lock themselves behind these walls.
It is the role of politics to provide such dreams, projects, and opportunities to unite. Will it be able to do so? Or will it participate, through demagoguery, through submission to the most powerful or the most vocal, in the suicide of nations that were the source of a triumphant civilisation? We will know very soon.