The important lessons China has for the world

A US billlionaire is setting up a $300m scholarship scheme at to fund Americans studying Shanghai’s elite Tsinghua University - but what will they actually learn?

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China has long been serenely confident of its centrality, and this will be bolstered even further by the news that Stephen Schwarzman, a US billionaire, has set up a $300m scholarship scheme for students from all over the world to study in the country. Based at Shanghai’s elite Tsinghua University, it is designed to rival and perhaps eclipse the Rhodes Scholarships that sent the likes of Bill Clinton to Oxford, it will bring 200 students from around the world for a one-year Master’s programme, all expenses paid.

But what might the Schwarzman Scholars actually learn? What does China, in its present mighty manifestation, have to teach us?

“Uses of a redundant ideology” would be one fascinating module. Besides Deng Xiaoping’s pithy “to get rich is glorious”, is there a more inflected explanation of how the class struggle culminated in the  re-establishment of the Chinese bourgeoisie, this time as the clients of the Communist Party? And if so, could it be taught without both teachers and students risking imprisonment?

Other courses might include:

Managing minorities: The Chinese approach to Tibet seems similar to how the Americans dealt with their Indians, but those pioneers could at least claim that they were strangers in a strange land, and that some of the natives were armed and dangerous. Tibetans and Chinese, by contrast, have been neighbours for millennia, and while Tibetans did once, very long ago, invade Han China, Tibet was for several centuries a sort of guru country to China. Nor are Tibetans renowned for their aggression: the Chinese have difficulty persuading the outside world that self-immolation – more than 100 Tibetans have set themselves alight in the past four years – is a terrorist act. China’s Tibet policy is pitiless, relentless and apparently unstoppable, so for any students wishing to acquire those attributes, it would surely repay close study.

Futurism, Chinese-style: The Chinese have always taken a far longer view than the rest of us, thanks to extreme venerability of their civilisation. So what do the modern sages see in their crystal balls? Once they have dammed every river, covered the countryside with new cities and airports; once the one-child policy has borne its final fruit in a population where the aged vastly outnumber those working; and once the few, or few hundred million, young people who remain prefer swanning around Beijing’s chic Sanlitun Road in Maseratis to assembling iPads at Foxconn – then what? Where will China go from there?

Foreign policy. The point of foreign countries is to bring tribute to the central kingdom. If they don’t do that, they might as well not exist. That, in a nutshell, has long been China’s view of foreign affairs. The question everyone wants to know, from President Obama down, is whether, with the creation of a so-called “string of pearls” – a network of hospitable ports – in the Indian Ocean, with the ongoing spats over the Spratly and Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, and with the rapid expansion of the Chinese navy, that ancient and largely passive posture is set to change. Everyone hopes not.

But undoubtedly the most useful lesson China can teach is enshrined in the scholarship scheme itself, one of the world’s largest educational endowments. While Mr Schwarzman is giving $100m of his own, other big donors include Boeing, JP Morgan Chase and Credit Suisse, BP, and the personal foundation of Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York. The advisory board includes Henry Kissinger and the ubiquitous Tony Blair. None of these is known for chucking money around carelessly. All desire a stake in China’s future and know how to go about it. In the past, lavish presents and the kow-tow were required to gain the Emperor’s favour. Today, $300m will probably suffice.

Silvio is still in the game

Terrible news from Italy: that old fox Berlusconi has done it again. He may have failed to get elected either President or Pope, but the deal stitched up this week between his party and the centre-left Democratic Party ensures that he will continue to bulk large in Italian politics, at least for as long as the new government survives.

He will be there, as he has been ever since his debut in 1994, to protect his and his family’s and his companies’ interests, and those of the tax-dodging, state-hating business world in general, and to continue his long and successful campaign to stay out of jail.

He will also be better poised than ever to quietly and charmingly eviscerate what remains of Italian social democracy, which he calls Communism. Cutting deals with Berlusconi has been the fatal temptation of the left for 15 years and more; Massimo D’Alema was the first to succumb, flunking the opportunity to pass a conflict-of-interest law as the price of his friendship with the Cavalier. It will be argued that Italy’s gaping governmental vacuum had to be filled with something. But never have comedian Beppe Grillo’s warnings about the stink of corruption from the ancien regime seemed more apposite.

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