Foreign Policy magazine’s December issue features its annual list of “Top 100 Global Thinkers”, of whom several are from or otherwise connected to China. The listing also includes a number of nominees’ responses to the rather vague question, “America or China?”
Leading the Chinese contingent at #10, China’s chief banker Zhou Xiaochuan was tied with his European and American counterparts, Jean-Claude Trichet and Ben Bernanke.
People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan, whose country owns a whopping $1.14 trillion in U.S. debt, has been forced to cope with the unpleasant fact that China’s entanglement with U.S. and European markets makes it dependent on the health of Western economies. To that end, he has pursued a course of letting the yuan gradually appreciate, in a bid to slowly build up domestic consumption and decrease China’s reliance on foreign markets.
Following his victory in ArtReview’s parade of “the dancers who’ve spent the past 12 months gyrating around contemporary art’s greasy pole of power”, Ai Weiwei reached a more modest #18 in the Foreign Policy list, “for standing up to the Chinese Communist Party — even after it threw him in jail”:
Throwing Ai in jail put a famous face on a worrying trend: Since this spring, the number of human rights activists, lawyers, artists, and other dissidents vanishing into government custody without explanation has quietly but sharply spiked in China. Now Ai has taken up their cause, railing against this state of affairs — in open violation of the terms of his release. “[T]here are many hidden spots where they put people without identity,” he wrote in a searing Newsweek essay. “With no name, just a number.… Only your family is crying out that you’re missing.”
Accompanying his entry is a set of photos taken in Ai’s studio during a visit by Foreign Policy contributing editor Christina Larson earlier this year. Ai is also currently ranked at #12 in TIME’s Person of the Year poll, a comfortable ten places and 5,607 votes ahead of Kim Kardashian.
Immediately behind the artist at #19 in the Foreign Policy list are Yu Keping and He Weifang, nominated for their contrasting approaches to political change in China:
One surprising advocate from inside the system is Yu Keping, a bureaucrat and head of the government-advising China Center for Comparative Politics and Economics, whom the New York Times has described as a “mild-mannered policy wonk” and a proponent of slow but steady change. His straightforwardly titled essay, “Democracy Is a Good Thing,” insists that China can transition into a democracy that works for the Chinese. In a China Daily op-ed this summer titled “Reform Must Be Incremental,” Yu wrote that though the go-slow approach has been on balance good for China, “The country still lacks a mechanism to counter the selfish behavior of the bureaucracy, corruption is still rampant and public service rendered by the government is far from enough.”
He Weifang, meanwhile, is an outspoken critic of the Chinese legal system who was sent to internal exile in Xinjiang for signing the Charter 08 manifesto against the government in 2008 and then was told last year that he couldn’t leave the country. For He, a Peking University law professor and longtime writer on judicial abuses who says he sees China growing more repressive over time, reform cannot come fast enough. And if the Communist Party doesn’t adapt, he has warned, “then that process of transformation will not occur peacefully, and if the extreme violence comes, then there will be no Communist Party. It is a case of adapt or die.” So will it be Yu’s way or He’s?
Aside from the Chinese nationals, the list included “Tiger Mother” Amy Chua, a second-generation Chinese-American, who came in at #35. Economist Arvind Subramanian, known for arguing that China’s rise is both further advanced and greater in scale than most suspect, was #97.
Among the questions submitted to nominees was simply “America or China?” China fared poorly, with only six unqualified picks (from Nouriel Roubini, Sherry Rehman, Andrew Sullivan, Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Pervez Hoodbhoy) to America’s thirty. 29 respondents declined to choose one or the other, opting for “both” or “neither”, or giving some other indirect answer. Among these, Human Rights Watch’s Kenneth Roth (#69) replied that:
China’s model of repressive development is enormously attractive to authoritarian regimes around the world. The United States (and other friends of human rights) must do a better job of making the case for accountable government as the best way to improve the lot of the most needy, impoverished segments of society.
Oxford Economist Paul Collier (#56) picked China with the disclaimer “rocky not rocket,” while controversial environmental researcher Bjorn Lomborg (#76) answered “America for what the future should be, China for what the future will be.”