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How to Win Friends and Influence People in the 21st Century

Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book by that name,  80 years after it was first published, still has millions of followers and practitioners round the globe. Stripped to its barest form, it’s no more than clever use of psychology to manipulate other people to serve one’s own purpose : to persuade others to one’s point of view and exercise influence over them. At best, it’s a benign version of Machiavellianism.

In China, some have said in jest that one could govern a nation just by applying half of what’s in the Analects. Though that’s hyperbole, there’s a ring of truth to it. A central tenet in the Analects is “Junzi”, which defies translation as much would be lost in the process. Loosely and roughly put, Junzi is a learned, morally upright and scrupulous, and highly-principled person who walks the talk, subscribes to fair play, respects others, and won’t take what’s not his by force or foul means.

Confucianism puts a great store by social harmony. The concept of “Datong”, or loosely Great Harmony, contains elements of egalitarianism, helping others, and peace. That philosophy has traces of Daoism as well as Confucius’ contemporary, Mozi’s non-aggression. It predated communism and Utopianism by some two millennia.  Sun Yat-sen’s “A world shared equally by all” was a modern rendition of Datong. Xi Jinping has refined it in recent years to “A community of shared future for mankind”. This has biblical echo in Ecclesiastes 9 : “A common destiny awaits all”.

In the context of state-to-state relations, Datong is reflected in China’s foreign policies of mutual respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, and peaceful co-existence.

The colonial abuses and atrocities of plunder, rape and exploitation of the colonised didn’t survive the post-WW2 struggle for independence by the colonies for obvious reasons. Increasingly too, the empire’s zero-sum and winner-takes-all world order enforced by force of arms is fast unravelling. China’s win-win formula and community of shared destiny are coming to the fore as the new narrative and alternative to the empire’s carrying a big stick and using it to punish those who fall out of line or simply refuse to toe the line.

China is perceived as an existential threat to American hegemony not so much on account of China’s economic ascendancy or military prowess. But because China offers a new alternative to global order based on peace and economic development that militates against the Wolfowitz Doctrine. The empire has been pulling all the stops to contain or disrupt China’s re-emergence. From outright trade embargoes imposed on the founding of People’s Republic of China in 1949, CIA’s covert operations in Tibet, repeated attempts of colour revolution (of which the Tiananmen Incident was a failed attempt), more than 200 military bases in the Pacific to encircle China, Obama’s Pivot to Asia, Trump’s threat to wage a trade war against China, and continuing efforts to sabotage the Belt and Road Initiative.

China’s rise is inexorable, and the empire’s containment and shit-stirring will come to naught. It’s not because China is strong. But because China’s Datong alternative has found sympathy and takers in many sovereign states which have grown utterly sick and tired of being bullied and subjugated by the hegemon. Just as Obama’s Pivot to Asia has failed miserably, so will Trump’s America First policy and the Wolfowitz Doctrine.

China-backed BRI has swept across Eurasia and further afield in Africa and South America, merely 4 years after it hit the road. Through BRI, China has turned foes into friends. President Duterte of the Philippines has pivoted to China, frustrating America’s ploy to raise tension in South China Sea. So has Nepal, long under the stranglehold of aspiring South Asian hegemon India,  after the Communist coalition won the  election by a landslide last week. All this because they see it beneficial to hitch a ride on the BRI train, a historic opportunity to develop their economies.

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