On the occasion of the Chinese New Year as all Mauritians are going to enjoy a national holiday and a long week end of hopefully festive enjoyment we present to you all but with a special thought to our “Chinese” friends our best wishes for the coming Year of the Horse.
Undoubtedly a vast majority of Mauritians will happily join us in such an innocuous formulation in presenting our wishes to our Chinese brethren. Yet we are aware that a small but usually very vocal minority will find it at best politically incorrect and at worse offensive. They will object to the use of the denomination “Chinese” to define a section of our population finding this to be anti-national if not anti-constitutional. It is not our intention here to engage in a debate about the definition of what constitutes our Mauritian nation. Suffice it to say that as a Mauritian we are comfortable with the above formulation.
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I was surprised during the week, while listening to a globally respected business channel, to find that one of the invitees to a programme at the peak hour of presentation was a Feng Shui expert. She was asked about her views on the coming Year of the Horse and how the characteristics attributable to it would likely impact business prospects over the year. Whether to believe in such predictions or not, is a matter better left to each individual to decide, depending on his own culture and upbringing. The notable fact remains that this actually happened during a very focussed business programme addressed to pin striped bankers and CEOs of the largest corporations in the world. The matter was being treated very seriously by all present. The point is that only a few years back it would have been impossible to imagine that what was construed to be mere “oriental superstition” would even be mentioned in such a programme let alone being seriously commented upon.
Obviously what has changed is not necessarily the attitude or beliefs of the bankers or other business professionals who are the target of such programmes. Due acknowledgement was being given to the fact that a large number of critical decisions impacting on the global economy is today being taken by people whose behaviour are often influenced by such beliefs. Figures published recently, for example, show that although the rate of growth of the Chinese economy has slowed during the past year, it is still growing at about four times that of the United States. This can lead us to the summary conclusion that we are simply observing yet another case of “ Money Talking.”
A less pedestrian view however could interpret this as something more profound, albeit anecdotally so. The shift of the economic centre of gravity to the East and the emergence of the Global Village are some of the more commented aspects of globalisation which has turned out to be a phenomenon far more complex than simply the triumphant expansion of an economic model into the most remote areas of the globe. This economic integration has found greatest resistance not from the economic spheres, although social movements such as the Occupy Wall Street crowd, have done their bit. Real resistance has more significantly arisen from the cultural/religious quarters. The jury is still out about how far the rise of “jihadism” in the violent form in which it manifests itself today, for example, is a phenomenon which can be directly represented as an extreme form of resistance to what is perceived to be a form of “cultural imperialism”.
In this context, to come back to our business programme and the Feng Shui expert, a more meaningful interpretation would be to see in it a concrete example of the manifestation of what hopefully would be the emerging trend i.e. compromise and convergence as the purported Cartesian mindset attributed to the Western civilization meets the more intuitive thinking generally attributed to Easter philosophy. Admittedly this kind of “clichés” is always questionable – after all Mathematics was invented by the Arabs and Indians – but they are illustrative of the larger point that we want to make.
Far from us any intention of joining the “declinists”, a mostly European-led school of thought, which sees the decline of Western civilization as irretrievably inscribed in history. Actually the developed world participation in the global economy remains at a healthy 60% and the West remains the precursor of technological change and innovation in many domains. What is most likely and, in our view, also more desirable would be to witness a more or less rapid adjustment as the West comes to grip with the fact that the days of “dominance” are gone and prepares itself to come to terms with this new reality.
Of course no one expects this to be a smooth “handing over”. It will more likely take the form of a protracted struggle on a variety of battlegrounds. Attempts at correction on some occasions such as when the developing countries contested, albeit unsuccessfully, the established convention that the heads of the World Bank and IMF positions are reserved exclusively and interchangeably for the US and Europe. For how much longer can such a creation of the “old world” order resist the rise of the new power game defining the nascent world order?
The last WTO meeting also witnessed a tussle between India and the Western nations led by the US on the critical question of agricultural subsidies. India held its ground that this was a matter critical to the livelihood of its peasants and rural poor. Such head to head confrontation between these two nations would have been simply unimaginable only a few years ago as the US would have easily used an arsenal of tactics to twist the arm of the Indians. The rise of the BRICS as a player on the global arena and the calling of the G20 meeting at the height of the global crisis are all very positive signals that after all globalisation need not be a zero sum game.
To conclude on the same note as we started, may be Mauritius should propose to the United Nations that just as Christmas is almost universally celebrated (a legacy of colonial expansion but today fully integrated into the mindset of non-Christians wherever it is celebrated) a resolution should be adopted that every year one day from each of the important religions should be a universal public holiday. What could be a truer reflection of and greater contribution from the Mauritian experience of peaceful co-existence? What greater acknowledgement of the rise of the global village and the importance of each of its components to global activity?
* Published in print edition on 30 January 2014