On Thursday May 9th, 2019 I had the pleasure of attending the controversial Munk Debate on whether or not China as a rapidly rising political entity is a friend or foe. More specifically, whether China is a friend or foe to the liberal international order that has been enjoyed by typically “Western” societies for decades.
Arguing the motion that China is not a threat to this liberal international order was Huiyao Wang, founder and president a top Chinese thinktank: the Center for China and Globalization. Mr. Wang was joined by Kishore Mahbubani, an academic from Singapore who also formerly sat as President of the United Nations Security Council. Mr. Wang was most impressive, as he was truly articulate and kept a positive attitude throughout the debate. There was an obvious language barrier, coupled with skepticism from the crowd, and this did not phase Mr. Wang’s confident, yet approachable manner. Overall, his arguments covered how much progress China has made as a nation, but ultimately did not address the ways in which China is NOT a threat to the international liberal order, nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed his dialogue on the whole.
Mr. Mahbubani’s arguments also appeared to gloss over the heart of the matter, and he was almost akin to a salesman, boasting on the endless merits and possibilities that China can present to the rest of the world. In addition, Mr. Mahbubani seemed to place a far greater emphasis on noting the ways in which the USA is more of a threat to the liberal international order than China is, and while that may or may not be true, it simply was not what the matter up for debate was. This tactic actually had the opposite of the effect that was probably desired, in the sense that it did not distract me in any way, shape, or form, it just felt like a complete sidebar to the true topic.
The two speakers who were in agreement, that China is indeed a threat to liberal international order were Michael Pillsbury, and H.R. McMaster. H. R. McMaster served as the 26th Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. He also served as a commissioned officer in the United States Army for a total of 34 years prior to his recent retirement in June 2018. Michael Pillsbury is Michael Pillsbury is one of the leading China strategists in the world, he is also the director for Chinese strategy at the Hudson Institute think tank. Both of these speakers gave me the impression that they would be incredibly biased, based on their biographies alone. However, they did an amazing job at convincing me, in a balanced, fact-based, and articulate manner that China is indeed a threat to liberal international order. They used examples including surveillance techniques that would bring George Orwell’s 1984 to life, military strategies that are being developed in secret, and outright lies that China has been the main actor in, including the fact that China agreed that it would not develop the South China Sea at one point in time.
I entered the debate with the same opinion that I left with, that China is a threat to liberal international order. Some of the basis for this opinion is formed through observation of the extreme surveillance that China forces upon their own citizens. If China would impose those measures on their own citizens, why wouldn’t they at least attempt to impose them on the rest of the world? Furthermore China has been investing in various places around the world, but at a cost. China will give a country a railway for example, but with that comes the notion that China now essentially “owns” that nation. These are just two of the reasons, summarized briefly for my stance on this issue, but this topic could have easily ran a day-long debate on the pros and cons of China becoming a world superpower, so I would urge those interested in the topic to go forth and conduct their own research, based on the statistics, and form their own opinion free of bias.
So, what are your thoughts? Is China a threat?