Is the rise of China a threat to the rest of the world? According to Donald Trump and many in the West, there’s no doubt that it is. Under Xi Jinping’s assertive leadership, they claim, China has been engaging in a campaign of economic aggression against the West through its unfair trade policies of manufacturing subsidies and dumping steel, as well as the theft of intellectual property. Its Belt and Road initiative is holding countries around the world to ransom by granting hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure loans under opaque and stringent conditions. Added to which, China has been flexing its muscles against its neighbours in the South China Seas. And at home, the country’s human rights record has deteriorated with the discovery of ‘reeducation camps’ housing as many as one million ethnic Uighurs. And it’s not just minorities who are feeling the weight of China’s authoritarianism: the state is building a system of what it calls ‘social credit’, whereby individuals are rated according to their good or bad behaviour. If a person’s score falls below a certain level, he or she can face penalties, such as being banned from travelling or buying luxury goods. China is a threat and it’s no surprise that Trump is fighting back by imposing tariffs on half the US imports from China.
Much of this may be true, but is an aggressive approach towards China in the West’s best interests? Rather than seeing the situation as a zero-sum game where either China or the US comes out on top, more conciliatory-minded China-watchers argue that the West should be aiming at cautious engagement with China. Trump’s trade war, they say, will only hurt the pockets of American consumers. And let’s face it, however many times Trump says ‘America first’, most of those lost manufacturing jobs are never coming back to the US. Far better to see China as a strategic partner and aim for mutual respect and cooperation than to escalate economic and geopolitical rivalry and stoke nationalist fervour on both sides. After all, without China on board the world will never achieve many of its vital goals, such as meeting greenhouse gas emissions targets. China is here to stay and we need to face up to that fact.
So is China an enemy that needs to be reined in, or a potential partner with whom the West should engage? Join us on February 20th, hear the arguments and decide for yourself.
Speakers are subject to change.