Is China friend or foe?

Will China be a friend or foe in the future? That was the underlying question in a debate held in Toronto last year that was sponsored by Monk Debate. The title of the debate was Will The 21st Century Belong To China? The real question for the remainder of the world is will China be a friend or foe. The real question for China is whether they can trust the West.

The participants in the debate include Niall Ferguson who is an author and a professor at Harvard and Oxford, David Li who has a ph.D from Harvard and is a member of the Monetary Policy Advisory Committee of the Central Bank of China. On the opposing side is Fareed
Zakaria who is the host of CNN’s international affairs program. He is also an editor-at-large for Time Magazine and the Washington Post. His partner is Henry Kissinger who holds a Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As you watch the debate the two people to pay most attention to are David Li and Dr. Kissinger.

David Li in the debate said,

“There’s new energy there in our gas tank, … because the changes came from a spectacular clash of civilizations between China and the West as recently as 170 years ago. The clash was a total failure for the Chinese. It came as a big humiliation to us, lasting from generation to generation…. And this humiliations created a huge amount of reaction and over-reaction in Chinese society...including the founding of the Chinese Communist Party 90 years ago. That was more about establishing a strong and independent China than spreading a proletariat revolution all over the world.”

“Opening Up means learning whatever is best in the West…. our great leader Deng Xiaoping said, “No debates. Just do it…”

Henry Kissinger commented,

"The issue before the world is whether, in the 21st century when China undoubtedly will get stronger, we in the West can work with China. And the issue is also whether China can work with us to create an international structure in which perhaps for the first time in history a rising state has been incorporated into an international system and strengthened peace and progress."

Allow me to tip off my conclusion by saying the issue is not whether the 21st century belongs to China but whether we can make China belong to a more universal conception in the 21st century. It is too early to tell whether China will be a friend or foe to the West in the future. This is especially true being aware of the Chinese tactic of “The Five Baits” when China historically faced a difficult enemy. We must take a precautionary stance and prepare for the worse. The bad news is this position  will be costly to the U.S. and some of its allies. The good news is the underdeveloped world will benefit from this caution.
To understand the above position of caution one needs to review some history of China and the East overall. The Chinese are proud of their history as they should be. Their civilization was around for 300 years before Christ.The Chinese  are a proud people and historically consider their country to be "the Middle Kingdom", meaning they were the center of the world and all other nations were inferior to China.
No other country can match their claim of  such a long continuous civilization which dates back three centuries before Christ. The Chinese Emperor was thought to be head of a universal political hierarchy. Much of the rest of the world, especially the eastern world, agreed with this assessment.
During the Song Dynasty from 960 to 1270 China had the strongest navy in the world. China could have used their superior naval power to conquer other countries and colonize them but instead they provided lavish gifts to the rulers of these other countries and invited them to travel to China. There they were expected to acknowledge the superiority of Chinese culture and "kowtow" to the Emperor while acknowledging his superiority. The reason China was not interested in conquering other lands is they saw them as being inferior so why bother.
Here are some other points made by  Pankaj Mishra, Indian essayist and novelist in his book From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia.,
  • The East was looking for dignity and equality from the West and never got it
  • A crystallizing moment regarding China was when in 2009 the Premier of China stood at the tomb of Mao Tse Tung's son and said that he can rest for eternity because China is strong and will no longer be bullied by the West.
  • The East was used and abused by the West in much of the 19th and early 20th century. From their perspective the East was humiliated by the West. The Chinese were used by West as slave labor, India was used by Britain to fight a war with China.
  • For much of the last 150 years the West looked at the world as something they could use as personal property.
  • The basic cultural difference is the West is focused on providing a good life for the individual and society is here to facilitate that quest. The East puts the focus on the good of society and the individual has a responsibility to help society.
  • The East is gaining power from the West and it will continue.
Henry Kissinger got it right when he said at the end of the debate,
“I say in my book that based on experience the prospects are not optimistic. But on the other hand we have never had to deal before with proliferation, environment, cyberspace and a whole set of other problems that can be dealt with only on a universal basis."
"My conclusion is that the issue is not whether the 21st century belongs to China but whether we can make China belong to a more universal conception in the 21st century."

And here is what the West must do. The question is do we have the will. More.


  1. Some of us win more than others.

  2. Nice synopsis. I found the debate informative and very entertaining. The International style of debate is so entertaining, even on the college and university level. It's worth the viewing.


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