Deep Dive: Is China the Threat It’s Made Out to Be?

 

Globalization doesn’t just depend on the United States doing the right thing. It depends on China doing the right thing.

Elizabeth Economy C. V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director of Asia Studies, Council on For...
Session

Deep Dive: Is China the Threat It’s Made Out to Be?

Who is Xi Jinping?
Who is Xi Jinping?
Blame and consequences in the US-China trade war
How China has fostered, and stifled, democracy and innovation
China’s media landscape is bad, but all is not lost
Is China a national security threat?
1.

Who is Xi Jinping?

Jump to idea
02:35

To understand what’s going on in China, one must understand the story of Xi Jingping, China’s leader and one of the most powerful people in the world. Elizabeth Economy explains Xi’s backstory and how he’s now changing the rules of the game globally in some “Trumpian” ways.

2.

Blame and consequences in the US-China trade war

Jump to idea
12:41

Rebecca Blumenstein and Elizabeth Economy debate who’s at fault in the US-China trade war, what the consequences may be, and what it means for globalism in the long term:

  • Rebecca Blumenstein: I think we’re at a worrisome point. The whole notion of globalization and engagement is coming undone between the US and China. We are actually in the middle of a trade war with China, which is shocking. You see the business community, which has supported the Trump administration in many respects, shocked and appalled, because many companies make things that have parts from China and other places, and although the Trump administration is trying to save jobs, there are a lot of fears we could actually lose jobs. We could end up at the end of globalization where you have US goods made in the US and Chinese products made in China. Most people who are realistic about the cost of manufacturing don’t think it’s realistic to bring all these jobs back to the US. I think the Chinese economy can withstand the impact of a trade war much more than the US economy. You see it with soybean farmers in Iowa — other countries, not only China, are being strategic about where they’re placing their tariffs. … China can’t make chips the way the US can now, but I’ll bet in ten years that’s going to change. … You could be seeing with 5G and technology totally separate systems in the US and China. … We have for decades had an assumption that globalization will continue — obviously it is not perfect and people have been left behind — but by targeting China in this way and making it as adversarial as it could be – when they’re the world’s second largest economy and will soon surpass the US – accommodating China is the story of our time, and if globalization is off, there are huge question marks going forward.”

  • Elizabeth Economy: This is not all about the United States in the wrong. Sure, Xi Jinping stands up at Davos and says, ‘we’re a defender of globalization,’ but China does not support either the free flow of capital or certainly the free flow of information. To some extent, I feel like the media has given Xi Jinping a free pass. All it takes is for Trump to say, ‘America first’ and doing all these things, and we’re bad, but it doesn’t mean China is good and that China’s ready to step into the breach. When we look at the measures that the Trump administration is taking right now, I agree that where the tariff wars are going is not clear and it’s not likely going to end well. But, we have been accommodating China for a very long time, and we’ve listened and we’ve waited and we’ve expected they’d do better on things like intellectual property rights protection, subsidies … all these nuanced barriers to entry for American and other countries. At a certain point, when you have the second-largest economy in the world, you have to stand up and say enough is enough. And to that extent I think the Trump administration is right. The end strategy may not be the best, but the point is an important one. And I think we’re not the only ones. All of our allies are concerned with the exact same problems dealing with China that we are. Globalization doesn’t just depend on the United States doing the right thing. It really depends on China doing the right thing, and China hasn’t done the right thing for a very long time.

3.

How China has fostered, and stifled, democracy and innovation

Jump to idea
31:26

It’s hard to understand China’s complex hybrid system of political closedness and economic openness, which Yasheng Huang argues has both prevented China from becoming a democracy and encouraged democratic values that didn’t exist before. Huang also explains why China is in fact very vulnerable in a trade war, and warns against Chinese retaliation.

Meanwhile, citing several interesting statistics, Mary Kay Magstad shows that China is not as innovative as it could be, despite lots of effort, precisely because of its politics.

Where do big ideas come from? Often, it’s about connecting the dots in unexpected ways, and the more dots you have to look at, the more likely you will come up with new ideas. If you’re limiting how many dots you have in an information environment, it stands to reason you could be very agile and effective in innovating for the Chinese market, but to rise to an international level, to be a global leader in innovation, to transform the way we live, the Chinese are not hitting it.
Mary Kay Magistad
4.

China’s media landscape is bad, but all is not lost

Jump to idea
47:41

John Pomfret talks about the flow of information in China and how it has undulated throughout the country’s modern history. Xi Jinping has cracked down on all sorts of speech in his tenure, which has ensured that many media organizations are acting as propaganda outlets for the regime. Yet, there are bright spots in China’s media landscape, explains Pomfret. “So, the battle is far from lost.”

Trade as a percentage of China's GDP is a staggering 37.8%.
5.

Is China a national security threat?

Jump to idea
01:02:44

Two retired military leaders with vast experience in the Pacific offer their takes on China’s rising position on the world stage — and what that could mean militarily. With China in effect choosing which of the international rules that have governed other countries’ relations since World War II it wants to follow, the United States has to respond across all levels of government, according to Scott Swift — and the military should be the last tool to reach for.

Wowed by China’s space capabilities, William Shelton says there’s reason for concern about its intent with its space program. And the best response, to not find ourselves in a sticky situation down the road, is to develop a long overdue national strategy with relation to China. In agreement with Swift about the military being a last resort, Shelton notes: “It’s the generals and admirals trying to keep us out of conflict, not get us into conflict.”

Asking whether China is a threat is the wrong question, it’s too simplified. On every level of a rising China’s relationship with the rest of the world — trade, technology and innovation, political, and military — there are many factors and nuances most of us don’t consider, and China’s rapid evolution under its singularly unique political system means the trajectory could change at any time.

Learn More

Additional Information

Explore More

World

186 ideas
Sorry, we couldn't find any results
Clear filters
Deep Dive: Is China the Threat It’s Made Out to Be?

Thank you for signing up!

Please provide a valid email address.

Please provide a valid email address.
Newsletter
Newsletter
Sign up to our newsletter
for the latest festival updates.