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Daalder & Mahbubani: Has China Won?

On April 22nd 2020, the Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD) organized a discussion within the “Corona Dialogues” series, entitled “Has China Won?”. CIRSD President Vuk Jeremic, moderated an online chat between two diplomatic heavyweights, Ivo Daalder, a former adviser to President Obama, and Kishore Mahbubani, a former senior Singaporean diplomat.

During the discussion, CIRSD’s two interlocutors agreed that it would be premature for any country to declare victory and that economic recovery will take a lot of time. They expressed their belief that humanity has not seen the worst of the corona virus yet, and that it has proven to be a more dangerous adversary than it initially seemed.

"The crisis has made everyone aware of how small, interdependent and connected the world is. This should encourage greater cooperation rather than conflict and rivalry. The corona virus pandemic is the third major crisis of the 21st century, after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, and the economic crisis of 2008," Jeremic said.

Daalder agreed, stating that this is the worst crisis since the end of World War II, incomparably greater than any crisis we have seen since 1945.

"U.S. President Donald Trump's 'America First' policy stands in direct contrast to American leadership for the past 70 years. America should lead, not win. America has been leading for 75 years, but has recently replaced leading with winning. We need to understand that in today's world, anyone who insists on winning will lose," Daalder said.

Mahbubani said that China had made a great investment in recruiting the best professionals to work in government bodies, adding that the quality of professionals in China's health services and government agencies had never been higher.

Daalder and Mahbubani agreed that it was too early to predict which country would emerge from the crisis as the winner.

"China's strategy is to be as strong as possible, and their primary strategic goal comes down to two words: never again. China does not want a century of humiliation and suffering, which lasted from 1842 to 1949, to be repeated. The Chinese realized that when they were weak the whole world trampled them down. They wondered why they became so weak, and realized it was because they had isolated themselves from the rest of the world. So, today, the second strategic goal is to remain globally engaged. China is not yet ready to be a world leader, but it is ready to cooperate with the rest of the world," Mahbubani said.

Daalder pointed out that the most important reason China plays a more significant role in the world is that America no longer does.

Reflecting on the tech world, Jeremic said that we are witnessing a decoupling of the technological ecosystems of the West and China. The West is not letting Huawei into its technological ecosystem, while China is taking the same stance regarding Google, Amazon and Facebook.

"A few months ago at the Munich Security Conference, during a meeting of CEOs of German companies and U.S. senators, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told the CEOs 'if you allow Huawei into your tech ecosystem, America will become your enemy'," Jeremic said.

Commenting on this statement, Daalder said that America has much more to offer than the message "do not buy Huawei," because it still has the capacity to corral large parts of the world towards common action in order to deal with the major problems of today.

"The ‘You are either with us or against us’ policy may have worked in the aftermath of  9/11, when it cames to terrorism, but it is not a good way to deal with international politics," Daalder emphasized.

Mahbubani stressed that the best thing the U.S. and China could do is not to force other countries to choose one or the other, but to try to cooperate, as most states want good relations with both the U.S. and China.

"What worries me is the freedom to insult China. Anything can be said today against China, it is a sort of a license to insult. You can disagree with what China is doing, but they are an ancient civilization,” Mahbubani said.

"I wish someone would explain to the U.S. that the Chinese are very tired of insults. Continued insults increase the likelihood of an irrational response. China, on the other hand, should never underestimate the power of America," he added.

“If America and China keep arguing in the midst of major problems, such as global warming, future generations may regard them as two tribes of apes fighting each other while the forest around them is burning.” Mahbubani concluded.


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