The pandemic and China's zero-Covid policy have led some in the West to caution against the danger of China turning inward, closing its border to the world, building a man-made bubble, and adopting a closed nationalist discourse. But academic Lance Gore says China has always been a civilisation unto its own, and it now has both the means and reasons to decouple from the Western-led capitalist system to some extent, so as to pursue its own path of building socialism with Chinese characteristics. This might bring some benefits to China but could also lead to their misreading of the world in the long run, and cause it greater pain when its efforts to lead and galvanise are not reciprocated.
George Yeo, Singapore’s former foreign minister, gave a talk titled “China in a Multipolar World” to students of the Master in Public Administration and Management (MPAM) programme taught in Chinese at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy on 3 November. He spoke about time and patience needed for a multipolar superstructure to emerge, and for earlier dominant players such as the US to adjust to the new order. In the meantime, it is in China’s interest to master the art of charm, knowing when to go hard or soft in its relations with the US and Europe, its neighbours India and Japan, and issues such as the South China Sea and Taiwan. This is an edited transcript of his speech and excerpts from the Q&A session.
Professor Wang Gungwu was a keynote speaker at the webinar titled “The New Maritime Silk Road: China and ASEAN” organised by the Academy of Professors Malaysia. He reminds us that a sense of region was never a given for Southeast Asia; trade tied different peoples from land and sea together but it was really the former imperial masters and the US who made the region “real”. Western powers have remained interested in Southeast Asia through the years, as they had created the Southeast Asia concept and even ASEAN. On the other hand, China was never very much interested in the seas or countries to its south; this was until it realised during the Cold War that Southeast Asia and ASEAN had agency and could help China balance its needs in the maritime sphere amid the US's persistent dominance. The Belt and Road Initiative reflects China’s worldview and the way it is maintaining its global networks to survive and thrive in a new era. This is an edited transcript of Professor Wang’s speech.
Amid revived calls for countries to boycott the Winter Olympics in Beijing over Xinjiang, academic Peter Chang reflects that the Xinjiang issue has drawn the attention of the West, Muslim populations and others around the world. But the issue, while important, has been further politicised in the wider US-China contest. Moral grandstanding by the West when confronting China does not help the situation either. How much collateral damage will there be in this strategic game?
Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. He dwelled in his home in Hong Kong’s Wu Kai Sha, but he was never far from the drama of global Covid-19 news, beamed in from TV and computer screens. The pomposity of one politician stood out — in the face of a life-threatening disease, how could the leader of the world’s largest economy and even the league of nations have set such a poor example and gotten away with it?
China’s accomplishments in the past four decades deserve respect and emulation from many countries across the globe, despite disparagement from the West. However, China may squander this opportunity to gain goodwill by erring on two fronts: its attitude towards liberalism, and its handling of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s legacy. Making a wrong move on either of these fronts can easily diminish its chances of becoming “one of the good guys” in international politics.
Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai remembers an email from a Hong Kong secondary student, who wanted a "substantial and authoritative" answer from him about the relationship between civilisations and their cultures. The 16-year-old had asked: What affects the passing down of cultural traditions? Should culture be passed on in its entirety? What role does commercialisation play?
An admirer of Chinese culture and of China’s warm and people-centred way of life, US academic Wu Guo says that China need not seek to win over the US in every field, not least in the high-tech domain. It actually has a powerful advantage that has been underutilised — a rich culture that goes back thousands of years and a way of life that nurtures bonds of community, kindness and civility. If those outside China see this softer side of China, surely they will be less hasty to cast the first stone?
Little interaction with Chinese people and double standards in US news reports have led to Americans having a jaundiced view of China. Immersed in stories on foreign policy, politics or human rights, they rarely have the chance to realise that the Chinese are made up of individuals and families who are living their lives the best way they can, just like the average American. Better education through the media and universities is greatly needed.