Oxford Debate: 'To Say China Has Reached Its Peak Is Both Unwise and Risky'
Motion: China's Global Power has Reached Its Peak
ZURICH, NOVEMBER 30, 2022 – For the first time in more than three decades, China’s economic growth will fall behind the rest of Asia. President Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID strategy has affected everything from manufacturing to mobility and consumption in the world’s second-largest economy. The worsening Sino-U.S. relations are furthermore pressuring China’s international trade. At the same time, Xi recently secured his third five-year term at the 20th Party Congress, cementing his own political power. His demand for unity, strengthening domestic supply chains and preparation for “danger in peacetime” show his ambitions for China to keep its position as a preeminent global power.
Will Xi’s ambitions make China stronger? Or will his tight grip stir up international and domestic resentments? How are the country’s economic problems affecting its influence in the region? Will China decouple from the global market? And will it keep its position as a world power?
In this Oxford Debate, Simona Grano, Dan Rosen, Rorry Daniels and Bates Gill debated whether China’s global power has reached its peak.
Disclaimer: Positions presented in the debates do not necessarily represent the speakers’ views.
China's Global Power Has Reached Its Peak.
The Key Arguments:
- Between the 1980s and 2010, conditions in China were such that they allowed for people to thrive, said Simona Grano. However, this has changed quite dramatically since then. China is now facing major issues such as a slowing economy, a real estate crisis, a rapidly ageing population – the fiscal and societal implications of which will be devastating. Further, the country now imports more energy and food than any other country in the world, and China is facing severe ecological and environmental problems. Unemployment is leading to an increase in dissatisfaction of China's youth. Recently, social unrest, triggered by strict COVID-restrictions, has spread across the country. In terms of China's foreign policy, relationships between the international community and China are souring, and China actually has no solid allies. All these negative factors will not be conducive to furthering its global power.
- The assumption that China’s global power has reached its peak is based more on hope than on facts, countered Bates Gill. China overtook the U.S. in 2019 in regard to the number of patents it filed. The country also has unmatched access to data. It is further leading in green tech, high-speed rail systems and electronic vehicles. What is more, China is receiving positive receptions across the developing world, with polls in Africa all yielding glowing responses. In terms of military power, China has the largest navy, and the gap between the U.S. and China is widening. The QUAD remains a largely political rather than military coalition, while AUKUS is clearly a reaction to China’s growing military power. Of course, one day, China will peak. However, that is 10-15 years out. To assume today that China's global power has already peaked, is both unwise and risky.
- We all wish for a stronger China that can shoulder global burdens, and a more innovative China which starts contributing to global issues, said Daniel H. Rosen. However, China’s economic growth is falling behind the rest of Asia, even behind that of the U.S. What is more, investments in businesses, properties, and infrastructure are all decreasing, and slowing household consumption and soaring unemployment are taking the wind out of its economic sails. At the same time, government spending is dependent on selling land to investors, while export has reached its limits. In terms of the semiconductor industry, it clearly shows how much latent leverage the U.S. still has over China. If China can be pragmatic, it has the potential to get back on track. However, if it remains rigid, its power will be locked in where it is, and it will not be in a position to shoulder global burdens.
- It is premature to say that China’s global power has peaked, according to Rorry Daniels. The country may be facing challenges, but China continues to be very integrated in the global economy. It is also the largest trading partner of many regions and countries worldwide. Under President Xi, China’s economy grew eight percent in 2021, which is well over target, and it can be expected that the economy will get stronger still once COVID regulations are relaxed. China has also demonstrated that it is responsive to criticism. For instance, it rebranded the “Belt and Road Initiative” to the “Global Development Initiative”, and is continuously developing the quality of the initiative, which in turn has helped boost the Chinese economy. COVID is a story still being written – if China manages to walk the fine line between economic growth and containing tragic COVID deaths, its power can rise further still.
Arguing for the motion
Simona Grano is Senior Lecturer at the University of Zurich and Director of the Taiwan Studies Project at the same institution. She completed her Ph.D. in Chinese Studies at Ca' Foscari University of Venice, Italy in 2008. Since then she has held research positions and taught China Studies and Taiwan Studies at her alma mater, at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and at National Cheng'chi University in Taiwan. She is a research fellow of the European Research Center on Contemporary Taiwan (ERCCT), in Tübingen, Germany and a research associate of SOAS, London. Simona is the author of Environmental Governance in Taiwan: a new generation of activists and stakeholders, published in 2015 by Routledge. Her articles have appeared in the Journal of Civil Society, Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, China Information, Asiatische Studien, Taiwan in Comparative Perspective, Orizzonte Cina. Her latest edited volume: China-US Competition: Impact on Small and Middle Powers' Strategic Choices, will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in December 2022.
Daniel H. Rosen is the co-founder of Rhodium Group, an independent economic research partnership, and leads the firm’s work on China. Mr. Rosen has worked professionally on China’s domestic economy and global commercial relations since 1992. He is widely recognized for his research on US-China relations and Asian commercial dynamics. He is affiliated with numerous think tanks focused on international economics and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University. From 2000-2001, Mr. Rosen was Senior Adviser for International Economic Policy at the White House National Economic Council and National Security Council. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and board member of the National Committee on US-China Relations. A native of New York City, Dan graduated with distinction from the graduate School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University (MSFS) and with honors in Asian Studies and Economics from the University of Texas, Austin (BA).
Arguing against the motion
Rorry Daniels is the Managing Director of Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI), where she leads and oversees strategy and operations for ASPI's projects on security, climate change and trade throughout Asia. She is also a Senior Fellow with ASPI's Center for China Analysis. She was previously with the National Committee on American Foreign Policy where she managed the organization's Track II and research portfolio on Asia security issues, with a particular focus on cross-Taiwan Strait relations, U.S.-China relations, and the North Korean nuclear program. Her most recent research project audited the U.S.-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue to evaluate its process and outcomes. She regularly writes and provides analysis for major media outlets and newsletters on security issues in the U.S. and the Asia Pacific. She is a 2022 Mansfield-Luce scholar, a member of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and the National Committee on North Korea, a Pacific Forum Young Leader, as well as a Korea Society Kim Koo Foundation Fellow (2015 cohort). She earned her M.S. in International Relations at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs, where she focused her studies on East and South Asia. She is proficient in Mandarin and holds a B.A. in Media Studies from Emerson College.
Dr. Bates Gill is Executive Director of Asia Society Policy Institute’s Center for China Analysis where he leads a team of research fellows, associated researchers, and administrative staff to deliver on the Center’s aim to be a global leader for policy-relevant, objective analysis of China’s politics, economy, and society and its impact on Asia and the world. Prior to joining the Asia Society, Bates held a number of research and academic leadership positions in the Indo-Pacific, Europe and United States. Most recently, he was professor and chair of the Department of Security Studies and Criminology at Macquarie University in Sydney and was also the inaugural Scholar-in-Residence with the Asia Society Australia. In other previous roles, he served as director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), as the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and as founding director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.
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About Oxford Debates
The Oxford Debates at Asia Society Switzerland are a format to address ‘big’ questions that have no one answer or solution but are inviting many conflicting views. Four renowned experts in the field form teams of two, one team arguing for the motion, the other against it.
The Oxford-style format is broken down into four sections: opening remarks, rebuttals, a moderated question-and-answer session, and closing remarks. Before and after the debate the audience is polled whether they agree with the motion or not. The voting breakdown is not shared publicly until the end of the debate. The greater percentage change between the first and second votes determines the debate’s winning team.
Disclaimer: Positions presented in the debate do not necessarily represent the speakers’ views.