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How the West can avoid a dangerous and costly confrontation with #China

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The Institute of Economic Affairs - our British member think tank - has released a new briefing paper, authored by the IEA's Head of Education Dr Stephen Davies and Professor Syed Kamall, the IEA’s Academic and Research Director, who sat on the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee from 2005-2019. The main conclusions of the report include:

  • Fears are rising that we are at the foothills of a new Cold War;
  • Covid-19 is provoking a major reorientation of our foreign policy. At the heart of this is our changing relationship with China;
  • We risk fundamentally misunderstanding China’s motivations because our assumptions are out of date: unlike the USSR China does not seek hegemony;
  • Rather it acts out of self-interest and seeks to become both a model nation for developing countries to emulate and the dominant rule setter in the international trade and financial system;
  • The strategy of constructive engagement or liberal internationalism is no longer working – but a more realist confrontational balance of power relations with China could be economically costly and politically dangerous;
  • Yet there is an alternative to simple confrontation and military competition;
  • We will have to restrain sensitive trade and respond robustly to the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and against Asian neighbours;
  • These actions should be supplemented with a programme of engagement between private individuals, organisations and firms in free societies with their counterparts in China;
  • A policy of encouraging organised contact at a civil society level could lead to reforms that the current rulers will have to go along with or find much less easy to manage.

“Chinese Puzzle” argues the West risks careening towards a politically dangerous and economically costly confrontational relationship with China.

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Yet China's history – of accepting and recognising spontaneous bottom-up transformations and then encouraging them to go further by embedding them in a legal framework – and its culture of “saving face” or “mianzi” suggests Western politicians could be fundamentally misunderstanding China's motivations.

While the current strategy of liberal internationalism is no longer working, we should not see handling China as a binary choice between containment and confrontation. Increasing authoritarianism in China has put paid to hopes that markets plus prosperity would lead to more liberty. Its policy towards the Uighur population and over the so-called “Belt and Road Initiative,” as well as its behaviour in the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic, have led many in the West to view China not as a partner but as a threat.

However, China’s activities in its neighbourhood may be partly explained by a certain defensiveness due to a determination to never again be dominated by foreign powers. What we are seeing is something far more subtle than plans for global hegemony. There is a competition to become the model or pattern nation that others look to emulate, particularly where nations that are developing economically are concerned. China also seeks to become the dominant rule setter in the international trade and financial system.

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In response, we will have to restrain sensitive trade and respond robustly to the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and against Asian neighbours. These actions should be supplemented with a programme of engagement between private individuals, organisations and firms in free societies with their counterparts in China. This type of people-to-people engagement could still be considered far less risky overall than overt military confrontation and, in the longer run, more likely to succeed.

A policy of encouraging organised contact at a civil society level could lead to reforms that the current rulers will have to go along with or find much less easy to manage.

Dr Stephen Davies, Head of Education at the Institute of Economic Affairs and Professor Syed Kamall, Academic and Research Director at the IEA, said:

“The Chinese government should be believed when it says it does not seek hegemony. Instead, the Chinese government’s goals are access to raw materials, technology, and markets for Chinese companies. 

“This may lead to the Chinese government seeking to set international standards and rules and challenging the good governance mantra of western democracies, but unlike the Soviet Union during the Cold War it will not seek to export its ideology.

“This will pose a different type of challenge than the Soviet Union during the Cold War up to 1989. Western liberal democracies should still respond robustly to Chinese government aggression and violations of human rights, but at the same time seek more people-to-people contacts to help shape reforms within China itself.

“It’s also important to distinguish between the actions of the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese people when raising concerns over the actions of the Chinese government.

“The background to this is the way that the transformation of the Chinese economy since the 1980s has been produced as much by spontaneous bottom-up action subsequently recognised and accepted by the CCP as by top-down reforms. This shows the opportunities there are for genuine popular engagement as a way to respond to the challenge of the 'Chinese Way’.”

Download the full report

Belgium

'When the Smurfs meet Monkey King'

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'When the Smurfs meet Monkey King' is a children's art exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium.

The successful art exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium in La Louvière, the birthplace of Surrealism in Belgium that ended on 24 October gave the opportunity to nearly 300 local primary and middle school students in just one week to depict their vision of friendship between China and Belgium.

On 17 October, during the opening ceremony, Françoise Ghiot, Laurent Wimlot, aldermen of La Louvière, and their guests from China and Belgium attended the event. Counsellor Yang Qing, wife of the Chinese Ambassador to Belgium, also recorded a video for the inauguration of the event.

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Counsellor Yang Qing said in her speech that she admired the exhibition held in La Louvière. Using pure and innocent artistic perspective, extraordinary creativity and imagination, the children have well defined the cultural elements of both countries. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium with children’s eyes, sincere feelings, those future ambassadors of friendship have expressed their visions of a better collaborative future between the two nations.

Ghiot said in her speech that she was very happy on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium to see children’s paintings from China. The art exhibition opened a skylight of artistic exchange for local children.

This children's art exhibition was jointly curated by the city of La Louvière, the Nardone Gallery, and Yellow Vitamines. Through the LPGA (Little Painter Global International Art Exhibition), covering 40 cities and 500 aesthetic education training institutions in China, 5000 children’s work were collected and 200 were finally selected to focus on Belgium. With the innocent help of children's brushes, imagination and understanding, art and culture provided an ideal medium to understanding differences and strengthening the bond between China and Belgium.

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China

Documentary series 'In Their Eyes 50 Years China-Belgium' broadcast in China and Belgium

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The year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium. A series of micro documentaries entitled "In Their Eyes 50 Years China-Belgium," jointly presented by China Media Group (CMG) Europe and the International Radio and Television Union (URTI), and co-produced by CMG Film, Drama and Documentary Programming Center, was released on this occasion on screens in both countries.

On Monday, the anniversary date of the establishment of diplomatic relations, the documentary was officially broadcast on more than 30 mainstream media platforms in China and Belgium, including CCTV Documentary Channel CCTV9, CGTN French Channel, CGTN English New Media in China and BX1, RTC Télé Liège, TVCom, Brussels Information Press and Decamps Media in Belgium.01:19

The relationship between countries lies in people's affinity, and people's affinity lies in heart-to-heart communication. Since the establishment of diplomatic ties on October 25, 1971, the people of the two countries have been interacting in a sincere, tolerant and mutually rewarding manner. People-to-people and cultural exchanges between the two countries have been booming and unfolding. Behind this achievement are the persistence, contribution and efforts of ordinary people from both countries.

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Three Belgians in China and three Chinese in Belgium, six vivid descriptions and six extraordinary experiences in foreign lands were unfolded and displayed in the documentary series. As lively individuals, the six protagonists made different choices, but they all chose to take root in each other's country, and chose integration, understanding and tolerance. 

The poster of the documentary series "In Their Eyes 50 Years China-Belgium." /CMG

Their stories may look small, but through details of their real daily lives one could see the reason why the China-Belgium relationship has been developing well step by step. As an ancient Chinese poem says, "Despite the distance between them, true friends always feel close," the stories of these six people are also a true reflection of 50 years of cooperation between China and Belgium.

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Belgian writer Maurice Maeterlinck once said, "Thus are we led by the past and the future." Looking ahead, an even greater number of people from both countries, such as the six characters from the documentary, are bound to sail to the other side on "a boat of friendship" with passion and sincerity, thus contributing to the deepening of relations between the two countries.       

Reporters: Jiang Qiudi, Jin Jing, Zheng Zhi and Song Chengjie

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China

Climate Action: EU-China joint press communiqué on the fight against climate change ahead of COP26

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Following their second high-level environment and climate dialogue on 27 September 2021, Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans and Vice Premier of the People's Republic of China Han Zheng reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement and a successful outcome of the COP26 in Glasgow. In a joint press release, they stressed the urgency to act immediately, notably in the light of the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They also confirmed that that the high-level environment and climate dialogue will continue to be a key platform between the EU and China to enhance actions and bilateral cooperation on environment and in the fight against climate change. During their last meeting, they discussed various aspects of the global climate and biodiversity crises, with a focus on the forthcoming UNFCCC COP26 in Glasgow and on COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming. More details on the discussion are available here

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