For the motion: Kerry Brown, Director of the Lau China Institute
Against the motion: Anastasia Lin, human rights activist and actress
Andrew Small, Senior Transatlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund & Associate Senior Policy Fellow, ECFR
China is a global powerhouse. With an economy firing on all cylinders, it was the only major financial system not to contract in 2020, exporting $268 billion in goods in November alone. The West is inextricably reliant on these supply chains across the tech, construction, aerospace and automobile industries – as well as for medical supplies. And it’s not just a material dependency, either: only with input from Beijing can we begin to address our global health crisis and the climate emergency. Riven with its own democratic backsliding, political polarization, and the ravages of Covid-19, the West needs to stop preaching, accept our differences and start engaging with China on the basis of common humanity and respect.
That’s all very well, say China’s critics, but the West surely cannot deny that Xi Jinping is an austere autocrat who believes history is turning China’s way. Under his leadership, China has become increasingly emboldened and abusive, enforcing new security laws in Hong Kong and imposing mass detention on more than one million Uighurs. As for working together on global issues, China has both smothered any discussion on its disastrous early handling of Covid-19 and blocked WHO officials from entering China to investigate the source of the pandemic. As the country moves ever further away from democratic norms and freedoms, it is high time for the West to accept that their engagement and convergence strategy has failed. The West must, at this critical juncture, stand firm and confront China.
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This ECFR debate is part of the Rethink:Europe initiative, supported by Stiftung Mercator and is realised in partnership with Intelligence Squared Germany.