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Cover Stories Series 2013> China-India Border Talks> Archive
UPDATED: September 2, 2013 NO. 36 SEPTEMBER 5, 2013
Debunking the China Threat

BRAINSTORMING: At a panel discussion in New York City, participants including Dr. Lionel Vairon (second right) share their view on China's rise (HUANG WEI)

Does the rise of China present a hazard or an opportunity to the world? A panel of experts including a French diplomat and published author Dr. Lionel Vairon dicusses global reactions to the so-called "China threat," arguing that the country's peaceful rise and stable development is in the best interests of the whole world. Held in New York City, the panel was hosted by David Wolf, head of the Allison+Partners Global China Practice, and transcribed by freelance writer and contributor to Beijing Review, Corrie Dosh

Dr. Lionel Varion, French diplomat and author of China Threat? The Challenges, Myths and Realities of China's Rise, is a noted sinologist who holds the view that the Western world's fear of China's rapid development are unfounded. The English translation of China Threat? is the first book published by CN Times Books, the U.S. branch of Chinese publisher Beijing MediaTime Books.

Lionel Vairon: There are two questions that are often asked of me: Why did you write this book?" and Why the question mark in China Threat? I started writing the book in late 2008 and during 2009 after the Olympic Games, which I followed very closely from Paris. I was, to be honest, a bit shocked at the media coverage. I recall a China bashing campaign up to one year before the games via mainly European, but also U.S. newspapers.

I eventually decided that explaining what's really going on in China in terms of its international relations and domestic policies, while breaking down attached myths, would be a good idea. It's not about defending or supporting China, as opposed to understanding various internal and external challenges more objectively, which is essential for constructive cooperation and peace.

Now, why the question mark? There are a lot of myths surrounding China, which is a country I believe to be non-threatening by nature, despite its size and potential influence. I believe that if we look at history, including the last 100 years, China has presented no threat. In fact, we should not be talking about China as a new superpower, but about a new, balanced multi-power system instead.

Are the mainstream media feeding anti-China sentiment?

David Andelman (World Policy Journal editor and columnist for USA Today): The media is trying its best to report on China as it is. That said, I think Americans right now fear a descending China rather than a rising one. This includes the opinion that China has peaked and could be in subsequent danger economically. Whether it can rise above resulting turmoil is a great question in the West. How do you cope with a China that could potentially be the largest single market for American goods and services, etc.

So, are we really disparaging China's prospects? Even the West is facing economic challenges. How do we cope with an eventually plateauing China and a slumping Europe? And how does this affect China's future position in the world?

Vairon: As usual, we have to decide whether China is growing too fast or too slow, which poses a real challenge. I think China must address domestic consumption. Its growth- and export-oriented plan will not last three more decades. I think what we see now is a government more concerned with small enterprises and consumption. Focus is shifting from money to also include habits. The Chinese have a culture of saving. Though, you have to build trust in the future.

Foreign media in China is a society unto itself, and in many cases isolated. Do you think it reports a different story compared to that of Dr. Vairon because of its audience, or due to not really understanding China?

Jonathan Landreth (Managing Editor for China File): Living and working as a freelance journalist in Beijing was quite different from working for one institution. Many of us in the Western media—I think journalists the world over—are committed to calling it as it is. We report back on what we see, though a lot of times things get lost in translation. Many foreign journalists speak little to no Chinese.

I think in American media we do tend to lose the European perspective. Perhaps it is naive or idealistic, but I think a lot of American editors and writers are simply trying to reflect what they're learning as fast as they possibly can, with most struggling to keep pace with China's rapid development. Businesses of all stripes know that rules change every few months. Accordingly, journalists find it just as difficult to keep tabs on China right now.

Is the Obama administration's "pivot to Asia" a well-thought out approach? Or are we creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of the China threat?

Vairon: Seen from the U.S. perspective, it's probably a wise policy. Asia will be the most important place to be in the 21st century. However, viewed from the China side, the policy is clearly a containment threat. It's all very much a matter of angle.

A pivot to Asia might well serve to escalate existing tensions in the area, with the United States trying to maintain its global grip, while China attempts to consolidate its regional dominance.

Of course, China's rise could seem threatening, especially by neighboring countries with which it has a history of conflict. Building regional trust is therefore essential.

[Former Chinese President] Hu Jintao's 2005 concept of a harmonious international society was interesting in terms of international relations, but who really understands it? We Europeans originate from a culture of conflict. For Americans too, conflict produces progress and improvement. We need conflict, though this is not the case in China. A harmonious society can improve the world. Foreign diplomats don't understand this. It has to be explained in a different way, and even translated differently. I strongly recommend improving communication across the board.

We have seen some new ideas emerging from the new Chinese Government and its new president Xi Jinping. Corruption is already less than before and is a top priority. We are in a new era politically, which includes domestic reform.

Email us at: liuyunyun@bjreview.com

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