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Wang Huiyao: The world should not be divided into “us” & “them”

Tuesday,Jun 23, 2020
On May 21, Center for China and Globalization (CCG) President Wang Huiyao was interviewed by British media outlet ITV. He shared ideas regarding signals the Two Sessions sent to the world, the impact of the pandemic on China and the world, how China reacts to the challenges of the coronavirus, the international image of China during the pandemic, and the different development models of the West and China. The following article is based on Wang’s answers given in the interview, edited for length and clarity.


Wang Huiyao, President  of CCG

Following China’s recent “Two Sessions,” the annual sessions of the country's national legislature and political advisory body, Wang was asked what signals the Two Sessions send to the world and whether there would be some reigning in of the Chinese government's plan to completely eliminate poverty this year because of the pandemic.

The convening of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the National People’s Congress (NPC) in China is a big symbolic event, especially as the whole world is fighting against the coronavirus and China is one of the first countries to gradually emerge from the crisis.

The Two Sessions gathered over 5000 representatives from all over the country. Through a week of meetings, they discussed issues such as how to improve the epidemic warning mechanism, how to improve the healthcare system, and how to push forward the development of the Chinese economy.

The Two Sessions send a strong signal to China and the international community, that the Chinese government and the CPPCC have fully resumed their work, and they are taking action and adapting to new circumstances after drastic changes, and formulating new plans for the future, including the 14th Five-Year Plan.

Another important goal of the Chinese government is to eliminate extreme poverty by the end of 2020. In this regard, China is now ready to face and to solve the current severe test. At a time when international relations are challenging, the government should consider how to guide China to develop in line with stated goals.

The Chinese government has the ability to combine different resources to achieve the goals they set. There are probably only some counties and some villages left that are still below the poverty line. I believe If the Chinese government is determined to eradicate extreme poverty, it is capable of achieving the goal.

The challenge, however, is to ensure the sustainability of improvements so that people do not slip back into poverty. Thus, innovative policies are needed to institutionalize poverty alleviation and prevention for good. This is a challenge that goes beyond 2020 and that the government is working hard to address these issues as well.

With the world economy negatively affected by COVID-19, Wang was asked what official data says about how China’s economy has suffered in the past four or five months.

I think a “V-shape” recovery for the Chinese economy is expected for several reasons:

Firstly, although the outbreak of COVID-19 has damaged the Chinese economy badly in the past three to four months, it luckily includes February, when Chinese Lunar New Year took place. Production in China slows down each February. Besides, many places had been getting back to work since early April. Therefore, it was during March and half of April that the Chinese economy was hit hard.

In addition, Internet-related business is highly developed in China, including e-commerce, online shopping, online education, online entertainment, webinars, and other activities. They have strongly supported China’s economy and the fight against the pandemic in the past few months.

At the same time, the government has played an important role in China’s fight against the pandemic, swiftly coordinating and arranging public health efforts, economic support, transportation, and social security during the outbreak.

Moreover, China’s rapid resumption of production has significantly contributed to the recovery of global supply chains. For instance, in the past few months, China has suddenly become the major supplier of face masks, providing a steady stream of medical supplies to other countries. Although China may not be the only country with a complete value chain and production line, it is able to quickly produce almost any type of product that any country needs. China is an important pillar of the world economy, and in this way, China will soon get back on its feet.

Since some countries may take a long time to recover from the impact of the epidemic, China can serve as the world’s supporting factory. Besides, China is already the largest trading partner of more than 130

countries and regions. Demand from the rest of the world may slow down, but demand from China will grow.

Moreover, daily life in China is returning to normal. I could feel the surging traffic jams in Beijing, which haven’t been seen in the past months, and that schools and colleges across the country are getting back to normal. In addition, according to the statistics released by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China, from May 1 to 5, China saw 115 million domestic tourism trips and CNY 47.56 billion in domestic tourism revenue. Thus, China’s economy is resilient, and I am optimistic about its recovery.

With some parts of the international community raising questions about China’s recovery, Wang was asked about these negative sentiments and China’s efforts to maintain its global image.

I think the following reasons are contributing to this phenomenon:

The coronavirus was first discovered in China. Facing this unknown novel virus, China needed some time to understand it. On the other hand, when China realized how transmittable and deadly the virus was, it immediately locked down the mega-city of Wuhan, home to nearly 11 million people, and the province of Hubei, which contains around 60 million people. It essentially shut down the country for more than two months until the pandemic was almost contained nationwide. China could be more effective in telling the international community how this process worked.

Secondly, this is a presidential election year in the United States, and President Trump has been bashing China, which he feels could bring advantages to his campaign. Western views are deeply influenced by the US, contributing to misunderstandings about China. Nonetheless, China curbed the spread of the coronavirus domestically and actively supported the global pandemic response. Internationally, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international organizations have recognized China’s contributions. As China’s economy is recovering steadily, after the Two Sessions, it is hoped that the international community, including western countries, will slowly recognize China’s success in response to COVID-19.

Thirdly, the difference between Chinese and western institutions resulted in unfair treatment of China. China is a country with a large territory and a huge population, which has historically been governed under a centralized government. This is part of the reason why China could lift 800 million people out of poverty, which has contributed significantly to the global cause of poverty alleviation. However, because of differences with some other political and economic systems, many westerners are troubled by this difference of ideology and values. Therefore, when American politicians need a scapegoat, China is such an easy target.

On the other hand, there are many aspects that China needs to improve, such as developing a new set of theories which can support Chinese narratives and explain the development of China through language that can be understood by the international community, so that other countries can accept the peaceful rise of China. Communication between people, the business community, non-governmental organizations, intellectuals, and think tanks should play a bigger role in this.

Asked about whether China and the US are decoupling, Wang replied:

The pandemic has deteriorated relations between China and the US, and future relations between the two countries remain unclear.

China always adjusts to different circumstances. For example, when the US started the trade war, China responded. At the moment when China is busy handling the pandemic and the recovery of the economy, it continued to buy large quantities of agricultural products from the US. This shows that the Chinese government still determines to fulfill its obligations in accordance with the agreement.

Now the US presidential election season is colored by populism. This narrow nationalism is often used to incite hatred. It is easy to characterize China as an enemy and make it a scapegoat. People have to look at the facts, figures, and actual performance of the economy. If China has performed relatively well, and the COVID-19 pandemic proved that China is capable not only of coping with crisis and resuming production, but also of significantly supporting the international community in the global crisis, it shows that China is not as bad as some western politicians claim.

President Trump is criticized for accusing other countries and other people all the time, especially China. President Trump fires his team members and makes self-contradictory statements. Meanwhile, China has no intention of attacking any country. Furthermore, although China-US relations are in trouble, China seeks to improve international relations in other ways.

Multilateralism is under fire. The US does not support the World Health Organization at all, and the World Trade Organization is largely paralyzed by US actions. Moreover, the United Nations is facing an unprecedented crisis in its 75-year history. If the world’s largest economy is withdrawing from all multilateral platforms, or threatening to do so, the world is receiving a very negative signal.

China recently announced the donation of $2 billion to support developing countries to fight COVID-19, and China has continued to send doctors and medical supplies to Africa and other developing regions.

Wang was asked whether China and the US are entering a new “cold war.”

I do not believe that China and the US are entering a new cold war. China-US relations have not sunk to the bottom. For instance, the US government has postponed the Huawei ban for another 90 days.

I think that it is up to the US to decide where decoupling is going. China still lags behind the US in terms of technology. Still, the problem is that if the US continues to put pressure on China by, for example, lashing out at Huawei, portraying China as an evil empire will discredit itself, which will not benefit the American economy.

The world will not accept that in the long run, because China is one of the largest economies in the world with the vast Chinese market and its 1.4 billion consumers. For multinational enterprises like General Motors and Apple, China is their biggest international market. Moreover, European companies such as Siemens, Volkswagen, Daimler, and Chrysler also attach great importance to the Chinese market.

Once the business community realizes how much trouble that President Trump has caused, they will wake up by seeing the data if decoupling goes forward. I would like to note that “Rome was not built in a day” to point out that the global value chain was established with efforts over four decades. This will not break down easily.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has stated that he plans to pay a state visit to Japan as soon as possible. Wang was asked whether in response to current sentiments in the West China needs to strengthen relations with Japan, South Korea, and other countries.

China is trying to develop more cooperation with other countries. Asian states have the potential for cooperation and share cultural values. When the US becomes unfriendly, every country has to rethink its international relations, and China cannot put all its eggs in one basket.

For the past four decades, China has been working closely with the US. Now the US is clearly turning its back on China and is no longer willing to cooperate, so China must diversify its foreign relations accordingly.

China has many friendly neighbors. For instance, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) like Singapore have always been under one-party rule. Japan has also mainly had one ruling party. This is a striking commonality, showing that East Asian cultures may be more suited to a strong and coordinated central government.

China is in the final stages of free trade talks with South Korea and Japan. With Japan now leading the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), China would be interested in joining. China also wants to make friends with EU countries as well. As I suggested at the Munich Security Conference that the EU, the US, and China should hold a trilateral meeting because conflicts between China and the US may need to be mediated by a third party, I believe that the EU can play a positive role in balancing China-US relations.

In summary, shared interests should be safeguarded, instead of each country pursuing its own narrow interests, otherwise, the world will be in trouble.

Wang was asked about the idea held by some in the West that as China’s economy grows, it would develop into a politically and economically westernized country.

As Francis Fukuyama mentioned in his book The End of History and the Last Man, many westerners believe that there is only one right model for a civilized and developed modern society. There was also a somewhat arrogant notion in the West, that when China develops, it will eventually westernize in its political system and economic model.

This notion remains wishful thinking and that the West should never have expected it from the beginning, and they should start by thinking about the benefits to the world if China develops, instead of wondering why China is one of “them” - because the world should not be divided into “us” and “them.” This antagonism and division into two camps is unnecessary. I question who the “other” even is and that fellow humans should never be “othered”.

Furthermore, China has not been a large source of refugees. Even relatively small flows of migrants have contributed to anti-globalization sentiment, Brexit, populism, and economic de-globalization. Here is a counterfactual – what if just 10% of the 800 million people in China who have been lifted out of poverty had become refugees and emigrated to different countries – consider how much greater the destabilizing social and political impacts of migration would have been. Thus, the steady development and prosperity of China is a contribution to the entire world.

In addition, the US has always been an Anglo-Saxon country with a strong Christian influence, while China has been a country long shaped by Confucian culture. People should recognize that these differences underly the history and culture of China and the US, and they can exist side by side in peace, instead of forcing for convergence.

It is a huge mistake to restrain China and hinder its efforts towards prosperity. China accounts for nearly 35% of world GDP growth; China has contributed to keeping US inflation low for the past three decades; China has helped improve the quality of life of people around the world by providing them with economic goods. China’s decline will not benefit any country in the world, and China will be the global backbone for the world to overcome the crisis caused by the COVID-19 in the future.
From CCG,2020-06-23
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