Book discussion: What does China think?
On May 9, GMF hosted Mark Leonard for a discussion of his new book, "What Does China Think." While there has been much focus on the economic rise of China, scholars have devoted little attention to the philosophical, political, and cultural debates within China. Mark Leonard, the executive director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and Dr. David Shambaugh, the director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, discussed the intellectual debates within China, and the impact these internal debates may have on Europe and the United States. Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff of GMF moderated the discussion.
While many Westerners assumed China would follow the road to a Western-style democracy as the country became wealthier, China appears to be on its own path. Intellectuals in the Chinese think tank community are calling for a new "intellectual emancipation," focusing on economic and political models that are viable alternatives to the West. According to Leonard, a shrinking minority supports the development of a liberal democracy. Political reform is more often focused on the rule of law, stabile economic development, and positive public opinion than open elections. While some economists want China to fully embrace a market economy, the "New Left" is in search of a "Beijing Consensus" and a gentler form of capitalism.
Leonard sees the changes in China as a "crystallization of a distinctive world view that will impact the rest of the world." The thread connecting the debates in the political, economic, and foreign policy realms is a "quest for control." He elaborated, "[the Chinese] are trying to create a world where national government can be masters of their own power." The creation of multilateral institutions such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the East Asian Community is one tool China is using to create a world order in its own image.
Both Leonard and Shambaugh agreed that China is "the most self-aware rising power in history," and so the country's intellectuals are hyper-aware of avoiding pitfalls into which other rising powers have fallen. Speaking as a sinologist, Shambaugh commented that "What Does China Think?" is only the tip of the iceberg; in addition to the interviews Leonard conducted there is an even broader and more diverse range of thought in China. Shambaugh praised the book for penetrating the Chinese intellectual community and bringing internal debates to the attention of the West.