SINGAPORE – Whether China’s rise on the world stage is as an esteemed member of the global community or if it will be a lonely ascendancy rests on how it reaches out to other countries amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and the way it handles its rivalry with the United States.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing made this point in a discussion on on Thursday (Sept 17), the final day of the FutureChina Global Forum organised by Business China.
“This is a historical opportunity for China to win friends and build friendships, especially in times of need, when the world is suffering from the global pandemic,” Mr Chan said, in response to a question by moderator Robin Hu on how China can position itself as a force for good and demonstrate leadership in ways that bring about trust and prosperity.
Mr Hu, who is a senior managing director at Temasek International, posited earlier that the rivalry between the two largest economies in the world is “seemingly pushing (us) towards a new bipolar world order”.
“With all the nervous energy that is already brewing, we need a constructive leadership more than ever,” he added.
Agreeing, Mr Chan said major powers like the US and China have a choice: whether to exercise their power in leadership, or to get their way.
“(They) can either choose to demonstrate the power of the example, or the example of their power,” he said.
Urging both countries to remain benevolent, he noted that China’s most prosperous era in its long history was when it was “most connected to the world, trading with the rest of the world (and) exchanging ideas with the rest of the world”.
This is also the case with today’s China, and this generation of its leaders, he added.
While governing China is not easy given the numerous complexities in the world’s most populous nation, Mr Chan said that in his interactions with Chinese leaders, they have shown they are very determined to stay connected with the rest of world.
They know China’s prosperity in the last few decades, which saw millions lifted from poverty, has been built on global trade and is “a path that will not be easily reversed”, he noted.
The narrative of China’s lonely rise – without close partners and standing apart from global norms – has been debated by observers in recent years in think-tanks and publications such as Brookings Institution and The Diplomat.
A similar question was posted on Chinese question-and-answer site Zhihu in November last year, drawing about 200 responses from netizens before the thread was closed.
But from his observations, Mr Chan said he is optimistic that China’s connection with the world “can only deepen and strengthen”.
In response to a question on how the US elections will affect its relationship with China, Mr Chan urged observers to look beyond political personalities to “the driving forces of the respective countries”.
The relationship between the world’s top two economies is not purely an economic one, he said, adding that both countries have shared interests in many areas.
“Both of them would like to work together to uphold and update the global trading system,” said Mr Chan.
China and US are also concerned about the financial stability of global markets, North Korea and the South China Sea, among others, he added.
“The (overlapping) areas between China and US are multi-faceted, and I hope that the leadership in both countries will always bear this in mind, even though they may compete in other areas.”