Foreword by Tony Blair
New polling – conducted for YouGov on behalf of the Institute – shows there has been, during the Covid crisis, a sharp move in Western public opinion to a markedly more hostile attitude towards China. In our report on the polling, published today, we explore the consequences of this and the need for the West to take a strategic and not ad hoc or purely reactive view of West/China relations. In framing such a strategic view, we should be mindful of distinguishing between two different developments. The first is that we are now dealing not with a rising China but a risen China and this rise is both inevitable and right. China is a large population country – three times the size of the USA – an ancient civilisation with deep roots of intellect and culture, an economic power, a technology innovator, and therefore for sure set to take its place as a global superpower. Given the deep economic links between China and the West, Cold War analogies are misleading and dangerous.
On the other hand, in recent years China’s leadership has moved to a much more assertive/aggressive posture, internally and externally, consolidating power in the hands of the Communist Party and becoming more combative in its relations with other countries with whom it has disagreements. And in respect of Covid-19, there is no doubt that there are serious questions to be asked of China’s government.
However, the Chinese people are not the same as the Chinese Communist Party, and their pride in the country and its achievements since the opening up of China began 40 years ago are natural and justified. If change comes to the way China is governed, it will come from within; and it is in the interests of no one that China is anything other than stable and prosperous.
So, we will have to live with the reality that we will in some areas have to be prepared to confront China where its actions conflict with the reasonable interests and values of the wider international community; be able to compete with China where it is legitimate; and be ready to cooperate with China where it is necessary and to the benefit of the West, China and the world.
In developing this strategic framework, the USA, Europe and our Asian allies should stand together so that any partnership with China comes from a position of strength; engage China – actively and intensely – both at the level of government and people to people; and in doing so enlarge the space for cooperation, shrink that of confrontation and keep competition according to international laws and norms.