Intelligence Squared Debates
14 October 2015
JOHN DONVAN: Please welcome Bob Rosenkranz to the stage. Bob and I normally chat a little bit about how we came to be doing this topic at this time and an interesting thing about this one, Bob, is we’ve been thinking about this one for three years. Which makes tonight more or less timely than ever.
BOB ROSENKRANZ: I had, about three years ago, attended a conference in Singapore, a regional security conference. I heard the keynote speech by Chuck Hagel who was our Secretary of Defence at the time and he talked about the universal values of human rights, democracy and freedom and he talked about our role (our ‘pivot’, then) toward Asia and the things we were doing to coordinate defence with Korea, with Japan, with Indonesia, with India and various kinds of weapons systems we were supplying as part of that pivot. After that speech a lady from the audience got up and she was wearing a military uniform and she turned out to be a Chinese Major General and she said, “Well, I have a question. What you describe as maintaining regional stability, sounds to us a lot like encirclement and containment. And what you describe as universal values, sounds to us like interference with our domestic sovereignty. Do you have any words to say that would give us reassurance?” To which Hagel said, “Um, um, um.”
DONVAN: So did this General have a point?
ROSENKRANZ: She raised, I think a very interesting strategic point that ought to inform the discussion tonight and it’s that each side in a strategic contest, almost always will assume the worst intentions from the other side. And that’s simply the prudent thing to do. So her read of our intentions was the read that she should have in her role and our having a kind of negative read of China’s intentions is what we should be doing. But with that in mind, and realizing that intentions are liable to be misread, each side to this – both the US and China – strategically have to feel each other out in a very smart and sensible way. China is not going to accept a coalition of democratic states whose purpose is to restrain and hem in China and maybe change their domestic rules of governance. And we’re not going to accept being ejected from the Asia-Pacific region and leaving all of our allies to fend for themselves against a powerful hegemonic power. So we have to have realistic expectations, China has to have realistic expectations. And those expectations have to be adjusted in a strategically smart way.
DONVAN: And they have shifted somewhat in the last three years so I’m wondering whether it was wise to wait these three years to get to tonight?
ROSENKRANZ: I think tonight’s debate could have been held three years ago, could be held tonight, could probably be held three years from now or six years from now because the challenge of accommodating the shifting power relationships in Asia is a huge challenge and it’s a long-term project. To me it’s analogous to the challenge the world faced in the first half of the 20th century of accommodating a rising Germany and we see the disastrous consequences of that kind of situations being handled poorly by leaders on all sides, so I think this is an evergreen debate and I’m anxious to have it.
DONVAN: I think it’s going to be great and we’ll see that when we welcome our debaters to the stage. We’ll do that right now and thank you Bob Rosenkranz.
So eight Presidents – Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama – have all pursued in varying degrees a cooperative relationship with the great, glorious and growing China, the People’s Republic Of. A partnership that was forged in the beginning primarily to balance power against the Soviet Union but it also took shape at a time when China was, frankly, relatively weak at least economically and militarily was certainly an underdog. But that has all changed now – the Soviet Union has gone and China is big, modern, sophisticated and becoming very well armed. So the question is, is that a good thing for this partnership? Is it going to lead to a deepening or are we seeing the seeds of rivalry sown that will inevitably sprout across the Pacific as hostility? And, if so, what will China represent to the next President and the next President and the next President? Well that sounds like the makings of a debate so let’s have it. Yes or no to this statement – China and the US are long term enemies. A debate from Intelligence Squared US. I’m John Donvan, we are at the John Kaufmann Music Centre in New York City with four superbly qualified debaters who will argue for and against the motion, China and the US are long term enemies. As always our debate will go in three rounds and then our live audience here in New York will vote to choose the winner and only one side wins. The motion again: China and the US are long term enemies.
Let’s meet the team arguing for the motion. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Peter Brookes. And Peter, you are a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asia and Pacific Affairs and a member of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. You are also a military man – graduate of Indianapolis, as a Commander you served in the NSA and the CIA which suggests that you might know some stuff the rest of us don’t know. Curious to know what keeps you up at night?
BROOKES: Well actually, I’ve been a bit sleepless recently. I’ve been reading my colleague here on this side of the motion, John Mearsheimer’s biography and I found out he went to Westpoint so being an Indianapolis graduate that’s bit troubling. But being the giver that I am, I decided that I’ll call a truce for tonight and until the Army-Navy game.
DONVAN: Thanks very much Peter Brookes. And we want to give you the chance to introduce your partner once more.
BROOKES: That’s right. Sitting next to me and on this side of the motion is Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago.
DONVAN: And he also the author of several books including one published in 2001 called ‘The Tragedy of Great Power Politics’. In that, John Mearsheimer, you predicted an aggressive and destabilizing rise of China. We’re heard you say that when you go out to China which you do, you’re like a fish out of water over there but with one exception. Intellectually there, you say, you’re in your element when you’re in China. What do you mean by that?
MEARSHEIMER: I’m a ‘realist’ or a ‘realpolitiker’. And virtually all the Chinese I know, both policymakers and scholars, are realists at their core. So we speak the same language and we think about international politics almost exactly the same way.
DONVAN: Thank you John Mearsheimer. The team arguing for the motion, China and the US are long term enemies. And we have two debaters arguing against that motion. Please welcome the first of those, Robert Daly. Robert Daly, you’re Director of the Henry Kissinger Institute on China and the US at the Wilson Centre. You lived in China for 11 years, you served at the US Embassy there, and in the ‘90s (very fun fact) you helped produce the Chinese language version of Sesame Street. You’re also a trained interpreter – you’ve interpreted between Zhang Zuming and Jimmy Carter but apparently they were not the most difficult interpreting assignments you ever had because what were the most difficult assignments?
DALY: That would be Dr Henry Kissinger at the bottom of one octave and Elmo the Muppet about three octaves up. Equally lucid speakers but sometimes difficult to follow.
DONVAN: We’ve been trying so hard to get Elmo on this stage. This is the closest we’re going to come. And tell us, Robert Daly, who your partner is?
DALY: I’m very pleased to working today with Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister of Australia, former Australian Ambassador to Beijing and the current President of the Asia Society Policy Institute.
DONVAN: Ladies and gentlemen, Kevin Rudd. And Kevin, with that introduction it establishes you as the highest ranking former government official of any kind in the world we’ve had on our stage. It’s an honour to have you here all the way from Australia. You are also a longtime China scholar, you are fluent in Mandarin and you even have a Chinese name given to you by a Chinese teacher. What is it?
RUDD: Well I should add three disclaimers: I’ve never been to Indianapolis, never been to Westpoint and in fact I got kicked out of boy scouts. And I was never Ambassador for Australia in Beijing – I was a humble First Secretary which is the guy who carries the bags. My Chinese name give to me by my teacher was ‘Lu Kirwan’.
DONVAN: What does that mean?
RUDD: It means ‘A Continental Overcomer of the Classics’.
DONVAN: Can the Classics be overcome, did you do that?
RUDD: No, and 40 years later they remain un-overcome.
DONVAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the team arguing against the motion.
So this is a debate, there will be winners and losers and you in our live audience here in New York will determine who gets the victory by your vote. By the time the debate is ended we will have had you vote twice – once before you hear the arguments and once again after you hear the arguments. We determine victory by the measure that comes from the difference between the two teams’ first and second votes in percentage point terms. Let’s register your first vote.
Okay, let’s move on to round one. We’re moving on to round one opening statements by each debater in turn. Our motion is this: China and the US are long term enemies. Speaking first for the motion and making his way to the lectern is John Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago. Ladies and gentlemen, John Mearsheimer.
MEARSHEIMER: It’s a pleasure to be here. I’d like to thank the organizers for inviting me and all of your folks for coming out to listen to us debate this issue tonight. Of course, Peter and I are going to make the argument that China will be a long term enemy of the United States. I’d like to make two preliminary points. One is, the argument here is not that we’re destined to fight a war, it’s that these countries will be long term enemies. You want to remember that during the Cold War the United States and the Soviet Union were enemies but they never fought a war, thankfully. We’re not arguing that that is going to be the case with China, we’re just saying they are going to be enemies. Second, when you talk about the future, there’s not way you can talk about it without a theory of international politics or a theory of great power politics. And the reason is we have no evidence about the future – the evidence isn’t there because the future hasn’t happened yet. So you need a theory to explain what you think is going to happen. That theory, of course, has to be able to explain past cases where great powers rose and fell and it has to be applicable to the present as well. So the division of labour between me and Peter this evening is that I’m going to lay out a simple theory that explains why China and the United States are destined to compete with each other, to have an intense security competition that involves arms races, crises, proxy wars and so forth and so on. What Peter is going to do when he follows me is show you all the evidence that is already out there that supports the story that I’m going to tell you.
My story basically goes like this, if you look at the international system and they way it is organized, there are three characteristics of that system that force states to compete for power and to pursue greater and greater increments of power. The first characteristic of this system is that there is no higher authority that sits above states, there’s no nightwatchman. States are like pool balls on a table. That means if a state gets into trouble there’s no one it can turn to for a rescue. As I like to say to students, in the international system when you dial 911 there is nobody at the other end. That means it is in effect a self-help system. That’s characteristic one.
Characteristic two is that all states have some offensive military capability and there are invariably a few states that have a lot of offensive military capability.
The third feature of the system has to do with intentions. It’s almost impossible to divine the future intentions of other states because we don’t even know who is going to be running China in five years or ten years or fifteen years. We don’t know who is going to be running the United States in five years or ten years or fifteen years. What this means is that when you operate in a world where there is no higher authority you can turn to when you get into trouble, and you may end up next to a country that’s very powerful and has malign intentions, you quickly figure out that the best way to survive is to be very powerful. We used to say when I was a young boy in New York City playgrounds, you want to be the biggest and baddest dude on the block. Not because you’re malicious or you have bad intentions but because it is the best way to survive. The more powerful you are the safer you are.
What this means in practical terms is that states want to, number one, dominate their region of the world, and number two, they want to make sure they don’t have a peer competitor. That means you want to make sure that there is not another country in the system that dominates its region of the world like you do.
Let’s talk a little bit about the United States. The United States is the only regional hegemon in modern history. Most Americans don’t think about this but the founding fathers and their successors went to enormous lengths to ensure that we would dominate the western hemisphere. That involved conquering huge swaths of territory and making sure that the power gap between us and Mexico and us and Canada, us an Guatemala was enormous so that they couldn’t cause us any trouble. Second thing we did was that we introduced the Monroe Doctrine – we basically threw the European great powers out of the western hemisphere and told them that they were not welcome back in here because we did not want any distant great powers coming into the western hemisphere. That was all about establishing hegemony. Second goal, which is reflected in US foreign policy in the 20th century, is to make sure we do not have a peer competitor. There were four potential competitors in the 20th century: Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The United States played a key role, not only in making sure each one of those countries did not dominate either Europe or Asia but also played a key role in putting each of those countries on the scrap heap of history. The United States does not tolerate peer competitors and the United States, to go back to my first point, is deeply committed to dominating the western hemisphere.
Now let’s talk about China. As more China gets more and more powerful – and that’s going to happen – the question you have to ask yourself is, “What will China do with all that military power?” My argument is that China will imitate the United States. They’d be crazy not to. They’re going to try to dominate Asia the way we dominate the western hemisphere. If you’re in Beijing and you’re a national security adviser, don’t you want a China that is much more powerful than all its neighbours? The Chinese understand full well what happened last time they were weak. They call it the Century of National Humiliation. The know what the Japanese, the American and the European great powers did to them. So they want to be very very powerful and for good reason. They are going to want to push the United States out of East Asia – they’d be crazy not to. As my mother taught me when I was a little boy, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If we can have a Monroe Doctrine, why do you think they’re not going to have a Monroe Doctrine?
So China is going to try to dominate Asia and the question becomes, “What do you think the United States is going to do?” The historical record is very clear here – we don’t tolerate peer competitors. We are not going to let them dominate Asia if we can prevent it. This is what the pivot to Asia is all about – we see them rising and we want to maintain our dominant position in Asia. The end result of this is that China are going to push in one direction and we’re going to push in the other direction. And it is going to be an intense security competition – again, this is not to say that we are going to have a war – but the Chinese are going to do this not because they have voracious appetite for trumping people or because they have an aggressive gene. It’s because the best way to survive in the international system is to be a regional hegemon. They understand that but at the same time, we’re not going to let it happen.
DONVAN: Thank you John Mearsheimer. Our motion is that China and the US are long term enemies, and here to make his opening statement against the motion here is Robert Daly. He is the Director of the Henry Kissinger Institute on China and the United States a former cultural exchanges officer at the Embassy in Beijing. Ladies and gentlemen, Robert Daly.
DALY: Thanks all of you for coming out tonight. Remember that our motion is that the United States and Chinaare long term enemies. Are now and will remain enemies. The motion is not that the United States and China may become enemies in the future. Bear the wording of the motion in mind, it is very important. Our opponent’s position is that China and the United States are now and have no real option but to continue to remain enemies. Why? Because a social science theory says that nations base their strategies on a survivalist ethic. Even though the question that China and the United States face is not how to survive, but how to flourish. We are not reduced to our basest instinct. The dire outcome that our opponents have forecast is avoidable for reasons that Kevin and I are going to spell out, and it’s also avoidable because the Chinese read Mearsheimer ardently. They’ve read this theory and even though he tells them that seeking hegemony in the eastern hemisphere is a good idea, that there are sound strategic reasons for doing so, he goes on to describe a world that would ensue that no one in China or the United States would desire. In fact he just admitted that when someone does what he just told China to do the United States throws you on the scrapheap of history. This is a future we can avoid if we manage the relationship wisely.
I am going to demonstrate that for the past 37 years – despite our disparate values, despite crises, despite a relationship that is already highly competitive – the US and China have avoided enmity and benefited from engagement. We are not enemies now. Our opponents do not even claim that we are, in contradiction to the motion. I will show you also what the world would look like in our opponent’s scheme in the hopes of convincing you that we should expend every effort to avoid that outcome. Kevin will then challenge the predictive reliability of the social sciences method in question and he will demonstrate that, despite serious threats to the relationship, the US and China have the motive and the means to contain our competition within peaceful boundaries.
Enemies. We’re talking about enemies tonight – fundamental hostile powers who wish each other ill. For enemies the prospect of war is always in the foreground of the relationship although not all enemies fight. I want to emphasize from the beginning that the enmity between the United States and China is real and is not yet clear that we are going to have the wisdom to avoid this outcome. Our opponents have done an excellent job of raising this alarm in very stark terms. But we are not yet enemies despite our current concerns. The US is not contained China’s rise, in fact we have aided and abetted it. The record of engagement is lopsided – China benefits more than we do but we benefit as well. Trade – China is our third largest export market after Canada and Mexico. The China market is essential to the work of American companies and the Americans they hire – Apple, GM, Intel, IBM, Proctor and Gamble, Coca-Cola, Johnson and Johnson. Furthermore, the import of cheap goods from China is one of the key factors that helped low-income Americans weather the storms of the 2008 Financial Crisis. China now invests in the United States, cumulative foreign direct investment is US$54 billion which puts 80 000 Americans to work; 7.3 million Chinese tourists will have visited here by 2021 bringing US$85 billion annually. We benefit from trade.
We also benefit from Chinese talent. Over 2 million Chinese students have studied here since the opening in ’79 and many of them have remained to contribute to our society. Over 2 million Chinese immigrants now live in the United States – it is the third largest foreign born group after Mexicans and Indians and they contribute greatly to every aspect of society. Ten Chinese-Americans have won Nobel Prizes as United States citizens, five of them were born in China. There was a friend of mine at the Heritage Foundation, Mr Brooks’ Foundation, a couple of said, “United States-China relations are not just political, economic and military – they are now personal.” The Chinese have become our friends, neighbours, colleagues and co-parishioners. It may seem like a cheap move to bring the personal element into this debate about international affairs but it is actually an essential point. There is scant mention of individual wellbeing in John’s theory. Nation states are the fundamental players in his anarchic world. But it is individual human beings that are imperilled by this contest for dominance.
What does enmity look like? What would it be like to have China as an enemy? John Mearsheimer himself provides the answer in the final chapter of ‘The Tragedy of Great Power Politics’. He says even if we avoid full-scale war, which would be Armageddon, we face crises, armed disputes that threaten war, an arms races which I don’t think we can afford, proxy wars in which third countries’ citizens will die for our purported benefit, bait and bleed strategies to lure the other country into costly foolish wars, bloodletting strategies to prolong those conflicts, the United States will start barring Chinese students from its universities and will cut down travel restrictions. That is just a partial list. Enmity would also involve a betrayal of America’s professed values. Why? As John Mearsheimer says, the United States’ interests would be best served by slowing Chinese growth rather than accelerating it. He advocates that we deliberately harm the welfare of one-fifth of human kind to maintain our position as the hegemon.
Our opponents say that we are now and will remain long term enemies because of a theory and because of Chinese intentions and capabilities which dictate that it must be so. This is their idea. We should answer them, we must answer them as Ebenezeer Scrooge answered the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in his dementor’s cloak pointing a bony finger at a grave. Scrooge says, “Are these the shadows of things that will be? Or are they the shadows of things that may be only? Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from the ends will change. Say it is thus.” The message that Kevin and I bring tonight is that it can be thus and it must be. That is why you must vote against the motion tonight. Again, that the United States and China are now and are going to remain long term enemies. Our opponents are correct about the gravity of challenge, that’s why we’re having this debate tonight, but we do have choices about how we meet and manage those challenges, choices that Kevin will soon elucidate for you. Thank you.
DONVAN: Thank you Robert Daly. And I reminder of what is going on, we’re half way through the opening round of this Intelligence Squared Debate. I’m John Donvan. We have four debaters, two teams of two, debating over this motion, that the United States and China are long term enemies. You’ve heard the first two opening statements and now onto the third. Debating in support of the motion China and the US are long term enemies, Peter Brookes. He is Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy and former Deputy Secretary of Defence. Ladies and gentlemen, Peter Brookes.
BROOKES: My colleague John did a great job of developing a framework for how great powers act and unfortunately it is not a happy story. My job here tonight in my opening statement is to give some texture and some context to that paradigm that John set up as it relates to China and the United States. In my opinion, China and the United States are strategic competitors, they are strategic rivals and they are even rivals. The rhetoric itself bears this out. If you listen to the Chinese, they say that the United States is trying to encircle or contain China. The US is a hegemon – a dominant power – which has a very strong negative connotation. The US wants to prevent China’s rise. This is coming out of Beijing. The US feels – and you see this in commentators in the US – that China is trying to push the United States out of Asia. That China wants to replace the United States as the preeminent power in the Pacific, as the number one world power. Both sides agree that there is a very high level of strategic distrust between the United States and China.
It gets worse. The United States and China share important interests in several global hotspots or flashpoints. The oldest of course is Taiwan. Not getting a lot of press lately – things have been quiet. But China says that it is part of the People’s Republic of China. The United States says don’t try to change the status quo by force. China refuses to renounce the use of force and the US would probably resist China trying to unify Taiwan using force. This is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, it has been ongoing since 1949 and it’s certainly going to remain a point of tension between the United States and China. Another old one is the Korean Peninsula. Most people don’t think about this. China and the United States fought there during the Korean War, China backs North Korea (its ally), the US backs South Korea (its ally). War on the Korean Peninsula, in my estimation, is possible at anytime. If you talk to US Forces Korea, their motto is ‘Ready to Fight Tonight’. That’s a possibility especially when you’re dealing with the leadership up there in North Korea. If there is a fight there it would likely involve the United States and China.
The most recent flashpoints are the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Let me start with the East China Sea. The PRC, the People’s Republic of China, has a dispute in the East China Sea with, American ally, Japan. The US says that these islands – known in Japan as the Senkaku, known in China as the Diaoyu – are under Japan’s “administration” and that they fall under the US-Japan Defence Treaty. That means that the United States could intervene if China decides to aggress against these Japanese islands. To make this issue tenser, China has declared an air defence identification zone (an ADIZ) over the East China Sea that includes these islands. Right afterwards, the United States after China declared this ADIZ, the United States sent two B52 bombers through this ADIZ as a symbol of strength and to make a point to China about their declaration.
In the South China Sea, China now claims 80 per cent of that body of water. They say it is Chinese sovereign territory. By Beijing’s measures, the South China Sea is essentially a Chinese lake. China says that the sovereignty over that body of water and the islands in it are indisputable. To ensure this they are building outposts on coral reefs and rocky outcrops. On these islands they are also building ports and airfields. Of particular interest is that on one of the islands, the runway is 3000 metres long (that’s about 10 000 feet). That’s longer than any commercial aircraft would need for landing. But it will host any of China’s military aircraft. The Pacific Commander recently said that some of these airfields currently have revetments that are meant to house or hanger tactical fighters. The US is concerned to say the least. Ceding sovereignty rights to Beijing could give them the greenlight to control freedom of the seas and air in the South China Sea. Through the South China Sea flows US$5 trillion worth of commerce. 30 per cent of the world’s seaborne commerce flows through the South China Sea. US$1.2 trillion of that is American. 80 per cent of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan – all either allies, or partners of the United States – 80 per cent of their imported energy goes through the South China Sea. Some islands and territory that China claims belong to US allies such as the Philippines. In the coming weeks the Pentagon has announced that it will sail warships through the waters surrounding these disputed islands. China isn’t happy about that all.
While conflict over any or all of these scenarios is not inevitable, both sides are bracing themselves for confrontation, crisis and possibly conflict. Scholars on both sides of the Pacific are talking and writing about the ‘what if’ situations, if crisis comes between US and China. Indeed, neither side is beating their swords into plough shears. They are making new and better swords. China has an Anti-Access Area Denial strategy – this is what the Pentagon calls it – to deter, delay or deny US intervention in the Western Pacific. The US has the Air-Sea Battle – a strategy to defeat the Anti-Access Area Denial, although the United States says that this isn’t directed at any one country. China is involved in a massive military modernization program, double digit increases in its defence budget over the last 20 years, emphasis on power projection, they’re building aircraft carriers, they’re sending their nuclear deterrent to sea in nuclear ballistic missile submarines, they’re building stealth fighters, they’re exercising significant cyber warfare capabilities including against the United States and preparing to fight in space. The US is countering with a Pacific Rebalance – 60 per cent of American ships are going to the Pacific, the US Army is growing its presence, top weapons technology is being sent to the Pacific Theatre first, that includes F22s, littoral combat ships, the J35 Strikefighter.
None of this sounds very friendly does it? That’s because it isn’t. It’s clear that China and the United States are competitors, rivals and indeed enemies. This isn’t going to change anytime soon. It is a regrettable fact. I strongly recommend that you vote for this motion. Thank you very much.
JOHN DONVAN: Thank you very much Peter Brookes. And that motion is that China and the United States are long term enemies. Our final debater against the motion is Kevin Rudd. He is a inaugural President of the Asia Society Policy Institute and former Prime Minister of Australia. Ladies and gentlemen, Kevin Rudd.
RUDD: The proposition we are looking at tonight is a serious one. It’s no ordinary proposition. Think about it – the proposition we’ve been asked to consider is that China and the United States are long term enemies. Weigh those words carefully. Those are important words. Long term enemies. That, they cannot escape from this condition of enmity. This is extreme language. Using the term ‘enemy’ is something we rarely do but not in this proposition. It is a term we should use with extreme caution. Think of a definition of what an enemy is – a country you are fighting a way against, the soldiers et cetera of that country. Let us not gloss over the gravity of the language that is being employed in this proposition. It’s not just words, it means something much more fundamental.
What we intend to do tonight is to defeat this proposition on three grounds. One, it is theoretically dubious. Two, practically, as Robert has just said, it does not reflect the reality in all of its dimensions in all of its complexity of the current US-China relationship. And three, it is dangerously determinist in the sense that it says to us that we can’t do anything about it, it is written in the skies. And that is what John’s theory of ‘Offensive Realism’ says.
John said before that you need a theory to explain was is going on because you can’t predict the future. But then occurs the first fundamental logical step in his argument. That fundamental logical step is as follows: he says we should take, therefore, at face value, the proposition that a theory of international relations can be reliable reliably predictive. Where is that mysteriously established? Is it written in the stars? No it is not. It is simply an assertion. In fact, if you look at the whole body of literature on international relations there are many people arguing about the proposition that you can be predictive about anything in social sciences, let alone in politics, let alone in international relations. Let alone a theory that says that the United States and China are going to be and are now enemies.
There is something that the scholars would describe too as ‘overcoming physics envy’. What do they mean by that? That there are the hard sciences over there – the biological sciences, the physical sciences – they have predictive laws and we can use that method and, in the social sciences, devise the same methods which can predict human behaviour. Well pigs might fly. There is a huge body of evidence counter to that but for this to be foundational proposition of John’s argument – that because he has a theory called ‘Offensive Realism’ in international relations, it is by definition predictive of where the United States and China are and will be, is of itself logically flawed.
The second logical flaw in the argument is as follows: he said before that it is clear to us all that we cannot predict the future intentions of states. I think I got that right, John? We cannot predict the future intentions of states. I then listened carefully to John list four separate predictions about China’s attitude – China will want to demonstrate through its behaviour its domination of East Asia just like the US did – that’s a statement of intention. You then go on to say that they’ll want to push the United States out of Asia – that’s a statement of your conclusion about Chinese intentions. You have said that they want to be a regional hegemon – that’s a statement of Chinese intentions. And that we the United States won’t want them to do that – that’s a statement of American intentions. You cannot have your cake and eat it to by saying that we cannot predict a state’s intentions and list four areas in which you are making those predictions. It is not just logically inconsistent it’s dangerous. Because by being so predictive it infers that conflict and war are somehow inevitable. That is not our proposition. Not our proposition at all.
I also have a theoretical premise – some would say it is Marxist. Listen to this, “Politics and international politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” So says Groucho Marx.
When we look at the proposition that is in front of us, it is theoretically flawed and as my colleague Robert demonstrated, it doesn’t bear any relationship to the complex reality which is unfolding in US-China relations across politics, across commerce and across people-to-people engagement. But what I am fundamentally concerned about is the additional argument against the proposition – it is dangerously determinative. It says that we through diplomacy or political leadership cannot affect an action. It’s basically saying that in international relations we’ve basically got the application of Calvinist predestination – it’s all out there and we can’t stop it. That’s what offensive realism has as its core proposition. It’s a bit like saying Nixon and Mao had nothing to do, through their individual diplomatic activity, in changing the course of US-China relations. Well, they did through leadership. It’s arguing that Deng Xiaoping had no impact, possibly individually on China’s economic future – that that was somehow automatically written in the stars. That’s wrong. Individual political leaders do make a difference. And so it goes on with others who have contributed to the US-China relationship.
The point is this – there is nothing determinist about international relations, we decide on our futures between countries, just as we decide upon our futures between ourselves. It is a matter of what the theorists would describe as human agency – we get to make the choice. And through our political leaders we can choose to make a choice. An alternative approach is what I call ‘Constructive Realism’. Not ‘Offensive Realism’ but ‘Constructive Realism’. Recognize the realist differences which exist between America and China – recognize the fundamental differences in the East China Sea, the South China Sea, over Taiwan, on cyber, in space and on human rights. But at the same time recognize that there are multiple domains of constructive engagement – how do you deal conjointly with the problem of North Korean nuclear proliferation? How do you deal now conjointly with the problems of terrorism in Central Asia which affects China as much as anyone else? How do we grow the global economy through the combined growth strategies? These are areas of constructive engagement which can build political capital over time and help us deal with the fundamental problems of this relationship as well.
JOHN DONVAN: Thank you Kevin Rudd. That concludes round one of this Intelligence Squared US Debate where our motion is, China and the US are long term enemies. Round two is where the debaters address one another directly and take questions from me and you, our live audience in New York. Our motion is this, China and the US are long term enemies. We have two debaters arguing for this motion – John Mearsheimer and Peter Brookes. We’ve heard them argue that while they are not predicting war they are in a sense predicting something similar to Cold War where hostility will rule between the two nations, where there is destined to be competition in terms of arms race, proxy wars, security crises. They say that a rising China will inevitably want to dominate its region which puts it in conflict – serious conflict with the United States and that, at present, China’s own rhetoric seems to prefigure this – a rhetoric of fighting words and action in terms of activities in its regions where China is already attempting to expand its borders and seize territories of allies which will draw the United States into an even more hostile relationship.
The team arguing against the motion – Kevin Rudd and Robert Daly – are saying that, yes, potentially all of that might happen but it is not inevitable, that it does not have to happen, that this dire outcome is avoidable and can be managed wisely. They say the term ‘enemy’ is a word that must be used with extreme caution and that there are very many venues in which the United States and China can work out their differences which are real, but once again they say that what their opponents are talking about is far, far from inevitable.
I want to go to the team that is arguing for the motion and particularly to John Mearsheimer because you put forward what’s turned into the theory that in the last few minutes we’ve heard much critique of. It’s the theory that there is an inevitability at present to the sense of a conflict between the US and China because of China’s growing influence, power and natural aspirations. I don’t want to spend the evening dissecting your theory but we’re going to pass through that territory now. Your opponents are saying that you’re contradicting yourself by saying, on the one hand that we can’t really know the intentions of China and, on the other hand you are citing the intentions of China. Interesting attack on your position, I’d like to know what your response is to it?
MEARSHEIMER: My three points about the structure of the system. The third point was that you cannot know the intentions. That was a starting assumption and what I did was take all three of the assumptions and mix them together. What that does is cause states to pursue hegemony and to prevent a peer competitor. There is no question that once you mix all of the assumptions together, the uncertainty about intention, you do get certainty about intentions because states do pursue hegemony.
DONVAN: Okay, I see the logic of that and I want to see if your opponents do to. Let’s take that to Kevin Rudd?
RUDD: I certainly don’t. You cannot on one hand, provide a theory which seeks to be descriptive of a current reality and normative about what the future of that reality might be, and at the same time suggest that you’re not providing a description of predictive intent on the part of the country, then walk away from the fact that you’re describing that there is their predictive intent. It is either determinist, which it is, of a level of determinism which Georg Friedrich Hegel would be embarrassed of; or it leaves an option for diplomacy and what we call human agency. If I’ve read John’s theories carefully about offensive realism, it provides little if any opportunity for human agency to say, “Let’s negotiate our way through.”
MEARSHEIMER: I think the theory is deterministic, I think that’s a legitimate criticism. I think my response to John’s question clears that up. I don’t think the intentions issue is a real issue. But the point about determinism is correct. Kevin is saying there is hardly any agency in my story, individuals don’t matter, there is no possibility for managing this so it ends happily. He is correct in that regard.
DONVAN: For the high school seniors listening out there, five syllable word ‘deterministic’. I think it would be useful, for me particularly – I like to take this burden upon myself – to just give us a definition of deterministic so we all know what we mean by that. Robert Daly why don’t you take that?
DALY: It means that it is bound to happen. It is inevitable. You have no choice. Tomorrow morning the sun will rise in the east, that’s determined.
RUDD: And the morning after there’ll be war.
MEARSHEIMER: Show me a country – this just illustrates my point – show me a country that had the raw capability to dominate its region of the world and passed that up. Not a single case. Show me a case where the United States was up against a potential peer competitor and decided to sit it out. Not a single case.
DALY: I don’t think that China will have the capability. I actually agree with our opponent’s position about China’s ideal state of affairs – that China would of course very much like to be the hegemon in East Asia. The question is not what China wants. The question in international relations is what China will settle for. Just as the question is what we will settle for. China is constrained, it can’t have everything that it wants in its fondest dreams and it knows that. Why? It faces enormous domestic pressures – problems of legitimacy and stability, the challenge of continued economic development (we all know that the Chinese economy is slowing – we are feeling that here in our stockmarket), problems of polluted not only air and water but land which takes longer to abate, a water shortage in the north, income disparity, very poor social safety net. It goes on and on. Their primary objective is to maintain stability and to maintain the Party’s monopoly on political power. That constrains them internationally. China has no allies to speak of, it has no soft power. It is also, unlike the United States when we formed the Monroe Doctrine, surrounded by very strong countries. The combined population, economic power, GDP and military budgets of China’s neighbours are greater than that of China itself. That’s before you even add the United States into the formula and the United States is by far the strongest military power in China’s region.
BROOKES: I think what Robert is talking about is interesting but the only thing I really remember from their lectures, their Sesame Street, Christmas Carol and Groucho Marx in terms of the question here…
DONVAN: They have much to teach you.
BROOKES: Right, exactly. A lot of fiction in there. And it continues. They are parsing on the word ‘enemy’ and if you look up the definition –
RUDD: The biggest fiction is that there is no alternative. That is a fiction.
BROOKES: What was that?
RUDD: The biggest fiction is that, as a determinist theory, there is not an alternative. That is the biggest fiction that we have to fundamentally –
DONVAN: Kevin, you’ve made that point before.
BROOKES: I think what they are overlooking, certainly what Robert is overlooking, is aspiration and ambitions not capabilities. Aspirations and ambitions. If China has these aspirations and ambitions there is going to be a rivalrous relationship, there is going to be tension. The issue here is not can China do this, which I think they’re making. As I pointed out in my lecture, all of these stubborn facts about China’s rise and their military modernization but the fact of the matter is that enemy does not necessarily mean war. Look it up in the dictionary. It only means someone who opposes something or someone. We already have that situation with China today so it is about ambitions and aspirations.
DALY: I looked ‘enemy’ up in several dictionaries. It is not the same thing as an ‘opponent’ nor is it the same thing as a nation that is ambitious.
BROOKES: Is it an opponent or a rival?
RUDD: The Oxford Dictionary says, “a country you are fighting a war against; the soldiers etc of that country.” And we are debating under Oxford Rules, I was told.
BROOKES: In an American dictionary it doesn’t say that, look up Merriam-Webster’s.
DONVAN: Wait wait –
RUDD: I’m not an American. I don’t know why we’re debating under Oxford Rules!
DONVAN: I want to say to the side arguing against the motion that your opponents, who are arguing that the US and China are long term enemies made an analogy with the Cold War in which Russia and the United States never actually fought a war but it takes place at the margins through proxy wars, arms races et cetera. I think it is fair for them to be making that argument that that constitutes enmity as well as all out war.
DALY: There is a rivalrous aspect to the relationship, it is growing, it is dangerous and we have to work to counter it. But there is also a cooperative aspect of the relationship, whether it is climate change or fighting Ebola together or in peace keeping missions. The United States gives more money to UN peace keeping missions than any other country, China sends more people. We work together very closely in a way that we never did with the Soviet Union when we were containing it. We weren’t educating the best and brightest Soviet minds. It is not containment. There is a rivalrous aspect but it is something else too. The question is how do we balance that and try to keep a thumb on the cooperative side.
MEARSHEIMER: I want to respond to Robert’s point. He’s correct that when you look at economic intercourse it’s not a rivalry. It’s at the security level that there is a rivalry and that’s why it’s not good to compare it to the Cold War as he pointed out. But what you want to compare it to is the pre-World War One period. Because there was a tremendous amount of economic intercourse in Europe before World War One but this was also an intense security competition which centred around Germany and the question is, in the end was it that security competition or that economic intercourse that was peaceful that trumped the other? The answer is that it was the security competition that won. I think the argument that Peter and I are making is that the security competition will eventually overwhelm the economic competition.
DONVAN: Is there a reason, Kevin Rudd, for why it is different with China, why it doesn’t have to be analogous to China?
RUDD: To flip out of a question that John has asked and we haven’t answered – I’ll come back to the one you’ve just asked before. He said point to a period in history where his determinist theory hasn’t applied. Look at the period after World War Two. Britain, Germany, France – they’ve been at it for how many decades, how many centuries? Trying to wipe each other off the planet. Well they decided finally – finally after 1945 that it was time out. And frankly, diplomacy prevailed and eventually they formed something imperfect called the European Union. Guess what, the historically determinist narrative about Anglo-French relations, about Franco-German relations was finally resolved through the construction of diplomacy. A European Union was built – you may criticize its economic performance but at least there hasn’t been a war in Europe in the last 70 years. That’s diplomatic intervention. In the case of China and the question of supremacy of economics over politics, all I would say is that there is a huge amount of positive economic engagement between the two countries – a whole lot of friction as well – but the totality of the relationship has as much difficulty on the security as there is engagement in the other dimensions and now common security exercises behind the scenes – how do the two countries now deal with the question of North Korean nuclear proliferation?
DONVAN: Let’s bring that point to Peter Brookes, what your opponent just laid out are several avenues for cooperation that could –
BROOKES: Such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that doesn’t include China? I don’t see any economic cooperation there. We are rivalrous with China on so many levels – whether you’re talking about diplomatically, whether you’re talking economically, whether you’re talking about human rights. The United States has just completed a trade pact in the Pacific that does not include China. How do you account for that? If you talk about human agency and I don’t think anybody is looking is for a fight.
RUDD: But hang on, John’s theory is determinist – it says it doesn’t matter if you want to or whether you don’t want to. According to his approach, which he says he shares with realists in China, a fight under those terms is inevitable. I have a different approach because diplomacy can choose other ways through. Kissinger did that in the early ‘70s, we can choose to do that. On the TPP you’ve just referred to, and it is a good example, what I note is that once the TPP is passed at least in terms of negotiations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, what you now find is that China’s public language has changed from one of outright hostility to one of saying, “I wonder how, in fact, we can now get into this.” In the last three to six months their public language has changed.
DALY: That is a very good example that we cannot determine, but we can shape China’s decisions by own actions and our own policies.
DONVAN: We are focussing very much on shaping China’s decisions so far and on China’s actions, China’s motives and whether we can know them or not. I want to take to the side arguing for the motion – United States action, motives and intentions and ask you whether there is a responsibility on the United States side in your view for aggravating this situation and if so is there something – does the United States need to retreat from its ambitions in order to stem off the situation you’re talking about or is it inevitably impossible. Peter Brookes.
BROOKES: I would say that countries try to protect and advance their interests. The United States is a Pacific nation. We have more trade with the Pacific than we do with Europe today. We have allies out there, we have five sets of allies in the Pacific theatre. We have defence and security commitments – as I mentioned, US$1.2 trillion in trade goes through the South China Sea. So I think the United States is trying to protect its interests and meet its obligations. Of course, putting into play human agency, the United States could move away from those commitments, it could move away from securing its interests, it could move away from trying to advance the interests of the American people and the Pacific, it could cede authority, the dominant position to the Chinese. That is certainly a choice. But I don’t believe that nations operate in that manner. I believe that, just like the Chinese, they are trying to advance and protect their interests and the United States is doing the same thing. The problem is that the United States and China and are not in alignment on their interests – this happens. That’s where this competition and rivalry comes in.
DALY: I would like to ask then what the United States should do then? I just met Professor Mearsheimer backstage and he seemed like very nice guy but you have advocated that the United States in defence of its interests and to protect its current status, actively seek to harm the economy of China. A place that has brought hundreds of millions of people out of absolute poverty. You advocate for dropping some of them back into poverty, this would hurt their medical system, their educational system. Is this what we want to do and be? Are these the sorts of methods that we have to use, that we are predetermined to use?
MEARSHEIMER: Let me ask you a question –
DONVAN: He just asked you a question.
MEARSHEIMER: It’s a rhetorical question. If you were in Britain in 1900 and you had been watching Germany rise since 1870 and you were really nervous about Germany. You could see a security competition coming, and you could have hit a switch that would slow down German economic growth significantly, would you have hit that switch given what you now know?
DALY: This is not an academic exercise. I don’t pretend to know as much about Germany and Britain in those era.
DONVAN: We’re going to stop this here. John Mearsheimer, I still want to hear your answer to his question.
MEARSHEIMER: Which is his question?
DONVAN: You don’t remember his question? His question is what would you do and he says that you are talking about actually harming the other side.
MEARSHEIMER: No, if I was in a position to slow down Chinese economic growth I would definitely do it. China is going to be a potential peer competitor and we are going to have an intense security competition. You go to countries like Japan, go to countries like the Philippines, Vietnam they see this one coming and people there, if they could hit the switch that would slow down the Chinese economy, they’d do it as well because they know what is going to happen when China becomes really powerful. Remember, we are talking about a China that is much more powerful in twenty or thirty years that it is now, has a lot more weight to throw around. The Chinese have made it very clear that they are going to throw that weight around. They think that they own the South China Sea, they want Taiwan back, they want the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands back. This is not a status quo power.
RUDD: I think, on the minds of every chancery in the world today is this – what will happen if Chinese economic growth stalls? That’s the question today. Because it actually sucks out what little growth there is in the global economy today. It sucks out the job opportunities that are emerging in Africa, Latin America and other parts of the world and, as consequence, the damage to American job as a consequence of global growth going down and global demand for US goods and services goes down as well. That is the most self-defeating argument I’ve seen. Your point about what alternative options exist apart from seeking to economically strangle a country is as follows, in the period leading up to the First World War, if you read the seminal text called ‘Sleepwalking to War’ published in 2013-14 it points to a chronic failure of diplomacy between Berlin, Paris, Vienna and London in the critical months of July on 1914 where diplomacy could have averted conflict. That is the conclusion of the most seminal and recent study of the events leading up to the First World War. The idea that Britain could have even have conceived of strangling the German economy in 1900 was simply not on the table and would have been injurious to growth in Europe then in a way in which such an action towards China today by the United States or anyone else would be injurious to the entire world’s workforce.
DONVAN: I want to let Peter Brookes respond to that but before he starts to speak I want to say that after he makes his point I’m going to go to you for questions. Just to remind you of how it works: raise your hand, I’ll call on you, please stand up and tell us your name and then tell us your question. I really don’t want you to make a speech before you ask the question but I’m fine with you stating a premise but then really get to the question and nail it. If you can’t do it I will have to move onto somebody else. Go ahead Peter Brookes.
BROOKES: Kevin spending a lot of time talking about diplomacy and I appreciate that. Obviously, diplomacy can play a very positive role but I have to say that diplomacy is failing. The state visit of Xi Jinping to the White House was a very tense relationship, very tense meeting. Talking about cyber the Chinese have pilfered the personal information of 20-plus million American government employees including myself. And the US Chamber of Commerce will tell you they are dealing with the most hostile business climate in China today that they’ve ever faced before. Of course, this issue of the South China Sea. Nobody doubts that diplomacy can have a positive role but I’m telling you, today based on all the things that I’ve told you, that diplomacy is failing.
DONVAN: Let’s go to some questions.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m Ethan Brawner. My question is for your side, is there not any change in the international order, the way countries relate to each other, since World War Two that affects the sense of inevitability? Is there not something that says countries actually need one another, we related to one another in ways that a hundred years and longer ago people did not know and the world didn’t affect their behaviour?
MEARSHEIMER: I think the answer to that is no. I think if you look at US-Russian relations today and you US-Chinese relations today and you look at US-Iranian relations today, those are three glaring examples that contradict what you say. When we expanded NATO and the EU eastward we thought that international politics had changed, that realpolitik was finished and we could get away with expanding NATO and the EU and it would have no consequences. We found that exactly the opposite was the case because Putin is a first class realpolitiker. The same thing applies to East Asia. There is all sorts of evidence out there that the Chinese think in realpolitik terms. If you look at the competition that’s beginning to brew it runs against the argument that the nature of politics has changed. Look at the Middle East today, it is hard to believe all these new theories that were put on the table when the Cold War ended apply there. There are lots of examples where there is trouble in the system.
DONVAN: Let me let the other side answer that question, whether the world in fact is different today so that what happened 100 years ago is not destiny today?
DALY: Even within the constraints of John’s determinist theory, there are realpolitik forces that speak against China successfully becoming a hegemon. It will be balanced against and deterred by the very strong countries on its periphery, sometimes in alliance with each other and sometimes singly. We already see China’s aggression within the South China Sea and the East China Sea causing countries to draw closer to the United States – inviting the marines in to northern Australia, letting American ships rotate through harbours in countries that have in the past been quite close to China (we see Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia). So even within this system we see balances that are going constrain China.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, my name is Shaun Donaghen. As China continues their development and their pivot westward into Central Asia with infrastructure developments, do you think that will change the American foreign policy calculus more in line with China as we see them as an ally in global development?
RUDD: With China there is always going to be competition, there is always going to be cooperation. Both these realities are confronting us every day of the week. On this one, in terms of China’s investment program through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Silk Road Investment Fund and other such financial entities. The Chinese spot an economic opportunity, they see the overcapacity in the construction industry within their own country, they want to be able to export that and grow the infrastructure of Southern and Central Asia through the Middle East at the same time. My argument is, there is a market there. There is a huge deficit for infrastructure investment in that part of the world, why not US and Chinese entrepreneurs get together and make a buck there together? Build infrastructure and at the same time improve the livelihoods of the those in that part of the world. There is a large list of cooperative possibilities in finance and in commerce between US and Chinese firms and at the same time there is going to be a whole lot of competition and a whole lot of aggravation as well. But that is life. It’s never going to be clean, it’s never going to be neat but both those things are possible.
BROOKES: Kevin makes our point about the rivalrous relationship between the United States and China. The United States has its own Silk Road initiative, the Chinese has their Silk Road initiative – it is not with the United States. He talked about the AIIB – the Asian Investment Bank – which challenges the Asian Development Bank. They are talking about the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India and China – which does not include the United States. I spent a lot of time talking about how the military competition is heating because it think that really that’s what people feel comfortable talking about when they talk about ‘enemies’, but the fact of the matter once again is that there is competition between the United States diplomatically and economically. I think Kevin just made that point.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you, my name is Linda Drummond. I wanted to ask you how you think the fact that China owns so much of our debt will affect our relationship in the future?
DONVAN: And in terms of enmity, is that a force for peace or conflict?
BROOKES: This is a very interesting question. A lot of people are very uncomfortable with the fact that China owns so much of our debt they are actually selling off some of our debt at the moment right now. It’s changing but the Chinese, because their currency is not convertible, Chinese firms that do business here in the United States basically have to come back here and sell their dollars to the government to get RMB, yuan or renminbi. So it’s the way the system works because the currency isn’t convertible and then the Chinese have to do something with that debt. They can buy Boeing Aircraft, they can buy soybeans, or they can buy US debt. And obviously, US debt is still considered to be the world’s most stable and probably the best investment for them.
DONVAN: I’d like to let the other side respond to that.
DALY: That’s correct, many Americans think that China owns the majority of our debt. They don’t. They are the second largest foreign holder of our debt, Japan just surpassed them again but for a while China was number one. I think they have something like 7.6 or 7.4 per cent of total American sovereign debt so it is really not that big an issue for the reasons Peter just mentioned because the total volumes aren’t that great.
DONVAN: But does it have some impact on the debate tonight about whether China and the US are –
BROOKES: I think it’s perceptions. It’s a perception I think most Americans are pretty unhappy about. Our culture says that debt is not necessarily a good thing and coming out of difficult economic times I think people are probably uncomfortable with that. And having the Chinese Communist Party hold the majority or near majority of American debt is probably uncomfortable.
DONVAN: But it’s hard to blame China for that?
BROOKES: No, I’m not blaming China for that but I think an interesting point is – going back to what they criticized John about. I wasn’t sure exactly what they were referring to in terms of John’s writings but the fact is the money that China makes in the United States goes to a lot of things, including their military modernization. Now I was kind of rushed through my list there but I want to make sure you understand that over the last 25 years China has had an average of double digit increases (that means 10 per cent or more) in its defence budget. Now it is not the same as the United States, although of course things are cheaper in China, but this shows a commitment to increasing their military capabilities which are obviously will brush up against ours in the Asia Pacific region.
RUDD: I think we just need a bit of context in this. The US defence budget at present is around about US$700 billion a year. The Chinese defence budget, based on the external analyses not the internal analyses, is somewhere in the vicinity of US$200-225 billion at a upper range calculus – and that is by the independent Stockholm Peace Research Institute who take no sides. That’s the current relativity. Secondly, the US defence budget has been massively in excess of China’s for the last 50 years. You have nearly ten carrier battle groups, they’ve got a clapped out Ukrainian aircraft carrier which barely make it out to sea let alone back, it doesn’t have a single carrier battle group. It’s developing its submarine capability but let me tell you if I was in a betting race for the next 25 years and you lined up all the assets in the order of battle of the Pacific Command of the United States of America (with which I have some familiarity as an Australian) and the Chinese order of battle – let me tell you who I’d be backing any day of the week and the next 30 years plus.
MEARSHEIMER: But that doesn’t contradict Peter’s point.
RUDD: I think it goes some way towards it.
MEARSHEIMER: No. If you go back to 1980 and you look at the size and quality of the Chinese military and you compare it to the size and quality of that military today there has been a fundamental change. It is a much more formidable military and what we are talking about here is what is going to happen over the next 20, 30, 40 years as China turns into a giant Taiwan or a giant Hong Kong. It is going to have many more resources to spend on defence and it is going to build military that’s probably the equal if not the superior of the United States.
RUDD: I think that merits a further response again. There is a thing called demography John. The age in the Chinese population, the increase in workforce began shrinking three years ago – it will start of decrease probably by the time we get to late ‘20s. As a consequence of that, with a rapid aging of the Chinese population, the pressure on the Chinese budget in the next 30 years in terms of looking after old people is going to start to rival that of the Western World. As they say in China, “We are going to get old before we get rich and powerful.” This will be a huge constraint on military outlays as well.
BROOKES: Kevin, facts are inconvenient and stubborn things sometimes. When you talk about the defence budget, the United States is also at war. China is not at war. Also, a lot of the Chinese budget is not included in these figures. It’s a lot cheaper to build things in China than the United States. The fact is that by 2020 China will have 300 modern submarines, ships in the Pacific region and the United States will have 180. And as a Soviet General once reminded me, “There is a certain quality in quantity.” As a navy commander I’m backing our sailors, our airmen, our marines and our soldiers. But the fact of the matter is you cannot overlook the fact that the Chinese –
RUDD: They have sixty-five at present.
DONVAN: I’m going to remind you that we are in the question and answer section of this Intelligence Squared US Debate, I’m John Donvan your moderator. We have four debaters, two teams of two debating this motion, China and the US are long term enemies.
DALY: A quick response to John’s last point about positing the Peoples’ Republic of China as Taiwan or Hong Kong writ large. China is currently about number 80 in the world for per capita GDP. To posit the Peoples’ Republic of China as being as wealthy as Hong Kong or Taiwan and to fight against that. This is not a prediction made based on a structural determinist model, this is simply an act of prophecy. There are no grounds for it.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Don Lawry. The former Ambassador to China asked the current Premier of China, “What are your two biggest problems?” He said, “How do I feed one and a half billion people everyday and how do I ensure a certain level of employment.” My question is, what should the relative leaders of these countries be thinking about the issues we’re talking about.
MEARSHEIMER: Very quickly, my argument is that for purposes of Chinese security, what the Chinese should think about doing is dominating Asia the same way we dominate the western hemisphere. I think they’d be foolish to do otherwise. I know all sorts of Chinese who agree with that. In fact, Robert has made the point that if the Chinese could dominate Asia they would do it. That’s my point. What should we do? My point is that the United States of America should make sure we don’t have a peer competitor. I’m glad we fought against Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany and we contained the Soviet Union. If China continues to rise, I think the United States will continue to pivot to Asia. We will do everything we can to check China and I think that makes perfectly good sense. Is this a tragic situation? I think the answer is yes. But nevertheless I think it is inevitable.
DALY: The United States must make sure that we do not have a peer competitor for our security. Think about what this means. This is a brutalist philosophy. The proposition is that even if China were to change in some of the ways that proponents of engagement have said that they hope it changes, even if they just as a thought experiment adapted our Constitution and our laws wholesale, we should still try to limit their growth merely because we shouldn’t have a peer competitor. That is the proposition. Regardless of beliefs, regardless of people striving for human flourishing along the lines we that we have been proscribing to the world for decades, if they actually appear to be succeeding regardless of their beliefs, we must stop them even if it means pushing them back towards poverty. Have I misunderstood the proposition?
DONVAN: Robert, I don’t mean this question cynically or sarcastically, but what’s wrong with that?
DALY: I think that we’re better than that. I think that it flies in the face of the values that have been preaching to the rest of the world for the past 200 years. We have been giving them a very careful text about how some form of liberal democracy, pluralistic political institutions, capitalism and markets will help them flourish. That we can flourish together. That we can share our educational systems, science and technology and that this is what we are about. John, if I don’t misunderstand you, you’re saying that that’s just not true – it’s liberal hogwash?
MEARSHEIMER: No, the highest value a state can have is survival.
DALY: That’s the lowest value a state can have. That’s the precondition, I’m talking about flourishing –
MEARSHEIMER: I agree with you that it is a precondition. But the mere fact that it’s a precondition to pursuing all your other interests means that it is by definition the most important goal.
DALY: But here we sit surviving, they’re surviving in Beijing now. Haven’t we moved beyond that?
BROOKES: Can I add something? I think it’s important for people to realise that we talk about states but we’re really talking about people. There is a lot of human nature in how states act because they are run by people. States, just like people, care about their social status. People care about their social status, they care about where they are in the social structure and for states that’s the international system. There is also a belief by states that the higher you are in the international system the more the benefits will come to you. It’s the same for people. This means that states, like people, are interested in power and influence.
RUDD: Just to add to that point. I think what Robert was saying, and just to re-emphasize his analysis, a clear reading of John’s assertive realism is that it doesn’t matter whether a state is a democracy or not, doesn’t matter whether China becomes a democracy or not. If any, liberal democracy grows and becomes a strong economic and significant military power, that of itself invites direct concern from the United States in his theory to do something about it and to stop that from happening. I think that is a fair characterization of your position?
MEARSHEIMER: That’s correct.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’ve heard so far a lot of fighting for power’s sake. By that argument we should be fighting the EU. My question is, what some specific things that you see that we could fight over as the American people, something that the American people would actually feel was worth fighting over?
DONVAN: Do you understand the sense of the question because I’m not sure that I do?
MEARSHEIMER: I think Peter has done this. You can point to specific issues that the United States could end up fighting China over. For example, one of those islands in the Spratlys, maybe over Taiwan, maybe over the islands in the East China Sea. He pointed to the Korean Peninsula. Your question was whether we could get the American people exercised enough that they would be willing to fight in those specific situations and I think that the United States is so good at threat inflation and fear mongering that we’d have no problems with that issue.
DALY: I’m a little less certain that we could convince Americans to die for uninhabitable rocks in a part of the world that they can’t find on a globe.
BROOKES: I think my colleague John has laid it out quite well. For instance, look at the South China Sea contingency. If China were to start building their airfields and ports and start sending warships into there, controlling the transit through that part of the world. That is a threat to our vital national interests. US$1.2 trillion in trade, the movement of American warships to the Persian Gulf – this is something that could happen. China could strangle Japan, Taiwan and South Korea (either allies or partners of the United States) by cutting off the supply of oil that comes through the Malacca Strait and goes through to those countries – 80 per cent of their energy. So there are very much potential threats besides the Korean Peninsula and other things. Strong threats to American national interests that could lead to war.
RUDD: To agree with Peter, there is a range of things that you can see around the region where conflict could erupt. You really can. But those of us who have watched this carefully over many many years, our argument and why we differ from our friends opposite is as follows, that we believe that there is a way through these challenges – as difficult and as hard and as uneven a course as it may be – which is to be able to negotiate through strength. No one is arguing that the United States of America should go to the negotiating table in weakness, that is not the argument of the US or its allies. But, as Kennedy once said – JFK – we should never ever negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate. So on these intractable problems, which do seem to be intractable, they may take years and decades to work their way through but our argument, our core argument, is that national political leaders and diplomats, backed up with sensible statecraft can make a real difference and not yield to what John has confirmed is ultimate thesis, a determinist view which says, “It is beyond our control, China is rising, the US is here, they are going to run into each other – either the US capitulates, China capitulates or there is war.” That’s their three-ended result. We have a radically different view.
DONVAN: What I’d like to do here is to summarize this round. It’s a round that we introduced a few debates back and it’s called the ‘Lightning Round’, in which each debater gets 30 seconds in which to make or respond to a point, with a little bit of rebuttal built into it, and it’s firmly timed with a bell that comes at the end of the 30 seconds. Oh I’m sorry, I’m meant to call it the ‘Volley Round’. We’ve been calling it number of different names and someone just mysteriously spoke into my ear – in fact the person who is telling me to say every word I say tonight, every word I say tonight. Think of me as Elmo, with a hand in my body. We call it the ‘Volley Round’. Each debater gets 30 seconds, it’s closely timed – they have to stop talking at the end of 30 seconds and then the other side gets to speak. I think the question I’m going to put sort of summarizes where we are and the kind of argument that we heard. I think the proposition kind of boils down to this, your opponents are saying that economic self-interest ultimately is going to be a more powerful force than superpower rivalry and power ambitions.
RUDD: That’s not our argument.
BROOKES: Maybe it should be?
MEARSHEIMER: That was Robert’s first point?
DALY: It was a point, it wasn’t the argument.
DONVAN: Okay, let’s not say it sums up your argument. Let’s say, an important point that you made this evening was that there’s just too much economic self-interest for both sides to risk letting things fall apart to the point of all out hostility and conflict. John Mearsheimer, your 30 seconds starts now.
MEARSHEIMER: The economic interdependence argument which John was just laying out says that prosperity is of enormous importance. The story that I was telling was a story about security and, in the security story, what matters most is survival. It’s a trade off between survival on one hand and prosperity on the other. My argument is that when those two come head to head, survival wins every time.
DALY: Remember that the United States and China have successfully managed frictions of this kind for 37 years. We have a record through diplomacy, through trade, sometimes through confrontation, through engagement and through restraint. Even after the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989. Even after we bombed China’s Embassy in Serbia in 1999. Even after their hotdog pilot hit our plane and they took our crew basically hostages at Hanin Island in 2001. We did not become enemies. There is no need to do it in the future.
BROOKES: I’m surprised John didn’t take this argument because it turns out that economic interdependence between countries empirically is a very weak variable and it doesn’t prevent countries from going to war. World War One is a perfect example. As I recall Britain and Germany were each others’ largest trading partners. The United States was a major trading partner of Japan before World War Two. It does not always prevent people from going to war or hostilities from breaking out. It’s a weak variable and it would be silly to depend on the idea that countries’ nationalism and other security issues won’t trump economic interdependence.
RUDD: Economic interdependence helps but it is not the final answer to this question, I think we are all agree on that. What is important is to have sufficient commonality of security interests long term to have a diplomacy which can seek a path up the middle which doesn’t go to the binary of capitulation or war. We believe diplomacy is capable of doing that and if we look around the world today what are the Chinese and the Americans doing? They’re talking about North Korea and nuclear weapons. That’s a big example of how they can do and I believe the two are not mutually exclusive.
DONVAN: Thank you and that concludes round two of this Intelligence Squared Debate where our motion is China and the US are long term enemies. Now we move on to round three. In round three each of the debaters makes a closing statement, it will be two minutes each. They will do it seated. Here to summarize his position for the motion, China and the US are long term enemies, please welcome Peter Brookes member of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
BROOKES: China often speaks of 100 years of humiliation at the hands of outside powers, as Kevin mentioned earlier. From the Opium Wars of the 1840s to the standing up of China in 1949. It is my sense that China plans never to experience that again and are making to steps to do so. It plans to return China to its former glory as the Middle Kingdom. This is what President Xi Jinping has talked about when he talks about the China Dream. The major obstacle to achieving that is the United States. As a result, as evidenced by areas of disagreement and build up of military forces, China and the United States are in an intense struggle for power and influence. That could lead them to the first great power war in 70 years. It could happen. Whether we like it or not, China and the United States are enemies in the category of US-Iran, US-North Korea and the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins. It’s that serious. We’re enemies. We want the same thing and that is to be at the top of the international system. Until one side gives up its challenge to the status quo or the other side acquiesces to the challenger’s rise, it’s going to be that way. In my opinion, that’s not going to be likely to happen. The China that our opponents have talked about is not the China of the past, it’s a superpower. That means that China are the United States are long term enemies and I recommend that you vote for this motion. Thank you very much.
DONVAN: Thank you Peter Brookes. And here to make his statement against the motion is Robert Daly, Director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Centre.
DALY: John Mearsheimer admits in his writing that social science theory is a crude instrument. Those are his words. But even if it were a far more precise instrument it would still be only one of the tools in a very large toolkit that we have at our disposal. A toolkit that includes deft, creative diplomacy, the balancing of interests, judicious restraint, economic and political levers, our moral sense, a due fear of our capacity for violence, consideration of the interests and opinions of other nations and common concerns for transnational threats like climate change and pandemics. All of these instruments, if we wield them properly with enable us to manage this relationship such that we do not become enemies and we are not enemies now. We are not helpless witnesses to the unfolding of grand historical laws, it’s a dangerous world but it is not a Risk Board. There is more to it than that, there is far more to interactions between nations to civilisation than the disposition of forces. We must build and position our forces wisely, yes. But we must not reduce our collective live to a brutalist survival instinct. I work at the think tank. It’s sometimes hard to explain to my kids what I do. I’m not a fireman or a policeman and they ask, so I just say, “Well I work all day to try to make sure the United States and China don’t fight.” As I was getting ready for this debate the other night, my second son Matteo, who was born in China and grew up there for six years born to a Chinese mother, said, “Dad if we fight, who would I fight for? China or America?” And I said, “Well you’d fight for America bub, but it need not come to that.” It need not come to that. That is our position. We are not nor are we destined to become enemies. We encourage you to vote against the motion. Thank you.
DONVAN: Thank you Robert Daly. Here to make his closing statement in support of the motion John Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.
MEARSHEIMER: Thank you John. As I said early on, you can’t talk about the future without a theory and I think they have a theory and it revolves around agency or diplomacy. They believe that the competition can be managed and that’s very different to the way I think about the issue. But I want to ask you this, when you look at American diplomacy over the past 20 years does that give you confidence? Seriously. Does that give you confidence that American leaders can manage this relationship over the next 30 or 40 years? You know about Afghanistan, you know about Iraq, you know about Libya, you know about Ukraine. Seems to me that the United States has the Midas touch in reverse. It is really quite remarkable. For their theory to work, not only do you need Bismarck after Bismarck after Bismarck on our side, but you also need it on the Chinese side. Just to add to the problem, we have lots of allies out there who could drag us into a war. We could have some crazy Philippino or some crazy Japanese leader who acted irrationally. There are a lot of moving pieces out there, there are a lot of ways you can get into a war. But what their theory depends on is having Bismarck here there and everywhere. That is just not going to happen. Look, you should vote for us not because it makes you feel good about the situation. You should feel very depressed about this. Really, this is a very depressing conclusion that he and I are putting forward. I love going to China, I love the Chinese people. And I hate to say what I’ve said up here tonight but if you any hope of managing the situation you want to be realistic about where we are headed. And they are not realistic.
DONVAN: Thank you John Mearsheimer, your time is up. Here to make his summarizing statement against the motion, Kevin Rudd, President of the Asia Society Policy Institute and former Prime Minister of Australia.
RUDD: As former Prime Minister of one of your closest allies in the Pacific and, therefore, one of those moving pieces which could get you into all sorts of trouble – and I remind you, your oldest continuing ally in the 20thcentury and into the 21st and the country which has fought with you in every war in the last century – I think we deserve to have a voice at the table on these questions. I say that because we have a deep affection for the United States for a whole bunch of reasons – your civil tradition, the celebration of democracy, your economic creativity. Frankly, in the history of global superpowers going back through time, America has behaved as a remarkably benign superpower. I say that. I say that freely and I say it openly. This is a tough debate because we are dealing with something brand new, the rise of the a country that is not English speaking, that is not Western, which is not a democracy and is on the verge of becoming the largest economy in the world. I get the complexity. I’ve been working with this country in one capacity or another for the last 35 years, either as a student, an academic, in business, a Member of Parliament, a Foreign Minister, a Prime Minister. The complexity is staring at us in the face everyday because we are your ally in the region but I say this, there is nothing determinist – nothing sketched into the skies above – that says the United States and China are and therefore will be long term enemies. There is, in my view, nobody of any serious position in either Washington of Beijing who wants wars. I’ve met most of these folks over the last decade. The challenge of diplomacy is to ensure that we prevent that from happening. I believe we can. For your kids’ future, I ask you to vote against the proposal.
DONVAN: Thank you Kevin Rudd and that concludes our closing statements.
And now we are going to ask you who has argued best. I’m going to talk in the meantime, I just want to say this, we’ve been thinking about this debate for three years and trying to figure out who to put on stage, who would be a terrific mix and bring intelligence and wit and civility to it. I have to say I think we really succeeded with that.
We had a total sell out tonight and in fact there were a number of people who couldn’t get in and it was delightful for us but the thing I want to say is that we are a non-profit organization and about 60 per cent of the funding of this program comes from individuals who support the program including many of you in the audience tonight. We are incredibly grateful for these contribution since the ticket sales cover nowhere close to – it’s a very tiny fraction of the total cost – so I want to say thank you to all of our generous supporters some of whom are here and to the millions who are watching our live stream or listening to these debates for free online and on the radio. That gift to them is because of all the donors. They will remain anonymous for the moment but I want to give a round of applause to everybody who is doing that. The other thing that we are very proud to say is that the Intelligence Squared Debates are now disseminating to educational institutions and we know this because we hear from them. Teachers in high school and at university level and even some below the high school level have been using the debates as a teaching tool and we are delighted by that and very proud of that.
It’s all in. Our motion is this, China and the US are long term enemies. We had you vote twice before the debate and once again afterwards, the team whose numbers have changed the most between the two votes will become and be declared our winner. Let’s look at the first vote. In the opening vote 27 per cent agreed with the motion that China and US are long term enemies, 35 per cent were against, 38 per cent were undecided. Those are the first results. Let’s look at the second result. The team arguing for the motion that China and US are long term enemies, the first vote from 27 per cent, the second vote was 32 per cent – they pulled up 5 percentage points, that is now the number to beat. Let’s see the team against the motion, their first vote was 35 per cent, their second vote was 56 per cent – they pulled 21 percentage points. That means the motion, China and the US are long term enemies has been defeated and the team arguing for that side is our winner. Congratulations to them and thank you from me, John Donvan, and Intelligence Squared US. We’ll see you next time.