A Q&A with Dr. Lionel Vairon, author of China Threat?
China Threat? will be published by CN Times Books in July 2013Your viewpoint is somewhat different from mainstream views held by Western people. In your opinion, what is the mainstream Western view of Chinas perceived rising power?
Over the past 400 years, the West has dominated the world's concept of right and wrong, so Western people are not accustomed to the ascent of an influential, non-western country. Simply, it is difficult for Western people to accept this psychologically. I feel, in general, Chinas emergence as a growing world power makes Western people anxious. Having spent a lot of time in China, I believe the common concept of “China Threat” has been exaggerated, and that the country does not in fact pose a real threat to the West in regards to military power or economic development. Many Westerners feel threatened because China has a large population...and on another note, some people feel threatened by China because they still view it as a communist country. However, many people have not been to the country and are unaware of its developments over the past 30 years. There is also the factor that Western governments view China mainly from two aspects, the economic perspective and that of long-term strategy. With regards to the economy, Western governments think a rising China is both an opportunity and a threat to them. Strategically, China's rising military strength is a significant concern for many U.S. citizens.
Why dont you consider China a threat to the West?
I consider China not as a threat in itself, but as a threat by reaction. China is willing to be admitted in the international community for what it is: a country with a millenary civilization, its own values and traditions, and its own specific domestic and international challenges. Therefore, China is a country that needs to be respected and not forced to abide by the dominant Western view of the so-called “international order.” Most Western analysts are expecting China through its rise to comfort the international order, as it was defined after WWII, and to strengthen this order, which is obviously not the main objection of Chinese leaders and strategists.
In your opinion, what issues do Westerners perceive to be the biggest threat (from China)? Social, political/governmental, military, economic, innovation, etc.?
For the time being, the main threat in Western eyes is economical and the influence of a new type of political system - state capitalism, or development without parliamentary democracy - which is largely designed outside the West and started to influence developing countries. Most Westerners still dont believe in Chinas innovation capacities, still citing the old faith that Chinese people can only imitate and not create. In the long run, they consider the military threat as well, not as a threat to their own territory but as a threat to U.S. military world hegemony. What I mean by that is putting serious limits on U.S. capacities to decide military interventions and put pressure through military threat on countries reluctant to U.S. dominance.
Many countries regard China a threat, but also why do some disregard Chinas potential?
The reason why some disregard Chinas rise is precisely because it seems awkward and actually impossible for a non-Western power to rise among the ranks of the world leaders. Shall we remind people that China is the sole non-Western member of the UN Security Council? There is a common perception that the only acceptable “values” and “faiths” are Western ones…so, in fact, the issue being discussed about China also applies to the Muslim world.
What are key differences and similarities between China and the U.S.?
The key differences are, in my opinion, a cultural incompatibility, a philosophy of action based on the cowboy conception of human relations on one side - nothing really pejorative, but meaning that conflicts need to be solved by the use of force, where as we know Chinas philosophy is “the best battle is the one that was never fought.” The U.S. has a messianic view of its place and role in the world - that it brings enlightenment to other people of the world, somehow like the colonial empires before -- while China has no politics of exporting its values or system, only in some aspects like the Confucius Institutes trying to be understood. The most striking similarity is probably the shared fascination with entrepreneurship, economic success and money, despite Chinas political system.
What can Western countries and China do to foster better understanding and mutually beneficial relationships?
First of all, accept a dialogue with China based on equality and mutual respect for national values, domestic constraints and national interest. Accept to revise international order so as to grant China and other emerging powers a larger role and right of speech in international affairs. Further, stop pressuring China to become what is called a “responsible stakeholder,” which means taking sides on international issues like Iran or Syria based on power and influence considerations and not on a real will to solve the issues by negotiation.
What experience most influenced you to write this book?
My 23 years of diplomatic experience (including 13 years out of France as well as a close collaboration since 2005 with Chinese institutions, universities, think tanks, companies on one side, and the same on the European side), brought me to the conclusion that there was a huge gap of misunderstanding on both sides. I saw a need to explain the facts and the myths, as well as try to identify the reason behind Western hostility towards China. I stress the fact that this book is not an academic one; it is trying to quite simply explain some ideas to a large public.
What do you hope U.S. audiences will take away from your book?
I hope through the book to give U.S. audiences insight into how to better understand Chinas current difficulties in its rise, the reasons behind some of moves, both domestically and internationally, of Chinese leaders, as well as, try to desideologize the views on China in sectors like human rights or religion, for instance. For example, the chapters on economy, energy, military build-up are trying to describe maybe more objectively the strategy of Beijing and the necessities for Chinas success in its constant development of policy designed to keep order and stability in China itself. Overall, I hope to help readers understand that stability of China is a key issue for the whole worlds stability.