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Leading China watcher – Professor Stefan Halper

Leading China watcher, Professor Stefan Halper speaks with the 7.30 Report

Prof. Stefan Halper joins The 7.30 Report

ABC TV  Broadcast: 31/12/2009
Reporter: Chris Uhlmann


CHRIS UHLMANN, PRESENTER: China is on the way to becoming a super power in the decades ahead but its actions both at home and abroad are under the microscope.

China’s role in the breakdown of the Copenhagen climate talks is a hot topic of debate in western governments, with one British Minister saying it hijacked the summit and held the world to ransom to prevent a deal being done.

That may overstating it, but it’s clear that China is leading the developing world to its model of Government, especially the demand that country’s not interfere in the internal affairs of others. This was made clear this week with the execution of a British drug smuggler who was reportedly mentally ill. This incident caused an international outcry.

Cambridge Professor Stefan Halper has been an advisor to four American presidents and believes the West might be losing a crucial battle of ideas. I spoke to him earlier today from his home in Virginia

Professor Halper was the way China behaved during the Copenhagen conference a sign of what we can expect in the future?

STEFAN HALPER, PROFESSOR, CAMBRIDGE CENTRE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think in some ways it is, it was a very early and very interesting indication of China’s rise, and its powerful position on the global stage.

We have all known that China is emerging as a major economic and not to say military power, but we hadn’t actually seen the point at which China came to represent the interests or the views of a large number of developing nations which were quite different from the views of the United States, and the major industrial countries.

CHRIS UHLMANN: So is what we are seeing a rejection of what’s called ‘the Washington economic consensus’ or is it perhaps deeper than that, is a rejection of ideas of the enlightenment is perhaps China’s most troubling export it’s model of governance?

STEFAN HALPER: That’s right. I think that there’s a lot of discussion in Washington today about China rising as a formidable economic power which cannot be controlled, or a formidable military power.

But my view is that in both the military and economic dimensions China can be managed. In the area we are talking about now though, the area of exporting a type of Government to the third world, a market authoritarian form of Government in which the free market is allowed to operate, but the Government holds a very firm hand on political activity in the country, so you do not have an open public square, you don’t have the right, freedom of assembly, freedom of belief, you don’t have political parties.

And countries around the world, frankly, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia and others look at this Chinese example and they see a country which is growing at nine percent or more, which has managed to control its media, its legislature and the dissident voices and has achieved global prominence.

And leaders of these other countries say to themselves, “Gee, you know, maybe I can do that too, with the country that I’m running”.

So China actually has advanced a concept of governance which poses a battle of ideas. China is showing, as it were, a path around the West. They don’t want a confrontation so much as they want to provide an example of how you can be successful without having democracy. So this path around the West has the effect of making the West less relevant. Of shrinking the West in effect.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Yes, central to the Chinese model of Government is the idea that you don’t interfere in another country’s internal affairs. But of course that can cover a multitude of sins and make it almost impossible to reach global solutions.

STEFAN HALPER: Oh It really can. I mean if you… for example, if you go back to the first question you asked about the global climate conference in Copenhagen, the Chinese said, “We will not agree to any international examination of our emissions, our carbon emissions levels.

We’ll tell you what the emission levels are and if you don’t accept what we tell you, well, then that’s an insult, and we won’t accept that either”.

So when they said that, of course, President Obama said, “I’m sorry, we are going to have to have an independent verification of what you claim you’re doing, because if we don’t have independent verification, I can’t sell it to my own Congress”.

Well the Chinese came back and said, “What you are asking for is a violation of our sovereignty”, and of course, there is an example of how the sovereignty argument is used to cover, as you say, a multitude of sins.

CHRIS UHLMANN: So how do you deal with China, Kevin Rudd says the way to do that is enmesh it in the councils of the world and have it help build the architecture of stability?

STEFAN HALPER: I think your Prime Minister is broadly correct. In the sense that the alternative is to confront China and to demand conformance to a set of standards that the West may present. And our experience has been that that is not very effective.

And certainly now that the Chinese economy has become so powerful, and they hold $2 trillion of hard currency reserve. They really don’t have to take instructions from us. But most of all, we have to be very cautious about this Chinese export of an alternative model of governance, which threatens to draw great support around the world and potentially isolate the West in global councils.

You can see it happening. Look at the World Health Organisation, or votes in the United Nations on human rights. Or votes on issues of Taiwan. The African countries fall into line very quickly because all 53 of them are doing business with China.

Many of the countries in the Middle East will fall into line quickly because they also have massive investments from China. China is very clever about mixing its commercial investment with its foreign policy, and its strategic objectives.

CHRIS UHLMANN: So, Professor, how does the West then defend the ideas of the enlightenment?

STEFAN HALPER: This is a really important issue, the enlightenment lies at the centre of our views of governance.

We believe that the individual reaches his maximum potential by participating in a Democratic process. That political parties are essential in order to represent the interests of a full and vibrant society.

We believe in the sanctity of the individual and the Government’s responsibility towards the individual.

So this is a, this is a political marvel which has generated the most dramatic progress the world has ever seen in the last 2.5 centuries, and we ought not to be at all shy about the strength and inherent benefit of this form of governance. But somehow we have failed to communicate this in this troubling period, to the third world. We haven’t managed to get third world country leaders and populations to accept the importance of political parties and pluralist Government.

It seems to me we ought to be able to do that with these new forms of communication, with cell phones and internet and email and twittering and so on. It is inherently a democratising process.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Professor Stefan Halper, thank you.

STEFAN HALPER: My pleasure.

ABC Current Affairs Transcription Unit
Ext 82 2170

Full transcript here

Note:  Of course, the question is do most Western Nations [barring Switzerland & California] have “democracy” or rather a “ballotocracy”?


About steveblizard

Steve Blizard commenced his financial planning career in 1988 from a background of life insurance broking, a field in which he still works. He is a member of the Financial Planning Association and the Responsible Investment Association. His experience ranges from administration of Superannuation to advice regarding insurance, retirement, remuneration and investment planning. Steve is an accredited Remuneration Consultant, specialising in salary packaging. He is a columnist for the Swan Magazine and the WA Business News


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