China-US rivalry a 'clash of value systems'

Historian Wang Gungwu at the launch of his book, China Reconnects: Joining A Deep-rooted Past To A New World Order, yesterday. Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee spoke at the event. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE KIAT
Historian Wang Gungwu at the launch of his book, China Reconnects: Joining A Deep-rooted Past To A New World Order, yesterday. Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee spoke at the event. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE KIAT

There is a feeling in the West that a new Cold War is coming because the rivalry between China and the United States is not just about trade or influence but also a clash of value systems, said Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee.

"There is no strategic trust whatsoever between the United States and China. China is always suspecting that deep down the United States wants to change China. They cannot accept China as it is, a communist country," said Prof Chan yesterday.

Many in the West, for their part, read Chinese President Xi Jinping's speech in 2017 at the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party as saying that China will eventually take centre stage and make its contribution to mankind.

They argue that "China is offering an alternative model and it wants its model to be No. 1 in the world", said Prof Chan, adding that she did not find the reference to that in the English translation of the speech.

She was speaking at the launch of historian Wang Gungwu's new book, China Reconnects: Joining A Deep-rooted Past To A New World Order.

"What Xi Jinping is asserting is that China is a viable alternative way of organising society and the economy that prospers its people and the US should recognise that and accept that. In other words, don't 'touch my system'," she said.

Concurring, Professor Wang noted in his speech that the Chinese genuinely believe democracy will not help China.

 
 

He said the Chinese have learnt from their two revolutions of 1911 and 1949, and the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, that revolutions have not really helped them.

"It proved one thing - that all these foreign ideas, particularly political ideas that came from outside, whether it is the republican idea based on France and the United States or the communist idea based on the Soviet Union, just don't work for China," he said.

Instead, if one looks at China's political system and the centuries of fairly stable society it afforded, one could find the answer there.

Prof Wang, noting that the Chinese are now praising the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) for providing China with stability and prosperity, said: "There is something in the past which explains China's civilisational strength and success all this time. You cannot afford to ignore it."

While the Chinese have not hesitated to pick up science and technology from the West, they have not picked up democracy or liberalism.

"Nothing in the Chinese experience will support following that model," Prof Wang said.

The book, published by World Scientific Publishing Co, is available at major bookstores and online for $28 (softback) and $58 (hardback).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2019, with the headline 'China-US rivalry a 'clash of value systems''. Print Edition | Subscribe