OHKF “INSIGHT FORUM” Series:
Global Thinker Calls On US to Hit Pause Button on Geopolitical Contest
(13 May, 2021, Hong Kong) At the “INSIGHT FORUM” organised by Our Hong Kong Foundation, eminent global thinker Professor Kishore Mahbubani called on the US to hit the “pause button” on its geopolitical contest against China amidst the raging global pandemic.
Prof Mahbubani observed that the growing economic and political influence of China has caused the United States and powerful nations around the world to respond in new ways. During the administration of former president Donald Trump, the US-China relationship worsened significantly, marked by a protracted trade war and a race for global technological dominance.
Prof Mahbubani, who is a Distinguished Fellow at National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute, pointed out that the US trade war against China had hurt the American economy without solving the underlying economic concerns it was meant to resolve. Such policies have not raised America’s standing in the world, neither have they weakened China significantly nor led to the progressive isolation of China from most countries.
“The data backs it up: In 2009, the size of China’s retail goods market was US$1.8 trillion, compared with US$4 trillion for the US. By 2019, after three years of Trump’s trade war, China’s market was approaching US$6 trillion, bigger than that of the US at $5.5 trillion,” Prof Mahbubani noted.
He said that the Biden administration should press the “pause button” on the contest, especially when billions of people around the world are suffering from the massive economic recession caused by Covid-19. The only way to jumpstart the global economy is for the world’s two leading powers to work together.
Withdraw Trade War on China and Work Out a Long-Term Plan
“The first thing Biden should do is to suspend the trade war and withdraw all of Trump’s erratic trade tariffs on China,” said Prof Mahbubani. The trade war with China costed Americans money and jobs, and failed to help US workers. “By reversing Trump’s policy, the global economy would start growing again, and jobs would come back,” remarked Prof Mahbubani.
The second thing the Biden administration will have to do is to work out a comprehensive long-term strategy towards China, Prof Mahbubani said, adding that if the US-China contest continues, the whole world will be affected, indeed destabilised.
He suggested Biden to send out “listening” envoys to the rest of the world to poll the attitudes of other nations to this contest. “In the process of ‘listening’, they will very likely discover that no countries in the world would like an exclusive relationship with the US or China,” he noted.
Asia Should Call On the US and China to Cooperate and Deal with Pressing Problems
For more than a decade, China has been ASEAN's largest trading partner. The level of interdependence between Southeast Asia and China has grown dramatically and both sides actually benefit from growing together. This is where Asia can come into help to restore strategic balance between the US and China. Prof Mahbubani further pointed out that the US-China contest will disrupt economies across the world. This is the last thing Asian states want to see, as they want to benefit economically from China, as well as have a strong American presence in the region. Asian states do not want to be forced to choose between America and China.
Prof Mahbubani highlighted that AESAN can help the Biden administration with the necessary political cover to pursue a more rational China policy. To do this, AESAN should speak out clearly and call on the two major powers to cooperate and deal first with pressing problems like Covid-19 and global warming. ASEAN should send these clear messages to the US and China.
Diplomacy is the Best Option for Achieving Strategic Balance
Prof Mahbubani concluded that the wisest thing that Biden could do is to press the “pause button” on the US-China geopolitical contest. Ending the trade war with China would boost economic growth in the US and around the world amid Covid-19. He also stressed that insults and bluster never help. “Diplomacy is the best weapon the Biden administration can use to build a new relationship with China, with the right balance of competition and cooperation,” added Prof Mahbubani.
“Can Asia guide Biden on China?”
Full live webinar: https://youtu.be/vo6gwb9Sr54?t=398