Timothy Garton Ash: Two Ways for West to Meet China

In the wake of President Obama’s China visit, Timothy Garton Ash puts forward two approaches the West could take to engage China. From the Malaysian Insider:

Diplomatically, the US will have significant possibilities of balancing Chinese power by strengthening relationships with Europe, India, Japan and other regional powers. A cooperative “strategic partnership” of all these powers is indeed the goal towards which we should work.

Yet beyond the hard power relations, there is an almost philosophical question about how the West engages with China. There are, it seems to me, two basic approaches the West could adopt. As he swayed on his tightrope, the end of Obama’s balancing pole pointed sometimes to one, sometimes to the other.

The first approach, which China’s rulers like, is for the West to say: “You have your traditions, your civilisation, your culture, your values, and we have ours. In a world of very diverse sovereign great powers, the only basis for international order is mutual respect. Inside our respective frontiers, we do it our way, you do it yours. Only thus can we avoid Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilisations’.”

[…] The other approach, which I support, is for the West to start the search for a genuinely universal universalism, in a dialogue with China and other non-Western emerging powers. This could not be a purely Western-defined universalism, with the implication that all the essential universal truths were discovered in the West some time between, say, 1650 and 1800, and all other countries simply have to follow suit.

Rather, it would be a universalism which says something like this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, but maybe you’d like to suggest some other ones. We say life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; perhaps you’d like to make the case for harmony, security or transgenerational community. Then let us compare the aspirations, and the social realities, in the cool light of reason.”


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