Has China Won? The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy

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Has China Won? The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy

11th May 2020 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Event times are in BST


In a provocative new thesis – laid out in his book “Has China Won? The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy” – veteran diplomat Professor Kishore Mahbubani takes as his starting point the common idea that the defining geopolitical clash of the century will be between the USA and China, but moves to a startling conclusion: that the US is in danger of losing this battle, if indeed the battle needs to be fought at all.

A former President of the UN Security Council, Mahbubani is an open admirer of the US, but makes clear that he believes the economic, political and values strengths that underpinned US pre-eminence in the late twentieth century have been eroded, and that the US’s inability to understand this and incorrect reading of China will lead to an inevitable clash that will have devastating consequences. Unless, of course, it changes path before it is too late.

The Henry Jackson Society is delighted to welcome Professor Kishore Mahbubani to explore his ideas as part of a panel on the subject. He will be joined by two expert analysts of democratic and undemocratic space, and of China in particular.

Edward Lucas, Senior Vice-President, Center for European Policy Analysis and former Senior Editor at The Economist, has specialised in the ebb and flow of global politics and security for many years. He penned an incisive piece in The Times recently tackling Professor Mahbubani’s conclusions head on, and explaining why he has reached a different outcome based on his understanding of US strength and Chinese weaknesses.

Didi Kirsten Tatlow is a senior fellow of the German Council on Foreign Relations Asia Program, and spent 23 years as a journalist in Europe and Asia, latterly as a columnist and correspondent for the New York Times in Beijing. Having been immersed in every aspect of Chinese life during that period, she is well-placed to offer observations of this potential clash between the US and China from both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective.


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Edward Lucas is a Senior Vice President at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), and a columnist for The Times. He was most recently Editor of Standpoint magazine and was previously a senior editor at The Economist.

A graduate of the London School of Economics and long-serving foreign correspondent in Berlin, Vienna, Moscow, and the Baltic states, he is an internationally recognized expert on European and transatlantic security, as well as espionage, subversion, the use and abuse of history, energy security and information warfare.

He is the author of four books: The New Cold War (2008, newly revised and republished); Deception (2011); The Snowden Operation (2014), and Cyberphobia (2015). His website is edwardlucas.com and he tweets as @edwardlucas.


Kishore Mahbubani is a veteran diplomat, student of philosophy, and author of eight books. Mahbubani is currently a Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. Mahbubani is also a former President of the UN Security Council (Jan 2001, May 2002) and the Founding Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (2004-2017).  Mahbubani writes and speaks prolifically on the rise of Asia, geopolitics and global governance. His eight books and articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times and Foreign Affairs have earned him global recognition as “the muse of the Asian century.” He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in October 2019. His latest book, Has China Won?, was released on 31st March 2020. More information can be found on www.mahbubani.net.



Didi Kirsten Tatlow has been a senior fellow of DGAP’s Asia Program since October 2019. Her work will focus on China, particularly its relations with Europe and technology transfer, as well as on China’s relations with Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Previously, Tatlow was a fellow at the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) in Berlin, where she published studies on China’s education system and the historical roots of current policy-making by the CCP.

Tatlow worked as a journalist in Asia and Europe for 23 years, most recently as correspondent and columnist for the New York Times in Beijing from 2010 to 2017. Her articles focused on China, politics, society, gender, women’s and children’s rights issues, and Chinese-European relations. She is co-editor of a book on China and technology transfer, which is due to be published in 2020.



Event Summary:


In ‘Has China Won? The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy’ Dr Alan Mendoza chaired a panel of professor, author, and former diplomat, Kishore Mahbubani, journalist and Senior Vice President of the Center for European Policy Analysis, Edward Lucas, and journalist of 23 years covering China and senior fellow of DGAP’s Asia Program, Didi Kirsten Tatlow. The panellists discussed the role of China in the international system and the potential for a geopolitical clash. Professor Kishore Mahbubani began the panel by outlining the main arguments in his new book Has China Won? His first argument is that the US made a geopolitical blunder by choosing to contest China without a long-term strategy. However, he added that China has made mistakes as well. All of this goes towards his key argument that the US is aware of its strengths and aware of China’s weaknesses but has not accounted for its own weaknesses and China’s strengths. Moreover, as Professor Mahbubani asserts that the US has moved towards an autocracy, their ideological principle that a democracy will always beat a communist system no longer holds true. Instead, Professor Mahbubani offered that the more accurate comparison is a battle between an American autocracy and a Chinese meritocracy. Given this type of match up, Professor Mahbubani claims China will be the victor. However, he cautioned that this does not necessarily mean a geopolitical, great power contest is inevitable. Instead, he offered that if the US recognises the Chinese government primarily wants to further the well being of its own people, then the US can accomplish the same mission of furthering the well-being of Americans without engaging in a geopolitical contest with China.

Lucas and Tatlow disagreed with many of Professor Mahbubani’s points. While Lucas recognised the US could benefit from greater humility and Tatlow affirmed that democracies are indeed flawed, both Lucas and Tatlow challenged Mahbubani on his point that China is meritocracy. Tatlow described her experiences of living in Beijing for 17 years and how her time in the country revealed that there is little meritocratic character to the Chinese Communist Party. Indeed, Tatlow offered there is no possibility for real politics in China under the current system. While the Chinese Communist Party does have supporters, these supporters align themselves with the party for a mixture of reasons, with two being that there are no alternatives and that the Party has delivered some of its commitments. Lucas pushed back by offering that it is too simple to say that it is only the West interfering in China’s affairs, and that instead, China has interfered in the affairs of other countries to ridiculous extents in an effort to control the discourse around China internationally. Accordingly, some Western countries are beginning to push back against the Chinese Communist Party and this is leading to a series of tactical defeats, and potentially, a long-term strategic defeat.

Fundamentally, Tatlow claimed, the validity of arguments depends on which version of history one takes as a starting point. Lucas affirmed this positioning by arguing that a true account of China must consider the experiences of Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Mongolia, the Uighurs, and the underground religious movements. Professor Mahbubani countered that things are not always as the appear due to the slant of ‘Anglo-Saxon media’. Instead, Professor Mahbubani offered that it spoke volumes that the US was leading the Campaign around Xinjiang and there was not a single Muslim country that joined the US in this position. However, Lucas claimed that Professor Mahbubani’s argument only accounted for part of the story. One of the main reasons for this silence from Muslim countries on the Xinjiang abuses is due to China effectively leveraging its economic power so that countries like Pakistan see there is little incentive to criticising China. While the question of whether China as won remained unresolved, what is clear is that this is an issue beginning to take a central importance within the global system.


11th May 2020
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm


United Kingdom


Henry Jackson Society
+44 (0) 20 7340 4520


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