A Sino-American Conflict?

Mark Leonard is Executive Director of the first pan-European think-tank, the European Council on Foreign Relations. It was launched in late 2007 with backing from the Soros Foundations Network, Fride, the Communitas Foundation, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, and the Unicredit Group.

His first book, Why Europe will run the 21st Century, published in the UK by 4th Estate in February 2005, has been translated into 17 languages. His second book What does China think? will be published later in the year.

Mark writes and broadcasts regularly on international affairs – assignments which have led him to seek out barbecues in Texas, prisoners in Egypt and cutting-edge architecture in China. His work has appeared in publications including The Financial Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, Prospect, The Spectator, New Statesman, Foreign Policy, The Washington Quarterly, Country Life, Arena, The Mirror, The Express, and The Sun.

Mark also acts an adviser to companies and governments on China, Middle East Reform, the future of Europe and Public Diplomacy; occassionally collaborating with the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas to produce work for clients ranging from the European Commission to Prada.

  • Transcript


Question: Is Chinese nationalism dangerous?

Mark Leonard:  It’s one of the most nationalistic countries I’ve ever been to in the world.  If you talk to the younger generation, Chinese people in their early 20s, it’s actually quite a frightening experience, because their parents have grown up in very difficult circumstances.  They’ve seen the cultural revolution.  They realize how fragile China’s position is.  But the next generations have known only success.  They’ve seen China grow with double digit figures year on year, become more and more powerful, earning more and more respect from the rest of the world.  And they haven’t seen the sort of dark side, and they haven’t seen any of the negative things.  They tend to be single children, so they’ve been like pampered, and the world tends to revolve around them.  And that leads to a kind of frightening degree of self confidence and fascism.  If you talk to these young, Chinese people about Japan, for example.  Some of them talk with relish about the prospect of war with Japan and how they need to teach the Japanese a lesson.  It’s certainly something which, when it does come out onto the streets, can be a frightening thing.  We’ve seen it recently with the anti-French protests because of what happened to the Olympic torch when it went through France, the people rioting outside French supermarkets.  We saw it a couple of years ago when Japan was trying to get a seat on the UN Security Council, and lots of young, Chinese people took to the streets.  It is something which is frightening, but it is something which the government tries to hold in check.  And so far, because it’s such a controlled country, because the government is so authoritarian, it has been able to do that. 

Question: Do you foresee a militaristic conflict?

Mark Leonard:  I think that you have an incredibly self-aware government that wants to avoid conflict above all else, because they want China to carry on growing, and they realize that a conflict would be disastrous for the country.  But at the same time, there is a structural conflict between the role that China wants to have for itself, and will increasingly want to have for itself as it becomes more powerful in the world, and the role that the United States is willing to cede to China.  And that will need to be managed.  The relationship between the U.S. and China will need to be managed in a very careful way with incredibly well thought through diplomatic stretches on both sides.  And one of the worrying things is that some things are beyond the control of both governments.  It’s always possible, for example, that the situation in Taiwan could escalate and could lead to a military conflict, which would be a total tragedy in the interests of neither the United States, nor China, nor Taiwan.  But it is impossible to rule out.  But I think on the balance of probabilities, I think there probably won’t be a conflict, but it is impossible to rule one out.