Mark Leonard: Well, Chinese are completely obsessed with the United States. One Chinese thinker told me that if you read the Chinese media, and you went to the public schools, you would think that there was only one foreign country in the world. This is America. There’s so much more discussion of that than what’s going on in China’s neighbors, or in Europe, or in other parts of the world. And I think that’s partly because China aspires to be a great power, and therefore compares itself with the only global super power that exists, and it’s continually measuring, seeing how it measures up compared to the U.S. It’s party also because until recently there was a real sort of sense of intellectual inferiority within China, because they had fallen so far behind. They’d gone from being, for most of human history, China has been the most powerful country in the world. And we’ve had this weird period, weird in their perception the last couple of hundred years when China hasn’t been the most powerful country in the world. And this has sort of led to a loss of confidence and therefore, when China moves from Maoism and from the central market economy to open and reform its political system, it was completely mesmerized by what the United States had done. And many Chinese people think that what happened is it moved from one kind of fundamentalism, which was a belief in Mao and Marxism, Leninism, to another one which was the worship of the United States of America. And they are calling for, what they call, a second liberation of thought, in the same that China managed to emancipate itself from Marxism, Leninism, now it has to emancipate itself from the cult worship of the U.S., and to start to think for itself.
That is the sort of the stage that we’re at the moment. It is really starting to do that. Spent 30 years joining the world, absorbing Western ideas, and I think the next 30 years is going to be about how China digests those ideas and projects them back onto the rest of the world mixed up with ideas of its own that it’s taken from various different strands of its own pulse.
Question: How important is the US to China?
Mark Leonard: I think that China is obsessed with the U.S., but the government has developed a whole host of relationships with other countries around the world. And Chinese companies have developed an even wider set of relationships. So there isn’t a single continent in the world where China isn’t present and in a big way. In such a big way that it is fundamentally altering how decision are made and how the balance of power works, whether it’s in the Middle East, in Central Asia, in Latin America, in Africa, China is now a factor in terms of the political development of big countries there. And in many ways it’s sort of working its way around the West. If you look at the United Nations, for example, you can see that there’s been a big shift in power in the General Assembly, where the U.S. has gone from five years ago winning 55% of the votes to only winning 23% of the votes now. And China, during the same period of time, has gone even on human rights, has gone from winning 50% of the vote to winning 80% of the votes. And that’s partly because the Chinese government has very successfully reached out and built up relationships with
countries all over the world, particularly the most influential countries in Latin America, in Africa, in the Middle East, countries that felt slightly resentful to the West and were therefore open to develop a different sort of relationship with a new super power.