China and the West with Prof. Dr. Frank Pieke and Dr. Eric Hendriks-Kim

May 25, 2022

On Wednesday, May 25, the CSS Tocqueville Program organized its first event! In cooperation with the Leiden study association BIL, we organized a discussion about the relationship between China and the West. Prof. Dr. Frank Pieke, an internationally renowned author on the Chinese Communist Party, was interviewed by sociologist and China expert Dr. Eric Hendriks-Kim.

What did we discuss?

Until around 2008, there was still an almost naive optimism towards China. China was the future, and a lot had to be invested in it. That image seems to have been radically altered, allegedly mainly by campaigns from the United States and Australia. Today the debate surrounding China in public opinion is mainly characterized by polarization. This polarization opens the way for a new Cold War discourse.

Nonetheless, it is important that the Netherlands and the European Union adopt a vigilant and prudent attitude toward China. In addition, the interests of The Netherlands and the E.U. are not necessarily the same as those of the U.S. Furthermore, pursuing our own interests may have become more difficult because of the space The Netherlands and the E.U. have created between themselves and China. Indeed, because ties with China have been minimized over the past decade, there are also fewer opportunities to discuss with China, for example, human rights and other topics that are important to the West.

Whereas contacts between China and the West have deteriorated in the last decade, Chinese ties with other countries have become stronger. China is presenting itself as an alternative to the “Western system,” and as a trading partner. Former Western colonies and countries with more autocratic governance are said especially to appreciate this attitude from China. Unlike the West, China would not “bother” trading partners with so-called “moralizing” stories about human rights, for example.

What may we conclude?

There is much talk of China in public opinion. In doing so, the facts are not always taken as a guide. It would be good if there were more room for a nuanced and realistic view of the country. The Netherlands should also think more about its own interests in its contacts with China.

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