Best known as: Director of the Centre for China in the World Economy at Tsinghua University, member of the Central Bank of China’s monetary policy committee.
Fun fact: Displaced to the countryside by the cultural revolution, he came of age during the economic reforms of the 1980s, graduating among the first class from Tsinghua’s School of Economics and Management.
His arguments: There are two preconditions before “a country can claim that a significant period of time belongs to them.” The country must do well internally – socially, economically and politically. And “it must have some international appeal and have some influence in international affairs.” Dr. Li will argue that China is succeeding on both counts.
On China’s progress: China will “most likely” be able to continue its progress at home in the coming decades. “Why? Because the momentum is set.” China’s rulers, he said, are careful and pragmatic enough to know that some political changes are required to accompany the country’s impressive economic achievements. Meanwhile, the population has benefited enough from the economic transformation to have optimism for the future and be patient about political change.
Parallel growth: China’s emergence does not mean the West is headed into decline, nor does it preclude India from rising in parallel. It just means the others have to share the stage. “China’s claim to fame in the 21st century does not diminish other countries’ status or influence. We’re not eating other countries’ lunches.”
China’s smooth rise is not assured: “I’m saying it’s likely.” Much will depend on his own generation and those younger than he buying into the system. “Domestically, I worry about people being too impatient. I worry about young people being too narrowly nationalistic. When they’re too impatient, they’re not able to gradually follow the course of societal progress.”
– Mark MacKinnon
Best known as: Professor of history and business at Harvard, senior research fellow at Oxford and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford. Author of The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World.
Fun fact: He’s working on a biography of his debating opponent, Henry Kissinger.
On the debate: “Of course it's a great error to reveal these thing before the debate, but I tend to focus, of course, on the economic strengths that China currently is influenced by. I’m also going to talk about the Chinese political system and Chinese social strengths and cultural strengths.”
The other issues: “I also want to talk about, perhaps even more importantly, the weaknesses of the West and the kind of problems that are going to [impact]the United States and its allies in the coming decades. So it's really a two-pronged argument: one about China's strengths and the other about various problems in the West.”
It’s bigger than the economy: “Well, it's clearly not a self-sufficient argument, because economic power doesn’t necessarily or automatically translate into power proper, but I think once you spell out the scale of Chinese economic achievement and the potential that lies ahead, that's a pretty important starting point for any discussion of this nature. Of course the other side has a formidable combination of talent when it comes to geopolitics, so I certainly won't be neglecting that.”
On the rise of China: “I think it's the most important phenomenon of our time. I think this is a hugely important subject and I have greatest respect for the other side, so I think we're going to have a fascinating evening.”
A few words about Mr. Kissinger: “I think this is the kind of debate in which you should expect a good deal of intellectual sophistication. This will not be a partisan debate. As Henry Kissinger's authorized biographer, I'm unlikely to engage in great rhetorical broadsides against him, [but]of course he may feel free to engage in them against me. It's an unusual lineup in that sense.
“One of the principles on which we agreed when I embarked on this is that there would be no holds barred. I'll be as free to speak my mind on Friday night as I will be to speak my mind or write my mind when I finish the book.”
– Chantaie Allick
Best known as: U.S. Secretary of State to Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, author of 16 books including, most recently, On China.
Fun fact: “I wish you’d tell your readers that I have never, in my long life, been in a debate,” he said in an interview. “I expect to lose.”
On the realpolitik of debate: [In the Munk debate, the winner is determined by two audience votes, one before the speakers make their case for the proposition and one after.]“So the question is do you improve? I’m counting on the fact that Canadians want [our side]to lose, so I hope they vote low the first time.”
Why the 21st century won’t belong to China: “Well it depends in part on us, that’s going to be my basic point. If we [in the U.S.]do what we’re capable of doing … but if I tell you everything there’s no point. I really think it’s foolish for me to outline what I’m going to say before I’ve said it. I have been writing and thinking about China for 40 years. So if you get some of my articles and read the book, I won’t surprise you. I won’t say anything that would be incompatible.”
On his debate opponents: “I know that [Niall]Ferguson has practised this all his life. And he’s partly Irish so that gives him another edge. It wouldn’t be the Chinese tradition, you know, to show somebody up and to win a contest like that. [Referring to David Daokui Li]I’m sure he’s learned it. If it’s the one I think it is, he’s super bright.”
– Joanna Slater
Best known as: Host of an eponymous foreign affairs show on CNN, editor-at-large of Time magazine, newspaper columnist and author of The Post-American World.
Fun fact: He was eight years old during Richard Nixon’s iconic visit to China.
On his argument: “Well, I think the argument proceeds on several dimensions. I’m not sure I should reveal them all to you in an interview. But there’s sort of the economic issue of where China will be versus the United States; the political issue of whether China has the capacity to exercise leadership; and the geopolitical reality of China’s role in the world. Henry [Kissinger]and I will touch on all three of them.”
On his book: “There’s a whole chapter on China and what I hope that the reader’s going to get the sense of is that I think that the rise of China is one of the most profound and historical events that is taking place in the world and without question will be the signature event of our era. But that does not mean that the West will be eclipsed and forgotten. I think that the whole point of calling it The Post-American World was that it’s not a Chinese world, it’s not going to be an Indian world, it’s going to be some very strange mixture of different countries from around the world, all exercising some degree of power and some degree of influence. We’re going to have to get used to a much more complex, multiple, multicultural world in which no one pole dominates.”
Does he plan to win?: “Absolutely. I’m a competitive guy. I have no desire to lose, the alternative is usually better.”
The nuance: “This is the big issue of the 21st century. What will be the nature of the rise of China? There’s no debate over the rise of China. The question is what form will it take, how will the rest of the world adapt to it and what will be the consequences of that rise? So, in a sense, we’re debating the central issue that will absorb our energies and attention for this century. It’s going to be a world in which lots of countries do well and exercise some degree of economic power and political power and that mixture is going to be the complexity of the 21st century. Not a Chinese hegemony.”
– Chantaie Allick