On November 4, 2017, the third panel session of the Beijing Forum 2017 was held in Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. The panel focused on the topic of “Global Government at a Crossroad: What Needs to Be Done.” The first session analyzed the current international order, as well as changing global power relations. This session featured famous scholars from Peking University, Harvard University, Sogang University, and the University of Chester. Many student auditors from Peking University also attended.
One prominent speaker was Professor Zhao Suisheng from the University of Denver who gave a lecture on “China and the U.S. in the Construction and Reform of the Post-WWII World Order.” He first analyzed the current international order as well as the problems that exist in US leadership and the resulting changes in global governance. China, as a rising power, was then discussed. According to Zhao, China is not yet in position to take global leadership due to both lack of resources and still developing soft power institutions. Moreover, he argued that China is still a beneficiary of the current international order. Finally, Zhao concluded that China would not become the new dominant world leader, but would have a stronger voice within the international community and, together with the U.S., reform the international system.
Lee Geun-wook, a professor from Sogang University, offered another perspective. His speech entitled “A Tale of Two Traps: Beijing and Washington at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century” examined problems facing the two centers of global power. Dividing the contents of his lecture into 4 topics, Lee analyzed the “The Present Situation”, the “Thucydides Trap”, the “Kindleberger Trap” and the “Goldilocks Zone.” The present situation, according to Lee, could be summed up by a saying—“All under the heaven is great chaos.” Between China and its major rivalries, including North Korea, Japan, and the U.S. there exists a convergence of two forces—common interests/cooperation and strategic interactions/conflicts. There also loom two traps threatening China’s position in global governance— the Thucydides and the Kindleberger Traps. Lee questioned China’s “confidence to avoid the historical precedent through enhanced dialogue and coordination with the U.S.” (Wang Yi, March 2017, CDF) and posited that both China’s rise and fall could pose threats.
With regard to the Thucydides trap and bipolarity, Lee analyzed the possibility of a war between China and the U.S. in respect to nuclear arms, economic independence, and other factors. “Once risen to be a great power, China would dictate everything.” Lee also expressed his worry that China would face the Prisoner’s Dilemmas as it reshaped the world order. Concerning hegemony, Lee talked about hegemonic stability, hegemon’s abdication, and hegemon’s responsibility, and raised the question that “as the U.S. withdrew its tentacles from international affairs, should China fill the gap as a candidate in global leadership?” Finally, Lee looked forward to a new order with Chinese leadership. He speculated that China’s cautious approach might avoid the Thucydides trap and also be bold enough to fill the Kindleberger trap.
In the discussion, Zhao and Lee both answered questions as to how to rectify China’s international image as well as how to balance between the two traps. For both students and scholars, the session offered multiple ways of understanding China’s current place in the world order and its future potential.