The China Debate Triathlon

The decline of the West was prophesied by Oswald Spengler back in 1918. He was wrong then, but is he right now? Look at the two key phenomena that have so far framed the 21st century. The extraordinary rise of China on the one hand, and the financial crisis of the West on the other. The star is rising in the East.

Not long ago it was taken for granted that economic growth and liberal democracy went hand in hand, the one encouraging the other. Now, as China bounds ahead economically, there is a feeling that they may instead be contradictory. Western democracies seem mired in political gridlock: bound to take account of every point of view, they end up incapable of acting on any. China builds an airport every eight weeks, while we in the West fail to build a runway in eight years. And without the fuel of economic growth, the engine of the welfare states that underpin the democratic settlement is at serious risk. So has the West had it? Or are we panicking needlessly?

To address this, the biggest question of our age, Intelligence Squared is staging an unprecedented series of three debates: a debate triathlon, staged in three consecutive months in three different places across the world.

The first, “A world in crisis, time to reflect on the China model”,  took place in Shanghai. The second, “China Picks Better Leaders than the West“, will take place in Hong Kong, the society that has to confront this question more immediately than any one else. Beijing has promised to extend its democratic freedoms, but 35 years from now, whether they like it not, the “one country, two systems arrangement” will come to an end and Beijing will have full control. So is the dynamism of mainland China something to be welcomed or feared?

The third debate will take place on November 7th in London, once the dynamic heartbeat of the western democratic model, now afflicted by economic paralysis. The debate will examine the “China Model” of government. Would western-style liberal democracy work in China or is China a special case – a unique civilisational state that has its own logic and cycles of development?