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Debate: It’s Time to Treat China Like an Adversary not a Partner

We are in a second Cold War with China. That’s the conclusion many experts have come to as they observe China’s increasingly aggressive behaviour beyond its borders – its suppression of democracy in Hong Kong, its sabre-rattling towards Taiwan, the vast espionage offensive against the West’s technology, not to mention the confrontational tone of its new ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy.

So how should the West respond? Some say that giving President Xi and his elites a slap on the wrist is not enough: we need to get tough with deeds, not just words. We should sanction the Chinese leaders responsible for the abuse of human rights, both on the mainland and in Hong Kong, and our political leaders should boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022. If we really care about maintaining the liberal democratic world order we should be prepared to take a hit and stop prioritising our supply chains over our values.

That’s the argument of the China hawks, but not everyone agrees. Some believe that coexistence with China, not confrontation, should be the West’s goal. After all, allowing tensions to escalate to an actual war is too horrific to contemplate. We should put our faith in diplomacy and work to persuade the Chinese leadership that it is in their best interests to cooperate within the existing world order, instead of trying to dominate it.

Which side is right?


For the motion

Nathan Law

Hong Kong activist and former legislator, currently in exile

Hong Kong activist, currently in exile. He is the author of the forthcoming book Freedom: How we Lose it and How We Get it Back. During the Umbrella Movement in 2014, he was one of the five representatives who took part in the dialogue with the government, debating political reform. Upholding non-violent civic actions, Nathan, Joshua Wong and other student leaders founded the political party Demosistō in 2016 and ran for the Legislative Council election. Nathan was elected with 50,818 votes in the Hong Kong Island constituency and became the youngest Legislative Councilor in history. Yet his seat was overturned in July 2017 following Beijing’s constitutional reinterpretation, despite international criticism. Nathan was later jailed for his participation in the Umbrella Movement. Due to the risk imposed by the 2020 National Security Law, Nathan left Hong Kong and continues to speak up for Hong Kong people on the international level. In 2020, he was listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME. 

Edward Lucas

Columnist at The Times and National Security Expert

Columnist for The Times and consultant specialising in European and transatlantic security. Formerly a senior editor at The Economist, he is now a senior vice-president at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). He has written several books including The New Cold War, a prescient account of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Deception, an investigative account of East-West espionage, and Cyberphobia, about the phenomenon of cybercrime. He is an advocate for Magnitsky Law sanctions against Chinese officials.
Against the motion

Shirley Yu

Professor; Director of the China-Africa Initiative at the London School of Economics

Professor and Director of the China-Africa Initiative at the London School of Economics. She is also a senior fellow with the Ash Center of Harvard Kennedy School. She is a frequent speaker on China’s political economy, in particular, China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its geopolitical implications. She has published three books in Chinese, including On China, By Ambassadors, and the Rise of the RMB and the Fall of the Yen. She runs a daily intelligence and insights newsletter on China for Fortune Global 500 stakeholders called China BIG Idea.

Vince Cable

Former Leader of the Liberal Democrats and author of The China Conundrum

MP for Twickenham for over twenty years and Leader of the Liberal Democrats from 2017 to 2019. He was Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills in the Coalition government between 2010 and 2015 and President of the Board of Trade . He is the author of several books, including the memoir Free Radical, the number-one bestseller The Storm, and the non-fiction book Money and Power. His new book is The Chinese Conundrum: Engagement or Conflict examining the long history of relationships between China and the West.

Manveen Rana

Senior investigative journalist and host of The Times and Sunday Times flagship podcast Stories of Our Times

Senior investigative journalist and host of The Times and Sunday Times flagship podcast Stories of Our Times. She was previously a broadcaster and reporter for BBC Radio 4's The Today Programme and The World at One.


Speakers subject to change.