On 4th September 2020, Takshashila Institution hosted the second #DeepWebinar in the China Challenge Series in partnership with Hudson Institute. The session focused on the impact of China’s rise on freedom around the world and included Manoj Kewalramani, Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution and Liselotte Odgaard, Visiting Senior Fellow at The Hudson Institute as panelists. Aditya Ramanathan, Research Analyst, Takshashila Institution, anchored the discussion as the host. Sowmiya Ashoka(Independent Journalist), Ram Ganesh Kamatham(Independent Writer and Researcher) and Prateek Waghre(Research Analyst at Takshashila) joined the #DeepWebinar as discussants, posing thoughtful questions and providing insightful comments.
The conversation began with deliberation on democratic backsliding in the wake of an authoritarian China’s rise on the world stage.
First of the panelists to speak Liselotte Odgaard stated that an Authoritarian China’s rise has indeed affected democracies around the world negatively and that “The China Model” is an imperialistic one. It can be compared, in her view, to the colonial model of 19th and 20th century Europe, albeit the tools and technology at China’s disposal are entirely different which enables the Chince Communist Party(CCP) to exercise even tighter control on its people, even when they travel abroad.
The second panelist Manoj Kewalramani then addressed the question at the heart of the webinar , Whose freedom, are we concerned about securing? He stated that there are three freedoms – that of the individual, that of collectives that of corporates and that of other states. He further elaborated that the “Chinese Model” is the result of China’s peculiar historical experiences. It is a model where the state engages in social engineering and individual freedom is secondary to party interests.
In reply to a question posed by the host Liselotte said that the west is complicit in the rise of authoritarian China’s influence in some parts of the world because it neglected those parts of the world that were not agreeable to its values. This included depriving certain countries of aid in Africa and Asia that were or are ruled by regimes that acted contrary to the west’s perceived liberal values like human rights or free and fair elections. She said, it allowed China to become an important player in these regions by simply presenting itself as an alternative where the neglected needs of those regimes and nations could be met.
Manoj further said that developing nations have now come to depend structurally on China for their development. In his view, the Chinese model has become influential because it has coincided with the United States’ skepticism of multilateralism.
The first discussant Sowmiya Ashoka then inquired from the panelists how they viewed China’s export of its model of language imposition to the rest of the world to garner influence, to which Liselotte replied that China had succeeded in this pursuit because it had figured out that in developing countries the future of their children is one of the most important things to the people. She pointed out that China pays for the education of children in poorer nations if they learn Mandarin. Thus it has integrated language, culture and development in a narrative of progress and cooperation in those regions of the world.
The second discussant Ram Ganesh Kamatham asked what could be done about the challenges being posed by the Chinese model to pluralism around the world. Manoj replied with an assertion that in democratic nations like India, citizens and institutions must rely on their instinct to vote with their wallets and weed out what they do not like, it is also especially important for the people to be counted as standing for the institutions rather than the people they like.
The third and final discussant Prateek Waghre poised the question about the Internet and how it had enabled the Chinese regime to exercise even tighter control and influence around the world and how the export of the Chinese model of internet regulation might affect the rest of the world, to which Liselotte said that it is important for liberal democracies to use technology to export liberal values and use the internet to pushback against the Chinese model.
The conversation concluded with an audience question being brought up by the host which asked if returning Chinese expats might be able to change the way China’s authoritarian regime acts.
To which Liselotte reiterated her point that given the kind of advances in tech and connectivity in our modern lives Chinese people abroad are no more able to speak freely than they are at home and that it is important to distinguish the Chinese people from the regime and that even if the economic prosperity has created a golden cage not everyone including people among the Chinese elite may want to live in such a system.
Manoj disagreed that much could be changed by returning expats in the Chinese authoritarian system.
About the Takshashila Institution
The Takshashila Institution is an independent center for research and education in public policy. It is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that advocates the values of freedom, openness, tolerance, pluralism and responsible citizenship.
The Takshashila Institution seeks to transform India through better public policies, bridging the governance gap by developing better public servants, civil society leaders, professionals and informed citizens.
About Hudson Institute
Founded in 1961 by strategist Herman Kahn, Hudson Institute challenges conventional thinking and helps manage strategic transitions to the future through interdisciplinary studies in defense, international relations, economics, health care, technology, culture, and law.
Hudson guides public policymakers and global leaders in government and business through a vigorous program of publications, conferences, policy briefings, and recommendations.
The video of the #DeepWebinar can be assessed on Takshashila Institution’s Youtube Channel.