China-U.S. geopolitical struggle complicates trade war, HK issue

Editor's note: With China and the U.S. crossing swords over bilateral trade, the entire world, and not just the two countries, is feeling the effects. What's worse, the geopolitical struggle between the two seems to play an increasingly important role in the trade frictions, and even cast a shadow over the recent Hong Kong protests. CGTN spoke to Kishore Mahbubani, a distinguished fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, on the sidelines of Understanding China Conference in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong Province, to have his insights on trade war and Hong Kong issue. The views expressed in the video are his own and not necessarily those of CGTN. 

CGTN: How important is the political imperative of the Sino-U.S. trade war? Will it prolong the trade frictions?

Mahbubani: The trade war is often seen as a war that was initiated by President Donald Trump, [which] is true. But what's surprising is that when he launched a trade war, all the traditional friends of China in America, including American businesses, kept very quiet.

That surprised me. So, it demonstrated that the desire to have trade war with China was not just the wish of President Trump, but reflected what I would call the views of the establishment also. 

So even though President Donald Trump may call off the trade war, I say "may" because he's going to run for elections in 2020. And if he needs to have economic development in America, he may stop the trade war. But even if he stops, it will be a temporary truce.

Because at some point in time, the other forces in America who are very troubled over the fact that they may become No. 2 will find some other ways of starting a trade war. So, I think it's better for China to take the long view and prepare itself for a long struggle while of course remaining pragmatic and also remaining very calm in its responses to the Americans.

The American political system is one of the most complicated political systems in the world.

In the case of America, there are so many voices, so many forces pulling at it. So, for example, even in the trade war, the majority of voices are saying, "Let's carry on the trade war." But there are also some voices saying, "Stop! It's also harming America."

So, there will be a very complicated internal struggle within America also, which I tried to document in my next book on China-U.S. relations called "Has China Won?"

And what I emphasize is that this is not a one-dimensional struggle between the U.S. and China. It's a multi-dimensional struggle. And I tried to explain in my book the many different dimensions that have to be understood before you can deal with this issue.


CGTN: There is speculation in China that the Hong Kong people's long-held superiority to the (Chinese) mainland caused the protests. What is your take?

Mahbubani: I think one must accept that when millions of people or hundreds of thousands of people come out to protest, they reflect some unhappiness. The question is, what is the real source of unhappiness?

The Western media says what the Hong Kong people want is democracy, and they may be right. 

But in my view, I think the more important cause for the unhappiness of the Hong Kong people is that in the past 30 years, while the bottom 50 percent in China ('s mainland) have seen the fastest improvement in their standard of living, the bottom 50 percent in Hong Kong have seen a deterioration in their standards of living.

So, when you live as a young person in Hong Kong without hope for the future and you can never dream of buying your own house to live in, then you become desperate.

So, I actually believe that the solution to Hong Kong's problems is to address the social economic causes that have led to this unhappiness. 

For example, the first chief executive of (the) Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region) Mr. Tung Chee-hwa had proposed 20 years ago that Hong Kong should build 85,000 units of public housing. If he had succeeded, Hong Kong would have had 1.7 million units of public housing in 20 years. There would not have been protests if he had succeeded in this plan. But it is not too late, and one can go back and address these issues.

CGTN: Financial Times believes Hong Kong risks becoming a pawn in the struggle between China and the U.S. What do you think about this?

Mahbubani: There's also no question that since the United States believes it is engaged in a geopolitical struggle with China, it will use Hong Kong as a pawn in this struggle. 

But it'd be very unwise for the people of Hong Kong to be used as a pawn, because the one lesson of history is [about what happens] when great powers no longer need you. This was demonstrated by what happened to the Kurds in Syria – America supported the Kurds in Syria when it needed them, and when it no longer needed them, it dropped them. 

So, it would be a mistake for the people of Hong Kong to allow themselves to be used as a pawn in this geopolitical struggle.

Interviewer: Yang Chuchu
Videographer: Gao Chong
Video editors: Lin Zihan, Zhang Chunnan
Producer: Bi Jianlu
Chief editors: Qin Xiaohu, Lin Dongwei
Supervisor: Mei Yan

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