Last November, over a period of two days on the eve of the Third Plenum of the CCP Central Committee, the 21st Century Council met privately in Beijing with both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, as well as top generals of the PLA, governors and Party secretaries from key provinces, and principal drafters of the wide-ranging Third Plenum reforms.
The purpose of the meeting — organized by Zheng Bijian, author of China’s peaceful rise doctrine, former doyen of the Central Party School, confidant of the leadership and a 21st Century Council member – was to expose our high-level global membership to the thinking and worldview of China’s leaders as they embark on a distinctly new course both domestically and internationally.
21st Century Council participants in the meeting, entitled “Understanding China,” included 13 elder statesmen ranging from Britain’s Gordon Brown to Pakistan’s Shaukat Aziz to Mexico’s Ernesto Zedillo along with Singapore’s George Yeo and Russia’s Aleksei Kudrin. Participants also included global thinkers such as Francis Fukuyama, Fareed Zakaria and Kishore Mahbubani, as well as tech titans Eric Schmidt of Google, Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn and Pierre Omidyar, co-founder of eBay.
In our conversation, President Xi explicitly raised the issue of the so-called “Thucydides trap,” saying that China was intent on avoiding any disruptive conflict of the kind that has historically erupted between established and rising powers.
In the months since our meeting, however, such a conflict has indeed threatened to break out over a series of issues ranging from China’s unilateral declaration of an air defense zone, to Japan’s claim over islands that China also claims, to cyber skirmishes between the US and China, as well as close encounters of Chinese and American military aircraft.
At the same time, other major world events, from Russia’s annexation of the Crimea to the emergence of the ISIS in Syria/Iraq and the return of US military action in the region, have further disrupted global stability.
Fearing that the world could be again splitting into blocs, and believing that the US and China must be the core of any future rules-based world order, the 21st Century Council has therefore sought to foster deeper mutual engagement and understanding between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies. Both need a better grasp of how each sees the other and how each sees their own role in a rapidly shifting global environment.
To that end, the 21st Century Council met in New York with Dr. Henry Kissinger, who advised the council on how to avoid the Thucydides trap in Asia.