Prof T.V. Paul, RSIS Visiting Professor and James McGill Professor of International Relations, McGill University, delivered an RSIS Distinguished Public Lecture on the topic “The Rise of China and the Emerging Order in the Indo-Pacific Region” on 8 March 2019 at NTU@one-north.
Prof Paul spoke of the rise of China vis-à-vis the tianxia and the Westphalian models, elaborating on the tianxia way of achieving global governance at a time when China was confronted with a very Westphalian world. China has adopted two of the three components of liberal peace — economic interdependence and international institutions — while abandoning the democratic component.
Prof Paul suggested that although asymmetrical for now, Beijing is pursuing power transition and military build-up with the intention of replacing the US as the dominant power in the Indo-Pacific region. Towards this end, Beijing is using the economic strategy of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and massive foreign direct investment in different regions to develop commercial and trading networks. The discussions touched on the aspect of China’s “debt diplomacy” — Sri Lanka had to hand over its Hambantota Port to Beijing, and whether this strategy is really conducive for Beijing in the long run. Malaysia has decided to halt BRI projects and other countries will follow if Beijing carries on with debt diplomacy.
Prof Paul also mentioned that China’s quest for a hegemonic world order is challenged by the US, India, Japan, Russia and ASEAN. China deserves a leading role in the international order but should not push for a hegemonic order akin to yester years. The emerging world order is diffusive with multiple power centres and it is unlikely any single state will obtain hegemony. Beijing is advised to return to its peaceful rise strategy.