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Tuesday, September 21, 2021
ANBOUND's Observation: The Debate between Yan Xuetong and John Mearsheimer
Chan Kung

On Saturday, November 2, 2013, the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University invited Professor John Mearsheimer and Professor Yan Xuetong to debate if China can rise peacefully.

Mearsheimer is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, a well-known scholar of offensive realism, and one of the most prominent skeptics of China's “peaceful rise”.

Yan Xuetong is the dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University and a prominent scholar of moral realism. As early as 1993, he wrote articles refuting the "China threat” arguments.

This debate was chaired by the renowned American political scientist Robert Pape from the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago.

During the debate, Mearsheimer pointed out that in today's disorderly international political environment, no country can ensure that it is not assaulted, and it is only through maximizing its strength can it survive. His analysis pointed out that to achieve today's superpower status, the United States has been expanding, and this is the only law of survival. The rise of China too, will be the same. Mearsheimer predicted that China will first establish hegemony in Asia and then drive the United States out of Asia. He emphasized that it is nonsense to say that the United States does not restrict China's development, as it would definitely prevent China from dominating Asia.

For Yan, there are more strategic options for China's rise, and there is no need for it to tread the path of violent expansion taken by the United States. He believes that it is difficult for China and the United States to achieve mutual trust, but they can share common interests. For neighboring countries, China can create a friendly external environment by sharing the fruits of China's rise. Yan pointed out that focusing morality and political leadership will win more domestic and foreign support for China's rise. He emphasized that on the path to China's rise, nuclear deterrence and globalization will reduce the possibility of war between China and the United States.

Mearsheimer was skeptical of this, stating that both China’s neighboring countries and the United States will be increasingly fearful of a powerful China. In his analysis, the United States, a superpower purporting to uphold morality, has been waging wars everywhere; the moralist China in the future too, will be frightening to others. In Mearsheimer's view, nuclear deterrence and economic interdependence can hardly ease tensions in regional security.

Yan Xuetong responded by saying that if China is to be a responsible major power, it must be firm in its stance. If a powerful China is indecisive, it will be difficult to win the trust of its neighbors.