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Read the full transcript of  Head to Head  -  Is democracy wrong for China? below:


Part one

Mehdi Hasan (VO): China is, by some measures, the world's biggest economy. An industrial powerhouse, it has flashy new cities and a burgeoning middle class. Mixing central planning with rampant capitalism, China's rulers have lifted 500 million people out of poverty. But the downside has been pollution, inequality, corruption and political repression. Do growth and modernisation have to come at the expense of human rights? And what about democracy?

I'm Mehdi Hasan and I've come here to the Oxford Union to go head to head with Zhang Weiwei, the best-selling Chinese author who says his country doesn't need - and doesn't want - liberal democracy.

Tonight I’ll also be joined by: Diane Wei Liang, a renowned novelist who participated in the student protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989; Dr Martin Jacques, author of the bestselling book When China Rules the World ; and Stephen Chan, Professor of International Politics at SOAS in London.

Ladies and gentlemen, without any further ado, our guest tonight, Professor Zhang Weiwei.

Mehdi Hasan (VO) : He was Deng Xiaoping’s favourite interpreter and in his book, The China Wave , he fervently defends the Chinese political model.

Mehdi Hasan: Thank you for coming. Weiwei, when you say in your book The China Wave , which has sold more than a million copies globally, that it’s, quote, “unimaginable that most Chinese would ever accept multiparty democracy,” I wonder, are you speaking on behalf of the 1.3 billion people of China, or are you actually really speaking on behalf of the 25 members of the ruling Politburo?

Zhang Weiwei: [LAUGHS] Well, it’s really a common-sense assessment, and actually, the greatest misunderstanding about China is about the Communist Party. I use the equivalent something, you know, the Chinese Communist Party would be very similar to an amalgamation of all major political parties in UK together: but in the end, they reach consensus and work on consensus.

Mehdi Hasan: You’ve claimed that liberal democracy would be quote, “miserably wrong for China.” Is liberal democracy miserably wrong just for China, or are you saying it’s wrong for everyone?

Zhang Weiwei: I came to a humble conclusion: a non-Western country adopting Western political system usually ends up in two scenarios: either euphoria to despair, or from euphoria to anarchy.

Mehdi Hasan: How do you feel the Japanese feel about that or the Indians, or the South Koreans...?

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: or the people of Taiwan…?

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah, yeah.

Mehdi Hasan : …all of whom are in non-Western societies…

Zhang Weiwei : [INTERRUPTING] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: …and happily enjoying liberal democracy…

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] No, er, in the…

Mehdi Hasan: …of varying degrees but liberal democracy, essentially.

Zhang Weiwei : In the case of Japan, its industrialisation was not achieved under democracy, it’s under imperial ruling system. With my respect, a lot of respect for India, I’ve been to India many times, look at the gap between India and China. We start at similar level. Now China economy almost five times bigger. Life expectancy ten years longer.

Mehdi Hasan : That’s not what you said. You said that if you embrace non-Western democracy, you end up in anarchy. India’s clearly not in anarchy. India’s actually only second to China in terms of poverty reduction. It’s had a very good record. It’s lifted hundreds, billions of people out of poverty. Yes, it’s not doing as well as China, but it’s not in anarchy, is it? It’s perfectly happy switching governments.

Zhang Weiwei : [INTERRUPTING] Either two scenarios. Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Liberia. The list goes on.

Mehdi Hasan: Yeah, although those societies are based on, kind of, foreign invasions and interventions.

Zhang Weiwei: That’s it.

Mehdi Hasan: Um, whenever, around the world, dictators are toppled, people take to the streets. Have you seen any protestors…

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] Well…no…

Mehdi Hasan: …anywhere in the world say, “Give us the Chinese system!”?  How come it is that the rest of the people in the world don’t seem to agitate? They do agitate for democracy, even in non-Western societies like Iraq, like Libya, like…

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] It’s in part agitated also by the Western media, which still predominant in the world. But doesn’t matter, we believe the model cannot work in other countries, the Western model.

Mehdi Hasan: And here’s my question: if the Chinese model is as good as you say, brings about competent leadership, why not trust the people?

Zhang Weiwei: We trust a lot people, yes.

Mehdi Hasan: A lot of people? [LAUGHTER]

Zhang Weiwei: That’s true.

Mehdi Hasan: Well, 1.3 billion people you can trust 100, that’s a lot, but it’s not…not…not relative…

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] Well, yeah, that’s true. It’s more than the combination of total people, population in the West. China’s performance is better, arguably, than all the rest of Asia combined over the past three decades, especially on issues of greatest concern to the Chinese people.

Mehdi Hasan: You say China is distinctive; I think you talk about a “civilisational state”. Tell me what that is.

Zhang Weiwei: It refers to a case where you have the world’s longest continuous civilisation, amalgamated with a super-large modern state.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, if your argument is China is too distinct, too different, too non-Western to be democratic, how do you explain Taiwan? Taiwan, which you regard as part of China.

Zhang Weiwei: Yes. Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: They, perhaps, don’t.

Mehdi Hasan: 98 percent

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah, yeah, that’s true, yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: Han Chinese, compared to China, which is 92 percent Han Chinese, so it’s even more Chinese than China.

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah, yeah, that’s true, yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: Multiparty democracy.

Zhang Weiwei: Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: Free press.

Zhang Weiwei: Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: Five times the GDP per capita ahead of China. 

Zhang Weiwei: Oh, no!

Mehdi Hasan: They’re doing fine with democracy in Taiwan.

Zhang Weiwei: I think another figure.

Mehdi Hasan: The “civilisational state” hasn’t stopped Taiwan from being democratic…has it?

Zhang Weiwei: Taiwan has a population smaller than Shanghai, 23 million.

Mehdi Hasan: OK.

Zhang Weiwei: Do you know how many Taiwanese live, study, work in the Chinese mainland? 1.5 million. 

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok. And the point of that is?

Zhang Weiwei: They vote by feet. As simple as that. I mean, Taiwan’s a case, typical case of failure. You just look at the polls how disappointed people are.

Mehdi Hasan: But you know and I know – and the Chinese Government knows – this is not, it’s not one of the statistics that is rubbed out, unlike others. The number of protests in China against the government doubled between 2006 and 2010. There are now, there are now.

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah

Mehdi Hasan: …roughly 180,000, quote, “mass incidents” – good word – mass incidents every year in China. That’s just accounted ones.

Zhang Weiwei: Yeah. I can tell you: that affects…

Mehdi Hasan: What are they…? Are they all happy, all those people?

Zhang Weiwei: This affects less than three or four percent of the total population.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK, but that’s because you’re a population of 1.3 billion. [LAUGHTER]

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah, it’s insignificant. Insignificant…yeah…yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] This is…this is kind of mathematical evasion.  If 100,000 people protest it’s not that much out of 1.3 billion but it’s still a lot of people.

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] A…a civilisational state goes by its own cycles. The average cycle is 250 years…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So you’ve just dismissed…

Zhang Weiwei: …longer than US history.

Mehdi Hasan: You’ve just dismissed the fact that the number of protests has doubled to 180,000?

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, no, no, no. no. We handle their concerns carefully, seriously, but strategically, we are firm – this is political certainty.

Mehdi Hasan: Here’s a question: you say, “we handle them carefully”.  Who’s “we”?

Zhang Weiwei: I mean the Chinese government, the Chinese people in general. Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: And the Chinese government’s legitimacy, in your view, is based on the fact that it’s a meritocracy, and that it’s growing the economy at a record pace?

Zhang Weiwei: Mmm hmm. That’s one of the main reasons, yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Let me ask you this…Let me ask you this, then. Do you accept…

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: …for the purposes of argument, if growth stops, then the Chinese government’s legitimacy, the Chinese model is gone?

Zhang Weiwei: No, I, I don’t think so. The point is, don’t forget, the People’s Republic of China is not East Germany, it’s a product of 22 years’ armed struggle. After 1949, two wars with the United States: Korean War and the Vietnam War. Without the general people’s support, these kind of wars cannot be…won.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And are you ruling out…and are you ruling out democracy in China…liberal democracy in China forever, or are you saying, “At this stage in our development, it’s not something we want. Maybe down the line”?

Zhang Weiwei: No, we know West ten times better, in general, than the West know about China. We have about three million students studying abroad, two thirds return home.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] With respect, that wasn’t my question.

Zhang Weiwei: Yeah. As a result, we really look beyond the Western model. We have found so many problems with your model…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok, so I’ll take that as a no.

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] You have your strengths…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok, so I’ll take that as a no. You’re not a fan of it, even in 50 years’ time.

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] We will transcend this model.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, transcend the model. Well, on the current model, the model you have, why are there so many cases, then, these days, of high level corruption, high level incompetence?  You have Bo Xilai, a very famous case, one or your top guys, he was tipped for the top, and now he’s been sentenced to life in prison for corruption. If your meritocratic system is so strong and the basis for your legitimacy, how do all these bad apples get through the…the net?

Zhang Weiwei: Well, actually, if you look at the history of, the rise of major powers, including UK and United States, when you experience the high and rapid economic growth and explosion of wealth, corruption also goes up because supervision, the legal framework cannot catch up with the progress of wealth. But gradually, things will improve.

Mehdi Hasan: Without a free press, for example, a totally free press, how can you hold a government to account? How do we even know there are not more Bo Xilais out there? It’s totally arbitrary! The state, the party decides who is and isn’t corrupt!

Zhang Weiwei: Compare China with, other major large, developing countries, transitioning economies: Russia, Ukraine, Egypt, India, Brazil…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But why…why compare with those countries? Why not compare with Western countries? 

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] Yes…

Mehdi Hasan: You just said you’re gonna transcend the Western model. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Index, which I’m sure you’re familiar with…

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah…yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: …China is ranked as the 80th most corrupt country in the world, behind every single Western liberal democracy including poor old Italy.

Zhang Weiwei: No, China is a huge country. It’s equivalent to about the size of 100 European states. In every European state is about 14 million. We have 1.4 billion. If you compare Italy, or even UK, with developed part of China, I’m pretty sure Shanghai does much better than Italy, yeah. [LAUGHTER]

Mehdi Hasan: Ok. Let’s go to our panel, who are here sitting listening to your views. Diane Wei Liang, you are a novelist, you’re a former business professor, um, you spent part of your childhood, I believe, in a labour camp, and you were at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Weiwei says that democracy is a Western ideal and therefore it’s not suitable for a country like China, which is a civilisational state, which is a massive country. Do you agree with him?

Diane Wei Liang: Well, I do not. If you ask why was there a million people every day on Tiananmen Square asking for democracy and freedom of speech, and over 100 million people in China demanding the same, and you stop and think, “Well, the Chinese people do want democracy, they do want freedom.” It’s not just about one person, one vote; it’s not just about multiparty, but also about the rule of law. I know in your book you said, “China is a society ruled by law.” China is not. The rule of law means a separation between the legal system and the executive branch. Who would decide a law? If the president has a different view from the law, who has the more power?  So the big question is not to ask the Chinese people, “Are you happy with how things are going?”, but give them choice. “Would you rather live in a society in which you do not have any idea what is happening in the vital part of your political system? Would you live in a society in which, if you speak freely, you will risk going to jail?”

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, let Weiwei respond to that.

Zhang Weiwei: China has moved along a lot. If you still say China does not have a rule of law or rule by law, it will be a bit ridiculous. China is now world’s largest property market. Without rule of law, people will not buy property. China is one of the largest countries attracting foreign capital investment. Without a rule of law, that will not happen. So things are moving.

Mehdi Hasan: Let me bring in Martin Jacques, writer, academic, thinker, author of the best-selling book When China Rules the World . I believe you were the guy who first came up with this civilisational state model. Is that something you agree with Weiwei on? Do you think China’s not yet ready for democracy right now?

Martin Jacques: None of the Western countries were democratic, in the terms that you’re using, during their period of economic takeoff. Not one single one! None of them had a universal suffrage or a multiparty…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So you’re saying China’s at a different stage in development so it’s unfair to compare them in that way?

Martin Jacques: It’s just silly. It’s nai…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok

Martin Jacques: It’s naïve, to be quite frank.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, well, let me put the question to you that I put to Weiwei: do you think China will be ready for democracy later on then?

Martin Jacques: Let me take you up there. You see, the point is, then, what is democracy, ok?  Now, is China now the same as it was after the death of Mao? No, it’s not. It’s changed profoundly, not just economically and socially, but also politically.

Mehdi Hasan: Will China be ready for democracy down the line?

Martin Jacques: In the longer run, I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t know the answer to that question.

Mehdi Hasan: Fair enough.

Martin Jacques: But…but, I think that it will, whatever forms it finds are likely to be of a distinctively Chinese character.

Mehdi Hasan: On that note, let me go to our third panelist. Stephen Chan is a Professor of International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Is China, Stephen, in your view, a civilisational state which is so distinctive, as Martin and Weiwei have argued, that it can’t have these, kind of, Western conceptions, the Western models of democracy?

Stephen Chan: I think that we’re in danger of propagating a fallacy, which the Chinese have long held, that somehow they’re exceptional. And all through history, this sense of exceptionalism has continued, right down to the modern day. A modern state partakes in international globalisation. In this globalisation, the Chinese are reaching out to the rest of the world. The Chinese cannot any longer pretend to be a civilised island unto itself. So I would deny the possibility, actually, of a civilisational state. If you’re talking about long habitation, in fact, the two longest cities of continuous habitation on Earth are Aleppo and Damascus in Syria, and no-one calls Syria today a civilisational state.

Mehdi Hasan: Weiwei, do you want to respond to Stephen’s point there?

Zhang Weiwei: Well, of course, this…you could have different arguments. When I say a “civilisational state”, because China is perhaps the only civilisation which continues for about 5,000 years. As a result, certain traditions are clearly there; for instance, meritocracy is part of Chinese tradition. I checked, you know, with my friends in Shanghai, “Do you want one person one vote?” Very few. Yeah. The current model is working better, much better.

Mehdi Hasan: With respect, your friends in Shanghai aren’t exactly the most representative, cross-section focus group. [LAUGHTER] Diane?

Diane Wei Liang: The reason why China has done so well for the past 25 years, we’ve had, you know, meritocracy for over 1,000 years – that system stayed. China was prosperous until the 1500, then China closed its door and stopped trading with the world.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK.

Diane Wei Liang: China was in decline. And the last 25 years, China benefitted a lot more from globalisation, rather than the so-called Chinese model.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, you say, “Why should we take this one person one vote when meritocracy is working so much better for us?” Some might say because life is about more than economics. Life is about…

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] You’re right…you’re right.

Mehdi Hasan: …more than economic growth. It’s about human dignity, it’s about self-respect, it’s about freedom, it’s about human rights.

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah…that’s true.

Mehdi Hasan: And that’s not always protected by the fact that you have a great trade surplus, or wonderful state investment. So, on that note, you say in your book that China, quote, “Accepts prevailing conceptions of human rights.”

Zhang Weiwei: For sure.

Mehdi Hasan: Let me ask you this: Liu Xiaobo, human rights activist…

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: …academic, author, 2010 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. If I were to ask him, what would he say? Why is he sitting behind bars? He circulated a petition calling for human rights and democracy.

Zhang Weiwei: No…no…Liu Xiaobo is a person who openly advocates 300 years of colonisation of China by the West. He hope that will happen – his open statement.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So you…you imprison people on the basis of their hopes now?

Zhang Weiwei: No, no, no, no, no, this comment, this observation by Liu Xiaobo is a clear violation of universal declaration of human rights.

Mehdi Hasan: So you’re saying it’s right to lock up people because they have views that the government doesn’t agree with?

Zhang Weiwei: Well, you just, you know…

Mehdi Hasan: All you’ve given me is that he has a view that you don’t like.

Zhang Weiwei: With the click of a mouse…

Mehdi Hasan: Yeah.

Zhang Weiwei: …you can find 10,000 piece of criticism of the Chinese government, but you do have a rule of law. We regard the radicals as radicals. They should be handled according to law.

Mehdi Hasan: In your book…

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: …175 pages long, you make a single, solitary reference to Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward, which killed up to 40 million Chinese. You make two references, over 176 pages, to the million people killed in his Cultural Revolution. You dedicate the book to Deng Xiaoping, your former boss, who was in charge when tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square. How can you say that you are taking human rights seriously when you don’t even seem to be…

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] No…

Mehdi Hasan: …interested in explaining, let alone defending, all these people who were killed?

Zhang Weiwei: Because this is controversial, you know. I mentioned many other examples, so it doesn’t matter.

Mehdi Hasan: Millions of people dying under the system you’re defending is not worth mentioning? 

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] The point is… No, no, no, no, no.  No, no, no, this is unfair.  If you trace the rise of Western powers, the whole Indians, it’s called the racial extermination…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Yes.

Zhang Weiwei: …in North America and South America, you know.

Mehdi Hasan: And there’s a…and there’s a genocide memorial museum in Washington DC.

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] A…a lot of problems. That’s true, yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] The Americans ac-…Americans talk about that problem. They talk about that history. You don’t talk about that problem.

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] And the United States adopted Chinese Exclusion Act in 1870s. 

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You don’t talk about that problem is my pr-…is my question to you.

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] They did not abolish it until two years ago. Why is it necessary for you to do that?

Mehdi Hasan: Diane, you were in Tiananmen Square, as we mentioned earlier, in 1989. Martin has mentioned that progress has been made undeniably. Weiwei’s talking about the past. Let’s talk about China in 2014. He says there’s a few, you know, there’s bad cases, big country, but otherwise it’s comparable to the UK, et cetera. What’s your response to that?

Diane Wei Liang: What’s very interesting in Professor Zhang’s book is that he redefines democracy, redefines human rights and redefines…

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] That’s correct.

Diane Wei Liang: …everything.

Zhang Weiwei: She understands me. [LAUGHTER]

Diane Wei Liang: Why…

Mehdi Hasan: [LAUGHS] OK.

Diane Wei Liang: …why does China need to do that? Is…why is human rights only about economic development? Why is it not about the notion that all men are created equal…that nations are built on liberty and freedom? What is wrong with that?

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok… Before I let Weiwei come back to that, let me ask Martin that question.

Martin Jacques: The Western discourse, when they’re talking about developing countries, and especially China, is to pay scant respect to the economic achievements. But both have to be taken into account – they’re both very important. Economic rights, freedom from poverty, is the structure on which many of the other things are built, so it is absolutely fundamental and that’s obviously different from a Western country.

Mehdi Hasan: Do you think…do you think as they get more economic rights, i.e. bigger middle class, more wealth, they will demand more political rights?

Martin Jacques: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah, of course.

Mehdi Hasan: Is that how…  Is that what history teaches us?

Martin Jacques: [INTERRUPTING] Well, no, I- I- I- I- I don’t think we’re talking just in the future. I think that’s already happened. Now, with time, of course, you know, as China becomes richer, as people have a better standard of living, as they have access to cultural facilities they never had, as the educational level improves and so on, there’s going to be a dramatic transformation.

Mehdi Hasan: Let’s bring in Stephen. How long do you think the China model, as it is, with its human rights issues, shall we put it this way, can survive, given what Chinese people are seeing the rest of the world enjoys in terms of rights?

Stephen Chan: Given globalisation and given communications, given access to experience outside of China, I think the drive that Martin mentioned, particularly in the cities, for greater and greater freedoms, is going to accelerate. So I don’t think the present regime and its present disciplines can last, but I think that Martin made a key point here. When you do go to places like Shanghai and Beijing, yes, you can see progress. These are middle class people in the great cities who are now enjoying more freedom than at any other time in Chinese history. This is not the case for poor people in the countryside, subject of land grabs and things of that nature, for instance, and is not the case for minorities.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] What…

Stephen Chan: So, if you’re a minority campaigning for certain rights of self-determination, you’re not going to have those human rights.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Well, let’s put that…let me put that specific point, er, to Weiwei there. Democracies are not just about majority rule, they’re about protecting minority rights.

Zhang Weiwei: That’s true, yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: Stephen mentioned, minorities in China. Minorities perhaps don’t do so well, you could argue. The Uyghur Muslim community in Xinjiang, they’re not very happy about living under, the current Chinese system. There’s the Tibetans, of course. Since 2011, something like one Tibetan protestor a week has set themselves on fire in protest at Chinese rule and Chinese abuse of Tibetan human rights. There’s definitely a human rights issue there.

Zhang Weiwei: There are two issues involved: one is sovereignty, the other human rights. In, sovereignty, not a single country challenge that; Tibet part of China. In terms of human rights, by Western perspective, whole country, the Chinese political system is a violation of human of human rights. What can we say, you know? But we think it’s different.

Mehdi Hasan: If you’re a Tibetan who’s been driven out of your house, if you’re a Uyghur Muslim who, according to Human Rights Watch, face ethnic discrimination, religious repression, cultural suppression, what are you supposed to do?

Zhang Weiwei: The case of gross violation of human rights in Tibet – that occurred during the Cultural Revolution.

Mehdi Hasan: So why are people killing themselves at a rate of one a week since 2011?

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah…No, no, no, that’s older statistics. There were plot behind this. You know, it’s not…by Buddhism, people do not commit suicide. Yeah, it’s against Buddhism.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Do you think you’re in denial about what’s going on in some parts of China?

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] It’s not denial, it’s factual, yeah. We have so many people visiting. Have you been to Tibet?

Mehdi Hasan: There’s huge restrictions on journalists visiting Tibet, funnily enough.

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, no, no, journalist… you are tourist…because you have some agenda, if a decent suspicion, why not? Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] An agenda is called holding a government to account.

Zhang Weiwei: No. No, you have political view.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] That’s my agenda as a journalist. 

Zhang Weiwei: …You want overthrow the government of China.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] I have no intention of overthrowing the government. I know you think everyone wants to overthrow the government

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] No way. We are planning overtaking United States…

Mehdi Hasan: Here’s a very important question. I’d like to ask you this…

Zhang Weiwei: Mmm hmm.

Mehdi Hasan: How much…how many Chinese lives could be lost or would have to be lost to justify a single percentage of economic growth, a single percentage point? Is there a trade-off?

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] No. No, actually…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Do you think as long as we get one or two or three points of growth, doesn’t matter if millions die in a famine, or in the Great Leap Forward, or in Tiananmen Square?

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] In the case of China, you have to have got the basics correct. In other words, first, China’s achievement is the greatest, to be honest, in human history. 600 million people out of poverty.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] I’m conceding that.

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] 300 million people…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] I’m saying the economic achievement is amazing…

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, with this economic…

Mehdi Hasan: …but what is the cost? Are you, what’s the price you’re willing to pay for that?

Zhang Weiwei: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, no. No, no, the cost is there but, still, it’s manageable, as with other…the rise of other powers. But we can manage them; we can eventually overcome these problems. No, the cost is, indeed, reasonable.

Mehdi Hasan: Reasonable. Ok. On that note, we’re going to take a break. We’re going to come back in Part Two of Head to Head , where we’re going to be talking, to our guest here tonight. We’re going to be talking about China’s role in the world. Join us in Part Two of Head to Head after the break.


Part two

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome back to Head to Head on Al Jazeera. We’re talking about China and the rise of China with our guest tonight, Professor Zhang Weiwei, author of The China Wave. We’re going to talk about China’s role in the world. Despite America’s huge unpopularity around the world these days – legitimately, many would argue, given the Iraq War, Afghanistan, drone strikes, Guantanamo Bay, George Bush and the rest – we know the record. The polls show that the US is still viewed more favourably around the world than China is. That’s surely embarrassing?

Zhang Wei Wei: Oh, it’s OK, you know. In the case of China, the vision is 10, 20, 50 years and not short polls. It’s, that’s advantage of the China model, we can afford that.

Mehdi Hasan: And one of the pillars of the China model, you say in your book, is its non-aggression, its peaceful history and peaceful rise. But many would say, “Look at the region today, look at the recent tensions.” Chinese ships ramming Vietnamese vessels, Chinese aircraft entering Japanese airspace, we’ve had a standoff between Chan-Chinese and Indian troops in the Himalayas, the Philippines regularly threatens to take China to court over naval disputes. Your neighbours don’t seem to think you’re very peaceful.

Zhang Wei Wei: Actually, in East Asia, the economic relationship is booming and virtually all China’s neighbours are China’s largest trading partners. There are, you know, historical legacies, territorial disputes. And with regard to Japan, you know, you have to understand a bit this historical background. The Japanese government nationalised in the Chinese territory. That caused a problem.

Mehdi Hasan: OK.

Zhang Wei Wei: Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: And you…and…and do you accept that these tensions and these disputes have grown in recent years as China’s power, influence, economy, role has grown?

Zhang Wei Wei: No, actually, I would argue, perhaps, it had to do with the role of the United States. The US is obviously receding in its overall power. It’s deeply worried that China will overtake United States. So I think United States is – behind the scene, you know – it tries to encourage Japan and certain other Asian countries.

Mehdi Hasan: We’ve heard a lot from President Obama about the “pivot” to Asia. There’s many people who say that the US views China as a threat, and that’s the reasoning for the pivot. I wonder: does China see the US as a threat?

Zhang Wei Wei: Well to my mind, to be honest, you know, I think United States should pivot to United States; pivot to Arizona rather than Asia.

Mehdi Hasan: OK.

Zhang Wei Wei: United States sees a lot of problems at home. You know, crumbling infrastructure, underfunded schools.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] In answer to my question…

Zhang Wei Wei: That’s true.

Mehdi Hasan: So China doesn’t really see America as a threat because it’s got so many domestic problems?

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] No, we think that, China and United States can live in peace together, work win-win solutions. It’s…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK, you talk about living in peace and China being peaceful. Why does it continue to prop up perhaps the world’s most brutal, violent, despotic, closed country, North Korea, which is also a rogue nuclear power as well?

Zhang Wei Wei: Well, this is a…a unique case because, North Korea relation with China is something left over from the Cold War and we were allies at that time. Actually, many people think we have a lot of influence on North Korea. It may not be so.

Mehdi Hasan: Fuel, food, weapons – you have quite a lot of leverage over North Korea.

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] On the other hand, if North Korean regime collapse overnight, that also cause a lot of problem for China.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So that’s how you justify the Chinese protection?

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] You need to balance the way. Yeah

Mehdi Hasan: OK. Let’s talk…let’s go further afield to China’s role in Africa. Just as Western governments have been rightly criticised for exploiting African resources, nowadays, so, too, is China. Just as Western governments have been rightly criticised for propping up dodgy regimes in Africa with weapons, with aid, now China is being accused of, similar things. Is the Chinese philosophy in relation to Africa basically, “We will give money, investment, weapons to any government, regardless of how bad it is, as long as they’re willing to do business with us?”

Zhang Wei Wei: Here, two issues are involved. First, how average African look at China: most Africans appreciate Chinese presence. With regard to China alleged support for despotic regime in Africa, well…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] It’s not alleged. There is Chinese support for despotic regime in Africa.

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] No, we have a…a…a kind of, we see China model. We put top priority to improving people’s living standards, fighting poverty, so we do the same in Africa.

Mehdi Hasan: Yes, but they’re also fighting each other and you’re one of the biggest arms sellers in that region, along with Western countries.

Zhang Wei Wei: Actually, China’s military aid to Africa is rather cautious. You have to examine case by case. Usually if it involve direct confrontations between African state, China will refrain from giving relief and arms.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So no external wars, internal repression fine?

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah. No, no, no, that different. Business is business, you know.

Mehdi Hasan: Business is business.

Zhang Wei Wei: It depends on perhaps United States support, supply. The UK supplies more weapons to different countries.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And I’ve already conceded that’s not a good thing that…

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah… Yeah, I don’t have the figures with me…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Two wrongs don’t make a right, do they, Weiwei?

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah, but top six of the UN Security Council member also is top six suppliers of the weapons.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok. You mentioned people in Africa have very positive views and the polls do show that and there’s been a lot of very important investment by China in African countries. But there seems to be a pushback. Listen to the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi. He says, “We must remove the rose-tinted glasses through which we view China.”  He says, “China takes our primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism.” A strong charge from quite an influential African figure.

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] Well, I…I don’t know where he made this remark. You know, er, China’s involvement in Africa were already altogether five decades, if not longer. And, er, if you look at five decades as a whole, China really help Africa in building a whole new infrastructure, so this remark is unfair. Even for Nigeria!  We build, you know, oil drilling, er, facilities, railways for Nigeria, so…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] A lot of people complain that you also bring Chinese labour with you, you don’t benefit local skills, local labour.

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] There are these kind of accusation but, indeed, in certain areas, we do that. In certain area, we don’t do, we create jobs. Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK. Let’s go to our panel. Diane, is China a threat, a problem for its neighbours in the region? Some of those neighbours are quite agitated about China’s rise. Are they right to be agitated?

Diane Wei Liang: Well, I don’t think China intends to be a threat, but as the, China grows ever more powerful, I think it’s inevitable when you have one neighbour that’s extremely powerful, while you have other neighbours are not, the relationship will change, as we’ve seen in recent conflicts and tensions within Asia. And if we turn that on its head, I think China has used its peaceful rise rather selectively. China could throw its weight behind lot of international issues more, and to play its part, and I say its obligation, as citizen of the world.

Mehdi Hasan: Martin, you wrote the bestselling book When China Rules The World . People in the West, for example, who’ve read your book, perhaps worried about this idea of being the dominant superpower. Are they right to be worried, in your view? Do you buy this idea of a peaceful rise of China?

Martin Jacques: Well, I mean, there’s no guarantee that the peaceful, China will rise peacefully, because it doesn’t just depend on China, does it? Above all, it depends on the reaction of the United States. No hegemon likes to lose its position, and the Americans are, you can see with the Pivot to Asia and so on, seeking to resist this. Countries are looking at their future and they’re going…they’re saying, “Well, do we opt to go with the United States?” or they’re thinking in these terms, “or China?”  And most of them actually are gonna opt with China, because China is going to be so, so important to their economies. Meanwhile, America’s economic role in the region is declining rapidly, and this applies, of course, to other continents – you’ve been talking about Africa. So China is going to be such an important player.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And before I bring in Stephen Chan, just for…one last question to you: do you think, yes or no, do you think China, when it does supplant America as the top dog, as the dominant power, will do a better job than America in that role?

Martin Jacques: Well, you know, it’s an impossible question to answer but I think that, it will be…it will…it will do a very different kind of job and, in many ways, it might be a better job.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, Stephen?

Martin Jacques: [INTERRUPTING] But I don’t…you know, you…one can’t be certain about it.

Mehdi Hasan: Stephen, how worried should the world be, not just China’s neighbours, but the rest of the world, at the emergence of this new superpower that is China, and the Chinese model?

Stephen Chan: I spent a lot of time in Africa, I’ve lived a number of years in Africa, I’ve been through a number of African wars as a peacekeeper, and advise African governments these days on investment packages put forward by the Chinese. In general terms, you do have a measure of genuine generosity and genuine help from state corporations, state enterprises coming out of China and trying to work with African governments. But there are very, very real problems with some of the contracts offered, so if there is a government that is still naïve in its negotiating capacity, the Chinese are not above taking advantage, and I think there are recent examples in terms of platinum deals with the government of Namibia, for instance, which I advised against. But that went ahead because of political pressures.

Mehdi Hasan: And the global role? The global… Should they be… What about the anxiety about this new superpower, this new kid on the block? Should we be worried?

Stephen Chan: [INTERRUPTING] I think that the real problem is not about the state power of China, but about private entrepreneurs, private Chinese citizens going out to make their fortunes in other parts of the world, and bringing with them civilisational attitudes that are not refined and attuned to the realities of the outside world. Private Chinese entrepreneurs, not government people, but private entrepreneurs in Africa have been largely racist.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, well, on that…that provocative note, let’s, open up to our audience here in the Oxford Union, who’ve been listening, to our guest tonight talk about China. We’ve talked about democracy, the economy, human rights; we’ve talked about its role in the world. Who’d like to make a point to our guest Zhang Weiwei tonight?

Mehdi Hasan: Gentleman here in the second row.

Audience participant 1 : Thank you. I’m Richard Bennett from Amnesty International. You may have heard of us, even in China.

Zhang Wei Wei: With pleasure. [LAUGHTER]

Audience participant 1: Xi Jinping says that he’s cracking down on corruption, so why are people from China’s New Citizens’ Movement, which has, through entirely peaceful means, called for disclosure of officials’ assets in order to fight corruption. Why are they being detained, tried and imprisoned?

Zhang Wei Wei: Well, I don’t know exactly the cases you refer to, but I can tell you the overall background. In the Chinese model, it’s very different from the Western model. The West model is more or less, you know, pinning on the society against the state, and the Chinese model is mutual interaction between the state and society. If you look at any opinion surveys in China, public order is always top one preference of the Chinese people. People treasure public order and stability. People thrive. Chinese are hardworking. If you are running a state as large as China, 1.3 billion people, you can make at least 80 percent population very happy. That’s important. And then you try to fine-tune, gradually improve bits here, bits there. That’s how the strategy has worked.

Mehdi Hasan: Has anyone in your family or social circle ever been arrested or detained by the Chinese authorities?

Zhang Wei Wei: Well, we…each and every…most Chinese families suffered a lot during the Cultural Revolution, especially in big cities, yeah. But on the other hand, if you look at opinion surveys, Chairman Mao is still very popular. Why? Because he unified such a large country.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Probably not popular in…

Zhang Wei Wei: He liberated women.

Mehdi Hasan: Probably not popular with the people he killed. Let’s go to somebody else in the audience here. Gentleman, gentleman there in the third row, to my right, yes, with the check shirt. Do you wanna wait for the microphone to come to you?

Audience participant 2: You talked that the so-called Western model could not be applied to non-Western countries. So, if that’s true, then what lessons can China offer to the rest of the world, and would you call that le-…that…those kind of lessons are universal lessons?

Zhang Wei Wei: No. The Chinese don’t have this claim of universality. We are a very interesting group of people. You know, we think if our model is good for us, we stay with it, we can compete with others. If others think our model is good, you can learn from us. If you think our model not good, we don’t care, yeah. That’s very different from the Western model. [LAUGHTER]  But indeed, if your model is indeed good, others will come to learn from you.

Mehdi Hasan: Take this woman here and then we’ll go to this woman here.

Audience participant 3: Thank you, Weiwei, it’s been a very provocative debate. My question is: how can…o-or, what can China do to help its citizens to form a civic identity, which is quite crucial to establish an effective democratic system?  Or if you think China’s…Chinese citizens already have such an identity? How would you explain that?

Zhang Wei Wei: I wonder, you know, whether this paradigm, you know, citizen movement, civil society, is necessarily good for non-Western countries. You look at problem with Ukraine, Egypt, and the colour revolutions. I’ve been to all these countries, whole of Eastern Europe. I think, you know, perhaps the West has and you should draw some lessons, you know, what you have done wrong. Otherwise, how can you convince others your approach necessarily good? The Chinese approach is much better. If a society can build on consensus, wonderful society.

Mehdi Hasan: But you build consensus by…

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] That’s true!

Mehdi Hasan: …cracking down on people who don’t agree with you…

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, no, it’s a tiny, tiny radical modality.

Mehdi Hasan: …By locking them up and calling them subversive!

Zhang Wei Wei: Colonialism should be punished – as simple as that!

Mehdi Hasan: OK. Let’s go to the gent… Oh, actually, I said I would come to this woman here. Let’s go to this woman here.

Audience participant 4: I am Rahima Mahmut, Uyghur ethnic from, East Turkestan – so-called Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. China’s strike-hard campaign have failed to create desired political stability in East Turkestan, as can be seen by the recent escalating violence. In response, the government has imposed stronger action of mass arrests, more public executions of Uyghur people, resulting from speedy show trials, which does not deliver justice for the victims. The more the crackdowns, the greater the political violence. Should not China honour the agreements regarding the autonomous autonomy and self-rule in East Turkestan?

Mehdi Hasan: OK.

Audience participant 4: Thank you.

Zhang Wei Wei: I’m sorry, you know, East Turkestan is the wrong term for right place. Xinjiang is part of China. This territorial integrity is much more solid than United States’ relation with Hawaii, or France relation with Corsica, or maybe UK’s relation with Northern Ireland.  And, yes, you have a point. There were people, you know, supported by certain Western forces, who want to make Xinjiang independent, but on the other hand, most Chinese don’t agree. It’s against international law, against Chinese constitution…Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You say it’s territorial integrity, international law borders…

Zhang Wei Wei: Mmm.

Mehdi Hasan: Let’s say we were to concede that, you would at least concede, though, the residents, the people of that area are not happy with Chinese rule? They’re not happy with the way they’re treated.

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] Well…

Mehdi Hasan: There are documented human rights abuses that Uyghur…

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, no, no no, no.  No, no, you don’t, er…er, this is unfair because we…you do not have statistics. I have statistics; however, I don’t want this pla… debate with you. It takes a lot of study to establish your argument, yeah. It’s not so easy… Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: So you don’t accept that people there are treated badly?

Zhang Wei Wei: I tell you, I was in Kyrgyzstan, I was in the other Central Asian republics. Xinjiang espec… Wulumuqi is doing much better than China’s neighbours.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, let’s go back… I wanna take someone at the back of the hall. Gentleman there… Yep, you, looking around.

Audience participant 5: If meritocracy is what’s distinctive, or one of the things that’s distinctive about China, why, is the Politburo and the Standing Committee, why are they both dominated by, so-called princelings, people with family ties to early members of the revolution who’ve become wealthy from…from those family connections?

Zhang Wei Wei: I don’t know where you g-get this kind of information. I made a study: 85 percent of the Chinese top leaders, members of the political bureau, are from ordinary background. If you look at the party Central Committee, then it’s about 90 percent from ordinary background. Even those so-called, you know, princely, whatever, you look at their track record, they go through 35 years at least grassroots experience.

Mehdi Hasan: Does it bother you that in the socialist, communist China, where it’s all about economic rights and equality, 83 billionaires sit in your parliament?

Zhang Wei Wei: No, this is the completely wrong figure. But this kind of assertion that Chinese parliament is ruled by the…by billionaires, it’s just, so irrelevant.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] There aren’t 83 billionaires in the Chinese parliament?

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, no, it’s…it’s  I can tell you, the key difference between the Chinese model political system and American political system is the richest one hundred guys in China have no hope, no chance to influence the top leadership of party.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You say that and yet…and yet the top leadership…

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] In the United States… top 30 would do.

Mehdi Hasan: And yet, in the Chinese leadership, there are plenty of people who have enriched themselves along the way. There have been plenty of allegations against…

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] Well…

Mehdi Hasan: …former Premier Wen Jiabao’s family, the current President’s family.

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah.  Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: They’ve all invested billions in mobile phone technology, in minerals, in property…

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] Well…well…no…some allegations…

Mehdi Hasan: …on a…on a…on a Chinese government’s salary!  How did they pull that off?

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] Well…well…well…s-some allegations may be right, some allegation may be unfounded, so this is, not a key issue. The key issue is whether…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Well, you don’t know because you don’t allow the investigation to happen, do you?

Zhang Wei Wei: …these leaders…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] That’s the problem.

Zhang Wei Wei: Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: You don’t have a free press to investigate that stuff. Let’s take a question from a woman please. Yes, here.

Audience participant 6: It’s been over 60 years since China invaded Tibet. China’s system of trying to Sinicize Tibet and stamping down on any activities it sees as threatening is doing nothing to quench the desire for self-determination. In fact, the suppression of human rights is actually strengthening the feelings of Tibetan nationalism. So do you think it’s possible that the Chinese system can be flexible enough to come up with a solution that will be acceptable to the Tibetans, or will China simply continue to try and rule by force?

Zhang Wei Wei: No, if you compare Chinese approach adopted in Tibet with the European approach adopted in Americas in the history, no comparison. Did you notice, most Tibetan today speak only...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] It’s a straw man argument!  We’re not comparing China’s com… 

Zhang Wei Wei: …only…they speak only Tibetan language…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Come on Weiwei, we’re not comparing China’s treatment of Tibet to America’s 400 years ago.

Zhang Wei Wei: …and Chinese court, only allows Tibetan language for Tibetan citizens involved. Will that happen in Europe? Will that happen in North America? How many Indians can still speak a local language?

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Between half…

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] They have to speak English.

Mehdi Hasan: Between…between half a million…

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] No.

Mehdi Hasan: …and over a million Tibetans are estimated to be…are estimated to have been killed over the last 60 years.

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] Hah, no. 100 percent wrong. You can look at…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] How many?

Zhang Wei Wei: …You can check the statistics. Look…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok, you tell me: how many Tibetans have been killed since 1950? Give me your number.

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, no, no, no, no, this is 100 wrong.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, no, no, you tell me how many have been killed? [LAUGHTER]

Zhang Wei Wei: You can…you can check how…what’s the population in 1950, what’s the population today.

Mehdi Hasan: I’m asking a simple question.

Zhang Wei Wei: Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: The studies I’ve seen [LAUGHTER] say between half a million and a million. You dispute that.

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] No, the…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] How many do you say have died?

Zhang Wei Wei: Well, this is wrong question. How many Britons die?  [LAUGHTER]  I don’t know.  [LAUGHS]

Mehdi Hasan: A question you don’t want to answer is a wrong question. Gentleman there in the third row.

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] Well, I don’t know the answer, no. 

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, if you don’t know the answer, perhaps you shouldn’t question studies that have been done.

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: Gentleman here.

Audience participant 7: My question to you is: who is going to protect the ordinary people if their interests one day goes against those o-of the state?

Zhang Wei Wei: It’s a hypothetical question. Actually, when I say China is a strong state, ours is a strong, relatively neutral state. That’s the key word.

Mehdi Hasan: Do you genuinely believe it’s hypothetical that a citizen’s rights clash with the government’s?

Zhang Wei Wei: No, it’s…it’s…it depends. We have a… if you, you want to overthrow…if I look at the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] No, not everyone doesn’t want to overthrow the Chinese government.

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, no, no, no, your TV programme, even the BBC, “a communist regime,” propaganda. The way you look at China, almost similar to how China look at West during the Cultural Revolution.

Mehdi Hasan: And yet hundreds of Chinese intellectuals, academics, dissidents have all signed all sorts of petitions and charters. This is not a Western conspiracy, Weiwei.

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] Well, a tiny, tiny minority sponsored by Western countries, by CIA.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] When you have a billion people, everything’s a minority. Let’s go to a question from the lady here in the third row.

Audience participant 8: I’d like to ask about, Sino-Japan relations. Do you think there is a-any, um, area of co-operation which can ease the ongoing tension between China and Japan? Thank you.

Zhang Wei Wei: Thank you.  And actually, if you look at the statistics, China and Japan should become brothers, hmm. We are…we have so much, you know, interaction and, in terms of trade, in terms of human-to-human contact, et cetera.

Mehdi Hasan: OK.

Zhang Wei Wei: However, politically, I still, with my Chinese bias, blame more on Prime Minister Abe.

Mehdi Hasan: The lady with her hand up.

Audience participant 9: Thank you, Professor. I do not dare to tell you my name – that’s how unique China’s success is in terms of human rights, because some of my friends were just arrested and imprisoned recently. I found your talk quite contradictory in…in three ways. First of all, you said China is very friendly with its neighbour countries, but you just called Taiwan a failure. [LAUGHS] And you talk about average African person, citizen, how they see China, as something positive. But what about the average Chinese citizen, how they view their government?

Mehdi Hasan: OK.

Zhang Wei Wei: Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: Do you want to come back in briefly there?

Zhang Wei Wei: Yeah, you…I suggest you look at three surveys: PEW, Gallup and also, AsiaBarometer. They will give you the answer. Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: Isn’t it the case though – I’ve got to ask this question at the end of this programme – if we had a conversation like this in Beijing on television, if we had the kind of statements that were made about Tibet and democracy and locking up peaceful protestors, on television in China, Diane or Stephen or members of the audience would get a knock at the door the next day, wouldn’t they?

Zhang Wei Wei: No, no, no…

Mehdi Hasan: You wouldn’t be able to have this discussion there.

Zhang Wei Wei: I had a debate…[LAUGHTER]

Mehdi Hasan: Yeah.

Zhang Wei Wei: I had a debate with, Professor Fukuyama, the author of The End of History. It’s broadcast live. Still, you can check on the internet. We disc… each and every issue mentioned here, even more than that.

Mehdi Hasan: So if anyone had said any of the…what they’ve said tonight on a public forum in China, nothing would happen to them, in your view?

Zhang Wei Wei: I don’t know exactly, you know, because I’m not…  [LAUGHTER]  No, it don’t matter. It don’t matter, yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK.

Zhang Wei Wei: But you can check my debate with Fukuyama. 

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK.

Zhang Wei Wei: He more aggressive than you.

Mehdi Hasan: Me, aggressive?

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] That’s true. [LAUGHS]

Mehdi Hasan: Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Professor Zhang Weiwei.

Zhang Wei Wei: [INTERRUPTING] Thank you. With pleasure.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Thank you very much to our panel, for coming here and offering us their expertise. Thank you all here in the Oxford Union for joining us, and thanks to all of you for watching at home. Head to Head will be back next week. Goodnight.

Audience: [APPLAUSE]


Source: Al Jazeera