Jamil Anderlini on US-China Strategic Competition

Jamil Anderlini is the Financial Times’ Asia Editor, appointed in 2015.  He oversees the FT’s coverage of the Asia region from Afghanistan to Antarctica, including China, India, Indonesia and Japan.

In addition to directing the work of regional correspondents and overseeing the editing and commissioning team in Hong Kong, Jamil is an award-winning journalist. He is fluent in spoken and written Mandarin Chinese. After a decade and a half working as an editor and journalist in China, he has cultivated a deep knowledge of the political and economic situation in that country.   He regularly contributes commentary for other media, including CNN, BBC, CNBC, ABC and A1-Jazeera. He also selectively accepts speaking engagements with corporations, financial institutions, universities, government departments and agencies.

Jamil joined the FT in 2007 and worked as Beijing Correspondent and Deputy Beijing Bureau Chief before he was named Beijing Bureau Chief in 2011, with overall responsible for China coverage at the FT. Jamil has won numerous reporting prizes, both individually and as part of FT teams.

In 2010, he was named Journalist of the Year at the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) Editorial Excellence Awards and won the Best Digital Award at the Amnesty International Media Awards. Other prizes include a UK Foreign Press Association Award in 2008, several individual SOPA awards, including best feature of the year 2017, and the inaugural Jones-Mauthner Award in 2012, which recognises outstanding reporting of international affairs by a young reporter at the Financial Times. In 2013, Jamil was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and short-listed for both Foreign Reporter of the Year at the Press Awards in the UK and also the Orwell Prize, the UK's most prestigious prize for political writing.

Jamil was awarded a certificate of completion for the Global Leadership and Public Policy for the 21st Century Programme, April 2016, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government Executive Education. In November, 2018, he was invited to Yale University as a Poynter Fellow and Cowles Visitor to participate in public conversations with professors and President of the University Peter Salovey. Jamil is a member of the advisory board for the Edward R Murrow Center for a Digital World at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Prior to joining the FT, he was Beijing Business Correspondent for the South China Morning Post for two years. Before that, he was Chief Editor of the China Economic Review.

He is the author of the e-book The Bo Xilai Scandal, published by Penguin and Financial Times in 2012.

Hank Snowdon CMC'21 interviewed Jamil Anderlini on February 28, 2019.

Many are saying that even if the US-China trade war ends with a trade compromise, their strategic competition will continue and could even become another Cold War. What are the reasons for such a pessimistic assessment?

The U.S. and China have come to a point where competition, at the very least, is unavoidable. The fundamental reason for that is the very stark difference in the two political systems and their two visions for the global order. The US is the leading advocate in the world for democracy and liberal values, and China is the biggest and most powerful representative of illiberal government and autocracy. China is set up today in direct opposition to the American value system. Regardless of what happens in this trade war, we are in for a period of much greater friction between these two countries.

On top of that, the fact that the U.S. is an incumbent superpower, and China is an aspiring superpower — combined with a very distinct difference in their value systems — by definition, there is going to be friction. The time when engagement from the West was likely to lead to a more open system in China and “look more like us” is pretty much done.


The trade war has shifted some production in the global supply chain away from China, and toward other Pacific Asian countries. What will East Asia’s economies look like if the US and China descend into a longer-term conflict?

All Asian economies are now incredibly reliant on China for growth. In the short term, it will be quite difficult for most of those countries because China is going to slow further, regardless of the trade war. The Chinese economic model is having some problems, and the added pressure of the trade war means that the slowdown is exacerbated. In the short term, that will affect Asian countries, but not just Asian countries. Australia, Germany, and other countries with a high level of exports to China will also suffer.

In the medium term, countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea should benefit from the diversification. It is already happening and it will accelerate. If you are a factory owner, you are definitely thinking about putting factories outside of China. These countries will get more of the supply chain embedded in their economies. Of course, there's no single country that can take over the Chinese supply chain, but you could see it broken up over several countries, and a lot of companies are already hedging against this.


Former US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said an “economic iron curtain” would fall over the world if the US-China conflict continues. How would a U.S.-China Cold War affect the global economy at large?

Henry Paulson has been a very staunch advocate of China. But he's clearly had a change of heart, saying that China needs to adjust to avoid this.

I think that he's right: there is going to be a bifurcation of the global economy, certainly when it comes to technology. You can see it happening right now. The U.S. is telling its allies that they must not have Huawei equipment in their systems. You are already seeing that countries are having to make a choice: go with Huawei or not go with Huawei. That is just the beginning, but there will be more and more of that.

It is not a given that every country is going to choose the U.S. A lot of countries at the political level are fed up with the U.S.-led global order, and some feel that China could be an attractive option. I think they're wrong, but some could think that, especially in more authoritarian countries. It is much less likely that democracies will pick the Chinese side. Overall, countries will have to pick sides more and more, like in the Cold War. You could also see something like the Non-Aligned Movement come out of that, for countries don't want to pick. They could band together themselves.


One country that will certainly need to pick a side is Japan. How will Japan look to balance its strong geopolitical alliance with the US and its economic interests in China?

For Japan, there is no question. The Chinese political leadership and the entire Chinese population have been indoctrinated for decades to view Japan as China's mortal enemy. That's partly a result of propaganda and it's partly the result of historical grievances, some legitimate and some manufactured. Therefore Japan will never side with China. Japan is deeply afraid of what China is becoming, now and in the future. So Japan will never pick China.


South Korea’s economy has been struggling as of late, with jobless rates recently surging to a nine-year high. They have been hit especially hard by the trade war, as China and the US are the country’s two biggest export markets. How will a U.S.-China Cold War affect South Korea’s economy?

There is not the same level of Chinese animosity towards Koreans, so Korea is in a more interesting position. While Japan has no choice and will always side with America, Korea is closer to the fence, but will probably stay on the U.S. side of that fence.

Korea’s economy is probably going to get hurt more in the short term by this U.S.-China conflict. There is more and more talk in Korea about diversification away from China, not only due to the trade war but also due to things like retaliation over the THAAD missile systems. South Korea was installing a U.S. missile shield system, ostensibly aimed at North Korea, but the Chinese decided its radar systems could see deep into China. So they punished Korean companies, and there was a very clear downturn of economic activity between the two countries. As a result of that, South Korea's government has been urging its companies to diversify away from China.

On top of that, there's the very real fear that the Chinese economy is not as strong as it looks from the outside. It’s prudent, even if there is no geopolitical angle, not to put all of your eggs in the China basket. If the Chinese economy tips over, which could very easily happen, you don’t want to be all-in on China.

Overall, a China-U.S. Cold War will make things worse at first, but it might lead to more diversification, which is healthy for the South Korean economy in the longer term.


Who are the biggest economic beneficiaries of a looming US-China cold war? Besides China, who would get hurt the most?

When it comes to growth and investment, other countries in Asia will be the biggest medium to long-term beneficiaries. India could also be a big beneficiary by default. America might want to have balance in the region, and they might lean towards India. In the short term, the exporting economies like Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Germany, Japan and Korea are certainly vulnerable.


What may prevent the U.S.-China strategic competition from escalating to a full-blown Cold War?

There needs to be serious changes made on the Chinese side. The major reasons for the coming Cold War are changes that happened in China long before Donald Trump was elected. The more suspicious attitude towards the West and the more aggressive projection of Chinese power outside of its borders have actually been the most important reasons for why we are where we are. A course correction on China's side would be the most important thing.

A serious economic problem in China, which is quite possible in the next couple of years, could

possibly help, but it could go either way. On the one hand, it could cause a refocus on internal issues. But of course, when you're faced with domestic political unrest, one way to deal with that is to direct it overseas to an external enemy.

Overall, a course correction in China would be the most important thing, with some goodwill from America, which could exist in the future. Ultimately, a change in leadership in China and America would help that.

Hank Snowdon CMC '21Student Journalist

The White House from Washington, DC [Public domain]

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