China is the only great power that is still in a definitional phase, both domestically and internationally, argues Frank Lavin, who is CEO of Export Now and a former US Ambassador to Singapore and US Undersecretary of State for Commerce and International Trade. Unlike the more established powers, he sees China grapple with very fundamental questions, whose answers will have profound implications for its neighbours and the wider world: What kind of country does China want to be? What is the proper relationship between a government and its people? What is China’s foreign policy? Lavin’s thesis is that how China defines itself, and is defined by others, will in large define this century.

Lavin outlines four fundamental issues that China’s new leaders must face:

  1. Economic performance;
  2. Social stability;
  3. Leadership cohesion; and
  4. Foreign policy.

How the People’s Republic of China addresses these issues will determine its success or failure at home, and will also contribute to either friction or comity in Asia in the coming years.

His predictions are largely optimistic and positive. The area where he sees most potential for friction with other powers is foreign policy. Lavin says that China is most likely to “overshoot” in this area due to the lack of effective internal correction mechanisms in its decision making.

Lavin spoke at a luncheon discussion at the Legatum Institute. 

About the Speaker
Ambassador Lavin lives in Hong Kong where he serves as CEO of Export Now, helping foreign firms sell on-line in China. He previously served as Undersecretary of Trade in the US Department of Commerce, where he was lead negotiator for China. He has also served as US Ambassador to Singapore (2001-2005) and in 2010 he was Chairman of the Steering Committee for the USA Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo.

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