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We understand the world through stories. Stories can help bridge cultural gaps and connect us with others. They can also mislead and divide.
Of late, an age-old narrative has reemerged. It poses a threat to the established international order, dividing the world into "us" versus "them." After the former Soviet Union, Japan and Islam before it, this time China has been cast as an antagonist.
According to the "China threat" theory, China's rise represents a danger to the international liberal order. Peddled by certain interests, this story has proved attractive for many in the West.
Fortunately, such false narratives can be overcome through examination of the facts.
The recent Munk Debate held in Toronto, Canada, which saw a lively discussion in front of 3,000 people on the question, "Is China a threat to the international liberal order?" was an opportunity to clarify some of these myths.
The Munk Debate, which brings together public figures with expertise in certain areas to debate different topics, was originally founded by Peter Munk, founder of the largest gold mining operation in the world, and Rudyard Griffiths, a Canadian author and television broadcaster.
Joining me in arguing against the "China threat" theory was Kishore Mahbubani, a former Singaporean diplomat. Our debate opponents were former US national security adviser H. R. McMaster and Michael Pillsbury, the American director of the Center on Chinese Strategy at Hudson Institute, a Washington=based think tank.
I urged the audience to look at the facts, and examine the three roles that China has been playing in the world today.
First, China is a major beneficiary of the international order. Joining international institutions such as the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and World Bank has helped China to grow rapidly, lifting about 30 million people out of poverty within four decades.
Second, China is the second-largest donor to the United Nations. In addition, since 2012, it has provided more peacekeeping troops than all the other four permanent United Nations Security Council members combined.
Third, China is the largest trading partner of over 30 countries, which creates major opportunities for foreign exporters and investors, as well as contributing over $120 billion to local economies every year through outbound tourism.
On the climate change front, China has helped forge global consensus and is committed to the Paris climate agreement. In contrast, the US has shirked its environmental responsibilities by withdrawing from the accord.
China has launched new initiatives to promote globalization and development that have been welcomed by developing and developed nations around the world.
A total of 127 countries have signed agreements on the Belt and Road Initiative since its establishment in 2013. The BRI has created nearly 30,000 jobs and reduced trade costs in host countries by up to 2.8 percent, according to the World Bank.
On the other hand, the "China threat" narrative ignores how China contributes to the international order while providing immense opportunities for the global community.
It fails to capture the deeply interconnected nature of our global society, one knit together by the flow of people, goods, capital and ideas.
In the globalized world, the real threats to global peace and prosperity are transnational and emergent. Examples include risks relating to the environment, rapid technological disruption and diseases.
To confront these challenges, we must abandon false narratives and craft new stories that foster common goals and cooperation. Different cultures and civilizations should be given space to coexist and work together.
Changes will not happen overnight, but transparency and open debate can help.
Moving forward, I hope the stories through which we frame the world will be based on facts and not fears. Instead of an illusory "China threat", we should focus on real threats that we are now facing.
The author is founder and president of the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.