Image of Photo of front cover of book The Chinese Conundrum by Vince Cable

The Chinese Conundrum

The China Centre seminar on Thursday 26 May 2022 was delivered by the Rt Hon Sir Vince Cable, former leader of the Liberal Democrat party, former MP for Twickenham, former Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade.  Sir Vince Cable's lecture was based on his recently published book The Chinese Conundrum.

Sir Vince Cable addressed the reality of a New Cold War between the West and China. The theme of his lecture was the challenge of engagement between different systems of political economy in the face of common existential threats to the human species. He emphasised China's economic development success since the 1970s. He noted that China's GDP, measured in PPP dollars, is now beyond the level of the US, which marks an important point in world history. In Sir Vince Cable's view, by 2050 it is likely that China's GDP will be double that of the USA. He cautioned that this reality has not been fully absorbed in the West. He addressed a number of challenges that China faces, including its demographic transformation, the high level of debt, the need to increase productivity and the low share of consumption in GDP. In Sir Vince's view, the West's perception has shifted from regarding China as a 'business El Dorado' for the West during the 'Golden Era', to viewing it as an economic threat to the West in recent years. He noted the contrast between the West's 'technology war' with China alongside a rapid increase in the role of western financial service companies in China. He emphasised that, despite the rising tension, the economic relationship between China and the West remains deep.

The Q&A session included the following issues: the respective roles that China and the West might make to cooperation and mutual understanding; the role that academics can play in assisting mutual understanding; the role that Britain, as a former global hegemon, might play in East-West cooperation; the contribution that Britain might make to East-West cooperation through its expertise in climate change technologies and the key role of the City of London within global finance; the role that ethnic relations in China's resource-rich regions, including Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia, play in China's development; the view of countries in the 'global south' on the war in Ukraine; the role of succession policy in the CPC; the impact of human rights issues upon western businesses operating in China; the role of nuclear power generation in UK-China relations; an evaluation of the possibility of military conflict between the West and China; and the contradiction between increased political tension between Japan and China alongside a deepening economic relationship. 

The Rt Hon Sir Vince Cable was Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade (2010-2015). He served as Member of Parliament for Twickenham 1997-2015, leader of the Liberal Democrats 2017-2019, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats 2007-2010, and shadow chancellor 2003-2010. 

Vince Cable read Natural Sciences and Economics at Cambridge University, where he was President of the Union, followed by a PhD at Glasgow University.

From 1966 to 1968 he was Treasury Finance Officer for the Kenya Government. After lecturing at Glasgow University in economics he worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a first secretary in the Diplomatic Service (1974-76). He was then appointed Deputy Director of the Overseas Development Institute, which included a period working for the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, John Smith, as a special advisor. From 1983 to 1990, Vince Cable worked as special advisor on Economic Affairs for the Commonwealth Secretary General, Sir Sonny Ramphal.

In 1990 he joined Shell International taking up the post of Chief Economist in 1995. He has also been head of the economics programme at Chatham House and is a former fellow of Nuffield College Oxford and the LSE.

Vince Cable served as a Labour councillor in Glasgow between 1971 and 1974, before joining the Social Democrat party.

Sir Vince Cable is currently a Professor in Practice at the LSE (London School of Economics, attached to the Institute of Global Affairs). He is also a visiting Professor at Nottingham University Economics Department. He has worked on a collaborative project with Future Learn to develop a MOOC (on-line course). As well as being a Visiting Professor at St Mary University in Twickenham he has worked on the course development within its business school.