Historian Margaret MacMillan questions China’s aspirations

Amid growing tensions with China, MacMillan talks about the country's polar activities

Paul Wells and Margaret MacMillan sit across each other, talking, in front of a blue screen reading "Paul Wells Show Live Podcast Taping: Historian Margaret MacMillan."
Margaret MacMillan guests on the Paul Wells Show at the Munk School to discuss the turbulence in current world affairs. (Huma Hamid/Toronto Observer) 

Canada’s relationship with China has deteriorated over the past few years, and now seems to be in a perilous place.

From the verbal spat between Xi Jinping and Justin Trudeau at the G20 summit in Bali to the recent spy balloon fiasco, tensions between the two countries seem to be steadily rising. A new poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute found that most Canadians think Canada should see China as a “threat” or “enemy.”

As social, political and economic unrest grows around the globe and at home, renowned professor and historian Margaret MacMillan spoke with journalist Paul Wells about the turbulence in current world affairs.

MacMillan talked to Wells about the state of different countries, as well as her upcoming book on the Second World War, during the live podcast taping. She also touched on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Brexit, the current state of Canada and China’s polar activities.

“I find it ominous that China now describes itself as an Arctic and Antarctic power,” said MacMillan. “It shows a sort of aspiration.” 

Canada will have to figure out how to manage this, she added.

In their hopes of becoming a “polar great power” by 2030, China has expanded its investment and scientific exploration into the Arctic and Antarctic regions. 

Among various other efforts to increase its access to the region, China has sent 10 large scientific expeditions to the Arctic, sought multiple scientific facilities in Arctic states and has begun a variety of plausibly dual-use economic endeavours, according to a report by the Brookings Institution.

China’s polar activities have also included research facilities in Antarctic states, such as within the Australian Antarctic Territory, and investment in icebreakers and continental airstrips for year-round accessibility, the Maritime Executive reported.

However, there is now more internal and external resistance to the Chinese government than anyone had expected, said MacMillan, who was appointed to the Order of Merit in 2022. 

She believes that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “position is still strong, but there will be a great many people in China who will be looking for any sign of weakness.”

Throughout the talk, which was recorded for Wells’ podcast, MacMillan and Wells discussed Putin’s motivations behind the Ukraine invasion, and Zelensky’s strong leadership in keeping the Ukrainian troops motivated and willing to fight.

The historian also talked about the fall of the British economy. She says the latest prediction of the British economic status is that “by next year, British people will have about the same average income as Slovenians.”

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Posted: Jan 28 2023 10:41 pm
Filed under: News