Oxford-style debate to be held in Aspen on Friday
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Details: “The Recent U.S. Policy Towards China Is Productive” will be the topic of an Oxford-style debate on Friday. Journalist and author John Donvan moderates the event in which the audience will determine the winner.
When: 4-6 p.m., Friday
Where: Paepcke Auditorium, 100 N. 3rd St.
Haven’t gotten your fill of political debates this week? Then there happens to be one Friday in Aspen, where foreign-policy pundits will square off over the current state of relations between the U.S. and China.
Unlike this week’s two Democratic presidential debates, however, the focus will be on a single topic with four participants — two on each side — while the audience will determine the victor.
The debate, set for 4 to 6 p.m. at Paepcke Auditorium on the Aspen Meadows campus, will be the latest in a series put on by the nonprofit media company Intelligence Squared US.
Aspen Strategy Group, a division of the Aspen Institute think tank, is co-hosting the debate.
“Our view is that our kind of arguments are actually good for the state of our discourse,” said moderator John Donvan, author and journalist. “We can be a model of how to disagree respectfully.”
The debate will be presented in an Oxford-style format, with both sides arguing either for or against a predetermined statement, or motion.
Kicking off with opening remarks from each side, the debate will include an intra-panel discussion and then a Q&A session with audience members. Closing arguments from the participants will wrap up what Donvan calls a “kind of a jousting match for the brain.”
Friday’s showdown will examine the tariff wars between China and the U.S., as well as their pursuit of dominance in advanced technologies and the tense relationship between the two powerhouse countries.
The motion is “The Recent U.S. Policy Towards China Is Productive,” and the audience will vote either for or against it before the debate begins, as well as after the final arguments are delivered. The outcome will be determined by the greater percentage change between the first and second votes.
Representing both sides of the debate will be individuals well versed in foreign policy.
Pro-motion debaters will include Michael Pillsbury — described by President Trump as “the leading authority on China”— who worked in the defense secretary’s office under both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He’ll be joined by Kori Schake, who worked in the National Security Council and is the deputy-director general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Debaters arguing against the motion are Graham Allison, who was Bill Clinton’s assistant secretary of defense and is a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Jake Sullivan, a former national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and a senior policy adviser to Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign in 2016.
Even though a majority of Aspen’s year-round population leans to the left — nearly 70% of Pitkin County’s electorate voted for Clinton in 2016 — Donvan said that doesn’t mean the anti-motion debaters will have a home-field advantage of sorts at Paepcke Auditorium.
“Not necessarily,” he said. “We ask our audiences to really participate meaningfully, to really come in and listen with an open mind, since ultimately we are going to be asking them to vote and consider the most persuasive argument.”
Paying close attention to what’s being said is key for those who will vote, he said, noting some audience members might leave Paepcke Auditorium a bit surprised about a shift in their mind set.
“It’s not that our goal is to change people’s minds,” he said. “The goal is to get people to listen critically to the arguments presented.”
Donvan, a four-time winner of the Emmy Award for his work as a journalist, said he spends about 25 hours preparing and researching for the debates he moderates — that includes studying videos of the debaters “so I can get the rhythms of how they speak and how they talk.” It also helps that he has spent more than three decades as a political correspondent for ABC News, making him well grounded in topics like China, or such previously debated ones as globalization, fracking and even Wal-Mart.
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