Debators discuss international role of China

“The team that creates more of a vision and is most convincing, is the team that wins,” Assistant Professor of Political Science Pat Cottrell said during the first debate of a Student Debate Series on April 7.

The debate was held in the Pioneer Reading Room and is a public showcase of Cottrell’s students’ two-week preparation on the topic: Should the United States contain the China threat?

The event, sponsored by the Department of Political Science, is a four-person debate covering a topic of interest chosen by students in Cottrell’s U.S. Foreign Policy and Debate course and has been held every two years since spring of 2008.

Cottrell said he specifically capped the class at 12 people so that each student would have ample time to complete two small debates and a large presentation as a curriculum requirement.

The debaters were divided into two teams, junior Clia Zwilling and senior Phil Rice for the affirmative and sophomores Leanne McCallum and Chris Forrer represented the opposition. Each team was given a chance to present its ideas, followed by a brief cross-examination and a final rebuttal. Before the event began, Cottrell encouraged the audience to briefly write their personal biases toward the topic for comparison at the end in order to signify the team with the highest level of persuasion.

Zwilling and Rice opened the debate, arguing that China wants to become a world power and is a threat to the United States as a result of its military force, economic strength and demonstrations in violating human rights.

In response, McCallum and Forrer stated that there is no need to contain China, as this would result in economic loss for the United States. The opposition also presented China as merely a “large shadow cast upon a wall,” when in reality the country stands as a small threat to the United States and is considered a developing country that receives monetary aid from other countries.

Following the final arguments, Cottrell gave audience members a chance to write down their opinions based upon the team’s proposals. The tallied responses revealed that the majority had voted in support of the opposition, that China should be engaged rather than contained.

The audience was also given an opportunity to ask the debaters questions.

McCallum responded to whether her personal opinions corresponded with the stance she defended during the debate.

“I was biased at first because of my mother’s company relying on several Chinese customers, but after going through the research, I realized that China really is a threat,” said McCallum.

Cottrell said he encourages his students to “check their personal views” and argue the opposition on any topic because it is challenging and causes the students to prepare diligently for the debate. He explained that when he participated in graduate school debates in Europe, after which the Student Debate Series is modeled, Cottrell wished that he had taken the opposition against his European competitors on the topic: Should the United States lead the world? He added that it would have made for a more entertaining event.

“The way to think on the fly [during a debate], is to know your stuff cold,” Cottrell said.

Felicia Weller/Copy editor
Felicia Weller can be reached at

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