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Chinese Renaissance in Europe

The Chinese Renaissance in Europe

9 March 2012

Part of ‘the EU-China Year of Intercultural Dialogue’ initiative, a conference on  ‘The Chinese Renaissance in Europe’ took place on 9 March at the British Academy, London. Leading scholars, policy analysts and journalists discussed the historical, political, economic and culture/digital media aspects of China’s presence and influence in Europe.

The seminar was opened by speeches given by Sir Adam Roberts, President of British Academy, and H.E. Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to the UK.

In Session One on ‘the Chinese in Europe’, Philip Kuhn, Harvard University, began with the phases of the Chinese diaspora in the case of Wenzhou’s economic development by looking at the poor in China’s internal migration. Pal Nyiri, University of Amsterdam, then discussed the Chinese population in Europe and how their lives are affected by China’s rising power on the world stage. Flemming Christiansen, University of Duisurg-Essen examined the precarious situation of Chinese migrant workers in Europe.

In Session Two entitled ‘China in European Politics’, Kerry Brown, Chatham House, addressed the evolution and increasing complexity of EU-China relations in the last two decades, and the extent to which both sides could learn from each other despite their fundamental difference. Fraser Cameron, Director of the EU-Asia Centre, discussed the ‘disappointment, disillusionment and misperceptions’ on both sides, in particular, towards establishing the so-called ‘strategic partnership’. He suggested that the main problem was the asymmetry of political systems and mutual ignorance/misunderstandings. It would require more understanding of each other’s history, culture and values to make such a partnership really meaningful. Börje Ljunggren, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, noted that China’s authoritarian regime has shown considerable resilience and flexibility in keeping its one-party system during its extraordinary economic progress in the past twenty years. Europe lacked a coherent strategy to push China towards more political reforms. Peimin Xin, Director of the Keck Centre for International and Strategic Studies (USA), argued that China’s economic growth has slowed down and would face mounting problems (demography, lack of skills, etc); consequently, there would be discontinuities in the Chinese political system in the next 20 years. Charles Grant, Centre for European Reform, said that China was keener on economic global governance than security governance. Beijing wanted to keep all its options open and was wedded to sovereignty.

Session Three focused on the economic dimension. Jan Knoerich, University of Oxford, looked at the recent rise of Chinese investment in EU member states and argued that the presence of Chinese companies is beneficial to Europe. John Farnell, University of Oxford EU Visiting Fellow, talked about the interdependence of the EU and China in industrial economies and highlighted key problems and gaps in areas such as market access for trade and investment, protection of intellectual property and competition policy. Patrick Tilbury, Asiatical, looked at the relations between ‘money and politics’, and argued that more attention should be given to Chinese domestic politics when discussing China’s trade and investment abroad. Meb Somani, Barclays, discussed Chinese overseas investment through the prism of natural resources, specifically supply of energy and materials. In the age of transforming global demand growth, China has become a meaningful provider of capital for investment in energy and mineral production. Victotria de Grazia, Columbia University, looked at the ‘Chinesification’ of European consumption against the backdrop of a rising Chinese hegemony and European decline.

In Session Four ‘Digital China’, Rebecca Mackinnon, New America Foundation, looked at the emergence of Chinese ‘networked authoritarianism’ and highlighted the difficulties companies faced to support genuine empowerment and accountable governance. Marina Svensson, Lund University, discussed China’s new journalistic practices and challenges on Weibo (China’s Facebook), as well as how different groups of people link up each other on Weibo. Daniela Stockmann, Leiden University, looked at who is using the internet to seek and exchange political information in China. She concluded that there were significant differences in opinions voiced online depending on which communication channel people turn to, those who seek and discuss political information online tend to be more affluent and educated media consumers.

Conclusion: this was a fascinating conference that provided not only high-quality papers but also very good discussion sessions, enriched by the presence of numerous key policy-makers with direct experience of dealing with China over the past decades.