Veronika Blablová works as a data analyst for the Czech Republic’s Association for International Affairs (AMO) on two China-focused projects, MapInfluenCE and CHOICE (China Observers in Central and Eastern Europe). She graduated from Security and Strategic Studies at the Faculty of Social Studies at Masaryk University in Brno. Initially, she joined AMO as a research assistant of MapInfluenCE and CHOICE in September 2020. Besides gathering data, she is also currently the project coordinator of CHOICE’s initiative, Future CHOICE, which is aimed at young researchers. She focused on Chinese propaganda in her diploma thesis, namely TV news station, CGTN, and its multiple language variations.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Young China Watchers (YCW): Please give YCW’s community an introduction to your work and what it is like being a young China watcher in Central and Eastern Europe.
Veronika Blablová (VB): I work as a data analyst for two projects – MapInfluenCE and CHOICE (China Observers in Central and Eastern Europe). The first project focuses on uncovering China’s activities in the Visegrád Group countries (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) and the second one, CHOICE, analyzes China’s influence within the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region more broadly. CHOICE is also a platform for discussion, the exchange of ideas, cooperation and joint research. I find this platform very important because the CEE region definitely needs more expertise, as there are not many people focusing on China specifically. In Western Europe, for example, you can see many think tanks and universities having their departments looking at, exploring and analyzing China.
In the CEE region, the situation is different. For example, when I was searching for universities that offer sinology programs or have departments studying China, I found out that there are not many opportunities. Consequently, I can imagine that for the media and journalists, it must be very difficult to find someone who can comment on issues related to China. There is also a lack of research, but I think that it has become much better in recent years and we can see that there are also more research papers coming from the area. But still, compared with the rest of Europe or the U.S., it is very limited, and it needs to be improved.
“I find this platform very important because the CEE region definitely needs more expertise, as there are not many people focusing on China specifically.”
YCW: What are the biggest obstacles to conducting research on China and pursuing a career path in that direction?
VB: Right now, researchers have to rely on written sources, as it is not very easy to get to China given that the country is closed due to the COVID-19 crisis. But, of course, obstacles were there before the pandemic as well. It is not easy to get firsthand experience, become familiar with the local situation and get in touch with people who are in China. Having a connection and cooperation with Chinese counterparts is getting more difficult.
Personally, I struggle with the abundance of information and the inability to read everything because there are so many reports and so many interesting resources. Also, China studies are becoming very interdisciplinary, and it is no longer [only] about understanding Chinese history and its political system and cultural context. You also need to have an idea of how semiconductors work or learn something about vaccines, etc. It can be challenging to navigate this environment and to actually understand it. Thus, I think people need to specialize more than they have done in the past. Gaining a varied experience may be an asset for aspiring researchers, especially because it is not always possible to get an internship focusing specifically on China. Before working for MapInfluenCE and CHOICE, I did not intern for any projects focusing on China, but everything I learned during these internships was very important. For example, I interned at Czech Television, which helped me understand how media works on a daily basis.
YCW: You are the project coordinator of the Future CHOICE Initiative, which is aimed at the development of a new generation of China scholars in the CEE region and beyond. Can you tell us more about this project?
VB: Future CHOICE is a program organized by CHOICE, aiming to foster, support and give opportunities to the promising researchers focusing on China. It is primarily aimed at advanced master students, PhD candidates or post-doctoral researchers from the CEE countries, but we really do not intend to draw a line between the West and the East. The opportunities are equally accessible to anybody from all across Europe or the world. In addition, the Future CHOICE program is not really limited to people who are studying sinology or international relations; it could be interesting for people studying disciplines beyond political sciences, such as economics and law but also technologies or environmental studies.
Future CHOICE offers multiple opportunities. The first one is the possibility to publish articles on the CHOICE website and the second is summer school, which will take place in spring or summer 2022, with a focus on China and CEE relations. The third part of the project is the mentoring sessions, which provide debate and space for discussions that are not found on the internet or in books because they include experience and practical information from experienced researchers working on China-related topics. To be more specific, the first mentoring session, for example, focused on the future of China studies and obstacles that the researchers expect to face, and the second shed more light on the challenges of reporting and pursuing an academic career in China.
YCW: Can you recommend some books or resources in your field to our readers?
VB: I’m a huge podcast fan, so I can share several tips in this area. For example, I can definitely recommend “The China in Africa Podcast,” the “MERICS Expert Podcast,” and “China Global” by Bonnie Glaser. And of course, the podcast “Voice for CHOICE,” recorded by Kevin Curran.
-Interview by Mirela Petkova