Editor’s Note: As the drumbeat of China’s rise and outward investment continued in 2019, this was a year marked by spikes in tensions. Among them: the U.S.-China trade conflict crescendoed with tariff hikes through Q2 and Q3, before abating at end of year; students returning from studies in China were viewed with suspicion; Chinese telecommunications and AI technology continued to be a powerful and sometimes dividing force; and prolonged activism broke out in Hong Kong. Looking back at an exciting 2019, we selected a few insightful and eye-opening interviews and features which demonstrate the wide lens of perspectives from the global China-watching community. To have your say, take our “YCW Pulse” until 5 January 2020 and share your views of a rising China here!

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Politics

Parag Khanna,founder of FutureMap, tells YCW why it is increasingly clear that China will not succeed in dominating Asia. According to Parag, China’s rise is accelerating the rise or return of Asian multipolarity because it is inspiring others to stand up for themselves in patterns that are not uncommon in Asian history. He also compares China’s rise to America’s rise one century ago.

 
 
2019 sparked a series of increasingly violent protests in Hong Kong, which have created an atmosphere of uncertainty in China’s periphery. YCW Podcast host Sam interviewed Kris Cheng, Editorial Director and Writer at Hong Kong Free Press. Sam and Kris discussed the factors of the persistent protests, compare them to activism in 2014 and address the Hong Kong government’s relationship with Beijing.

 

Economy

Johan Van de Ven, Senior Analyst at RWR Advisory Group, spoke to YCW about the progress of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and perceptions of China’s “debt trap diplomacy” model throughout the world. He discusses data which shows that BRI-related activity peaked in 2015, before declining steadily since then, and touches on the continued reluctance on the part of the Chinese government to provide sectoral or geographical definition of BRI.

 

Insa Ewert, a member of YCW Global Editorial Team, examines the collective and individual approaches towards China in the EU. She finds that the EU and its Member States are willing to take more measures to protect their own interests, despite potential retaliation from China. But as a recent Joint Communication states, Europe’s approach towards China needs to be more realistic, assertive, and multi-faceted to adapt to shifting economic and geopolitical realities.

 

Andrew Polk, Founding Partner of Trivium China, provided his predictions for 2019, including that China will continue to open its financial system to foreign participation, contain leverage in the economy and incentivize the financial system to offer credit to small, private companies will continue to move forward. On balance, he sees China on a trajectory of 开放 (kaifang, or opening up), but perhaps not so much genuine 改革 (gaige, or reform).

 

International Security

Midway through the first season of YCW Podcast, host Sam spoke with Oriana Skylar Mastro, author of “The Costs of Conversation: Obstacles to Peace Talks in Wartime”, about a framework to explain why states do not engage diplomatically with their adversaries. She explores escalation, inducements to negotiation, and the danger of perceived weakness in the context of the U.S. and China.

 
 

Lauren Dickey, PhD Candidate, Department of War Studies, King’s College London, outlines Chinese strategic and security strategy towards Taiwan. She argues that China lacks a coherent vision for how reunification can be achieved and what form reunification would take. According to Lauren, the “one country, two systems” approach to reunification is not only no longer feasible—as can be seen in Hong Kong—but lacking an alternative.

 

Society

Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho, Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow at Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, spoke to YCW about Chinese migration and immigration trends and patterns among Chinese diasporas around the world. Elaine ties her research to Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, which she says illuminates the legal precarity that Mainland Chinese migrants might face, as well as how diplomatic tussles between countries can imbricate diasporas.

 

In a must-read interview for anyone interested in Taiwan, Brian Hioe, Founding Editor of New Bloom, argues for the need to view Taiwan beyond a cross-strait lens. He discusses how Chinese influence in Taiwan operates on multiple levels, from ethnicity and migration to pop culture and media influence to overlapping professional links.
 
 

Digitalization and Technology

cwl1In November, YCW Podcast host Sam spoke with Danit Gal, Researcher on Ethics in AI about the relationship between national culture and AI governance in China. She describes her current work on characterizing the Chinese approach to AI ethics, and touches on her theory about the tool-partner spectrum of AI technologies.
 
 

A Global View

In November, YCW and the Lau China Institute of King’s College London held their third YCW-Lau Conference on the theme “PRC at 70: Behind the Headlines.” Speakers from China, the UK, France and Ghana joined nearly 100 attendees to disseminate the latest thinking on Chinese politics, society and history.

 

YCW canvassed its global chapters for their 2019 Summer Reading Recommendations. The list covers our top must-read books on politics, economics, international affairs, business, culture and society for 2019, as well as a few podcast and film recommendations. Among the suggestions is Barbara Finamore’s primer on what and how China is doing in making the transition to a low-carbon economy. Finamore considers China’s climate policy development since the Paris Agreement, as well as Chinese developments in green finance, electric vehicles and renewable energy. At the same time, she is realistic in explaining the immense economic and political challenges to China in making this transition.

 

In 2019, YCW launched a new public resource for China-watchers around the world – the YCW Resource Hub. This is an aggregation of online infographics, datasets, databases, lists and translations, which we hope will be useful for those engaged in research on China. We have endeavoured to post resources that are data-centric and free to access, and will add to this list over time.

 

 
Happy reading (and listening), and we’ll see you in 2020.

 

 

YCW’s Best of 2019
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