China Minor Programme at the University of Lapland

In today’s post, the Finnish China Law Centre will be introducing a minor programme offered at the University of Lapland, titled “China: Domestic, Global and Arctic Trajectories”. Spearheaded by Professor Matti Nojonen, the programme adopts an interdisciplinary approach when considering the relationship between domestic driving forces within China, its visions of globalisation as well as its escalating engagement in the Arctic Regions. Upon completion of the course, students will be expected to be equipped with the proficiency of meta-cognitive skills in conceptualizing the distinctive Chinese domestic realities. Through that, it is expected that students will have a better proficiency when interacting with Chinese companies and institutions in the global and regional context, particularly that of the Arctic region.

This minor programme has a scope of 25 ECTS credits, where the following six courses, each granting 5 ECTS credits upon completion are being offered.

1. Chinese Culture and History 

The course offers a critical and pluralist view on the history and culture of China, which encompasses the intersectionalities underlying the continuity and discontinuity of institutions, virtues and culture on a meta-level, and how that continues to affect nation building in modern China.

2. China’s Political System and China as a Global Actor

The course discusses the recent development of China which allows its ascension from a global actor to great power through a political lens by analyzing the role of the Party and other institutions. It seeks to provide the perspective where the Arctic as a region is not immune to the ambition of China’s strategy and policies which is driven by both economic and political actors.

3. China – Business and State

This course aims to explore the issues influencing the economic development, business practices and strategic behavior of China. A critical examination of how traditional culture shapes market and business behavior is undertaken. This courses also seeks to analyse the growing Chinese economic activities and presence in the Arctic region from both state-endorsed and private involvements through investments and tourism.

4. Chinese Society – China and Media

The course provides a multidimensional analysis of the role and forms of media and how that shapes interactions in daily life. The role of “parallel” media companies is studied in relation to their connection with the Party and censorship machine in China. Furthermore, the demography of social media users is given attention in highlighting the dynamics between freedom of speech and censorship.

5. Legal Culture and Legal System in Chinese Society

The course focuses on the question of a Chinese understanding of the rule of law through a historical and theoretical lens. Furthermore, a contextual approach is taken whereby each year a particular sector of legal development in China will be studied in detail through the intersectionality of culture, institutions and politics.

6. Chinese Language 

The course aims to provide students with the basic knowledge of Chinese language and related cultural issues.

The course welcomes the participation of all degree and exchange students at the University of Lapland and Open University. The courses run throughout the academic year. Therefore, students will have the flexibility of taking individual modules from the programme or participate in the entire minor programme. The flexibility of the course is also extended to students from other disciplines where there are no pre-requisites that are required for their participation in the course.

The language of instruction for all modules and materials used in the programme is in English. The studies employ a wide variety of pedagogical approaches in the forms of lectures, seminars, movies and media analyses, related literature as well as a flipped-classroom approach, encouraging engagement beyond the chalk-and-talk settings. Aware of the virtue of partnership, the university often invites guest researchers from partner universities to deliver guest lectures to complement the learning of the students.

The programme has been running for four years now and has attracted 535 students.

More information on the course can be found at the University of Lapland’s website and weboodi.

This blog post was written by the Center’s intern, Mr. Kelvin Choo Wei Cheng. Kelvin is a undergraduate student at the University of Warwick, and an exchange student at University of Helsinki for the autumn and spring terms 2019-2020.

 

The Rise of China and Normative Transformation in the Arctic Region

Sanna Kopra Helsingissä 15.05. 2019. Compic/Kimmo Brandt

In today’s post, the Finnish China Law Center is pleased to introduce the research project ‘The Rise of China and Normative Transformation in the Arctic Region’ led by Dr. Sanna Kopra, Academy of Finland post-doctoral researcher in the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland, visiting scholar in Aleksanteri Institute at the University of Helsinki, and Senior Fellow at the Arctic Institute.

The project was awarded €237,970.00 by the Academy of Finland, and is hosted by the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, one of the member institutions of the Finnish China Law Center.

The research not only addresses China’s interests and activities in the Arctic, but also investigates the normative transformation those activities may support or initiate in the Arctic region. The project asks, with China’s growing role in the area, what kind of impacts it could have in the normative framework in the Arctic, what kind of norms China wants to promote or not to promote in the regional, and how the existing governance framework, particularly the Arctic Council, has addressed China’s involvement in the region. The project’s key concept is the notion of responsibility. Thus, it also examines China’s notion of responsibility in the Arctic, whether it is deferred from the one formulated by other Arctic players, especially the 8 Arctic states, and whether there is some normative discourse or differentiation between the non-Arctic states and Arctic states, etc.

Regarding research methodology, Dr. Kopra mainly uses content analysis and discourse analysis. Having a strong interest in history, she aims to combine also the historical approach to shed light on the historical evolution of the normative framework and notion of responsibility in the Arctic.

As part of the project, Dr. Kopra spent two months on a research exchange at the University of Tromsø in Norway during 2019. ‘It was a good academic exchange. It helped me develop new ideas, receive helpful feedback, and get new information and data’, she said.  She plans to conduct a research visit to Iceland next spring.

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INTRODUCING NEW VISITING PROFESSOR BJÖRN AHL

The Finnish China Law Center is pleased to welcome Professor Björn Ahl who will start as the new part-time visiting professor at the University of Helsinki from October 2020.

Björn Ahl is Professor and Chair of Chinese Legal Culture at the University of Cologne. He is also President of the European China Law Studies Association (ECLS).

Professor Ahl has vast experience in China law research. His research focuses on constitutional development, in particular on judicial reforms and rights litigation, in China. Chinese administrative law and practice of public international law are a further focal point of his research. Moreover, his areas of interest include comparative law, legal transfers, and legal culture, which are related to Greater China and Chinese legal development.

Professor Ahl will collaborate with the Center in multiple areas of Chinese law such as comparative law, public law, social credit system, court practice, and Chinese interpretation of international law. The collaboration aims at advancing research in Chinese law at the European level.

PROFESSOR JUHA KARHU ON THE NEW CHINESE CIVIL CODE – PART II

Today’s blog post will feature the second part of the Center’s interview with Professor Juha Karhu about his thoughts on the civil law codification project in China.

In this part, the interview focuses on the advantages and disadvantages of civil law codification, Professor Karhu’s special interest in the rights in rem discussion, and his advice for the teaching of the Chinese civil code to non-Chinese students.

Advantages and disadvantages of codification

Professor Karhu points out that prior to the Chinese civil code, various areas of civil law were already regulated in special pieces of legislation, i.e. Contract Law, Law of Real Rights, Marriage Law, Adoption Law, Inheritance Law, etc. There is no doubt that special legislation would make it simpler to target each legal problem individually and to amend the law when the desired outcome is not reached. This advantage could be lost with the codification of civil law since the Chinese legislator may close the door to making of special legislation in areas where the civil code is applicable. It is doubtful whether every problem could be solved on the basis of the general and abstract rules that form the backbone of any civil code.

One of the challenging issues, in Professor Karhu´s opinion, would be regulating digital behaviors. How would the questions regarding new digital forms of business, digital ways of interaction, social media, and so on be properly decided on the ground of such general and abstract rules? Nevertheless, special laws do not have the same unity as a civil code, and conflicts between the provisions of individual laws are inevitable. A civil code would help to mitigate these problems. Furthermore, a civil code would have the advantage of giving more weight to political, economic, and social decisions in China as long as such decisions are in line with the civil code and can be backed up by an article of the code.

Rights in rem and the civil code discussions

Professor Karhu is especially interested in following the discussions in China on the question of ownership or, more precisely, rights in rem. Private property is protected in China, but not in the same manner as in Western countries. For instance, private ownership of land is not recognized in the draft Chinese civil code. However, under rights in rem, there are rights to the land even if there is no private land ownership. This concept contains interesting Chinese characteristics. One of them flows from imperial China’s administration of land title according to which peasants and farmers could still develop certain rights on the soil of the land since skillful farmers would raise the value of the soil. The same concept did not exist in the European feudal systems.

This example also demonstrates that rights in rem are not so foreign to Chinese culture and history. Therefore, it is very important to look at how rights in rem will find their role in the development of Chinese society and economy, and what the proper level of protection and various forms of protection of private property are, particularly since these rights have defined business contexts and played an essential role in business financing as collaterals.

Teaching and the Chinese civil code

Professor Karhu has a lot of experience in teaching Chinese law. During February 2020, he taught the course ‘Chinese Civil Code 2020 – A Dream Come True?’ at the School of Law and Economy of China, Faculty of Law and Administration of the University of Warsaw. He observes that some foreign students tend to think they could learn about Chinese law simply by reading legal texts, underestimating the roles of history, culture, and politics. The truth is that no law anywhere could be taken separately from the legal culture.

Throughout his many academic visits to China, Karhu realizes that the key to teaching Chinese law is to make sure that students understand the learning tasks in such a way that these tasks involve not only reading the text of the law but understanding the legal culture as a part of Chinese culture. He also emphasizes the importance of encouraging students to be open-minded and ask questions instead of making assumptions tacitly based on their own society.

 

Juha Karhu, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Lapland, Finland was Professor of Contract Law and Tort Law at the Law Faculty of the University of Lapland during 1993-2017. He was also Dean of the Law Faculty from 2013 to 2017. His research focuses on the foundations of commercial law, including themes like the role of legal principles in dynamic contractual networks, the methods of calculating damages in business relations, the legal protection of business assets in cooperation projects, and the role of fundamental and human rights in new global economy. His research is characterized by strong comparative perspectives. His international contacts include University of Munster (Germany), Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (London), University of Gothenburg (where he was part-time Visiting Professor 2012-2016), and Indian Development Foundation (New Delhi, one month in 2015). Professor Karhu was also active in building up his expertise on Chinese legal system, and relations with Chinese Law Schools (especially Renmin University of China School of Law). He is the honorary doctor of University of Gothenburg and University of Turku. He was also awarded the price of “Academic Lawyer of the Year” in 2019 by the Finnish Society of Lawyers, with special notice to his role in developing the co-operation between Finnish and Chinese universities and legal institutions.

 

 

Professor Juha Karhu on the new Chinese Civil Code – Part I

In 2014, the civil law codification entered a new stage in China when the Central Committee of the Communist Party called for a new round of compilation in its Decisions on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Moving Governing the Country According to the Law Forward. The entire draft civil code shall be presented to the Congress in 2020 for the final legislative step.

In light of this development, the Finnish China Law Center had the pleasure to invite Juha Karhu, Professor (emeritus) of Contract Law and Tort Law at the Law Faculty of the University of Lapland, and the pioneer of China law research and Chinese network development in Finland, on an interview about his view on the central topics concerning civil law codification in China.

This first part of the interview discusses the motivations behind the new round of civil law codification in China, and the influence of Western law on the Chinese draft civil code.

Motivations behind civil law codification in China

According to Professor Karhu, there are three kinds of reasons behind China’s latest attempt at codification of civil law: historical reasons, political reasons and economic reasons.

Firstly, historically it is worth noticing that it takes decades to build a long-lasting civil code. In Europe, the civil codes have existed for centuries, for example, in France, the civil code has been around for over 200 years and in Germany over 100 years. Since the 1950s, there have been many attempts to draft a civil code for the People’s Republic of China, and the current round was finally taken up by the Communist Party leadership in 2014. Thus, the codification is not a novel idea but it has become a gradual process in recent Chinese history. While the previous plans were not successful, they have in effect written the key parts of the civil law legislation.

Secondly, for some, it came as a surprise that China was able to build a civil code, but Professor Karhu, having had a particular interest in various parts of Chinese civil law, could see that even during the drafting process of Contract Law, the Law of Rights in rem, and the Tort Liability Law, it was taken into consideration that the pieces of legislation would, later on, form a part of a wider civil code. Therefore, the development towards a Chinese civil code has not happened by chance, but through purposeful planning. The code strengthens the legal background of Chinese economic activities.

Lastly, from a political point of view, it has been over 40 years since China’s Reform and Opening Up in 1978. The 2014 decision of compiling a new civil code by the Chinese Communist Party reflects the idea that it was now the time to signalize economic actors both inside and outside the country that the Chinese economy has established itself so far and so strongly that writing this kind of civil code is possible. The code is of course not only for economic actors but for all Chinese people. However, Professor Karhu emphasizes that one of the main emphases has been to enable businesses and market transactions.

Influence of Western law on the Chinese draft civil code

Commenting on the influence of Western law, Professor Karhu first points out that many Western scholars, while quite knowledgeable about the Chinese legal system, tend to assume that China has adopted entire civil law models from their home countries whenever they find some similar conceptual structures, principles, and rules in the draft code. He does not believe that this is a good way to comprehend the Chinese civil code. It is obvious that to be part of the global economy, China has borrowed certain standards that come from other countries. Nevertheless, as the Chinese civil code is first and foremost a code for the people of the PRC, the Chinese characteristics are conspicuous. For example, the Chinese draft civil code employs a three-year standard duration of limitation of actions, instead of the present two years. The reasons for this change are following. Since it has been only  a little more than 40 years after the Opening Up period, the Chinese people have not been fully  accustomed to the regulations and legal norms, as well as all legal procedures to have their interests heard, which is why a two-year period would be insufficient. Meanwhile, two years would not be too short for Europeans who have been living for centuries under their civil rules.

 

Juha Karhu, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Lapland, Finland was Professor of Contract Law and Tort Law at the Law Faculty of the University of Lapland during 1993-2017. He was also Dean of the Law Faculty from 2013 to 2017. His research focuses on the foundations of commercial law, including themes like the role of legal principles in dynamic contractual networks, the methods of calculating damages in business relations, the legal protection of business assets in cooperation projects, and the role of fundamental and human rights in new global economy. His research is characterized by strong comparative perspectives. His international contacts include University of Munster (Germany), Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (London), University of Gothenburg (where he was part-time Visiting Professor 2012-2016), and Indian Development Foundation (New Delhi, one month in 2015). Professor Karhu was also active in building up his expertise on Chinese legal system, and relations with Chinese Law Schools (especially Renmin University of China School of Law). He is the honorary doctor of University of Gothenburg and University of Turku. He was also awarded the price of “Academic Lawyer of the Year” in 2019 by the Finnish Society of Lawyers, with special notice to his role in developing the co-operation between Finnish and Chinese universities and legal institutions.

 

The Artic Institute’s China Series

In today’s post, the Finnish China Law Center would like to introduce the China Series created by the Arctic Institute.

The Arctic Institute is an interdisciplinary and independent think tank with a mission of developing solutions for challenges in the circumpolar north by providing data, analysis, and recommendations to policymakers, researchers, and the public.

Over the past decade, China has shown an irrefutable growth of involvement in the Arctic region. In light of this development, the Arctic Institute launched the China Series which will offer a comprehensive account of China’s policies and interests in the Arctic. The China Series will consist of numerous articles and commentaries on China’s Arctic involvement from the angles of politics, economy, environment and social impact.

In January of 2018, a white paper titled “China’s Arctic Policy” was published by  the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. It solidified and expressed China’s interest in the region by setting policy goals and plans for participation by the government. The policy goal is simply stated as understanding, protecting, developing and participating in the governance of the Arctic, so as to safeguard the common interests of all countries and the international community in the Arctic, and promote sustainable development of the Arctic. It also sets China up as “near-Arctic state” thus giving it rights in the region to conduct scientific research, navigate, perform flyovers, fish, lay submarine cables and pipelines, and even explore and exploit natural resources in the Arctic high seas.

At the time this blog post is written, the first four texts have been published in the China Series. They cover China’s involvement in Greenland, China’s black carbon emissions, US concerns about Chinese threats in the Arctic, and China’s Arctic identity. The first article “The tortuous path of China’s win-win strategy in Greenland” by Marco Volpe (MSc.) examines the improvement of bilateral relationships between China and the Arctic States by investing into the regions, doing joint research and taking on environmental and safety challenges. The second text “Reducing China’s Black Carbon Emissions: An Arctic Dimension” by Yulia Yamineva (PhD, senior researcher at the Centre for Climate, Energy and Environmental Law, University of Eastern Finland) takes an environmental angle and delves into China’s black carbon emissions. The text challenges China’s policy on black carbon emissions and highlights the importance of future co-operation because of the vast possible impact globally. The third text goes into the risks relating to China joining the “race to the North”. Titled “Defining the Chinese threat in the Arctic” and written by Yun Sun (Co-Director of the East Asia Program and Director of the China Program at the Stimson Center), it highlights how the Arctic is becoming a new domain of the power struggle between the United States and China. The fourth text of the series “Identity and Relationship-Building in China’s Arctic Diplomacy” by Marc Lanteigne (Associate Professor of Political Science at UiT-The Arctic University of Norway) touches on the importance of the relationships of China and other stakeholders in the Arctic and the identity China is forming as a part of its Arctic diplomacy.

According to the Arctic Institute, the articles will help facilitate cooperation with China in the region by promoting the understanding of the political, economic, and environmental dimensions of China’s Arctic engagement. Currently, China is involved in mostly an economic capacity through a multitude of projects such as infrastructure and mining operations. In contrast, the governance involvement of China has been rather limited. The underlying message of the China Series seems to be that it is the job of policymakers to harness this presence for the good of the region.

This blog post was written by one of the Center’s interns, Jakub Pichna. Jakub is a Master’s student at the University of Helsinki’s International Business Law program with a BSc. in Economics and Business Administration from the University of Turku.

Photo by Bahnfrend

 

New publication: Chinese Policy and Presence in the Arctic

The Finnish China Law Center is pleased to introduce the new book entitled ‘Chinese policy and presence in the Arctic’ edited by Professor Timo Koivurova and Dr. Sanna Kopra from the University of Lapland.

The book was built on and developed from the report titled ‘China in the Arctic; and the Opportunities and Challenges for Chinese-Finnish Arctic Co-operation.’ The report was published in February 2019 as part of the project ‘Finland’s Arctic Council chairmanship in the times of increasing uncertainty’ funded by the Finnish Government’s Analysis, Assessment and Research Activities unit. It drew ample attention among the media and government officials from Finland and abroad, signaling an increased interest in China’s role in the Arctic. This has encouraged the authors to diversify and expand their approach to the theme.

The book offers an overview of China’s economic engagements in the Arctic, China’s policy regarding Arctic governance, and how it has evolved during the past years. It also discusses China’s interests and strategies in the region, and the initiatives the country has offered. It should be noted that the book is centered around economic and governance aspects, rather than the geopolitics implications of China’s involvement in the Arctic and its interaction with other players in the region.

‘Chinese policy and presence in the Arctic’ is the first comprehensive account of China’s endeavors in the Arctic region. ‘The book is unique in the sense that it does not follow the predominant alarmist approach which views China as a threat, but attempts to provide an objective analytical analysis of Chinese Arctic policy’, said Dr. Sanna Kopra. Since extensive reviews of China’s policy and presence in the Arctic are scarce, the book poses as a valuable contribution to the current collection of scholarly work on the topic and a must-read for students and scholars of China studies and Arctic affairs.

The book also offered an opportunity for the authors to focus on the environmental issues relating to China’s presence in the Arctic. The chapter ‘China, Climate Change and the Arctic Environment’ examines in great detail China’s ecological footprint in the Arctic and its role in international efforts to tackle climate change and pollution. ‘This is something that has not been discussed in this length in the existing literature’, added Dr. Sanna Kopra.

The book is available on the publisher’s website at https://brill.com/view/title/55687.

Björn Ahl and the pursuit of interest in Chinese law research

Björn Ahl is Professor and Chair of Chinese Legal Culture at the University of Cologne. He currently holds the position of President of the European China Law Studies Association. The Finnish China Law Center had the pleasure to conduct an interview with him on his personal experience and recommendations for students and young professionals in researching Chinese law.

Professor Ahl began with his law studies at the University of Heidelberg in the 1990s and spent one year at the Law School of Nanjing University as an exchange student to improve his Chinese and take classes in Chinese law. According to him, foreign students in Chinese law schools were very rare at that time. ‘It was quite an open atmosphere among students, and we had fascinating discussions about Chinese and international law issues’, he reminisced. After finishing his law studies in Germany, he worked for some time at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg, and then went back to Nanjing University to become the Associate Director of the Sino German Institute of Legal Studies. The interactions with Chinese colleagues and students during these times and being able to witness Chinese law’s rapid development had profoundly shaped his interests at this early stage of his career.

The focuses of Professor Ahl’s research include Chinese public law, comparative law and Chinese positions on public international law, and his main interests have always been comparative law and public international law. In his doctoral dissertation, he studied the application of international treaties in China. Since then, Chinese scholarship of public international law and Chinese state practice of public international law have become more and more relevant and complex topics.

During his teaching and research in Cologne, Professor Ahl has contextualized Chinese law by applying a concept of legal culture in order to tackle the challenges of studying Chinese law from an external and comparative perspective. He observed that while the context of law is regularly omitted in doctrinal legal research that takes an internal, participant-oriented approach to its object of study, external factors are more relevant for the understanding of foreign law if the people who study such law do not share the same preconceptions and preconceived attitudes as those who create and apply the law. Therefore, an approach to the research of Chinese law that is specifically sensitive to the historical, political, economic and institutional conditions of the creation, application and enforcement of law appears most suitable to avoid misconceptions and misrepresentations about the meaning and operation of Chinese law.

When being asked about the methodologies for conducting research in the field of Chinese law from the perspective of a foreign researcher, he pointed out that the answer to this question depends on the research question that the researcher wishes to pursue. However, if one likes to investigate a doctrinal question, he suggested that the researcher should not entirely omit context factors, in particular, if he or she takes a comparative approach. Otherwise, the researcher may end up with false or misleading results. He contended that this applies to the study of any foreign jurisdiction and does not pertain exclusively to Chinese law.

The interview concluded with Professor Ahl’s advice for students and young professionals wanting to go into researching Chinese law. He remarked that the fundamental basis of any meaningful research in Chinese law is a good proficiency in Chinese language. The next asset would excellent training in Chinese law. He recommended enrolling in a Chinese law school through an exchange programme as the most practical way to have the first exposure to Chinese law. He additionally noted that it would be very useful to get an insight into how law works in practice, which can be done through an internship in a Chinese law firm.

The Centre hereby takes the chance to express our gratitude to Professor Ahl for taking the time to participate in our Featured Researchers interview series.

Belt and Road Initiative in Russia and Kazakhstan

On Wednesday 4 March 2020, a partner of the Finnish China Law Center, the Confucius Institute at the University of Helsinki held a seminar on the topic of ‘Belt and Road Initiative in Russia and Kazakhstan’.

Considering that 7 years have passed since the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was introduced by President Xi Jinping at Nazarbayev University in 2013 and there has been increasing awareness of this project and suspicion of its exact impact and influence, the Seminar aimed to provide up-to-date views and perspectives of two experts from Russia and Kazakhstan regarding the BRI.

Professor Julie Yu-Wen Chen, Professor of Chinese Studies and Director of Confucius Institute, opened the Seminar.

The Seminar began with a presentation on  ‘The Belt and Road Initiative: Views from Russia’ from Professor Nikolay Samoylov (St. Petersburg State University). Professor Samoylov remarked that the Russian Government regards the BRI as having economic and political significance since boosting Russia and China’s relation and promoting alignment of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Silk Road Economic Belt are elements of the BRI. For Russian politicians and leaders, the future of the Eurasian Economic Union is very important, and they wish to connect it with the Chinese BRI.

He added that the BRI is becoming an increasingly crucial aspect of China and Russia’s cooperation as shown through the active negotiation and consultation process of promoting Eurasian economic integration within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Silk Road Economic Belt. In 2017, the Eurasian Economic Commission drew up a list of prioritized projects to be implemented by Eurasian countries in support of the Silk Road Economic Belt project. A majority of these projects involve the construction of new roads and modernization of existing roads, establishment of transport and logistic centers, and development of key transport hubs. Russia has proposed 3 main logistic projects, including the construction of a high-speed railway between Beijing and Europe, motorway connecting China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, and Europe, and development of the Northern sea route. Professor Samoylov noted that Russia has set out the goal that over the next 6 years, it shall increase the full capacity of the Baikal – Amur Main Line and the trans-Siberian railway to 880 million tonnes per year, cut fright delivery time from far East to the Western border of Russia to 7 days, increase the volume of transit of shipments on Russian railways almost four-folds, thus turning the country into a global leader in cross Asia transit shipping. Therefore, these projects are especially significant to Russia.

Professor Nikolay Samoylov on Russia’s views toward the Belt and Road Initiative

Over the past 5 years, Russian international relation experts have produced a large quantity of academic and expert publications and debates designed to explain the BRI to the society and political elites. There is a firm opinion that the implementation of the BRI would inevitably strengthen China’s influence in the Central Asia region. However, some expert groups opine that the Silk Road Economic Belt is essential for changing the entire global geopolitics. They are convinced that Russia should retain the role of a regional leader in Central Asia and that integration with the Silk Road Economic Belt is not an obstacle, but a facilitating factor. Others view Beijing’s actions not as an opportunity but a threat to Russian national defense. In between these two extreme trends, another group tries to explain Beijing’s actions through their own interpretation of social-economic goals in China. They contend that China’s priority is to solve China’s social-economic task which is not possible without an active foreign policy. This task focuses on 3 areas: creating new transport and logistic infrastructure to link Europe and Asia via Russia, directing Chinese investment in the high-tech industry and engaging China through investment, loan, and technology, implementation of projects that use new instruments for the development of Russian Far East and northern sea route.

The Seminar continued with a second presentation titled ‘How is BRI Playing in Kazakhstan? Findings from a Survey’ by Professor Chris Primiano (KIMEP University) which focused on Kazakhstan and particularly how students at KIMEP University view the BRI. Professor Primiano explained that university students in Kazakhstan represent the future elites and so it is important to get engaged with students at KIMEP, one of the leading universities in Kazakhstan to understand how they view the Chinese BRI.

Professor Primiano observed that there is tremendous discontent in Kazakhstan directed at China for two main reasons being Chinese FDI and the situation in Xinjiang with the vocational camps. The Chinese FDI comes with Chinese workers in contrast to western FDI. In order to accept one of these infrastructure projects the host government also accepts Chinese workers. The perception of jobs being taken away from locals in Kazakhstan and that the Chinese workers are benefiting more than Kazakhstani nationals create a good amount of push-back. The actions of China in Xinjiang also add to the disapproval from certain segments of Kazakhstan since there have been many ethnic Kazakhs or Kazakhstani nationals who have been in these vocational camps.

Professor Chris Primiano on how students at KIMEP University view the BRI

The survey by Professor Primiano and his colleagues aims at finding out whether participants view the BRI as a win-win/mutually beneficial situation, or as China benefiting itself at the expense of Kazakhstan. The survey questions were related to demographic variables (age, gender, income, rural or urban, etc) and attitudinal variables impacting one’s views on the BRI i.e. What are their views on democracy? and Do they equate democracy with economic development than with political rights?

Some general trends can be inferred from the survey. Those whose parents earn higher incomes viewed China more favorably. Those whose parents have higher education view China in a more positive way. The students who equate democracy with economic development would view China more positively and those who equate democracy with social or political rights concept will have a negative take on China. The people spending more time reading and watching TV news tended to have a more unfavorable view of China.

Professor Primiano explained that the survey employed both open-ended and closed-ended questions, for example: What do you associate with China? Why is China involved in Central Asia with infrastructure and development projects? And does the BRI create a win-win for Kazakhstan? etc. Regarding the first question, 206 of the respondents had positive views about China’s BRI, associating it with advancing globalization, trade and mutual benefits. 27% wrote that BRI was about neo-colonialism with China benefiting at the expense of other countries. Some respondents said they ‘never heard of this’ or ‘do not know anything about the BRI.’ On the second question, less than 3% of the participants replied that the BRI was not mainstream in Central Asia. The majority said that China’s purpose was its own interests only. 30% opined that it was to advance the interests of China and other countries in Central Asia. The remaining 11% answered with ‘don’t know’ or ‘not sure.’ Relating to the third question, 60% felt that they lack proper information to comment on the matter.

To sum up about the survey, Professor Primiano remarked that a strong majority were not well aware of this initiative while surprisingly, China selected Kazakhstan as a place to announce BRI and there have been significant investments and tremendous funding from China. In the future, survey experiments will be done with treatment and control groups provided with additional information on the BRI.

China-related contents via Kanopy video streaming service

The University of Helsinki, a member institution of the Finnish China Law Center, has arranged trial access to Kanopy video streaming service. Students and researchers at the University may access Kanopy through Helka-database with the username and password that has been provided by the Helsinki University Library.

Kanopy offers thousands of films, movies, documentaries and educational videos on over 80 subjects, including Asian studies. It, thus, presents a great alternative for Chinese law and legal culture enthusiasts during this exceptional situation where campus libraries as well as all learning facilities are closed.

Through the streaming service, students and researchers can select among a wide variety of contents which document China’s history and transformation from developing nation to the world’s next largest economy, investigation into Chinese political, economic and social systems, and understanding of Chinese traditional and contemporary culture and society.

Some key topics covered include:

  • China’s history
  • China’s Industrial Development
  • China’s world role China in Africa, Europe, Latin America
  • China’s political system
  • Internet censorship in China
  • Chinese economy
  • Businesses in China
  • China’s social development
  • Women in China
  • Conditions in rural China
  • China’s urban migration
  • Air and water crisis in China
  • Renewable energy in China
  • Education in China
  • Chinese law and criminal justice
  • Human rights in China

Professor Duncan McCargo and his Journey in Understanding Southeast Asian Politics

Hailing from the UK, Professor Duncan McCargo has spent extended periods of time across South East Asia and has produced remarkable work in the fields of political science and justice especially with regards to Thailand. He currently holds the position of Director of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, whilst continuing to teach and research as a professor of political science at the University of Copenhagen. The Finnish China Law Centre had the pleasure to welcome Professor McCargo to the University of Helsinki in October 2019 when he came to deliver a guest lecture at the Confucius Institute on recent trends in Asian politics. The Centre is privileged to conduct a more in-depth interview with him, focusing on his intellectual journey and views on researching South-East Asian politics as well as its challenges and opportunities.

Professor McCargo’s unorthodox exposure to South East Asia started during his travels to Thailand and Burma in his undergraduate years back in the 1980s. According to him, there were not many students from Europe visiting the region during that time. As a young, aspiring travel enthusiast, he was very intrigued by the people that he encountered. Idealism and curiosity led him into his quest of trying to comprehend the unfamiliar. Upon graduation, he went to teach in Japan for a couple of years but eventually concluded that Thailand appealed to him more. He then went back to Thailand and underwent intensive immersion, where he lived with a local family and studied the Thai language intensively.

Professor McCargo has contextualised the political and legal landscape of Thailand as one that is characterised by political problems where military coups, constitution changes and political crises are a common phenomenon. He has further pointed out the judicialisation phenomenon of politics in Thailand following two 2006 speeches given by the King, in which he urged judges to solve political problems. Thereafter, the centre of gravity in Thai politics shifted to judges and court cases. Through the courts, political decisions were made, where court cases are brought against politicians, eventually resulting in them being banned from office and parties being dissolved. Professor McCargo conducted a year’s ethnographic fieldwork in Bangkok, much of it spent in courtrooms. His latest book addressing these issues is Fighting for Virtue, Justice and Politics in Thailand (Cornell University Press, 2019); and related articles are on the way.

Another project Professor McCargo is working on centers around the 2019 election in Thailand and mainly deals with developments around the election and the creation of new parties. He is now writing a new book with one of his former PhD students on the rise and fall of the Future Forward Party, which was recently dissolved by the Constitutional Court.

Professor Duncan McCargo and Professor Ulla Liukkunen, Director of the Finnish China Law Center

When being asked of his views on the prospects of studying Asia, he has framed the current era as being the Pacific century, where the centre of power has shifted away from the United States and Western Europe. Professor McCargo highlights how many many global trends in contemporary politics such as populism, polarization, direct communication of authoritarian leaders to its subjects and the decline of political parties had their origins in South East Asia. This not only serves as a paradigm shift in the contextualisation of Asia as a peripheral area of the world, but it illustrates how Asian countries can be studied from a comparative perspective alongside their Western counterparts.

Professor McCargo does not find the idea of a distinction between ‘East’ and ‘West’ analytically useful, and is reluctant to be labelled with any particular approach. He believes all that matters is quality of academic work, which is not restricted to any specific styles or methodologies.

As a proponent of qualitative field-based work, Professor McCargo believes linguistic and cultural fluency are essential, since they allow researchers to communicate directly with their research subjects. This is seen in one his previous projects on the southern Thai insurgency : he spent a year driving around the region talking to hundreds of informants, using an approach derived from political ethnography. Despite criticisms of such approaches by many political scientists as being too time-consuming and subjective, McCargo argues that qualitative and quantitative data can and should complement each other. Cross-checking with documentary sources may be done to verify the validity of a narrative.

Commenting on the inherent sensitivity of certain research topics, Professor McCargo notes that he has often benefited from the willingness of interview informants to share important information with him as a researcher. Some Southeast Asian informants see academics as potential allies in communicating their experiences and messages to the wider world. McCargo notes that for most of his professional career Thailand has been a relatively open society where informants feel relatively free to speak out – making it an easier place to conduct fieldwork than some other Asian countries. The presence of large numbers of foreign tourists means that outsiders have become a familiar sight in Thailand, rather than a cause for concern.

On a concluding note, Professor McCargo talked about the challenges of getting social scientists to change their perception that studying Asia is a minority pursuit, when in reality the majority of the world’s population lives in the non-western world. The study of Southeast Asian politics tends to be viewed as a niche field within the discipline of comparative politics, yet this work actually has a much broader intellectual reach as Asia becomes increasingly salient both politically and economically.

The Centre hereby takes the chance to express our gratitude for his time and his interview and looks forward to working with him soon in future projects.

The interview and report were done by the Center’s intern, Mr. Kelvin Choo Wei Cheng. Kelvin is a undergraduate student at the University of Warwick, and an exchange student at University of Helsinki for the autumn and spring terms 2019-2020.