Working as Visiting Researcher in Leading Chinese University Gives Fresh Perspectives on China-Africa Relations, Global Governance and International Law

Dr Obert Hodzi, a postdoctoral researcher and Sino-Africa relations scholar in the University of Helsinki, recently returned from a six-week stint as a Visiting Scholar in Renmin University, China. Renmin University is a key partner of the Finnish China Law Center. The strong links between the Center’s 10 member institutions, including the University of Helsinki, and Renmin University are detailed in the Report recently published by the Center.

Upon his return, the Finnish China Law Center took the opportunity to discuss with Dr Hodzi his experience as Visiting Scholar at one of China’s best universities, and to learn more about his current research into Chinese politics and law.

Finnish China Law Center: Congratulations on your appointment as a Visiting Scholar at Renmin University. Before we discuss that experience, could you please say a little about your background?

Dr Hodzi: I’m a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Cultures at the University of Helsinki. Before joining the University of Helsinki, I was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies, Ethiopia. I have also worked for various international and regional organizations in my home country of Zimbabwe, as well as Kenya and Germany on projects about democratic governance and transitional justice.

Finnish China Law Center: Can you explain your main research interests?

Dr Hodzi: I’ve long had an interest in China’s international political and legal engagement, including in relation to Africa. I obtained my PhD from a Chinese university, Lingnan University in Hong Kong, where I researched political and legal aspects of China’s military engagement in Africa. My current research focuses on emerging powers and global governance. In particular, I look at China-Africa security relations and politics in Africa, including the domestic and legal implications of China’s engagement.

Finnish China Law Center: How was your research assisted by working as a Visiting Scholar in China?

Dr Hodzi: Having lived and worked and lived in both China and different Africa has given me a more nuanced understanding of the different political and legal cultures and orders at play across China and throughout Africa. I’ve come to appreciate that reading, discussing and researching about China is nothing compared to seeing it in real life! This certainly was my realization during my research in mainland China. Being able to discuss with scholars, practitioners and other relevant actors in China – both Chinese and from other countries – enriched my research and has opened new avenues of future collaboration for which I am very grateful.

Finnish China Law Center: The Finnish China Law Center recently co-organized the annual China Research Day and Asian Studies Days. The theme of both events was US-Sino relations and the consequences for Asian security. How does your own research bear on this issue, including from the perspective of international law?

Dr Hodzi: This theme is timely and important, and it connects directly with my current and future work. Over the next two years my research focus will be on the Chinese model of development and governance in Asia and Africa. As China gets comfortable in its global primacy role, all roads are leading to Beijing. In the jostling for a piece of the China cake, there is obviously bound to be conflict and contractions regarding international law. For instance, this is seen in the case of the South China Sea dispute, as was discussed during the China Research Day and Asian Studies Days events, as well as anti-dumping measures against Chinese companies. I would also say that security issues will become even more important for both China and other countries as Chinese firms and citizens go abroad.

Dr Hodzi, Visiting Scholar at Renmin University, with a friend outside the Forbidden City, Beijing, September 2017

Finnish China Law Center: You are helping organize a Conference on the so-called ‘Chinese model’ of governance next year. What thematic ground will be conference cover, and why is the conference important?

Dr Hodzi: The Confucius Center at the University of Helsinki is organizing the Helsinki Conference on Chinese Model of Governance. It will be held on 20 March 2018. During the conference, scholars from Finland and abroad will re-visit discussions of the Chinese model of governance. The old and new features of President Xi’s model of governance will be discussed at length. The conference is important because the bulk of contemporary scholarship on the ‘China model’ questions whether such a model even exists. And even those who acknowledge the existence of such a model debate its characteristics. In light of this ongoing debate, the conference will discuss the various manifestations of the Chinese model of governance. These manifestations range from local governance, local election, civil society to economic policies. A particular strength of the conference will be its interdisciplinary nature, using a variety of perspectives such as critical empirical case studies. I’m already excited about it! We have great keynote speakers, too: Oscar Almén, Uppsala University, Sweden, and Zhongyuan Wang from Fudan University, China.

Finnish China Law Center: Finally, we understand that your book will be published shortly. Congratulations, and could you please say a little about it?

Dr Hodzi: My book, The End of a Non-intervention Era: China in African Civil Wars, will be published by Palgrave Macmillan (London) next year (fall 2018). I hope that it will help set the research agenda on emerging security issues emanating from China’s going out strategy. China is moving, and taking the world with it!

More on Dr Hodzi’s academic work can be found in his University of Helsinki Tuhat page.

Asian Studies Days and China Research Day 2017

On 9-10 November the University of Helsinki hosted the annual Asian Studies Days, organized by the Finnish University Network for Asian Studies, and the annual China Research Day, organized by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

The Finnish Center of Chinese Law and Chinese Legal Culture, the Faculty of Law of the University of Helsinki, and the Confucius Centre of the University of Helsinki co-organized both events.

The theme of this year’s events was China-US Relations and Asian Security. The theme was timely given the concurrent visit of US President Donald Trump to Asia, which included a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The backdrop to the meeting of the two presidents, and to the theme of this year’s China Research Day and Asian Studies Days, is the relative stability of East Asia over the last few decades. Despite historical grievances that have affected intra-regional relations politically, economic inter-dependencies have made the region’s actors seek cooperation rather than conflict.

However, as was highlighted throughout the two-day event, recently there have been indications that the situation may be changing. China’s actions in the East and South China Seas have been regarded by some commentators as increasingly assertive. The Trump presidency has introduced a heightened level of tension in China–US relations. And the bold nuclear and missile tests by North Korea have heightened the risk of a military confrontation in the region.  

These issues were discussed at length in insightful presentations from two prominent Chinese experts on Chinese foreign policy, international relations, and the US/China relationship: Shi Yinhong, Professor of International Relations, Renmin University of China, and Li Mingjiang, Professor, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.  

Organizers and speakers of China Research Day and Asian Studies Days 2017. From left to right: Silja Keva, Dr Sabine Burghart and Prof Outi Luova (University of Turku), Dr Jyrki Kallio (FIIA), Prof Li Mingjiang (Nanyang Technological University), Prof Ulla Liukkunen (China Law Center / University of Helsinki), Dr Elina Sinkkonen (FIIA), Prof Shi Yinhong (Renmin University of China), Stuart Mooney (China Law Center / University of Helsinki), Prof Lauri Paltemaa (University of Turku) and Matias Salo (FIIA). Absent: Prof Julie Yu-Wen Chen (Confucius Institute), Kukka-Maria Kovsky and Olli Hulkko (FIIA). Pic by Tapio Kovera (University of Helsinki).

Professor Outi Luova of the University of Turku, who is also the Director of Finnish University Network for Asian Studies (Asianet), moderated the morning session and the afternoon session was chaired by Elina Sinkkonen, Senior Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

During her welcoming words and introduction Julie Chen, Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Helsinki and Director the Confucius Institute of the University of Helsinki, provided the packed venue with an overview of the broader theoretical and political context in which security tensions in the Asia/Pacific region are being experienced. 

Dr Sabine Burghart, newly arrived University Lecturer in the Center of East Asian Studies, University of Turku, commented on the North Korean aspect of US-China relations, and Jyrki Kallio, Senior Research Fellow of the the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, shared his thoughts on China’s strategy in the South China Sea dispute. 

The calibre of speakers, as well as the timeliness and importance of the main theme, meant that over 130 people participated in the events. Professor Shi was also interviewed by the Finnish television station MTV3.

The organizers and speakers would like to thank Deputy Mayor Pia Pakarinen for generously hosting a City of Helsinki reception to mark these important annual events.

As Professor Ulla Liukkunen, Director of the Finnish China Law Center, said during her speech at the reception, the official City of Helsinki reception not only underscores the importance of bilateral legal education and research cooperation between Finland and China, but highlights the special, long-term relationship that exists between the capital cities of Helsinki and Beijing.

The organizers would also like to acknowledge the generous assistance provided by the Joel Toivola Foundation.