Overview of Projects

The Sino-Localized Approach to Tracking the Development of Belt and Road Initiative Projects

Chinese government defines the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in functional terms, supporting any international project that has the potential to become part of the BRI. This opens the door to many possibilities, encouraging interested stakeholders in many parts of the world to justify how their projects can be part of the BRI and thus obtain Chinese investments or loans. Without understanding the internal pulling and drawing of different actors both in China and in potential BRI recipient states, one cannot assume that BRI projects will materialize and even bring the intended benefits to all the actors and societies involved. This research project analyses the interplay of local actors and localized politics in facilitating and/or hindering the realization of BRI projects in Finland and Estonia, where efforts to realize the development of the Polar Silk Road (PSR) have been intensified over the past years in line with China’s growing involvement in the Arctic affairs. Based on a premise that domestic actors play an important role in carrying of ideas, ideologies, and identities, and in deciding whether and how BRI can exist in their countries, we create a novel theoretical framework that explains why
and how social interaction between Chinese and local actors in some cases make a BRI project a reality in a foreign country, and in some cases not. Inspired by the popular term “glocalization” that looks at the situated local negotiations and adaptations of international influence (e.g., brands, products, consumer practices), we call the new theoretical framework a Sino-localized approach to studying China’s global influence and analysing potential risks and normative implications related to those processes. Concerning our empirical analysis, it is worth mentioning that Finland has not officially signed an agreement to be a BRI country. Even so, some Finnish private actors have been eager to link their efforts to build the PSR. Apart from the yet-to-realized cases of Talsinki tunnel and Arctic railway exemplifying how a Sino-localized process is taking place “on the ground”, with different stakeholders articulating and negotiating their
interests, a Xian-Kouvola cargo train is already in operation by using existing railway and receives Chinese subsidies, thus making the PSR a reality in Finland. Qualitative interviews with stakeholders and qualitative content analysis of policy papers as well as media reports will be employed to explore the cases.

The Internationalization of China’s Uyghur Issues

This project explores the operation and coalition-building of Uyghur diasporic organizations in democratic countries. Since some Uyghur organizations have been lent notable legitimacy by liberal democracies and international governmental organizations, they can no longer be considered merely splintered members of a far-flung diaspora locked in a one-sided struggle with Beijing. Uyghur activists can and do use their hard-won legitimacy as legal migrants and asylum seekers to influence politics in their host countries. And while they pose no direct security threat to the countries they presently reside in, their use of democratic channels in their host countries serve to extend the Uyghur conflict into nations around the world. This study is a timely one, as it shines a light on how an issue concerning a minority in China has been catapulted onto the wider global political stage.

Chinese Outbound Tourism & Soft Power Diplomacy in Africa

The increase of Sino-African interactions in trade, aid and investments has attracted Chinese tourists to Africa. The Beijing Action Plan of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) outlines China’s cultural diplomacy in Africa, delineating a number of areas of cultural cooperation: education; press, publishing and media; and tourism and people-to-people exchange programs in academia and think tanks among young people, women and athletes. Though scholars of International relations (IR) have detected that tourism is one way of manifesting soft power, they do not feel comfortable nor ready to place the promotion of tourism into standard IR discourse. This is in contrast to scholars of tourism studies who have recognized the political nature of China’s outbound tourism, particularly to less-developed areas such as Africa. In this project, we interview governmental officials, travel agents and Chinese tourists in South Africa and Namibia to understand the nexus between China’s outbound tourism and soft power diplomacy.

This project is sponsored by the Faculty of Arts, University of Helsinki, in cooperation with Dr. Niall Duggan from University College Cork, Ireland.

Central Asian Perspectives on the Rise of China

(In cooperation with Dr. Olaf Guenther and Dr. Soledad Tovar based at Palacky University, Czech Republic)

This project explores the Central Asian perspectives on the rise of China. Since the new post-Soviet states emerged in Central Asia in 1991, China has been seeking to foster relations with these new states diplomatically, politically, and economically. At the juncture of nearly two decades of interaction, analysts have observed China’s increasing engagement with Central Asia by incorporating it into its broader strategic game. While most of China’s initiatives in Central Asia appear to be based on goodwill and show an intention to peacefully and cooperatively integrate its neighbors into joint economic prosperity, there are nevertheless various concerns about the implications of China’s rising influence in this region. This project uses elite surveys in Uzbekistan, Kygryzstan and Kazakhstan to explore Central Asian perspectives on China.

Oral History of China Studies in Scandinavia

This project is an expansion of a global project on Comparative Epistemology of China Studies, which has been conducted for more than a decade under the leadership of Prof. Chih-yu Shih. It documents the oral history of intellectuals who have played a significant role in shaping the development of sinology and China studies in Nordic countries, composing mainly of Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland, which have not yet been surveyed. This comparative epistemological approach allows us to understand how our research and knowledge of China are constructed in different countries. Most potential interviewees are at the senior stage of their career or life. Not only does this project have academic significance, it also seeks to preserve the heritage of the disciplines of sinology and China studies.

Project outcomes

This project is sponsored by National Taiwan University, in cooperation with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.