China Studies Centre Policy Paper Series

There was a time, up until quite recently, when the study of and engagement with China, both historic and contemporary, was the domain of specialists. The country, at least till the 1980s, was hard to access, and those that studied Chinese language, or aspects of the People’s Republic in terms of its society, economics or politics, were a tiny, highly select group. Engagement with China was truly a vocation. Embassies and companies within the country were small, and those sent there usually considered brave or foolhardy, because they were consigning themselves to several years of relative isolation in a country which regarded contact with the outside world warily.

Those days might not be long past, but they are well and truly over. These days there are few – perhaps no – areas of global governance and cross sectoral engagement where China doesn’t figure. This is only natural. It is now the world’s second largest economy, it remains the world’s most populous nation, and the impact of the least three decades of rapid growth on the world’s environment, energy resources, diplomacy and geopolitics are pretty clear. The increasing prominence of a country that was, before 1978, so isolated and little understood is one of the key themes of globalization. In that sense, China can truly be called a global and globalizing issue.

And that means that in almost all areas of transnational policy, be it combating conventional and non conventional security threats, to food security, energy usage, and coping with challenges of sustainability and the environment, factoring in China is now the norm, not the exception. China’s attitude towards these issues matters, as does finding strategies either as companies, universities, institutions or governments of dealing with it.

Those with knowledge of China, and of aspects of its political economy, its internal governance, its international relations profile, its recent development and its historic behavior are now greatly needed in having input into the larges, and international, debate on what the increasing role of country will be as the current century progresses. We are all searching for insights, frameworks and workable ideas for how to deal more fruitfully and successfully with the paradigm change which is now going on – the transition towards a world in which, for the first time in modern history, a developing country will be one of the dominant, if not the dominant, actor.

Experts in the various aspects of China in which the country is having an impact have a responsibility, as never before, to offer their ideas and advice about practical issues of engagement in ways which are useful to government and non government policy makers. It is for this reason that the China Studies Centre, as a place where engagement with China and sustained focus on the various aspects of China’s development and its impact on the rest of the world are taken seriously, has established a policy papers series. This will look for a variety of aspects at the role that China plays, and might continue to play, in key areas. In this series, an international collection of experts will set out ideas about China in an accessible form for as wide an audience as possible.

I would welcome any ideas for future papers, and for how the current series might be improved. This is an exciting time to be working on China, and creating the widest possible community of those who are engaged with China seriously and pragmatically, is important. We hope this series helps to contribute to that.

Professor Kerry Brown
Executive Director, China Studies Centre, and Professor of Chinese Politics, University of Sydney

Read the papers