New year perspectives from the China Studies Centre

23 January 2012

Enter the Year of the Dragon.
Enter the Year of the Dragon.

With the Chinese New Year upon us, the Acting Director and some of the staff from the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney give their perspectives on the year ahead.

"The China Studies Centre is greatly looking forward to the new year. Not only is this a Dragon year and so likely to be full of great excitement but 2012 sees a new Party Congress and new leadership," said Professor David Goodman, Acting Director of the China Studies Centre.

"Massive change is not likely but it will be interesting to see how the new leadership tackles issues of unequal growth, welfare provision, and globalisation.

"2012 is also the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and the People's Republic of China. To celebrate that anniversary the China Studies Centre has commissioned a book of essays reflecting on the relationship, which will be published in the middle of the year, in both Sydney and China."

As the year of the Dragon approaches, millions of migrant workers are preparing for the long trip back home to celebrate the New Year celebrations with their families.

Dr Beatriz Carillo from the China Studies Centre said, "Migrant workers have been the backbone of China's economic development over the last three decades and are becoming more aware of their rights. The Party-State's concern for social stability and for its continued legitimacy has meant it has increasingly assumed the role of protector of workers' rights.

"This position is also a strategic one as the myth of China's inexhaustible supply of labour appears to be approaching its end. One reason is that China's demographic transition, shaped by the one-child policy, means that its working age population is expected to peak in the next few years and begin to decline thereafter.

"In order to keep the economy growing China will need to make use of all its labour, and particularly of the still large reserve of rural workers. Paradoxically, this could also spell the end of China's cheap exports as workers' strikes have been increasingly successful in winning higher wages and better working conditions."

Later this year the federal government will release its White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century which is aimed at helping 'Australia navigate the Asian Century'. Part of that challenge is a better understanding of Asian society and language, including China and Chinese.

From a business perspective, Professor Hans Hendrischke from the China Studies Centre comments, "Domestically, China's economy will need to grow to gradually overcome the coutry's internal regional and social inequalities. This means more structural reforms and more demand for resources and energy.

"Externally, China has to balance global challenges - respond to the emerging US focus on Asia during an election year and expand its growing global economic role as a strategic investor. Both challenges are new and both deeply involve Australia as an established partner in the resources economy and an aspiring partner in the knowledge economy. They require multi-faceted and cross-disciplinary responses."

Dr Linda Tsung from the China Studies Centre comments, "Enrolments in the Department of Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney have doubled over the past three years. The key to teaching Chinese to Australian students is to provide them with real life experiences and cultural awareness of the strong bonds existing between China and Australia.

"Chinese is widely spoken in the Australian Chinese community, so learning it is practically achievable in the Australian context.

"Internationally Chinese is spoken by over 1.3 billion people in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore as well as by the diaspora in other countries. It is of national importance to Australia that we have citizens who can participate in this milieu at all levels and for this Chinese language skills should be highly valued."

The China Studies Centre provides coordination and direction to the study of China and Chinese society at the University of Sydney.

The centre is one of the world's most comprehensive teams working in partnership with China, with 150 senior academic leaders from across all disciplines.

Through its 16 academic groups it facilitates cross-disciplinary collaboration. In addition to supporting research and scholarship, the centre teaches several postgraduate programs in China Studies and interacts with business, government and community activities in both China and Australia.

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