One year as executive director of the China Studies Centre

29 August 2013

One year on from when he first started as the executive director of the China Studies Centre, Professor Kerry Brown believes the centre has increased its importance at the University and in the community.

"China doesn't neatly fit into any one faculty. It's important to have a place where people from different disciplines can come together and have a sense of community," Professor Brown said.

"Since becoming executive director of the centre, I've worked to raise the profile of China studies and the centre within the University and more broadly."

Last week the centre partnered with the Australia-China Youth Association to host a panel discussion between Dr John Lee from Centre for International Security Studies, Linda Jakobson from the Lowy Institute and Professor Kerry Brown to discuss whether we should be afraid of the rise of China.

The event attracted more than 300 students, staff and members of the community and is an example of the outreach work the centre is engaging in. It's an area the centre will continue to focus on over the next few years.

"We want to increase our policy outreach work, working with the state and federal governments and increase our engagement with business. For example, in October we will be hosting the Sydney China Business Forum," Professor Brown said.

Run in partnership with the City of Sydney, the forum brings together leading experts on China from business and academia.

Last August, Professor Kerry Brown left his position as the Head of the Asia Program at Chatham House to lead the China Studies Centre. He decided to take up the role for two reasons.

"I was impressed by the diversity of engagement the University of Sydney has with China. No university in the world has such a wide range of expertise on China, from ancient dynasties to its health care and education systems now. It's an incredible asset," he said.

"The other reason I decided to take on the role is because of engagement Australia has with China. At the time I was approached about this position, I was based in London, where the focus is very much on Europe," he said.

"China is absolutely a part of Australia's world because the two countries are so interlinked in trade and economic terms."

As Australia becomes increasing reliant on China as a trading partner, Professor Brown argues that China's view of Australia is one of stability.

"The Chinese would look to Australia as a stable trading partner providing stable resource supplies," Professor Brown says.

"Whoever is in power, Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott, isn't going to impact materially on Australia's relationship with China."

Despite China being Australia's biggest trading partner, there remain some common misconceptions Australians have about the country.

"One of the biggest misconceptions Australians have about China is they think it is homogenous, unified and one entity. It is actually very complex and a place with massive differences," Professor Brown said.

"If China doesn't have decent economic growth, Australia will feel it. All Australians should engage with China because a problem with China will be a problem for you."

For more than two decades, Professor Brown's work has centred on China. But his own engagement with China almost didn't happen.

Professor Brown was scheduled to visit China in 1989, but the mass student uprising that year meant that he went to Japan instead.

When he was finally able to visit China, he said it felt like a second home. "China is a world within a world. There are enormous differences there and I never tire of the Chinese society," Professor Brown said.

"It's a society that is both ancient and new, contradictory and stimulating. It's never really what you think it is. When you think you've got it, it has a new way of surprising you."