On Monday the 10th of July, KUBS and the Center for Asia-Pacific Future Studies hosted its 7th Asia Pacific Border Studies seminar in partnership with Kyushu University’s Inter-disciplinary Colloquium. The venue was the meeting rooms of the Business Communications Library (BIZCOLI) in downtown Fukuoka, selected as something of an experiment to bridge the divide that exists between Kyushu University’s two campuses, prior to them being reunited later next year. We here at KUBS would like to express our gratitude to Professor Edward Vickers and Aya Yonemitsu for helping us get the event off the ground.
For the event, we were delighted to welcome to Fukuoka Professor Paul Evans of the Institute of Asian Research & Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia. As well as a distinguished China scholar, Professor Evans is a regional specialist in East Asia, where as an advocate of cooperative and human security, he has long been involved in promoting policy-related activity on track-two security processes and the construction of multilateral institutions.
The event offered an opportunity to hear Professor Evans’ insights into how the multiple dimensions at which China’s growing presence makes itself felt in the world, and the reactions to that presence in a number of countries, focussing particularly on Canada and Singapore. As he noted, while the questions of investment, infrastructural development and possible future military confrontation are much discussed, there are other dimensions to China’s influence that receive less attention. Some of those he highlighted included examples of state-led soft power leveraged through cultural and public diplomacy, the ever-increasing volume of Chinese moving out into the world as students, tourists, business travellers, and temporary workers, and the considerable asset offered by the presence of overseas Chinese in many countries and their better and more regular connections with both each other, and family and organizations back in China. This last factor spoke to the effect of the dramatic change in telecommunications, which has made it possible for those outside the country to remain ‘plugged-in’ to it in a manner simply not feasible even a decade ago, and made the holding of the seminar in a Business Communications Library a particularly apt choice.
Professor Evans made clear that while such dimensions of Chinese influence offered a tremendous opportunity for China, they were the subject of debate in both Beijing and abroad. In Beijing, there remains debate over how best to capitalize on these potential sources of influence, as seen in the recently-concluded debate over whether China would allow dual-nationality or not. Abroad, meanwhile, the key question for foreign governments is whether and how to respond to concerns over growing Chinese influence and the policy challenges of doing so.
Some of the issues with which policymakers in Singapore and Canada were forced to grapple with were also reflected in the other two papers, which sought to flesh out the effects and reaction to China’s growing clout in Indonesia and Russia respectively. Professor Nobuhiro Aizawa examined the recent phenomenon of illegal and temporary Chinese workers being brought to Indonesia, and the reaction this had sparked within the domestic media and political landscape. As something of a contrast, however, in Russia the increasing influence of China appears, at least, to be the cause of much less alarm in the last few years than a decade or so ago, despite the fact that on almost any available metric the Chinese presence has expanded greatly in the time. This of course reflects the wider geopolitical situation in which these countries find themselves, and it would be interesting to see whether this official and media shift is being reflected at the more popular level, an issue with which the presenter, Professor Serghei Golunov, intends to get to grips with in the future.
Following the three papers, an open discussion was held which provided an opportunity for a number of students in attendance, many of them Chinese or of Chinese heritage, to comment on some of the issues that were raised during the course of the seminar. A couple of them pointed to the role of social media and the internet, and noted that even when outside China, there was a strong inertia which kept them anchored to platforms and publications that operated within the country itself. This keeps them very keyed into events going on back home, on the one hand, while serving to maintain a view of the world that is still filtered through the limits of what is considered acceptable discourse in China. The most satisfying takeaway from the seminar, indeed, was the willingness of some of these young scholars to seek to question those very limits.