The Constructive Role of Scholarship in the China-US Relationship
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In this report, Prof. Jian Junbo draws attention to an important but under-addressed element in US-China relations: the role of scholars. He highlights several challenges to scholarship in China-US relations: restrictions on scholarly interactions and exchanges, the influence of nationalism, the lack of Chinese language skills in the US, and the lack of access to information for Chinese scholars.
He argues that academic neutrality and objectivity are being compromised by nationalistic ideas and hawkishness on both sides leading scholars to self-censor or modify their work to boost their personal reputations or obtain funding. He also points out that the limited exchange of academic publications and information between the two countries hinders understanding of the other.
On the US side, an increasing number of China experts do not have a good grasp of the Chinese language, do not access Chinese sources directly, and lose important nuances in translation.
On the Chinese side, scholars lack access to information and research practices, with some relying on limited translated or secondary materials, partly because Google is unavailable in China. Chinese scholars are also not as well-informed on US issues as they should be partly because few books and articles on the United States are translated into Chinese.
He suggests that even if scholars disagree, dialogue nonetheless provides the opportunity for information sharing, and can help identify where misunderstandings occur, allowing them to bring those insights to their own academic communities.
He recommends that both sides reach a consensus on how to resume normal academic exchanges; avoid stoking tensions by catering to domestic upsurges of nationalism; not focus on discussing how one country should beat, compete with, or counter the other and instead focus on how to ease tensions and on maintaining the stability of the relationship.
He proposes the following recommendations:
- Facilitate the resumption of normal academic exchanges between China and the United States by making visa applications easier and more convenient, and by lifting travel restrictions.
- Expert communities in the two countries should seek space and discussions for China-US cooperation in global governance such as on climate change, energy shortages, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional peacekeeping, biodiversity, marine environment governance, and poverty reduction.
- The China-US friction to a large extent stems from their views of the future international order which are at odds with one another. However, both agree on the need to promote global stability, economic prosperity, and sovereignty. Scholars from both countries should discuss and offer ideas for a peaceful vision of the regional and international order and ways for China-US cooperation to realise it.
- Establish a stable and cooperative network of scholars, policymakers, and observers in the Asia-Pacific region with discussions focusing on the interests of the Asia-Pacific region rather than the interests of individual countries as a basis for future regional peace.
About the Author
Jian Junbo (简军波) is the Deputy Director for China-Europe Relations at Fudan University. His research focuses on China’s diplomacy, European affairs, and international politics. He is the author of the books Limitations of Power: On the Legitimacy of the United States (in Chinese: 权力的限度：冷战后美国霸权合法性问题研究) and African Affairs and China-Europe Relations (in Chinese: 非洲事务与中欧关系). He is also co-editor of The Enlarged European Union: Prospects and Implications (in English). He has served as a Chinese diplomat in Europe 2018-2020, and as a visiting scholar at Durham University, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Aalborg University, and the London School of Economics.
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This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.