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Lau Policy Series

Lau Policy Series: China in the World

The Lau Policy Series brings researchers, academics and policymakers together to discuss key policy challenges relating to China. From China’s impact on renewable technology to tensions with the United States, the series aims to present clear analyses to help us understand contemporary China, its actions and its effect on the world.

The ‘China in the World’ series explores how China operates beyond its borders in its new role as a political and economic superpower. It looks at issues including the belt and road initiative, global public health, China's geopolitical relationships around the world and China's ambitions in space.

Alongside the papers, we will be hosting a series of discussions, interviews and events which delve into the topics in more detail. Please find all of our published policy papers below.

Policy papers

Coverage of China in the British media over recent years has been predominantly negative, often heavily so. While negative reporting of China has dominated the British media for some time, it has become more evident over the last few years, alongside a hardening of the government’s China policy.

This paper aims to elaborate on that phenomenon with some systematic evidence and discussion of the characteristics of coverage of China, based on data collected from selected British media – The Telegraph, The Guardian, the BBC, the Financial Times and The Economist – between 2020 and 2023.

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Western states have enjoyed considerable influence in the Gulf monarchies for decades. By comparison, China is a relative latecomer to the Gulf, is less constrained by precedent and enjoys acting as a comparatively limited player prioritising economic benefits in the region. Constructing itself as a developing power that shares similar historical experience and destiny with the Gulf states, China advocates mutual development, attaches fewer political strings and aspires to represent a non-Western alternative.

China’s March 2022 mediation facilitating détente between Saudi Arabia and Iran demonstrates a growing interest and influence in Gulf affairs. Rather than turning the Gulf region into a new East–West arena, it is plausible that China and Western states like the UK can, away from more sensitive issues that inflame the press in Western capitals, leverage respective areas of expertise and mutually prosper in the Gulf region, particularly in economic fields.

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This paper will give an overview of the key challenges and prospects that Mongolia faces in 2023. It aims to cover recent events in the country’s economic, political, and geopolitical spheres, thereby introducing Mongolia to a wider audience interested in learning more about the country and its place in regional and international affairs. It should be of particular interest to business people, and policy makers in government and non-government organisations.

This paper focuses on ways in which Mongolia can work with the outside world on economic, geopolitical, and environmental issues. Getting a better understanding of Mongolia’s current prospects is timely. The global situation is becoming more complex as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Many things have changed. In particular, economic growth has slowed across the world. In the US, Europe and China, which account for over half of global GDP, there are a constellation of issues from inflation, energy supply, low or negative growth, and loss of consumer and investment confidence. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 provided a further source of anxiety. 2023 will be a crucial year, showing whether the impact of these various factors will prove to be shorter term, or reach into a longer timeframe.

We will look at the situation of Mongolia in this global context. In particular, highlighting its economic and international links, and the current challenges it faces with regards to energy and the global energy market. The paper will assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what kind of role combatting climate change environmental issues will play for the country. The paper will then focus on geopolitical issues – Mongolia’s relations with Russia, China, US, and other security matters and seek to provide a holistic framework by which to understand its potential impact on the country’s international position, and also its future opportunities. Finally, it will look at prospects and seek to plot out where the country is heading, what sort of relations it will need, and what international status does it seek.

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The extraordinary MI5 interference alert issued in January 2022 over lawyer Christine Lee’s parliamentary lobbying and donations showed Britain’s security services are paying close attention to the political activities of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the UK.

However, while such issues are rightly matters of concern, evidence of actual PRC influence on UK national security and foreign policy remains limited, compared with its demonstrable and direct impact on human rights and civil liberties of diaspora communities in the UK, and on academic freedom in higher education. Yet, few tangible policies have so far been proposed or implemented to address these effects.

Addressing the PRC’s overseas impact is an opportunity to fundamentally strengthen the UK’s institutions. But policy responses must start from a recognition of the differences between issues of national security, human rights and academic freedom, in order to avoid doing further harm to liberal democracy. Although widely cited as an example to follow, Australia’s response illustrates many of the downsides of applying a singular national security lens to such issues: overbroad legislation; neglect of key rights protection issues; and alarmist discourse that fans anti-Chinese sentiments in the community.

This paper lays out a series of measures that government and universities should take to address the PRC’s impact in a manner that avoids these pitfalls and reinforces core liberal democratic principles.

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In recent years, the Brazil-China trade relationship has successfully benefited from a complementary agenda with few parallels in the world. China is Brazil’s largest trade partner and the destination for over 30% of Brazilian exports – mainly iron ore, soybeans and crude oil. However, recent shifts in Brazil’s trade agenda reflect broader structural challenges facing China’s trading partners – the need to diversify and increase value-added exports rather than relying on raw materials.

The speed of technological transformations, the fragmentation of global value chains and the increasing imperative for low-carbon, sustainable products presents a set of opportunities for Brazil to re-imagine its path to development by exploring global and regional dynamics that can promote structural domestic transformations.

This policy paper, in partnership with the Brazil Institute and CEBRI, sets-out a pathway forward for how Brazil can reimagine its trade agenda towards China.

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There is more nuance to China’s Myanmar policy than is discussed in the public discourse. China was a critical factor in Myanmar’s reformist direction in the late 2000s, which saw some political liberalisation and civilianisation of the Myanmar state. Beijing has a complex relationship with its troubled neighbour, based on its dynamics with the military regime, the now-deposed National League of Democracy (NLD) government under Aung San Suu Kyi. The internal political developments in Myanmar which have unravelled since the coup d’etat in February 2021 and its acceleration to state failure has immense regional implications on many fronts. The implications include a refugee and humanitarian crisis; the spread of organised transnational criminal networks and illicit methamphetamine markets; transmission of pathogenic diseases; hunger; poverty; and environmental degradation.

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While COVID-19 and the often-sweeping responses required by governments across the world in 2020–21 will continue to have immense economic consequences, it is most likely on people’s mental wellbeing that the long-term impact will be deepest. COVID-19 has caused people to be isolated and anxious, and we have seen a sharp rise in reports of incidences of mental health issues. Dr Carla de Utra Mendes’s paper is an important reminder that, despite all of this, at the level of individuals – whether in China, Europe or anywhere else – there is a great deal of parity. Chinese people, too, as statistics in this overview show, have found their daily lives made more challenging and that they are more anxious because of the pandemic.

In this context, the Chinese Government, so often seen by outsiders as a controlling, negative force, in fact comes across as an entity similar to administrations anywhere else, trying to frame policies and create responses to issues that are often vast and complex, and for which new answers are keenly sought. This policy paper highlights the Chinese Government's response to mental health impacts during COVID-19 using technology and digital service provision. The paper is keenly aware of the potentially fraught usage of technology, data and artificial intelligence, and ultimately demonstrates that mental health - whether in China, the UK or elsewhere - is a huge challenge no one has the easy answers to.

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We often talk of Global China – the main trading partner for over 120 countries that has interests across the earth, reaching into even the most remote areas like the South and North Poles. But what is often forgotten is that China has strong, and very realistic, aspirations in outer space. China’s space programme is the focus of this clear and timely paper, the second in the Lau China Institute’s policy paper series.

The paper identifies the growing risk of miscalculation or miscommunication in space, leading to direct conflict between the US and China, and drawing in other nations such as the UK and Russia. This risk is, in part, driven by a failure to set out rules of engagement in space and a failure to understand Chinese objectives in space. The recent merging of civil and military technology has led to further misunderstandings concerning Chinese objectives. At the same time, the US maintains a clear lead in space capability. This paper provides guidance on how the international community could use this period to agree on a framework for safe space, one that includes China.

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Italy is the European country that has made the biggest commitment so far to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This was during the visit by Xi Jinping to the country in March 2019. Despite pressure from the US, Italy became the first European country to accord the BRI this kind of recognition. In China, this obviously was important for publicity and propaganda. For Italy, it caused tensions with other partners in the EU, many of whom had resisted going along a similar route. The question is whether it was worth it. With over a year elapsing since the deal was signed, that is the question this paper asks. What has Italy got from the BRI?

This paper identifies the risks (of both geopolitical and financial nature) run by Italy by signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), and analyses the content of the MoU and the data describing China’s involvement in Italy and vice versa. The aim is to recognise if the signing of the MoU has brought about any concrete change in addressing Italy’s core needs or if it has mainly provided China with valuable validation from an EU founding country and through part of the G7 becoming part of the BRI. Data prove that the MoU, with bilateral agreements between Italy and China, is not fit to address Italian problems and has not translated into any material change for Italy. Based on this evidence, the paper offers recommendations to try to find a more secure and concrete strategy within the framework of the EU and to improve Italy’s flagship sectors, which are also those that data show as being the ones of greater Chinese involvement. The recommendations are offered to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation directly, as well as to the Italian Trade Agency and to the Italian Ministry of Economic Development.

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Series Editorial Board