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Lau Policy Series

Lau Policy Series 2020/2021: 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.

This inaugural series, titled ‘China in the World’, will explore how China operates beyond its borders in its new role as a political and economic superpower. It will look at issues ranging from the changing role of diplomacy to the creation of new foreign investment programmes such as the belt and road initiative.

As an integral part of the series we will be publishing policy papers. Alongside the papers, we will be hosting a series of discussions, interviews and events which delve into the topics in more detail.

Policy papers

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