After decades of dormancy, the 21st century has seen Asia establish itself as a new political and economic powerbase and the attention of those in the West has increasingly turned East as nations such as China and North Korea have emerged onto the world stage.
But old ways of engaging with these rising powers have proved problematic for western nations, with many struggling to adopt diplomatic approaches to match the complex political systems and customs of their partners in the East.
However, a new wave of research, including ground-breaking work by academics at King’s College London, has helped to break down barriers and has allowed governments in both East and West to gain invaluable insight and perspective as nations seek to deepen ties with new partners.
Leading the way
At King’s, that crucial work has been led by Professor Kerry Brown, from the Lau China Institute, and Dr Ramon Pacheco Pardo, from the Department of European and International Studies, with their research and expert insight proving pivotal in developing greater understanding of China and North Korea.
As well as informing the work of governments, diplomats and institutions, the research carried out at King’s has helped inform and shape national and international discourse, from journalism to academia.
Their research has been covered by newspapers, magazines, press agencies, TV and radio in the UK, the EU, South Korea and other countries. It has guided media narratives and allowed journalists to better understand and inform public audiences.
Both the House of Lords and the House of Commons have debated the framing of the UK’s relationship with China, for example, how to balance China’s increasing economic importance with its radical values divergence from Britain. Meanwhile, the European Parliament has debated the merits and drawbacks of the international community and the EU engaging with North Korea.
King’s research has highlighted and explained issues of concern in these areas and contributed to new analysis of existing issues. In particular, the UK government, having identified the need to have better knowledge levels about China to tackle complex challenges in the future, engaged King’s researchers to educate and inform their officials across government departments.
As such, King’s has provided research-based information to senior Cabinet Office officials, and staff at the Ministry of Defence and Department for International Development. This included providing training for the Royal College of Defence Studies, the senior college of the UK Defence Academy, which prepares selected military officers, and government officials from the UK and elsewhere.
Professor Brown has worked closely with the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office Association on relations with China, through the delivery of workshops and by providing specific advice, and has also worked with the Australia and New Zealand School of Government.
And Professor Brown’s research on the Chinese Communist Party leadership, ideology and structures saw him selected as a UK China Leading Light by the British Council in Beijing, which also described his work as “second to none when it comes to thought leaders in the UK”.
Close working with the European Union (EU) has also “significantly increased China literacy among officials” according to the EU European External Action Service (EEAS), which helps shape the EU’s foreign policy. Prof Brown’s insight has seen EU policy engagement with China become more nuanced and responsiveness to the domestic political situation.
Dr Pacheco Pardo’s research has seen him focus on relations between the two Koreas, as well as the EU and United States with North Korea. Dr Pacheco Pardo has also worked to support inter-Korean relations and efforts towards reconciliation.
The EEAS has also drawn extensively on the work of Dr Pacheco Pardo in relation to North Korea. King’s research has highlighted the benefits of engagement with the secretive state and helped further understanding of domestic politics for officials.
The EEAS said King’s research had “helped us refine our thinking on EU-Korean relations” and had allowed the body to better to understand the domestic situation in North Korea and what motivates the country’s engagement with the US and other western powers”.
Dr Pacheco Pardo also maintains a close relationship with the Embassy of South Korea in the UK and has been providing advice not only on the prospects for North Korea’s foreign and security policies but also positions of the UK and the EU regarding North Korea. His research has also informed policy by South Korea’s Blue House.
Better international relations
Through their research, Professor Brown and Dr Pacheco Pardo have helped create dialogue and stimulate debate, bringing together multiple groups inside and outside governments to help shape new ways of working in the fast-changing world of international relations.
Their work has contributed to an improving international understanding of China and North Korea, in particular, but also to the wider Asia-Pacific region.
The researchers noted: “To avoid potential clashes, the need for evidence-based approaches to engage and accommodate these new powers is widely acknowledged. Our research has contributed to a better global understanding of the rising power of both China and North Korea.
“Our findings have demonstrated that through improved knowledge about domestic dynamics and foreign policy, better international relations can be forged to create a middle place between engagement and isolation.”