Understanding China’s Changing Place in the World

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International news headlines frequently portray China’s interactions with other countries in terms of potential conflict, an attempt to achieve dominance, or as part of a strategy of exploitation. But how full and realistic is this picture? And can other perspectives give a more multifaceted and useful understanding?

This September, Lingnan University’s School of Graduate Studies will be launching a new MA in China and Regional Studies. To enrich its analysis of China’s engagement with its neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as with African countries, the programme incorporates courses from a range of disciplines, including Political Science, Cultural Studies, Sociology, Economics, and Urban Studies.

“China has a vision for a new world order,” explains Programme Director Prof Yu Kar Ming. He accepts there may well still be some debate over whether the country’s intentions are benign or whether it is aiming for dominance. “But we would like to get our students thinking ahead about the types of changes that will come about due to the rise, and influence, of China.”

Features of the program

One of the unique aspects of this program is the way in which it will touch upon current issues, Prof Yu says. Some of these issues may be manifestations of longstanding bones of contention, such as the territorial disputes with Japan, or with regard to the status of Taiwan. Others are relatively new, like the US military presence in the South China Sea or, indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic.

One complication arising from the pandemic is the way in which Africa has become caught up in what has been dubbed ‘vaccine diplomacy’ – a race between the world’s great powers to deliver vaccines to less developed countries. “This has given China an opportunity to show its leadership within the region,” notes Dr Padmore A Amoah, the MA’s Associate Programme Director.

So as to provide a deeper understanding of these issues, the program will examine them in the context of international relations theory and also require students to take part in a related simulation exercise. “Students will play a role – for example, as the UN, the United States or China – to discover how a crisis should be handled,” Prof Yu says.

Dr Amoah points to another noteworthy feature of the MA.  “We also branch out to introduce the students to the cultural differences and similarities between China and other regions, and how these cultural precepts influence international relations and people-to-people engagements.”

In this regard, Lingnan’s physical and cultural location, in Hong Kong, at the nexus between East and West, gives it a unique advantage.

Not all the courses are lecture-based, some take the form of experiential learning, and some revolve around international academic conferences, featuring speakers specializing in relevant fields. “These scholars are invited to share their latest research with the students,” Dr Amoah says.

Through their course selection, students can choose to develop a concentration in China and Africa Studies or China and East Asian Studies.

Supporting an international career path

Participation in this program will equip students with the type of knowledge that enables them to critically analyze China’s global and regional political, security, technological, and economic relations in East Asia and Africa, and open up a number of employment opportunities for them.

The knowledge graduates gain can be of tremendous use to those seeking to work in a wide range of fields, including the civil service, journalism, and publishing, international private or public sector organizations, NGOs, education, tourism, cultural organizations, and public relations.

Dr Amoah offers a more specific example. He says the program could be very attractive to, say, engineers from the East Asia region who may be planning on working in, somewhere such as, Africa. “They may want to understand how these African societies operate and how they can fit in better.”

Flexible and resilient learning modes

The MA in China and Regional Studies can be pursued in a one-year full-time or two-year part-time mode, but, given that there are still uncertainties around the future course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has even greater flexibility built into its structure.

Currently, Lingnan is successfully implementing a hybrid model of teaching, so students can choose to pursue their learning online or in-person on campus, and the university is constantly working to further enhance this approach.

Circumstances permitting, students on this program will undertake fieldwork and site visits in the Asia Pacific region for their research projects. But if it proves impossible to make cross-border trips, these elements can be replaced with virtual tours and online alternatives.

“We also have a Teaching and Learning center to support our blended learning and online teaching delivery, and we have a Quality Assurance Committee in place to monitor our teaching quality,” Prof Yu adds.