How is China perceived by its neighbours? Research brings crucial data for European policymakers

The excellent research, entitled Sinophone Borderlands - Interactions at the Margins, supported by the European Regional Development Fund, took place at the Department of Asian Studies at the UP Faculty of Arts in 2018 - 2023.
Photo gallery: archive of the project
Monday 9 October 2023, 15:51 – Text: Milada Křížková Hronová

An international research team led by Palacký University Olomouc has completed research on the global impact of China from the perspectives of the cultures of Taiwan, Russia, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and others. The findings of the prestigious five-year research conducted in the project Sinophone Borderlands – Interaction at the Edges will be of great significance for European policymakers.

Issues such as political events, Chinese civic society, Chinese artistic production, and the influence of Chinese culture and politics abroad were addressed by the international research team in the five-year project Sinophone Borderlands – Interaction at the Edges. In order to support the research on these topics, a specialised laboratory was established at Palacký University Olomouc (UP) for researchers to investigate the language and material culture via computer analysis, to study minority languages and how Chinese has influenced them, as well as to research the transformation of artistic traditions, agricultural production, and the cultural and political influence of China in Central Asia. The international team, which included scholars from the UP Faculty of Arts, also analysed the tensions between the processes of economic competition and cooperation, and the migration trends between China and the outside world.

“Our research centre employs scientists and academics from all over the world. As direct research on China is becoming increasingly difficult for many reasons, we are applying a completely new concept, researching China from the outside. Thus, we focus on the interactions in the borderlands of the Sinophone world – both in China’s peripheral regions and in Chinese diasporas around the world. These interactions provide a unique and at the same time novel perspective on China and its cultural, political, and socio-economic system,” said Jiří Luňáček, project manager from the Department of Asian Studies at the UP Faculty of Arts, on behalf of the project team.

According to him, the now-published research findings point out how the People’s Republic of China is expanding its influence through international institutions, development projects, and investments, such as the Belt and Road Initiative, while also showing how its cultural, political, and economic influence is perceived and accepted.

“China has clear regional priorities that are logically beneficial to none but China itself. If some of China’s priorities are also beneficial to its partners, close cooperation may appear to be beneficial. However, this situation is always temporary – until the Chinese priorities change,” emphasised Luňáček.

The researchers quote global opinion polls showing that in most countries, China’s popularity lags behind the United States and other Western countries.

“Out of the fifty-six countries surveyed, China is preferred only in Pakistan, Russia, Serbia, Kazakhstan, and Bangladesh. However, there are a large number of countries that do not want to choose between China and the US, perceiving both countries similarly. This is true of much of Southeast Asia; i.e., countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. So it cannot be said that China has the world on its side, but at the same time it is not true that China is perceived significantly negatively. Negative perceptions of China are almost exclusively characteristic of Western countries and their allies, such as South Korea and Japan. Moreover, South Korea is the country that has the most negative attitude towards China, seeing China as a source of pollution. The paradox is that China is certainly responsible for some of the pollution, but South Korean society probably blames China more than experts do. This information is crucial for the European Union, including the Czech Republic, which does not have a clearly defined long-term strategy in their relationships with China, oscillating between unbridled optimism and scepticism. Besides, in the global context, public opinion is very negative towards China,” said Richard Turcsányi, a key researcher in the project.

The research results of this prestigious project, supplemented with data collected directly in the countries studied, are supported by extensive public opinion surveys. The researchers have collaborated with the Central European Institute of Asian Studies in many parts of Asia, Africa, Europe, Oceania, and the Americas. 

“Although China itself is closed to many forms of research, a careful examination of its surroundings shows that its authoritarian regime combined with capitalism is an effective force transforming its neighbouring environment economically and socially – for example, through major investments in Central Asia and infrastructure construction in Southeast and South Asia, or disputes over the South China Sea, a key trade route on which the economies of China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and other countries depend. China is becoming an increasingly assertive global player, working with Russia to reshape the international order,” added Turcsányi.

Experts from the UP Faculty of Arts have established research cooperation with leading world institutions specialising in research on China and its surroundings. The data that emerged from the impressive five-year research were presented to the representatives of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as reported in the European Parliament and the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, which operates under the auspices of the EU and NATO. As part of their research, they have made more than 240 trips abroad to roughly 40 countries around the world, and have published more than a hundred articles, papers, and chapters in several books. They have organised a series of workshops, lectures, and training sessions, featuring more than 385 experts from all over the world. They have presented their findings at numerous international conferences. 

The research project of the Operational Programme Research, Development and Education, in the Excellence in Research call, entitled Sinophone Borderlands – Interaction at the Margins, supported by the European Regional Development Fund, was carried out at the Department of Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts, Palacký University Olomouc, in 2018–2023. Its aim was to introduce a unique concept of the Sinophone world based on interregional dialogue, thus providing a new perspective on the global implications of China’s rise. Read more about the project here.

This unique project will probably be followed by others, as project manager Luňáček says: “We have been granted more than ten follow-up projects, seven of which are supported by the Horizon Europe funding programme. In these, we will focus on the trade in medicinal substances in Mongolia, on human rights in Myanmar, on the political and economic influence of the People’s Republic of China in Europe, and on the perception of life in the environment of various types of Covid-19-like viruses. In all cases, our research will again be conducted through an indirect method; i.e., investigating the influence of China in its surroundings.”


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