Welcome to the ReConnect China podcast, where we explore the dynamic relationship between the European Union and China.
Welcome to the ReConnect China podcast, where we explore the dynamic relationship between the European Union and China. In this episode of the ReConnect podcast University of Tartü researcher Elo Süld interviews Ties Dams. Ties Dams is a political theorist, writer and Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute, working on a book-project about Europe and the geopolitics of narrative. Aside from his research, he is a member of the EEAS expert group on Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference. With Ties, Elo speaks about what the power of narrative is, why it matters to geopolitics, and why the highest echelons of Chinese politics have made gaining global narrative power a top priority.
ReConnect China - Generating independent knowledge for a resilient future with China for Europe and its citizens. Find out more about the project here: www.reconnect-china.ugent.be/
Transcript of the episode 2
ReConnect China Podcast, episode 2:
[Suld] Welcome to the ReConnect China podcast. I am Elo Suld from the University of Tartu Asia Centre, and my guest today is Ties Dams, a political theorist, writer and research fellow at the Clingendael Institute and Leiden University.
In Dutch, he published a best-selling monograph on Xi Jinping in 2018. Nowadays, he is working on a book project about Europe and the geopolitics of narrative. Aside from his research, he is a member of the European External Action Service, in an expert group on foreign information manipulation and interference.
These words, ‘the power of narrative’, sound diffused and very academic. What relevance does your topic of research have in relations of current Sino-European relations?
[Dams] I think you're completely right that it sounds very conceptual. But it was Josep Borrell, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, who, in the beginning of the COVID pandemic, said there is a battle of narratives going on. And that was being acted out in Europe, too, in a real sense. We had Chinese facemask diplomacy. We had wolf-warrior diplomats. And really, since then, we've had extremes, ups and downs, in the way China has been trying to reach European audiences, sometimes bullying or being coercive, sometimes being very charming and inviting. And I think since then, in Sino-European relations, and broader speaking, in great power politics, this ability to tell your story has been very urgent. It's being acted out very concretely.
And I think it raises a number of questions for European policymakers. How do we react to these, for instance, to these Chinese diplomats? But also, how do we protect our information sphere, our public debate from disinformation, from self-censorship, and from these new influences, and this new geopolitisation of public debate?
And I think there, the very philosophic word narrative becomes actually just a very practical question of how do we manage to speak to each other in free societies when the geopolitical pressure from outside is mounting?
[Suld] Yes, but as you say, this narrative word is a very kind of fuzzy word. But what does it mean exactly, the conception of this word?
[Dams] Yeah, that's actually, of course, as everything in academia, a matter of great debate. But perhaps even not enough debate. So especially in the field of international relations, or the study of diplomacy in geopolitics, a narrative is certainly a buzzword. It's a hype. People use it a lot.
But they use it rather synonymously or roughly to rhetoric, language, discourse, things diplomats and leaders say. Whereas in literary theory and philosophy, there are shelves filled with far more precise and insightful definitions of what a narrative is, and what it does to human life.
And why I say that is, I tend to follow the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who happened to be, by the way, the one-time mentor to a then young philosophy student, Emmanuel Macron, in saying that a narrative is the way through making stories that people make sense of time.
We live through time, but it's very hard to really grasp it. And we people need to feel that we're connected to the history and have a sense of where we're going. And narrative is the way through stories, through emplotment, to making plots, that we can sense that we belong to each other, that we've come from a shared past and we're headed to a shared future.
And so narrative is not just something we do to the experience of time, but the way we shape communities. And I think in the end, the way we shape political communities.
And so that's my take on narrative. It's still very broad because we do it in many different ways, not just in written form. We tell stories with all kinds of things, with technologies, with policies, and indeed with speeches. But it's a way to form a community and to set that community in time, to know where we've been and to know where we're going.
[Suld] We are talking here about China. How is Chinese geopolitical strategy concerned with narrative power? And in what way is it different from the Chinese strategic conception of narrative power from Western or American or European concept?
[Dams] One of the reasons I came to this topic is because in my study of China, I found that indeed the Chinese state and the Communist Party is incredibly preoccupied with, at least what I call narrative power.
And one sign of that is that Xi Jinping has appointed to the number four seat on his Politburo Standing Committee, so the highest governing body of China, Wang Huning, who is basically a philosopher, political theorist, speechwriter, who's been designing the grand narratives of China's power for almost three decades now. It's not just a philosophical matter for Chinese intellectuals. It's something of very urgent political and geopolitical strategy making at the highest levels of Chinese politics.
But indeed, I think the strategic conception differs from, for instance, the American or European conceptions of the importance of narratives and power. And that is that China really seems to be reasoning from a standpoint of being the underdog.
If you look at the way Chinese policy approaches the importance of, for instance, building its global media presence, it's not just to send out to the world a favorable image of China. It's to break the perceived Western hegemony on language, discourse, and narrative in the world. It's about breaking free from what it sees as mostly US narratives dominating the way we see multilateral cooperation, the way we see global politics, the way we see diplomacy, and freeing up some space for the Chinese story.
It's coming from an underdog position. It's coming from a real proposition of power. So it recognizes the real power that comes from these norms and stories that shape the way we've formed global politics. And it has a real mission of gaining some space for the unique Chinese story, or what is perceived to be the unique Chinese story in that arena.
It's coming from a completely different perspective. And that's why it's so interesting and also so confrontational. It really confronts, I think, some of the European stances on this kind of geopolitical influence, where we've been able to take for granted that I come from the Netherlands, that, for instance, the norms and the language in multilevel governance have really been suited to our perspective on the world as well.
And so where we've taken the power of narrative for granted and have failed to act it out, I think, in the last years, China has been grasping it as a matter of great strategic importance and a big obstacle, a big fight still to win.
[Suld] You are talking also about Europeans and revue geopolitique. How is this geopolitical kind of maturation, let's say, also kind of awakeness, shaped by China and Chinese narratives?
[Dams] That's very interesting. And I think that's what Josep Borrell pointed us to. And in the midst of this crisis that had very real sort of material impact on health, trade links and so forth, he pointed towards the immaterial, to the power of stories and shaping these events. And he pointed to the return of great power politics. So, these big blocks of power trying to influence each other. And Europe, once again, becoming more of an arena than really a player in that sphere.
And it's interesting that sort of the return of great power politics and of hard material competition between these power corps is simultaneous to this return of the power of narrative, I would say. And it comes at the same time as, I think, a third development. And that is this Europe, and particularly the European Union, that is reinventing itself as a geopolitical actor. And I do call it the revue geopolitique. That's a term I borrowed from my Dutch fellow political theorist, Luuk van Middelaar, who's written a book about this.
And it's really a new step, I think, in the evolution of the EU, where we see the European Commission, geopolitics being factored into trade policy, to subsidies, to investment screening and so forth. We see the language of also the European Council President being far more focused on Europe needing to have an equal voice on the world stage of competition with these other great powers.
And so we have this sort of reimagination of European cooperation as something that can protect European citizens from the excesses of geopolitical rivalry between China and the US. And I think this influences the sort of debate on narrative power in the sense that what great powers typically have is a leader that uniformly represents the story of its power and of its civilization on the world stage.
And this is, of course, exactly what we don't have, and perhaps don't want to have in Europe. We're a confederacy of many member states where we have shared responsibilities. Some things the European Commission does, other things the heads of state are still in charge of. But no one is really in a position to speak with one voice on behalf of Europe as a whole.
And so, we're challenged by the singular leadership of Xi Jinping. But also, I think, in the same way by a succession of American presidents, let's see who will be there to follow Biden, to reinvent spokesmanship on the world stage in a European way where we can shape these negotiations between the leaders and shape the global public debate on issues without having to resort to what we don't have. And that is a model of singular leadership.
And so I think China really challenges us to think about that question, about the political answer to China's rise. And I think there's a second question that China raises, and that's, how do you protect an open society and especially the free flow of information and open debate in an open society such as European societies are, in a time where it becomes of growing importance to rival power blocs that are not democratic and not open to influence that free space? And especially, how do you protect that free space of debate without sacrificing its openness?
And, you know, the wave of disinformation coming from Russia has already raised that question. But if we look a little bit into the future and think about the potential of China-backed platforms in amplifying that kind of disinformation, well, we really have a serious sort of strategic and I think moral question to ask.
[Suld] My last question will be more practical. You are also a member of the European External Action Service, an expert group on foreign information manipulation and interference. So, you are not just concerned with the narrative power in the theoretical sense, but also with the implications for strategy and policy. Now it's important also to say, what is your key message to the policymakers working on related topics?
[Dams] I think, boiled down in the simplest way, it might be, this is not just about regulation. It's a political challenge.
China's rise, quite simply, presents a different worldview and lends power to a different trajectory for the world than what Europe has grown used to and what Europe benefits from. We can think of smart and just regulatory frameworks to keep disinformation at bay. We can engage in a repartee with Chinese wolf-warrior diplomats. But really, the most fundamental challenge China poses is not about China, and it's not about defending Europe.
It's about telling a renewed story of Europe to third audiences in the world about why Europe is an important and favorable and attractive cooperation partner. And that's not a story that we can fix by a regulatory framework or by legislation or by policy instruments. That's really something that we should engage on the political level.
And I think the expertise built up in the area of foreign information manipulation and interference is of great value to that. And that information and that view on this arena of narrative power, which is very difficult to grasp, I think, if you're not a diplomat working in the thick of it, should feed into these bigger political questions that need to be discussed in Europe.
So, yeah, my key message is: think beyond regulation. Think politically and think geopolitically when it comes to narrative power.
[Suld] Thank you, Ties Dams, for such an interesting talk.
Welcome to the ReConnect China podcast, where we explore the dynamic relationship between the European Union and China. In this first episode, we’ll be discussing the first policy brief from ReConnect China, titled ‘Remonstrating,’ or the Art of Forging Relations, by Bart Dessein and Jasper Roctus from Ghent University. This brief explores the importance of building strong relationships between Europe and China, and how this can be achieved through dialogue and mutual understanding. So sit back, relax, and join us as we delve into this fascinating topic.
The episode is hosted by Zhao Huanyu, the scientific project manager of the ReConnect China project.
You can find the policy brief here: www.reconnect-china.ugent.be/2023/05/29…er-roctus/
ReConnect China - Generating independent knowledge for a resilient future with China for Europe and its citizens. Find out more about the project here: www.reconnect-china.ugent.be/
Transcript of the episode 1
ReConnect China Podcast, episode 1:
‘How to work towards a resilient future with China?’
[Zhao] Welcome to this first ReConnect China podcast. My name is Zhao Huanyu. I'm the scientific project manager and researcher of the ReConnect China project at Ghent University in Belgium.
ReConnect China is a project funded by the European Commission in a framework of Horizon Europe. The project aims to work towards a resilient future with China for the EU and its citizens through a raising awareness on China among the general public and European youth in particular.
In this podcast, I have a talk with Bart Dessein and Jasper Roctus. Both are affiliated to Ghent University's research group, East Asian Culture in Perspective, Identity, Historical Consciousness, Modernity. Both of them are also affiliated to the Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations in Brussels.
[Zhao] The title of your jointly published first policy brief in a framework of ReConnect China is “’Remonstrating’, or the Art of Forging Relations”. What do you mean by remonstrating and why the reference you make to the Baihutong, the discussion in the White Tiger Hall, which is the record of political discussion that was held in the beginning of the Common Era?
[Dessein] The Baihutong is a philosophical political discussion or the record of such a discussion which was held in the beginning of the Common Era. And the protagonists of this discussion were advisors to the emperor. And we can say that, if we look at the political institutions of contemporary China, if you look at the Politburo, if you look at the Standing Committee, that also there you have kind of a similar situation in which politicians are having some discussion, some advisors with the top leadership. And in that sense, we have chosen to give this a seam line.
[Zhao] And in the policy brief, you allude to a difference in China's relations with the EU as political body on one hand and with individual member states of the EU on the other hand. Do such different approaches indeed exist?
[Roctus] Yes, indeed, they do. And you could even expand this to China's different positions towards different institutions of the European Union, be it between the Commission, the Council, the Parliaments, or indeed its member states.
Over the past decades, China has struggled significantly in balancing its pledge to support further integration of the Union while simultaneously maintaining warmer relations with some member states than others. An example of this is the 16 + 1, which then became 17 + 1, and I think is nowadays 14 + 1 after the withdrawal of the Baltic States, which has led to many accusations that China is playing divide and rule between the EU's member states.
Of course, the same goes for some BRI-related projects in the EU's periphery. A factor worth mentioning in this regard is the general misunderstandings in China on the bottom up, the member states being the bottom in this case, approach of policy initiatives in Brussels, while many Chinese, be it academic or politicians, expect the Union to behave in the same top-down approach that they are familiar with in China.
Great confusion especially exists on the one-China policy, which, while every member state and the EU as a whole adhere to this nominally, practically different approaches exist. We, of course, all know about the situation with Lithuania and the Taiwan office. If we observe the last several years, we can see that generally China supports any actor, be it inside the Union or inside the member states, that advocates for a strategical autonomous foreign policy or policy in Brussels, read, of course, in this case, policy independence from the United States.
That's why in April we saw how Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, who recently allegedly blocked NATO expansion towards East Asia, was warmly welcomed in China, while Ursula von der Leyen, as the leader of the European Commission, was snubbed during the joint visit to China.
It should, of course, in this regard, be mentioned that Ursula von der Leyen and many EU officials do not have a direct or an equal counterpart, unlike the head of states and of member states, which is a factor that further complicates matters.
In conclusion, I would say that different approaches by China do not exist per se, but it's more like a more pragmatically differing treatment of those in the EU that support a policy line beneficial to the country.
[Zhao] And what about China's relations with the regions of the world?
[Dessein] Well, as Mr. Roctus just mentioned, there is a great amount of pragmatical attitude in China's foreign policies. I would say that since the end of the bipolar world order and the end of the Cold War, that we have seen in the world growing regionalization, which has to do with geoeconomics and also with geopolitics, which are constantly changing.
And in this sense, European Union is a very important one, and but it's not the only partner of China, but China is also really diversifying in a very pragmatic way its foreign policies towards other parts of the world.
If you look for instance, for energy, we see that China is intensifying its relations with the African continent, also with South America. We also see that since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that China has also, first as a kind of a security system, but gradually developing into an economic collaboration project has at the end of the 20th century, 1996, created the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, of which Iran also became a full member last week.
So, you really see that, and this has everything to do with pragmaticism and with the dependencies we have on different issues in world politics or different dependencies, and that's how EU is one partner, but one among many partners for China.
[Zhao] And in your analysis in a policy brief, you refer to the 20th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party of October 2022. You perceive an uneasy relationship between ideology and economy in contemporary China. You speak about ideology tilting towards economic realism. Can you explain this?
[Roctus] Let's not forget that in October of last year, China was still living in a different world, in a different reality than it is now. Zero COVID back then still seemed there to stay, and ideology and personal loyalty clearly took precedence over the economy.
In Xi's speech in October 2022, terms like security, appeared much more frequent than terms like reform for the economy in general, for example. Speeches were given during the Party Congress where the signification of Marxism was hailed as the success of the rise of China, while the economic reforms since 1978 were not really mentioned.
We also saw this reflected in state media at the time, which really uplays ideological themes, also related to ideology and security, while little or no negative attention was given to teams like the private markets and small businesses. This line was further solidified by the actions of the new Politburo, so-called All-Xi Politburo, consisting of all Xi Jinping loyalists, who opted to visit to Yan'an, a city in inland China, with some great revolutionary relevance for the party, as it was the main base from where the CCP conducted its insurgency against the nationalists and fought against the Japanese.
But the city holds little economic relevance. It stands, for example, in contrast with Xi's predecessors who opted to visit the economically important coastline. During his stay in the city, Xi even praised Mao Zedong's controversial rectification movements, which was even criticized by some other predecessors, which had taken place in Yan'an and had crackdowns on internal ideological dissent.
During this time, ideological stood above economy. That much was clear.
Everything then changed in November of last year with the so-called White Paper revolution by Xi Jinping, and then the subsequent U-turn by the CCP's leadership on zero COVID. Considering popular dissidence in the last week of November, while this started over an incident that was not related to the economy, the leadership seemed to realize that in one way or another, it was losing popular support over its relative neglect of the economy, and zero COVID was not sustainable.
The shift towards economic openness was also accompanied by a shift in state media rhetoric. And by February 2023, China was clearly living in a different economic reality than four months prior.
[Zhao] And how does this translate in the 14th People's Congress of March 2023?
[Dessein] The inkling of a focus tilting towards economic realism has been maintained and even been enhanced in the leading up to, and as a result of the 14th People's Congress we had in March 2023.
We see that the constitution of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party already shows this kind of an inkling and that something was to gradually change. For instance, of the members of the Central Committee, 114 have enjoyed a science-based education, while 121, almost 50-50, but a little bit more, have in their education a more business-oriented background.
This already was presaging that gradually changes were to come.
And leading up to the 14th People's Congress, as my colleague said, security was very prominent, but gradually we saw also an enhancement of references to economic reality, basically since October 2022, and then peaking in January 2023.
And this was indeed affirmed if you look at the executive power, which is the result of the 14th People's Congress, we see that the premier, Li Qiang, has some economic background. Also, the second and the third vice premiers have in their education and in their activities as party members shown to be having a considerable sway in the financial and the economic fields. Also, the vice president, Han Zheng, is to be associated with the development of the East Coast of China, which is a process that started basically under the presidency of Jiang Zemin. You can also remember here that it was Li Qiang, the current prime minister, who lifted the very severe zero COVID measures.
So, in response also partly to the white paper or the white sheet of paper revolution already mentioned.
[Zhao] Does this search for balance between ideology and economy in China's international relations reflect the country's current domestic situation?
[Dessein] Yes, this economic pragmatism or the sense of economic reality is really given in by the domestic situation. Already a few days after he was officially appointed the new prime minister, Li Qiang pointed out three urgent tasks to be done by the executive power.
That is restoring trust among private companies in the government, attracting foreign direct investment, and, very importantly, avoiding the middle-income trap, which is a very important issue for China at this moment.
And China has to climb up in the production ladder. It is no more possible to be the cheapest producer of cheap labor consumer goods. So, there is a necessity of technology. Despite the whole rhetoric about the dual circulation, China still is in very much need of technology. And for that, I can refer to my diversification of foreign policy already mentioned. For technology, of course, Europe is important, but for energy and for raw materials, it will, for instance, be South America or African countries.
So, the technology thing is something I think that is very important. If you look also at the very global issues we are facing, climate change and so on, this all will require technological expertise. And for this it would also be very conducive for China to overcome the middle-income trap.
[Roctus] Another issue that is worth mentioning is China's slowly snowballing demographic crisis. While China is at this moment still enjoying so-called demographic diffidence, which means that's a relatively small proportion of the population is either under or above working age. Although in absolute numbers, working age population has already peaked around 2016. A crisis is really on the horizon.
The generation of the baby boom that took place after the Great Leap Forward during the 1960s is going to retire over the next decades, which will eventually lead to a doubling of China's so-called dependency ratio by 2050. Nowadays, there are roughly 35% of the population is economically dependent on the working population. This will grow to 70% by 2050.
Under the decreasing fertility rates of the last few years, we know that these people that are retiring are not going to be replaced one-to-one, even if birth rates rebound slightly. Mass immigration, as we know in the West, is no solution for the country's falling birth rates either, as the government is cautious with any move that could further increase ethnic tensions.
So economically speaking, as my colleague also said just now, it will be crucial for the country's industry to become less labor-intensive. Whether it will succeed into this will basically decide, whether ‘China will grow rich before it grows old or it will grow old before it grows rich’.
[Zhao] Do you have some concluding observations or remarks?
[Roctus] Well, I think an important theme to remember for the EU is now even more now, so that's economic realism, as we just explained, has once again taken center stage in China, is that we have to be, that Brussels has to be aware of the fact that the EU has a lot of leverage over China.
Too often, we are too focused on the opposite, namely that China would have a lot of leverage over us, but the other way goes as well. While China can, for example, do in some ways without the US or is already doing without the US, it cannot bear to also lose the US in export markets, and as my colleague just explained, also as a hub for technology.
So, more self-confidence with regard to China is therefore warranted in Brussels.
[Dessein] I agree with what my colleague just mentioned, and I think knowing this reality, that when talking about China, we very often start off from a negative attitude, not from a neutral one, and I would say that adopting a neutral, objective attitude will show us possibilities, for indeed principled pragmatism to deal with China as we deal with any other country.
We need knowledge about China, and based on that knowledge, to work together for the future of mankind. It is important that we keep on dialoguing, that we keep open the communication lines for all of us.
[Zhao] Thank you for your insightful reflections on EU-China relations, and for your suggestions on how to work towards a resilient future for the EU and its citizens with China.
(Outi Luova & Philipp Brugner & Gábor Szüdi)
[Intro] You are listening to the ReConnect China podcast, a European research consortium analyzing the European-Chinese relations of the future.
[Luova] Welcome to the ReConnect China podcast. I'm Outi Luova from the Centre for East Asian Studies at the University of Turku, Finland. Today I'm joined by two researchers from the Centre for Social Innovation in Austria to talk about their recent ReConnect China report on EU-China cooperation on science, technology, innovation.
Today's two guests are Philipp Brugner, who is a Slavicist and political scientist by training, and Gábor Szüdi, who is an economist by training. They both work in the Units for Research Policy and Societal Development at the Centre for Social Innovation, and they have several years of experience in working in EU-funded international research projects with a particular focus on the topics of science diplomacy with non-like-minded states, research integrity, and trust in science.
They are also part of the European Research and Innovation Knowledge Network on China 2.0 that supports the European Commission and EU member states with background analysis about science cooperation with China. Together, they lead ReConnect China's analysis on science, technology, and innovation cooperation between the EU and China, and they oversee the project's impact strategy. Welcome, Philipp and Gábor.
[Brugner & Szüdi] Hello from our side. Nice to be here with you.
[Luova] I would like to start by asking, why did you choose the fields of artificial intelligence, big data, and machine learning in particular for the report?
[Szüdi] Thank you for the question. So, yes, we chose these topics exactly because we thought that these are very topical issues. We promised at the beginning in our grant agreement that we will do something with big data, and we had a preliminary meeting with all the partners. What do they think, what could be the most interesting scientific fields to study here in terms of the scientific, technological, and innovation cooperation between China and the European Union member states. And after we had the discussion, we decided that we should put it to the framework of the frontier technologies, our studies. So, we came to these big areas of big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, which we think are totally relevant right now. And here we could make very nice and broad analysis to a bibliometric study and a co-patent study, taking more than 200 keywords into consideration. We could analyse 10,000 publications and patents between the last 10 years. So, our analytical framework started in 2011 and ended in 2022.
[Luova] That's a huge data. Based on your report, what are the most important patents of current EU-China cooperation in STI field?
[Szüdi] So yeah, it's a huge data. You can see it was a long report. To summarize it, the most interesting and important part for us was very huge intensification of the collaboration between the European countries and China. And here I have to say that it's not just the 27 EU member states, but we also included the United Kingdom, Norway, and Switzerland into the framework because these are big players towards China. And I have to say that we saw that in the last few years, the number of co-publications between these European countries and China took over the number of co-publications between the US and China. So, there are now more co-publications between China and Europe than between China and the United States, which we think is quite interesting. Of course, we should follow this trend, that if it goes and I think it can be traced back to the more restrictive stance of the United States in terms of trade and other measures. Maybe this will have a profound effect on the scientific cooperation.
Otherwise, what we saw that the UK is still the largest player. 44, 45 percent of all the publications, almost half of it comes from the United Kingdom. Afterwards, I think there are no surprises there, there is Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands. And we saw some players from Eastern Europe, for example, Poland has intensified its cooperation very much in the last ten years with China, but the cooperation is still very diverse in terms of scientific fields and also in terms of institutions. We cannot say that only one or two institutions are currently cooperating with Chinese institutions, but there are different, I would say, clusters in different topics like health, engineering, artificial intelligence, and machine learning that are cooperating with Chinese actors.
[Luova] Thank you, Gábor, that was really interesting. If we take a closer look at the scientific fields and economic sectors, which are most represented there and what does that actually tell us about the cooperation?
[Szüdi] Well, we made broad categories of scientific fields and we went a little bit deeper. I think what can be really interesting is that applied sciences, almost two-thirds, so 65 percent of the cooperation between China and Europe, followed by natural sciences, health sciences, and all these. So applied sciences, natural health sciences are almost 95 percent of the cooperation, which means that, for example, social sciences are less than 5 percent.
We took from this that the Chinese partners are really interested in scientific cooperations from the applied perspective, so they are looking for really applied values. And here the two most important subfields, I would say, one is the image processing and the other one is telecommunication ones. Image processing and telecommunications are the two biggest fields within applied sciences, counting almost one-third of all cooperation.
[Brugner] What Gábor said is also alluding to some corporations that we see, for instance, when we look at the patents. As we said, we have also done the patent analysis, and just to add on this picture on telecommunications, the same representation we see by Chinese companies and European companies involved and also very strong players like Huawei are indeed leading that field of telecommunications, or Nokia. So it is not only a cooperation that takes place on the research side but also on the side of companies and private entities.
[Luova] Clearly, there are many fields in which cooperation is very attractive with China. Cn you mention any specific fields in which cooperation is particularly exciting, for example, in frontier technologies?
[Brugner] Yes, I think also this is what our report really indicates. China is rapidly speeding up in science, technology and innovation in general. We have not only worked with the data for the report, so the co-publications and the patents, but of course, also, as a desk researcher, as a background to the report, we looked a lot into current documents published by the Chinese authorities and also other sources that study China's innovation system. And we have an opening of China's science system since now four and a half decades with some great reforms in the 70s under Deng Xiaoping. And this is a rapid development that could be observed. And in that time, China took example of a clearly indicator driven system like the UK one, that indicators and metrics play a very great role in how China defines its prosperousness and success in being innovative, innovation leader country or scientifically leading country.
In 2022, China overtook any other country in scientific publications for the first time with about more than 400,000 publications of scientific papers. And China makes progress in the worldwide top most cited publications. It's two factors that give a good impression of what China is currently pursuing. China is also pledging to contribute to global mitigation of climate change, to outer space exploration, to biotechnology or to environmental sciences and the challenges related to that more in general. We read that from official documents from China, we read that from Chinese political leaders. And in China, I think it's quite safe to say if political leaders announce priorities, that will be also translated into certain policies. And that gives on the one side a clear feel for and potential that China is open for cooperation, whereas there is growing concerns in this cooperation too. But I think we have to take both things into account at the same time.
[Luova] Yeah, exactly. There are more and more also challenges coming ahead in cooperation with China. And based on your research and your own experience, what are currently the biggest challenges when working with China?
[Brugner] Maybe I start first, Gábor can also add to that. In the report, we exclusively deal with the European environment. So as Gábor already alluded to, the US current approach is very strict and limits a lot of cooperation with China. Whereas our impression is that in the EU there is still the ambition and the attempt to strike the right balance when it comes to cooperating with China. As I already tried to explain, we think there are opportunities given China's brainpower, given China's tremendous output of scientific publications in relevant fields, but the challenges are at the moment dominating a lot of discourses. And you can read about that. China is misusing scientific research and data that they acquire through cooperation with the European partners in terms of dual use. That means civilian technology that is used for military purposes. And this is obviously not to the taste of the European partners. The topic of dual use has really dominated the discourse a lot over the past years.
But also other aspects like ethics in science, the values in science, the practices of how to do research are different in China and the EU. For instance, there's a tendency in the EU to stop and stall the cooperation with the so-called Seven Sons Universities. This is one of the most discussed examples. Seven Sons of Defence, actually, they are seven military technology-oriented universities under the state. The EU has cooperated with them on a very flexible, limitless basis. But now, given these rhetorics and these discussions on research misuse and also dual use, the EU is trying and I think also national countries are trying to reassess this cooperation with the Seven Sons of National Defence, which are only one example of how China also is regarding research cooperation in view of pursuing national interests, strategic interests.
And here we have to make clear that our research cooperation is not, shouldn't be a policy, a policy supporting objectives, but it should be free and independent of politics. And then with China, there's certainly potent discussion needed how to do that in the future.
[Luova] Yeah, that's a long list of points. Do you have anything to add, Gábor?
[Szüdi] Yeah, I forgot what should be highlighted. But I said at the beginning that the most important scientific and STI cooperation areas are all related to some applied value. But this is like image processing or telecommunications where we can all use our fantasies and what kind of analytical use there can be for example, image processing. But the thing is that almost everything, even basic research can be turned to military use if somebody wants to have it like this. So then this dual use challenge, this dual use sphere is, I think, what is penetrating nowadays the discourse about the cooperation with China. So I think this is the biggest challenge. The European Union wants to find a way how to cooperate with China in the most important fields, because like Philipp said, China is a scientific powerhouse, and how not to cut off the cooperation threads like the US. I think that's in itself a very big challenge for the future, that how do we find these ways to go forward in the cooperation.
[Brugner] And maybe one more addition to that. In Horizon Europe, so the EU's framework program for research innovation, we have a principle that is called “do no significant harm”. Any research that is funded on the Horizon must comply to this principle that no harm is done to the environment. And it's such type of principles that the EU cherishes and also puts forward as clear messages to its international partners. They bring us into these uneasy situations with in particular China, but not only China. We focus on China, but there's several other countries where we probably could also translate these same questions to in how the EU should do cooperation in the future. We think it needs more clear-cut standards and procedures on how to administrate and also go along these cooperation questions in order to not conflict our own interests.
[Luova] Those are difficult questions and I wonder if we are going to have a nice set of guidelines in the future.
Philipp, I would like to ask you one more question about what you just said and maybe a clarification because I'm not aware of how EU defines environment in the statement that we need to pay attention to environments in our research cooperation with other countries and in research in general.
[Brugner] So this question, it wasn't particularly part of the report, but I will try to answer it. The “do no significant harm” principle from the Horizon Programme really concerns the green transition, so I would say, this is an issue that relates to the natural environment. Maybe we need in the EU in the future also these types of principles that could encompass all areas of cooperation with China. The green transition is currently very much highlighted by the EU. I think this is why this principle is now in place with the Horizon Programme and it is one layer that could relate to what we said earlier, the EU-China cooperation on fighting climate change. China has also enshrined these principles by its current strategies, the large strategies that speak about carbon peak in China before 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060, for instance, or we see that by massive investments in the clean energy sector in China, where China is dominating the clean energy technology sector, also in terms of being a net exporter to the EU. We rely currently on these clean technology energies while also pursuing our own green transition. This is a fact that we have to take into account. And given that role of China, I think the cooperation should be pursued.
But we should more talk about these principles that we have and to which extent we could convince China as a partner to live up to the same principles. So that we find common ground to formulate joint principles on certain research areas such as environmental sciences and natural sciences. That is clearly a recommendation also in the policy brief, that the other areas like AI that have a lot of dual use risk should also be guided by principles. And Gábor researched on that in his policy brief a bit more in detail. We see here also, I think, conflicting legislation. There's AI principles in the EU, but then there's also AI principles currently sketched and modelled by China. And we are not sure how much overlap is there on the AI principles between these two players.
[Luova] So more studies to be done. If we still continue with the green tech topic, because that's very important and currently a bit in shadow because of other global concerns. If you think of shared ambitions, such as combating climate change or establishing energy security or exploring the outer space, how would you estimate the role of China and its scientific technological capacities?
[Brugner] As I said already, I think that answer could be cut quite short. China, given its brainpower, its R&D funding that is massively ramping up, its clear targets that it follows in policy areas, China will necessarily, I think, bring forward innovations that are interesting to not only Europe, but global mankind as such in order to tackle these societal challenges as they are climate change or how human mankind uses the outer space. These are questions that are important for the future of our planet.
We should not follow the US example of restricting our cooperation too much, but on the other hand, try, as we said at the beginning, to strike a right balance between being very aware of the risks and also of the practices that are driving Chinese researchers offering the cooperation. And awareness also means being more informed. So we have to study the Chinese research system, how it works, and also the practices behind. We have to offer basically capacity building and information to any researchers in Europe that are confronted with cooperation requests from China, in order to give them the spaces to take informed decisions. Of course, this has to be added up by professional services in the universities or in the research institutions that read Chinese language, can interpret Chinese legal texts, and so on and so forth. But in a combination, also, we think it needs a bottom-up approach to train researchers more widely. This is, by the way, also one of the overall goals of ReConnect China, to raise this awareness on China in the society and in specific target groups.
[Luova] Yeah, during the discussion, you both have mentioned many risks and needs that we are facing in China cooperation. So based on your very comprehensive report, it's like 130 pages long, if you summarize, what would be the most important policy recommendations you would address to policymakers, both on national level and also at the European level?
[Szüdi] It's a tricky question, because of all the intertwined related issues that Philip has now been describing. I would say the most important would be from a European perspective, but also from a national perspective, to be able to define what are those areas that we find, so to say, risky, unnecessarily risky, moderately risky, or not risky at all. And in these terms, we should not only go into restrictions, like in the case of the United States, but develop criteria. A clear set of criteria on how to define such scientific fears which we feel that are too risky, and apply a mixed set of policy answers, policy measures that can mitigate risks. I'm not just talking about restrictions here, but also regulations, which should be, as also mentioned by Philip, in line with the regulation on artificial intelligence coming from China. So here we should see that what regulative measures we can bring forth, and also give advices. I think that we, a little bit, underestimate the power of not just these regulations, but also information given to scientists. And this is true for the European Commission and the European side, but also for nation states.
[Brugner] A good example for that is what we see in Germany happening at the moment. We found in our research, and we are partially also connected to these people, that the German Ministry for Science now has a new funding scheme that is called, in German, Regio China, so it's Region China, let's say. And what they are doing, they're giving funding specifically to institutions in geographical proximity to fund networks, exchange, knowledge transfer, with the desired output to define their own first guidelines of how to deal with China in research cooperation in the future. Germany is too large to define one approach of how to do research cooperation with China. They came to the conclusion that the institutions that are close to each other, geographically speaking, they know a lot. They are also working on a trusted basis. And if those people are asked, how did you inform yourself about the Chinese partner that has approached you, be it for a joint publication, or for a research cooperation, a real project, they usually ask in-house, or they ask institutions nearby that they are familiar with, the people they are familiar with on a personal level or on an institutional level. So that is also the idea of this Regio China funding scheme.
And we think this is a good example of how also other larger EU countries could tackle this question. Whereas in other smaller countries, like for Austria, the trend is rather in going into a national-wide strategy. There's further discussions of also how to do that on a national level. And for the larger countries, regional strategies could make sense. The EU strategy is of course always a syllabus, kind of a summary, a picture of what happens on the national levels. We think the EU should give guidelines that could apply to all, but also give this certain type of flexibility and leeway that countries define their own approaches.
[Luova] Philip and Gábor, thank you so much for these really interesting insights about science cooperation between Europe and China. I'm sure that our listeners are going to enjoy it.
[Szüdi] Thank you for having us.
[Brugner] Thank you, Outi. It was very nice to talk about that topic and to try to summarize our report in a short time.
[Luova] The report can be downloaded from the ReConnect webpage. The comprehensive report with 130 pages, and then there are also the two shorter policy briefs that have been mentioned during this discussion. You can find more information about ReConnect China publications on our webpage, and you can also follow us on Twitter and Linkedin.
I'm Outi Luova. Thank you for listening to the ReConnect China podcast.
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