Interview: Jingdong Yuan on China in the Global Order and German Building Isolation

In the fourth episode of our interview series, Lynda Iroulo talks to Jingdong Yuan, Associate Professor in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. Listen in, as Yuan gives insight into his thoughts about the WZB, his research on the political economy of dual use-technology, studying China in the global order, and his appreciation for Berlin’s well-insulated apartments.

Find a short transcription of the interview below or listen to the full one here:

Iroulo: What brings you to the WZB and for how long will you be here?

Yuan: I heard about the WZB from one of my colleagues, Professor John Keane, who runs the Sydney Democracy Network. He has very close ties with the WZB, and we have this fellowship where one or two faculty members every year get selected to be a visiting fellow to the WZB and spend a couple of months and do research. It triggered my interest, and I took a look at what the WZB does, and I was quite surprised; this is a vast operation, a few hundred scholars from all over the world working on social sciences. In the past, I tended to go to places that focused on area studies, like Asian studies or China studies, but this is more interdisciplinary with social sciences, and maybe history and humanities as well. I wanted to be part of this fascinating and exciting organization. In particular, the Global Governance unit, which has some sub-research areas that fit my research interest. That is why I applied, and I am very lucky to be selected. Now I am here, spending eight weeks, so, roughly two months.

Iroulo: So far, what is your impression of the WZB compared to other institutes you have been at?

Yuan: It’s huge, in both human and physical terms, you know, the cluster of the different wings of the building and the big library. Usually, I think, apart from the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, which also hosts a very nice library, this is the only organization I have seen that has a very sizable library with six or seven floors. For me, a very exciting finding was that the WZB subscribes to the Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute (SIPRI) Yearbook. As you introduced me, you mentioned that I have been working on the nuclear arms control and non-proliferation issues – for this research area, that yearbook is a must read, but many libraries do not subscribe to it. For the WZB, this is unique, and that volume is an essential collection of scholarship in the area of nuclear arms control and disarmament.

Iroulo: During your time at the WZB, what will you be researching on? Are there any upcoming exciting research projects you would like to talk about?

Yuan: I have two projects, both of which are directly or indirectly related to what the Global Governance unit does. The fundamental questions are with the emerging powers like China, India, and other developing countries and how Global Governance is evolving owing to the redistribution of power and dependence from emerging powers on the reform and restructuring of the current governance structure. For my projects specifically, I have two ongoing studies. First is about China´s rise and how it’s is using international institutions, either within institutions or by creating new institutions to advance and protect its national interests. Second, how that behaviour, or this particular approach; – what scholars call institutional balancing strategy – affects Global Governance either at the international level or maybe, more specifically, at the regional level. So, that is one of the projects I am working on at the moment.  I look at some institutions or multilateral arrangements, and even ideas that China has been actively promoting. For example, the Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank (AIIB), the Shanghai Corporation Organization (SCO), which has been in existence for almost two decades, and more recently the One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR), which is very ambitious. And then there is the less known concept for building up Asian Security, the CICA – the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia. So, I look at these four projects or initiatives and try to understand what exactly is driving China towards developing these projects and how China is going to deploy institutional balancing strategies, either like the United States and other powers or just merely to promote its interests.

Iroulo: What is your favorite book in the field? Do you have one?

Yuan: I have one. I think I like John Mearsheimer´s The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. I do not necessarily agree with his somewhat doomed scenario and disruption, but I think he has a point – the question of ‘why would rising powers not be attracted to the idea to make demands or establish their dominance or enhance their influence in their particular geographical region?’ So, I think he is raising a very interesting and important question. I think a lot of the debates today – even the fact that we have those concerns of a challenge to the global order and governance – exist because somewhere in the back of our mind, we seem to agree that rising powers will create a challenge to the existing order and established powers. So, I think Mearsheimer´s book offers an insight into why we are thinking that way, even unconsciously.

Iroulo: What can you recommend as a must-see in Berlin? Have you had a chance to walk around in the city?

Yuan: Yes, I have! Of course, I have been to the Parliament and the Brandenburg Gate. One other thing I am particularly impressed about is that the apartments in Berlin are well insulated. In Shanghai, once you are in the apartment, you have to put on the heating because it is so cold; while in Berlin, it may be cold outside, but when I get into the apartment, I could just wear a sweater, and I do not have to turn on the heating.

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