Area studies serve B&R construction

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2023-11-10

Painted pottery of the Tang Dynasty at the National Museum of China showcases cultural exchanges along the ancient Silk Road. Photo: Yang Lanlan/CSST

In the decade since the inception of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the progress of Asian regions and countries, as well as the collaboration between China and the Belt and Road (B&R) nations in Asia, have exhibited new trends and new characteristics. In this context, a seminar focusing on the establishment of country and area studies centered around Asia, along with a forum commemorating the 10th anniversary of the BRI, were held concurrently in Beijing on October 14.

Deepening research

China has gradually established a solid research foundation for area studies, and has taken substantial steps towards developing Chinese systems for fields of study, academia, and discourse. Luo Lin, director of the Academy of International and Regional Studies at Beijing Language and Culture University, elaborated on the sound construction in universities and enhanced research forces, stating nearly 200 universities across the country have participated in the construction of cultivation bases and centers. Academic productivity has witnessed a remarkable surge, resulting in the creation of more than 15,000 papers and over 3,000 works, with the satisfaction rate reaching an impressive 98% among research result users for three consecutive years.

The present era is witnessing unprecedented and rapid transformations, along with significant adjustments in the global power dynamics. The escalating factors of instability and uncertainty have further complicated the international landscape. Accordingly, the focus of area studies in the next stage will be to seek opportunities. In a broader perspective, scholars should conduct various disciplinary studies globally, as well as from the perspectives of China and other relevant parties. Jiang Jingkui, executive deputy director of the Institute for International and Area Studies at Tsinghua University, believes that traditional area studies from the perspective of foreign language and literature are relatively single and static, while current research tends to be more comprehensive, interdisciplinary, and dynamic. At the microscopic level, the quality and efficiency of combining academic research and advisory services should be further improved.

Serving strategic needs

Interdisciplinary area studies are aimed at serving the strategic and core needs of nations, providing support for major decision-making processes. According to Mu Hongyan, a professor from the School of Asian Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU), beyond language and literature, area studies should also integrate social, historical, and religious culture to broaden research horizons.

Niu Linjie, director of the Trilateral Cooperation Studies Center at Shandong University, believes that area studies necessitate a strong command of the language of the target country. Relying solely on widely spoken languages makes it difficult to delve deep into countries with uncommon indigenous languages. This gives rise to numerous opportunities for less spoken languages.

In the opinion of Quan Yonggen, dean of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, less-spoken-language majors should give full play to their own advantages by the first-hand language materials of B&R countries. They are tasked with obtaining the most direct and authentic information of the target country and making the most appropriate judgments.

Zhai Kun, deputy director of the Institute of Area Studies at Peking University, said that compared with previously sitting on the “cold stool,” research on Southeast Asia is thriving, featuring localization, practicality, detailed thematic research, and increased comprehensive research. Cooperation with natural sciences, public health, agriculture, and other fields has also been strengthened. In the view of Wang Zhanpeng, deputy director of the Academy of Regional and Global Governance at BFSU, this is a return to tradition, considering the self-evident importance, complexity, and diversity of Asia.

Fan Hongwei, a professor from the School of International Relations at Xiamen University, suggested enhancing knowledge reserves and long-term policy support, and altering the tradition of chiefly concentrating on Western powers in area studies. The discipline should be positioned to serve the country. In addition to cross-cultural communication, it should also fulfill the function of serving crisis resolution, incremental development, and national rejuvenation.

“More than 40 Asian countries have signed memoranda of understanding and agreements with China for cooperation on BRI. Asian countries and regions are of great significance to joint B&R construction,” concluded Zheng Dongchao, director of the strategy department of the China Center for Contemporary World Studies under the International Department of the CPC Central Committee. It is advisable to strengthen research on China-related dynamics of think tanks in B&R countries and carry out the internationalized training of education among Asian students.

The conferences were sponsored by the School of Asian Studies at BFSU and the editorial department of the Journal of Asian and African Studies.

Editor:Yu Hui

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