Taking Part in the 2nd Global China Dialogue at the British Academy

01:42 (UTC±00:00), 25 NOV 2015 | GBR HARROW, GREATER LONDON

All Attendees

My wife Tracy seems to have this urge to push me to challenge after challenge. Most academics default to being shy most of the time, which was why I thought my involvement in this 2nd Global China Dialogue would be, at first, a long ways off.

In reality, though, it turned out to be anything but. By the time the whole thing was over on 24 November 2015, I had completed translations, basic designs, even the news release bit, as well as taken part as an organiser, discussant, and speaker. Not since the Inaugural Sino-British Television Innovation Management Summit (China-UK TV Inno Summit) was I this involved in a single event. (The recent Beautiful Hebei opening ceremony came close in terms of how busy I was at that event!)

My roles were finalised merely days before the event started. I had confirmed roles of being both a Discussant (this being new to me, I tried to be both supportive and critical) and a Speaker. I was supposed to offer my 2p regarding how others on the Civilised Dialogue – Transcultural and Comparative discussed the issues of the day, and give a presentation on Urbanisation and the Fabric of China’s Internet.

Discussing Views | Civilised Dialogue – Transcultural and Comparative panel

DF Discussant

Joining me in this panel, chaired by veteran journalist and China Daily EU bureau deputy chief Mr Fu Jing, were Mr Khalid Nadeem, Chairman of the South Asia & Middle East Forum, Professor Fan Lizhi of the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Fudan University, and Professor Sam Whimster of the Global Policy Institute, London Metropolitan University, also Editor of Max Weber Studies.

Some of the views of note that I went through in my quick review (after listening to some very impressive presentations) were things I took a particular interest in, and I encouraged all to delve deeper into:

  • China’s relationship with Pakistan and how this works out for Afghanistan: It’s no secret the ties between Beijing and Islamabad are as firm as ever. It’d be interesting to observe how this might work out when other regional factors and players, including Afghanistan, come into the picture.
  • Buddhism / religion in China: I myself remain staunchly neutral when it comes to politics and religion, but I’ve also heard of Buddhism in China being treated as a set of principles to follow, a “regular” religion, as well as a philosophy — or a way of life. (Sadly, I’ve also seen it treated as some kind of “magic wand” for getting rich!) I remarked the way this is seen in China can be very different to how, say, Christianity is seen in the West; but each, of course, are different and special with their own merits.
  • Civil service and government in China: I might have went off at a slight tangent here when I delved a bit into meritocracy, outlining how the current President of China “made it” from a knowledge youth of the 1960s in western central China, but also how there are movements and campaigns to ensure Party members and leaders remain close to “the people” and their interests.

Sharing Views | Urbanisation and the Fabric of China’s Internet talk

2015 11 23 Speaking 800

I next had 10 minutes (cut down from 15; I did this on my own initiative as break time lasted longer than scheduled) to present to audiences how the Internet has made itself a visible presence in the fabric of China as it continues to urbanise. I went into this into four parts:

  • Urbanisation (in general): First off, I did a quick comparison between London and Shanghai and how each city grew in the past 60 years or so. Then, I went into stats on urbanisation in China in general — starting out from 1953 stats and doing a year-on-year look from 2000 through to 2014. I also introduced them, more importantly, to key cities that are not Tier 1 cities — and a key city here was Hangzhou, which would host the G20 summit in 2016. Finally, I added in a slide showing them China’s huge motorway and HSR networks, and how such infrastructure was really urbanisation-friendly.
  • The Internet Fabric in Chinese Cities: I spared no effort on making sense of the latest June 2015 CNNIC stats, and I saw quite a number of us scribbling away those figures. China remains a highly connected society — on mobile, with 88.9% using the Web on their mobile devices! Also, I went into general demographics, including the fact that an aggregate 78.4% of Internet users in China were born in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s, three key generations which will have a big impact on China in the years to come.
  • Urbanisation + Internet = Smart Cities: To get the gist of this, I actually did some research online, combined with a “local” (UK) visit to Milton Keynes, to see how smart cities would supposedly work. I concluded that Smart Cities had actually arrived to some (limited) extents — but that it was still not that easy to wade through the sometimes “hazy” officialspeak as to what really defines a Smart City.
  • Pros and Cons: Finally, as any good critical presentation might wrap up on, I sifted through the pros and cons of the topic as a whole, in particular Smart Cities. Big data, faster and better (cheaper, too!) Internet, and cities “spreading out into the regions” were listed as pros; surveillance, the eventual slowdown in the rate of urbanisation in China, and family pressure (one or two kids, plus four grandparents, often being the people a couple would care for, meaning huge pressure), were listed as challenges and concerns. Finally, I briefed the audience that Beijing already knew that there were challenges in urbanisation, and that they were thinking of ways to solve these issues.

The entire event was organised by CCPN Global in the UK, as well as the China Media Centre of the University of Westminster, and Fudan Development Institute at Fudan University, and YES Global UK. On Day 1, China Media Centre Director Professor Hugo de Burgh chaired the first part with key speeches given by Minister Counsellor Xiang Xiaowei of the Chinese Embassy in London, Lord Clement-Jones of the All-Party Parliamentary China Group, Mr Charles Grant of the Centre of European Reform and CCPN Global, and Professor Martin Albrow of the British Sociological Association.

Spanning two full days, the event featured attendance of up to 70 people, and a great variety of noted speakers, commentators, and specialists from all walks of life. I in fact had quite a hard time believing that one of my next speeches to be given within around a month after everyone welcomed the Chinese President to London on The Mall would be this close!

There’s also a lot of appreciation my end to Professor Chang Xiangqun, Director of CCPN Global, and Honorary Professor of UCL here in London, on how this event was organised. I didn’t mind staying up late at all, if only to perfect arrangements, translations, or to connect late to see how things would end up being organised. There’s a lot of mutual appreciation and understanding and I’d like to see how things develop having had such a major academic event. The Wolfson Auditorium, in essence overlooking The Mall, was one of the more prestigious addresses to hold this event in. These were two amazing days quite unlike any other I’d been through.