New project explores perceptions of China

The project will explore how the West perceives China.

A new research project exploring how the West perceives China is to be launched at the University of Exeter.

Particularly topical given the nature of some of the coronavirus coverage, the project will look at how these perceptions of China are created and sustained. It will also study the impact of these views on trade, international development, global economies, and business and society more broadly.

The project is funded thanks to a philanthropic donation from alumnus James Goulding, founder of LimeTree Capital Partners. The new ‘LimeTree Capital Fellowship’ will support a postdoctoral researcher for two years.

James said: “I’ve lived and worked in Asia for over 15 years and constantly interact with investors in Europe and the US. During this time I’ve seen a lot of information disseminated that is just not accurate and there often seems to be ignorance in the western media about what business life and the economy is really like in China.

“I wonder where these perceptions come from and why, and also if we can do something about it. China is an incredibly important world power that is continuing to grow, and it will become even more important to the UK post-Brexit. I think it’s important for businesses and individuals to have a clearer understanding of the situation and an opportunity for both sides to work together.”

Professor Doug Stokes, Professor of International Relations at Exeter, who will supervise the project said: “Despite many statistics suggesting that China is encouraging of international business cooperation, there remains a widely held belief within the West that China is not an easy place for outsiders to do business. Personal networks are thought to exercise significant influence and there is a perception that local companies may enjoy greater political protection. These perceptions can affect relationships and individuals’ propensity to do business in and with China.

“This project will explore some of the politics behind these views. How the USA, UK and other governments interact with China and how this drives peoples’ perceptions. It’s important to understand why certain beliefs exist, particularly with China’s growing global influence and with the need for trade post-Brexit. Are the broad views in the west balanced, especially after the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.”

China has seen significant economic growth over the past 40 years. In 1978, when Deng Xiaoping became chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, the World Bank estimated China’s GDP at around US$150 billion. By 2019, its GDP had soared to more than US$14 trillion. In recent years, China’s growth rate has slowed to around 6%, but overall economic development remains high. Meanwhile, the US growth rate has not exceeded 3% in recent years, making it only a matter of time before China’s economy becomes larger than that of the US.

As part of a movement of global economic activity from West to East in recent decades, China overtook Germany as the world’s largest exporter in 2009 as has since also become the world’s largest trading nation in terms of combined imports and exports. Foreign direct investment into China, supported by factors including liberalisation and the rapid development of the high-tech sector, has also increased, with over US$125 billion invested into the country in 2019 alone. This places China second globally for foreign direct investment, behind only the US. When considered separately, Hong Kong is ranked third.

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