Asia Pacific: Overseas professors set up Chinese think-tank in BC – Vancouver Sun

A group of Chinese academics?from several universities in B.C. have set up a think-tank focused on China?s perspectives of encouraging trade and investment with Canada, marking the first agency?of its kind in Western Canada.

The Grizzly Bear Institute of Canada was established by about 10 professors, mostly visiting scholars from Mainland Chinese institutions, but also some North American senior researchers. They come from the University of B.C., Simon Fraser University and other schools.

Since earlier this year, the institute has held a number of forums and research seminars on global economic and geopolitical topics, focused on?promoting trade and investment.

Zhang Jiawei, one of the founders, is a visiting professor at SFU?s Beedie school of business. Zhang?said Grizzly Bear?s came from gathering overseas academics living?in Metro Vancouver.

?The space for think-tanks focusing on the China-Canada relationship here is almost completely empty,? Zhang said. ?Even among the 429 think tanks in China, this type of institution is exceedingly rare. ? Of the Canadian think-tanks that do exist, you rarely see any Chinese academics from China, resulting in a lack of research on the China issue and overseas Chinese issues, and some bias.?

The group?s website and research seminars are mostly?in Chinese, but Zhang said that?s only the initial plan of drawing on newly-immigrated Chinese people. He said they?plan?to include more English-speaking events to give the institute wider visibility in B.C.?s academic community. The group also recently signed a cooperative agreement with Peking University?s Institute of International Studies.

Asia geopolitics analyst Sean King, who is vice-president of New-York-based Park Strategies and a former U.S. trade official, said there has been an increase in?Mainland Chinese academics appearing in North American research forums to express?Chinese perspectives, so?what?s happening?in Vancouver is not unique.

?Canada makes sense for a Chinese think-tank because it doesn?t have the security obligations and concerns in Asia like the United States does,? he said. ?Once you are in Canada, Vancouver makes sense because of the geographic proximity and the amount of trade B.C. does with China and Asia as a whole.?

King, a critic of Chinese foreign policy, said?many of the?scholars he has seen do not stray for the official line of Beijing.

?Lately, I?ve noticed Mainland Chinese academics showing up at various forums and symposiums in New York ? on topics like South China Sea, East China Sea, North Korea or general Asian issues,? he said. ?While they are not there as official spokespeople for the Chinese government, you would have to assume, given China?s political system, whatever these academics are saying at these events are at least with implicit government approval.?

During a recent seminar UBC?s forest sciences centre, Grizzly?s main seminar centred on the Chinese efforts to?globalize the renminbi, China?s currency.?Canada has?the first renminbi trading hub in North America.?

Wang Yingming, partner at Softbank Asia Infrastructure Fund and researcher at the Institute of Urban Environment at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, urged overseas Chinese communities to get on-side with Beijing economic programs, such as the high-profile One Belt, One Road project across Asia to Europe.

?It?s important that you don?t miss this train, because once it leaves, it?s gone,? Wang said of One Belt, One Road, which he identified as key to?Beijing?s strategy to globalize the renminbi, as it has the potential to create a unified market across the Eurasian continent. ?Once that market is unified, it would because the biggest economic force on the planet. ? Money and investment comes from the flow of people and commodities, and once Europe and Asia are connected, Europe naturally has to deal with renminbi more substantially.?

Wang also framed the current disputes in the South China Sea as a reflection of Washington?s defensive policies against the rise of renminbi through One Belt, One Road: ?What we see in the South China Sea, on some level, is not China disturbing the peace, but rather a reflection of the uneasiness coming out of the U.S.?

Zhang Jiawei, one of the scholars who help found the think-tank Grizzly Bear Institute, speaks at one of the group's events. Handout, July 11, 2016 [PNG Merlin Archive]


Zhang Jiawei, one of the scholars who help found the think-tank Grizzly Bear Institute, speaks at one of the group?s events.

King disagrees.

?Of all the Chinese claims I?ve heard on U.S. foreign policy objectives, that?s one of the more ridiculous,? he said. ?Obviously, we are not out to back or push (One Belt, One Road). We didn?t join (China-led infrastructure bank) AIIB, and ??as I might point out, Canada didn?t either, although that might change ??but we are not going to change national foreign policy objectives to counter it. It?s just not worth it.?

Zhang said that Grizzly hopes to bring perspectives different from the mainstream western thinking on China?s economic strategy.

?In mainstream stream of thought, the perspectives of Prof.?Wang is not common here,? he said. ?But why we?re happy to invite him to share his views is because, as we move toward a common perspective, we need to hear more voice from more people. That?s how you promote progress and move forward.?

chchiang@postmedia.com

Asia Pacific: Overseas professors set up Chinese think-tank in BC – Vancouver Sun}

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