China in the 21st Century: An Interview with Dr. Susan Shirk

“We want to build the leading university-based policy think tank on contemporary China.”(Photo credit: IR/PS)

As part of the launch of China Focus, we interviewed Dr. Susan Shirk, chair of the 21st Century China Program (21CC) at IR/PS, to learn more about the organization.

CHINA FOCUS: What was the original impetus to launch the 21st Century China program?

DR. SUSAN SHIRK: First of all, congratulations on the launch of China Focus! I look forward to reading it.

For years, whenever China experts visited the UCSD campus, they expressed surprise about what a strong group of scholars we had here. “UCSD China studies is a well-kept secret,” they said. I don’t want to be modest about it. We do have an exceptional group here scattered across the campus, in history, sociology, literature, art, music, politics and economics.

IR/PS, in particular, has a concentration of distinguished scholars on contemporary China. A couple years ago, Dean Peter Cowhey, Barry Naughton, Tai Ming Cheung, Junjie Zhang and I started talking about how we might build a real program that would be more visible and active. I had admired the way University of Southern California had built its US-China Institute into a lively hub of activity ”talks, panels, conferences ”for students and the community, which was largely due to a dynamic full-time director. With some seed money from IR/PS and generous donations from the community, we were able to recruit Dr. Lei Guang, a political scientist at SDSU, to serve as the founding director. From there our new 21st Century China program took off.

Since establishing 21CC in 2011, we have been very fortunate to hire several superb faculty members who do research on China. So, now we are proud to say that we have a stronger China team than any other university. This is especially great news to all current and prospective students who want to study China at UCSD!

CHINA FOCUS: What are the primary goals and mission of the 21st Century China Program?

(Photo credit: IR/PS)

DR. SUSAN SHIRK: We want to build the leading university-based policy think tank on contemporary China. The mission of 21CC is to produce original research that addresses critical policy issues related to China’s development and U.S.-China relations, and to carry out policy dialogue between Chinese and American experts. We will achieve this through the strength of our own research, as well as by partnering with researchers from non-academic fields (e.g. NGOs, think tanks and private-sector research) in the U.S. and China.

By collaborating our research with Chinese scholars we also aim to strengthen China’s social science capacity and improve mutual understanding between the two societies. I am particularly gratified that Fudan University chose to establish the very first overseas study center ”Fudan-UC Center ”by any Chinese university at IR/PS, and to focus it on the study not of America, but of China! What a great compliment to the quality of our research.

Educating the next generation of experts on China and U.S.-China relations is also an important component of the mission. IR/PS students learn as members of our research teams, through interaction with our exciting visitors from China and elsewhere, and by publishing their own analyses on our new 21CC blog.

Finally, community engagement is vital to our mission. 21CC serves as an anchor for the vibrant China studies community at UCSD. We seek to involve educators, entrepreneurs, business and civic leaders, youth groups, technological innovation experts, and internationally-minded citizens in and around San Diego within the activities of 21CC.

CHINA FOCUS: What plans or future projects does the program hope to achieve?

DR. SUSAN SHIRK: There are many projects in 21CC's future, but here are some of the few exciting plans that we have lined up:

– Through a grant from the Carnegie Corporation recently awarded to 21CC, we will be bringing Chinese social scientists to IR/PS to work with our faculty and students to design and work on collaborative research projects

– Together with UCSD faculty experts on climate change, we are developing proposals for cooperation between the state of California and Chinese provinces, which Governor Brown could then introduce to provincial leaders in China.

- We have convened several successful international conferences on topics such as renminbi internationalization, renewable energy, China's outbound direct investment, etc. We are planning more research workshops with Chinese social scientists on topics that are of interest to our faculty and students.

– We are also working with our own Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies and Fudan-UC Center to plan a symposium on the three-way economic, trade and investment relationship between U.S., China and Mexico.

– In cooperation with a Los Angeles-based program called Academic Exchange, we will hold a March 2014 dialogue at the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv between Chinese, U.S. and Israeli international relations scholars on transitions in the Middle East.

The list goes on. Of course, we are eager to harness the new knowledge generated at conferences and workshops and bring it to the public. I'm sure the blog will help us to reach a wider audience, but everyone can check our website periodically for updates on our programmatic activities:

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Maeve Whelan-Wuest

is the Co-Founder and External Relations Director of China Focus. Originally from Chicago, she received her B.A. in Geography and Chinese from Middlebury College in Vermont. Her research at IR/PS is focused on Northeast Asian security issues, particularly China's role in shaping nonproliferation and nuclear security policies on the Korean peninsula. She is also the President of the China Focus student organization, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of International Policy Solutions, and Co-Founder and Finance Director of IR/PS Women Going Global.

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