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Power of new ideas

Updated: 2013-05-10 11:04
By Zhang Qizuo ( China Daily)

China needs to have a better understanding of the political changes in Africa to boost think tank exchanges

In the past few decades, African countries have experienced a transformation of political philosophy. Though democracy and civil society are still the focal points, along with economic growth, other aspects like ideological self-reliance and knowledge innovation are also gaining ground.

The last two aspects are of particular importance to African governments and people, as they are trying to absorb the rational parts of Western thought, and also trying to circumvent the ideological barriers the West has set for them.

With China-Africa cooperation expanding in a more comprehensive way, China needs to better understand the changes in Africa, particularly the changes in the fields of politics, ideology and political forces.

To nurture the healthy development of China-Africa relations, China should encourage a long-term "going out" of contemporary Chinese thought and academic strategy, and promote Chinese experiences in thought, education and academia to African countries.

There is no doubt that China's African studies is evolving into a comprehensive academic branch with multi-faceted trends of rapid development and prosperity. Domestic academic institutions focused on African research have increased to more than 20 now.

Chinese research teams focused on Africa are scaling up their staff strength, while the continuous optimization has led to the emergence of a number of professional quality young researchers and academic leaders with solid theoretical foundations.

At the same time, several African universities and academic institutions have also strengthened their research collaboration with China. The University of Ibadan in Nigeria is planning to set up a center for oriental studies, while the University of Ghana, South African Institute of International Studies, the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, and the University of Yaounde in Cameroon have all launched China-focused research projects.

Though there have been several achievements in China-Africa academic exchanges and cooperation, there are also many deficiencies. Several aspects still need to be addressed before think-tank exchanges between the two sides can increase on a global scale.

Unlike the rapid development of China-Africa economic and trade cooperation, exchanges and cooperation in the field of think tanks and humanities has been relatively slow.

Although many of the problems in China-Africa relations have an economic and trade background, the real reason lies in the lack of communication between think tanks from both sides. It is important for think tanks from both sides to raise their levels of engagement, so that they can together address a variety of issues.

Most of the current exchanges are in the form of seminars and short-term staff visits. Joint research projects are still quite rare, as are interactions between Chinese and African scholars.

Sino-African think tank exchanges and cooperation need to be strengthened, especially in joint research. Fortunately, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has already made a good beginning in this regard with its joint research project on poverty reduction, urban planning and some other issues with the South African Human Sciences Research Institute.

Sino-African academics often lack in-depth understanding of each other, and try to understand each other through information from Western scholars. Unlike Western-African think tank exchanges, China-African think tank exchanges are often temporary and do not involve a wide range of participants.

With the advancement of Chinese economic strength, its think tanks, university research institutions as well as government policy research departments now have the ability to change the direction of exchanges with Africa, and should look to further integrate resources to promote forums, discussions and other effective communication mechanisms between the two sides.

If necessary, think tank exchanges should be extended to the government level, including regular think tank activities like joint seminars, research projects and exchange of scholars.

Unlike Sino-US and Sino-European think tank communication, China's African research institutions are generally faced with problems such as lack of funding.

Due to a lack of research funding, scholars often don't have that many opportunities for bilateral visits. The rapid development of China-Africa economic and trade relations has produced huge economic benefits. Scholars from China and Africa must have equal opportunities to realize the economic benefits of this collaboration.

In return, funded academic exchange activities will be able to play an active role in nurturing the development of China-Africa economic and trade relations.

The author is vice-president and economics professor at Chengdu University, who specializes in China-Africa trade and investment. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(China Daily 05/10/2013 page7)

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