China studies are taking root in Bluegrass Country.
At the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, China became the sole focal point of a fall conference held on Oct 26-27.
Scholars, researchers and business executives from around the country gathered to discuss various issues concerning China, with Ambassador David Shinn from George Washington University delivering a keynote speech on China’s role in Africa.
Kathleen Montgomery, interim director at the Patterson School, said that it was the first time for the school to focus on China.
“Patterson School has four areas of concentration: diplomacy, security and intelligence, international commerce, and development and international organizations,” she explained. “We examine the issues in each of the four areas in a selected region. China is sufficiently large enough that we exclusively focus on China this year.”
Montgomery said that China’s rising economic influence, influence on world development and its role in negotiating with DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) made the choice obvious.
“For diplomacy, relevant to current affairs, we choose to focus on China’s role in diplomacy with North Korea. We have speakers on China’s relationship with North Korea, what China has been doing to assist in negotiations with North Korea, and the recent increased sanctions China has placed on North Korea. China is a key partner in this diplomacy,” Montgomery said.
For the security and intelligence panel, the focus is on the South China Sea. “That’s an area our students have studied across a wide variety of disciplines,” she said.
“The students study not only from security perspective but also from the angle of international commerce. They have turned their interest to China’s One Belt and One Road Initiative and securing sea lanes,” she said.
The development panel focused on China’s role in Africa. “I think our students have a narrow view on China’s role in the development of sub-Saharan Africa. Mostly they would see it from a perspective of resource extraction, but China’s role is much broader than that,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said she worked as a Peace Corp volunteer in Benin in West Africa from 1989 to 1992.
“China was a partner even then in Benin, building the main road from north to south. They even had a couple of experimental rice farms,” she said. “I hope the students will go away with more fully developed view on China’s influence in Sub-Saharan Africa, something deeper than just headlines that might hit the New York Times.”
Zackary Shinoll, a student at Patterson School, said that he found the conference engaging. “I feel like I picked up a lot of insight. I fell prey to some of the myths that have been touted, for example, as pertaining to China’s role in Africa,” he said. “It was a well worth the expansion of my knowledge base.”
Another student, Rick Spencer, found the conference interesting and educational. “I don’t have a background for this region,” he said. “While big concepts and strategy can be compelling and powerful, it’s much more powerful if you connect them to some of the human stories.”
The University of Kentucky has a strong relationship with China, said Ying Juan Rogers, a professor at the Patterson School. “We have a very active Confucius Institute here. About 500 Chinese students come to UK every year to study a variety of subjects. There are many doctors, post PhD and researchers in our medical school,” Rogers said.
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