The European Commission has launched a fellowship on China to foster strategic cooperation with think tanks and universities on China-related issues and Sinology in general.
The goal is to tap into deep expertise on China from Europe and beyond and expand the knowledge basis on China within the commission, it said in an announcement.
“It’s to further deepen our understanding of China,” Eric Mamer, chief spokesman of the European Commission, said at a news conference on Thursday in reply to questions from China Daily.
“China is obviously an extremely important country and partner of the European Union,” Mamer said.
He added that while there is such expertise in the EU, the initiative could further reinforce it across a series of policy fields.
The commission said the fellowships will group policy-oriented scholars from world-class think tanks and universities specializing in political, social, economics, digital technology, and environmental and climate matters, as well as China-related security and historical issues.
The fellowships are based in IDEA (Inspire, Debate, Engage and Accelerate Action) – its advisory body set up by the commission president – to provide ideas for core priorities, including geopolitics.
The fellowships will have a dynamic structure with fellows joining over a period ranging from six to 12 months with the aim of bringing a specific expertise.
Fellows, who will be paid, will be selected solely based on their competence and expertise, according to the commission.
A maximum of 15 fellowships will be offered for each period.
Mamer said that the first call for applications will be announced shortly. He added that the program is open to people who can prove that they have significant expertise on China in one or more policy areas listed.
Ding Chun, director of the Center for European Studies at Fudan University, said the launch of the fellowships shows that the China-EU relationship is important to the EU.”It means that their current understanding and research is still not enough and needs to be strengthened,” said Ding, who had participated in EU fellowships for Chinese scholars in the past decades.
“I hope the program can help more scholars and researchers deepen their understanding of China in an objective manner,” he said.
Ding hopes that the program can help facilitate exchanges between think tanks and universities represented by the two sides as well as people-to-people exchanges.
Lai Suetyi, a researcher at the Center for European Studies at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, said the launch of the program showed the EU’s strong desire to resume exchanges and dialogue with Chinese academics and think tanks.
“European friends have been complaining about the halt of contact in the past three years. They worry that such lack of dialogue would lead to misunderstanding and eventually wrong decisions,” Lai said. She added that although China has removed restrictions on international travel, the resumption of exchanges between researchers would be slower than that between tourists or business people.
“The EU is taking this proactive step to show Chinese researchers its eagerness to reengage and cooperate,” she said.
EU-China exchanges have been stepped up in the past months, with European Council President Charles Michel visiting Beijing on Dec 1, almost a month after a trip by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
On Thursday, Fu Cong, the new head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, presented his letter of credence to Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission. Fu also presented that letter to Michel on Dec 16, six days after his arrival in Brussels.