China’s bold aspirations are being tested by the outbreak of COVID-19, according to Professor Jane Golley, who leads the Australian Centre on China in the World at the ANU.
Her comments come as the latest China Story Yearbook, China Dreams, is released this week.
The book - co-edited by Professor Golley - examines the dreams and nightmares dominating China in 2019.
"In 2019 Chinese dreams included those of patriotism and national strength marked by the celebrations of seven decades of the PRC, as well as technological advances - from artificial intelligence to genetically modified babies," Professor Golley said.
"Nightmares included the protests in Hong Kong, as well as deteriorating relations with Washington DC."
Yearbook topics include the decoupling of the US and Chinese economies amid technology and security concerns, the surveillance of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Tibetan urbanisation and Xi Jinping’s ongoing ’war on Black and Evil’.
The future of many of these stories will be significantly altered by events surrounding COVID-19 in 2020, Professor Golley said.
"As a rising power the country’s motives were clear in 2019. But many of China’s aspirations may have now been derailed by the coronavirus crisis," she said.
"Meanwhile others - like the government’s capacity to control the actions of its citizens - may in fact be strengthened in the wake of the crisis.
"That makes understanding 2019 and China’s thinking last year even more relevant for understanding what is yet to come."
ANU defence expert Professor Brendan Taylor is one of the many academics contributing to the yearbook. His chapter, ’Meridians of Influence in a Nervous World’, explores China’s growing sphere of influence and related heightened security tensions in the region.
"Rather than seeking any kind of traditional sphere of influence in the historical European sense of the term, it is worth considering whether Beijing might be engaging in the longstanding Chinese practice of acupuncture diplomacy," Professor Taylor writes.
"This involves probing specific points to gauge a reaction and act accordingly such as offering scholarships, infrastructure building aid or invitations to get relations flowing again.
"The addition of COVID-19 may see a turning point for China’s diplomatic techniques."
The Australian National University’s 2019 China Story Yearbook: China Dreams, launches today with a special webcast forum.
The forum can be accessed here.