The transformation of Chinese diplomacy over recent years has become the focus of world attention. Chinese academia has followed accordingly as China’s top universities initiate a significant series of reforms in the study of Foreign Affairs. Xing Yue, an associate professor at Tsinghua University, moderated a panel discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing the academic discipline of Foreign Affairs in China. Panelists included deans, professors, and academics from top universities all around China.

A New Era for the Study of Foreign Affairs

  • A New Kind of Academic Discipline: Panelists agreed that the importance of foreign affairs as a discipline will grow even stronger as China’s economic and political influence continues to increase. Wang Chunying, Professor at China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU), explained that his university pioneered a Second Bachelor’s Degree policy in 1994. Through offering this second Bachelor’s Degree in Diplomacy, CFAU paved the way for reforming the academic discipline of foreign affairs in China. This second degree allows CFAU to select China’s top college graduates from a variety of academic backgrounds to study for a second, diplomacy-specific degree. He added that CFAU is responsible for training more than 300 ambassadors and publishing a textbook that is widely used in classes on foreign affairs.
  • Specific Changes: Chinese diplomatic education has expanded its focus in recent years. Wang explained that CFAU led these reforms by adding a focus on foreign affairs theory, global governance, public diplomacy, diplomatic negotiation, and international law. Other top universities have only begun to adopt the reforms initiated by CFAU, the panelists added.
  • Shifting Diplomacy to Become Top Research Priority: Other top universities have begun following CFAU’s lead, the panelists said. For example, Fudan University established an expansive Foreign Studies Department in 2008 and Chinese diplomacy was named one of the main focus areas for Fudan’s research. Zhang Ji, a professor at Fudan University, explained that while research on foreign studies has been emphasized since 2008, foreign studies have only recently been integrated into the university’s curriculum.

Remaining Challenges

  • Foreign Affairs Study and Related Careers: Tian Xiaohui, Assistant Dean and Associate Professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, pointed out that foreign affairs graduates do not always continue on to related careers. In order to encourage these graduates to choose a career in their field, Beijing Foreign Studies University established a Center on Public Diplomacy and another Center on International Organization.
  • Time to Think Locally: Hu Ruihua, Dean and Professor at Xi’an Foreign Studies University, stressed that the practical applications of foreign affairs study in China remains ill-defined. For example, he observed that in Xi’an students remain disconnected with the local government. As a result, these graduates have little impact on local civil society.
  • Lack of Priority: Li Baojun, Deputy Dean and Professor at Renmin University, explained that some universities are taking a very different approach to the study of foreign affairs. Renmin University is suspending its Master’s Degree of Foreign Affairs Study and combining international relations and international politics into one department. Li attributed this shift to a believe that foreign affairs is a “non-academic study.” While many top Chinese universities are shifting greater resources towards studying foreign affairs, Li concluded, in other universities the discipline still remains marginalized.