Theoretical Debates on Asia

Theoretical Debates on Asia is a series of debates that aim to address the phenomenon of emerging Indigenous international relations theories in Asia and new political economy approaches to study Asia. It brings together young scholars around the world to engage in theoretical debates on the emerging Indigenous international relations (IR) theories in Asia new IR and global political economy (GPE) approaches to study Asia. In particular, it will cover emerging Chinese IR theories, indigenous theories in Southeast Asia, new political economy approaches to study capitalism in China and India and theorizing power transition in light of a rising Asia.  

Through this series, we aim to create an open, free, and welcoming forum where young scholars with competing perspectives can engage in stimulating theoretical debates with each other. It especially encourages and features novel, unconventional and creative ways of thinking about international relations and the global political economy. 

This series is initiated by Xiao Alvin Yang (Universität Kassel, Germany/York University, Canada).

Debate 1 | Debating Emerging Chinese International Relations Theories

  • Matti Puranen, University of Jyväskylä/ Finnish National Defence University
  • Xiao Alvin Yang, Universität Kassel, Germany/York University, Canada 
  • Weizhan Meng, Fudan University, China 
  • Moderator: Niki Sopanen, University of Helsinki 

View recordings from the event here:

More about our Debaters:

Matti Puranen (D.Soc.Sc, MA, MSSc) is a senior researcher at the Finnish National Defence University where he conducts research on strategy and international relations, with a focus on China and Chinese military strategy. Puranen has a master’s degree in both History and Political Science from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. He recently defended his doctoral thesis, Warring States and Harmonized Nations: Tianxia Theory as a World Political Argument, at the University of Jyväskylä.  

Xiao Alvin Yang is  a doctoral candidate in Political and Economic Science at Universität Kassel, Germany,  a Visiting Graduate Associate at York Centre for Asian Research, York University and a Visiting Researcher at the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean, York University. His dissertation aims to theorize the current (changing) global order and global political economy where there are ongoing tensions among globalization, regional integration and the resurgence of nationalism. He has been a visiting research fellow at Lund University (Sweden) and the University of Copenhagen (Denmark). His research has appeared in a number of peer-reviewed journals in English and Chinese, including The Journal of China and International RelationsThe Journal of Chinese Political ScienceWorld Economics and Politics (Chinese) and The Journal of International Relations (Chinese). His recent book chapter—“Theorizing the BRICS”—appeared in The International Political Economy of the BRICS (Routledge 2019).

Weizhan Meng is an Assistant Research Professor at the Development Institute, Fudan University. He has successively studied at Beijing Foreign Studies University, the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies, and, in 2018, he obtained his PhD in political science from the University of Hong Kong. He began his position at Fudan University in January 2020. His main research areas are: Chinese politics and foreign affairs, international relations theory, foreign relations of Imperial China, East Asian security, and Hong Kong politics. He has eight recent articles either published or accepted by Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) journals, including Q2 journals for international relations studies such as the Washington QuarterlyInternational Relations of the Asia-PacificPacific Review and a Q1 journal for area studies, such as China Review. He was previously an anonymous reviewer for more than 10 English-language journals. In 2020, he received funding from the China National Office for Philosophy and Social Sciences and the Fudan Sinar Mas Think Tank.

Niki Sopanen (MSSc) is a doctoral candidate in International Relations at the University of Helsinki, Finland. He is also a lecturer at the open university of the University of Helsinki. His doctoral dissertation applies Koselleckian conceptual history and Essex School-inspired discourse analysis to examine conspiratorial discourses in China-US relations. Sopanen was a visiting researcher at the Nordic Center at Fudan University in Autumn 2019.

Debate 2 | Different capitalisms? Variegated Approach to Chinese Capitalism and Postcolonial Approach to Indian Capitalism 

Date: 09 February 2021

Co-presented by the International Center for Development and Decent Work, University of Kassel 

  • Alexander L.Q. Chen, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Anil Shah, Universität Kassel, Germany
  • Moderator: Xiao Alvin Yang, Universität Kassel, Germany/York University, Canada

In a comparative spirit, Alexander Chen and Anil Shah will present the variegated approach to Chinese capitalism and the postcolonial approach to Indian capitalism respectively.

Alexander Chen theorizes capitalism as a historically and geographically contingent system that must be analyzed through a relational and processual lens. He posits that capitalism is a polymorphic system in which the logic of uneven development is structurally inscribed. More specifically, he argues that China’s current efforts to rebalance its institutional geography (during its so-called ‘new normal’) can be analyzed as a transitional process towards post-industrial development.

Inspired by Marxist, feminist and post-colonial approaches, Anil Shah will intervene in the bourgeoning literature on financialization by illustrating how exclusively contextualising the ascendency of finance in the world economy in the neoliberal era conceals the colonial roots and legacies of capitalist debt-relations, particularly in reference to subaltern working classes. Through a historical materialist analysis of different “regimes of re/productive finance” in the past 200 years in South Asia, this research helps to understand the relation between the productivity of global financial accumulation and geographically as well as temporarily specific reproductive necessities.

More about our Debaters:

Alexander L.Q. Chen is a doctoral fellow in the Department of Sociology at the University of Copenhagen and the Sino-Danish Center for Education and Research. His research examines how China’s transition towards a post-industrial society engenders new patterns of socio-spatial differentiation and exclusion with a focus on the changing rural–urban relations, coastal–inland relations, and the reconfiguration of urban spaces.

Anil Shah is a Research Associate in the Department of Politics of the University of Kassel, Germany and the Chair for Development and Postcolonial Studies. His doctoral research investigates the political economy of chronic indebtedness of subaltern working classes in India in the context of financialized capitalism. Marxist, feminist and post-colonial approaches inspire his works, which have appeared in the Journal of Development Studies/ Journal für EntwicklungspolitikBerliner Zeitschrift für Sozialwissenschaft, and Global Labour Journal as well as been published by München: Oekom and Marburg: Metropolis Verlag.

Debate 3 | Was There a Mandala or Negara System in Ancient Southeast Asia’s “International” System?

Date: TBC—February/March 2021

  • Lü Zhengang, Xinyang Normal University, China
  • Zhang Fan, Jinnan University, China
  • Moderator: Xiao Alvin Yang, Universität Kassel, Germany/York University, Canada 

In this debate, Lü Zhengang and Zhang Fan will discuss whether there was a Mandala system or a Negara system in ancient Southeast Asia.

Zhengang argues in favour of a mandala system, whereas Zhang contends that the negara system can better explain “international” relations in ancient southeast Asia. 

Both of them draw from indigenous intellectual sources to construct their theoretical models. Zhengang draws from ancient Indian philosophy, especially from Kautilya. In contrast, Fan draws from Negara, the indigenous concept in ancient Southeast Asia, to develop her theory. 

More about our Debaters:

Lü Zhengang currently teaches at the School of History and Culture at Xinyang Normal University, China. He received his PhD in international relations from the School of International Relations of Jinan University, Guangzhou, China. He has long been engaged in the research of the East Asian tributary system, Southeast Asian mandala system, and China and Southeast Asian transnational regional society. In the field of mandala research, he focuses on the comparative study of the mandala system and the tributary system, the integration of mandala and modern international relations theories, and the mandala and modern Southeast Asian ethnic construction and state formation. 

After receiving support from the National Social Science Youth Project Fund of China in 2018, Lü is currently writing a series of article on mandala from multiple angles. First, he is using traditional literature analysis to reinterpret the historical development of Southeast Asia by combining local literature in Southeast Asia, Western scholarship, and ancient Chinese books. Second, he is treating mandala as an independent international system to which he applies a comparative analysis—the mandala system with the Westphalian system, the tributary system, and the modern world system.

Fan (Mercy) Zhang is currently a Postdoctoral fellow at the School of International Studies at Jinan University, Guangzhou, China. Her research focuses on collective beliefs, especially those originating in Asia, and how they affect international relations. Her doctoral dissertation examines the development of spirituality and Eastern Religions in American society, including Yoga, Theravada Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism and the New Age.  Her recent works have been published in journals, such as Cultural Studies (文化研究) and World Economy and Politics(世界经济与政治). She was a visiting student at the Department of Political Science at Saint Louis University, Philippines and the Department of Global Studies at Aarhus University, Denmark.

Fan (Mercy) is not only a scholar but also a painter and writer. She has studied painting since childhood, specializing in traditional Chinese Meticulous Brush Painting. She is also a writer with a focus on mental health, intimate relationships and immigrants. Recently, she is working on a novel about migrants in China. She values writing for the general public and tries to share her research in a simple and accessible way.

Debate 4 | Power Transition: Identity Shift or Hegemonic Transition?

Date: TBC—March 2021

  • Liang Ce, Cambridge University, UK
  • John H.S. Åberg, Malmö University, Sweden
  • Karl  Yan, The University of Toronto, Canada
  • Moderator: Xiao Alvin Yang, Universität Kassel, Germany 

More about our Debaters:

John H.S. Åberg is a senior lecturer in the Department of Global Political Studies (GPS) at Malmö University, Sweden. John conducts research on International relations, foreign policy, and global political economy and his research interests include US-China relations and China-Africa relations. The most recent publications are “China as Exemplar: Justin Lin, New Structural Economics, and the Unorthodox Orthodoxy of the China Model”, “China’s Role in Global Development Finance: China Challenge or Business as Usual?”, and “Globalization and the Rise of Integrated World Society: Deterritorialization, Structural Power, and the Endogenization of International Society.”

Ce Liang (Anya) is a doctoral candidate from the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge. She recently submitted her doctoral thesis, entitled ‘Re-emergence: Temporality and the Social Construction of Great Power.” She adopts an interdisciplinary approach to research whereby she draws on philosophy, sociology and intellectual history to theorize the phenomenon of re-emergence in her dissertation. Her works have appeared in The Pacific Review, E-International Relations, and her chapter in the edited volume, Making Identity Count (Oxford University Press).

Karl Yan received his PhD in political science from the University of Toronto. Karl’s research sits at the intersection of international and comparative political economy with a particular focus on railway development and the transformation of China. His current research looks at China’s post-1949 industrial restructuring and railway modernization and the geopolitical and geoeconomic implications of China’s globalizing high-speed rail industry. His works on railway have appeared in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, Journal of Chinese Governance and Asian Education and Development Studies.

Debate 5 | Will the Belt and Road Initiative Reshape the Global Economy and World Order? 

Date:  TBC—April 2021

  • Debater 1:  Adam Kingsmith, York University, Canada
  • Debater 2:  GuliHina Shahzad, Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy
  • Debater 3:  Jelena Gledic, University of Belgrade, Serbia
  • Debater 4:  Lily McElwee, Oxford University, UK
  • Moderator: Xiao Alvin Yang, Universität Kassel, Germany/York University, Canada

Debate 6 | It is Complicated! Debating on China-Southeast Asia Relations

Date:  TBC—April 2021

  • Debater 1:  Chester A. Yacub, University of Nottingham, UK
  • Debater 2:  Dylan Loh, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  • Debater 3:  Chao Hang, Fudan University, PRC
  • Moderator: Xiao Alvin Yang, Universität Kassel, Germany/York 

Debate 7 | Historical International Relations in Asia 

Date:  TBC—May 2021

  • Debater 1:  Carletta Clivio, London School of Economics, UK
  • Debater 2:  Tymoteusz Chajdas, the University of California, Santa Barbara, US
  • Debater 3:  Connor Judge, University of London, UK
  • Moderator: Xiao Alvin Yang, Universität Kassel, Germany/York 

Debate 8 | The Role of Cities in International Relations 

Date:  TBC—June 2021

  • Debater 1: Marina Shafir, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain
  • Debater 2: Sirma Altun, University of Sydney, Australia
  • Debater 3: Craig Simon, University of Nottingham Ningbo, PRC
  • Debater 4: Cary Wu, York University
  • Moderator: Xiao Alvin Yang, Universität Kassel, Germany/York