The Big Data China 2nd Annual Conference: A Recap

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On December 5, 2023, CSIS’s Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics and the Stanford Center for China’s Economy and Institutions (SCCEI) co-hosted the second annual Big Data China conference. Sub-titled, “Prospects for China’s Growth and Foreign Relations in an Era of Competition,” the conference featured experts from the academic and policy communities, who shared their analysis about the trajectory of China’s economy, U.S.-China scholarly ties, and Chinese foreign policy. A broad theme across the day was hope about potential progress balanced against substantial risks, leaving an overriding sense of uncertainty about China’s future at home and its ties with the world.

Keynote: The Risks of Not Being in China

Sean Stein, Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai and Senior Advisor for Covington & Burling’s public policy practice, highlighted the multifaceted nature of U.S.-China competition, encompassing military, economic, technological, and values-based elements. Yet, he emphasized the growing competitiveness of domestic Chinese companies and the market as a whole. His bottomline is that the American discussion of “de-risking” overlooks the risks from American industry withdrawing from China, which would result in slower innovation and ceding the Chinese market to firms from China and other countries.

During the subsequent discussion with Trustee Chair Scott Kennedy, Stein emphasized the travel between China and the rest of the world is normalizing and that the summit between Presidents Biden and Xi would help stabilize relations.

Excerpts from Sean Stein’s Keynote Address

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Panel 1: Chinese Growth Prospects

The conference’s first panel focused on the short- and long-term prospects for China’s economy. The University of Chicago’s Zhiguo He was relatively bullish, while Bert Hofman of the National University of Singapore and Zoe Liu from the Council on Foreign Relations were more concerned about the political and structural impediments to growth, including demand, debt, demographics, and decoupling. Chinese leaders appear to recognize the challenges facing the economy, but unwilling to take major steps to address these challenges. One example cited is the need for a property tax to shore up local government finances.  

Highlights from Panel 1

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Panel 2: U.S.-China Scholarly Exchange

In the second panel, SCCEI Co-Director Scott Rozelle moderated a conversation on the current state of U.S.-China scholarly exchange with Li Chenjian of Stanford University, Molly Roberts of UC-San Diego, and Deborah Seligsohn of Villanova University. An important theme was the original rise is exchanges and collaboration, followed by growing obstacles due to concerns about national security, human rights, intellectual property (IP) theft, and pandemic-era isolation measures. Given the importance of healthy exchanges to both countries and the world, the panelists offered policy suggestions to define acceptable research collaboration and funding of exchanges.

Highlights from Panel 2

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Panel 3: China’s Foreign Relations

In the third and final panel of the conference, Trustee Chair Senior Fellow Ilaria Mazzocco moderated a discussion about China’s international profile with Yunnan Chen of the Overseas Development Initiative, Carla Freeman of the U.S. Institute of Peace, and Francesca Ghiretti of the Adarga Research Institute. An important highlight is the substantial shift in Chinese foreign policy over the past decade toward emphasizing its ties with the Global South and promoting key frameworks, such as the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) and the Global Development Initiative. A major recent shift is the decline relations with Europe. The BRI’s reputation has diminished in Europe, while the EU’s policy towards China has shifted significantly toward emphasizing economic security. The U.S.-China relationship remains central to China’s place in the world, and faces a variety of challenges such as Taiwan’s upcoming election in 2024, but also opportunities such as finding ways to cooperate on addressing climate change.

Highlights from Panel 3

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  • Scott Kennedy
    Scott Kennedy is senior adviser and Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). A leading authority on Chinese economic policy, Kennedy has been traveling to China for over 30 years. His specific areas of expertise include industrial policy, technology innovation, business lobbying, U.S.-China commercial relations, and global governance. He is the editor of China’s Uneven High-Tech Drive: Implications for the United States (CSIS, February 2020) and (with Jude Blanchette) Chinese State Capitalism: Diagnosis and Prognosis (CSIS, October 2021) and the author of The State and the State of the Art on Philanthropy in China (Voluntas, August 2019), China’s Risky Drive into New-Energy Vehicles (CSIS, November 2018), The Fat Tech Dragon: Benchmarking China’s Innovation Drive (CSIS, August 2017), and The Business of Lobbying in China (Harvard University Press, 2005). He has edited three books, including Global Governance and China: The Dragon’s Learning Curve (Routledge, 2018). His articles have appeared in a wide array of policy, popular, and academic venues, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and China Quarterly. He is currently finishing a report, Beyond Decoupling: Maintaining America’s Hi-Tech Advantages over China (CSIS, forthcoming spring 2023). From 2000 to 2014, Kennedy was a professor at Indiana University (IU), where he established the Research Center for Chinese Politics & Business and was the founding academic director of IU’s China Office. Kennedy received his PhD in political science from George Washington University, his MA in China studies from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and his BA from the University of Virginia.
  • Matt Barocas
    R. Matthew Barocas is the program coordinator for the Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Prior to joining CSIS, Matthew received an MS in global affairs from Tsinghua University in Beijing as a Schwarzman scholar. In Beijing, he researched U.S.-China diplomacy during crisis points in the bilateral relationship and experienced life under China’s zero-Covid policy. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida Honors Program with a BA in history and political science. Matthew is from Miami, Florida.
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Scott Kennedy and Matt Barocas, "The Big Data China 2nd Annual Conference: A Recap," Big Data China, Center for Strategic and International Studies, January 2, 2024, last modified January 2, 2024,