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Bonny Lin – China expertise for a safer world

Bonny Lin is the China Project Leader at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Bonny Lin wants to save lives. After graduating from high school, the US American had actually planned to become a doctor. Instead, she became a China analyst – and she does not see any contradiction here: “As a doctor, you can save two to three lives a day. But even small policy changes can change the lives of thousands of people,” she told China.Table.

Lin heads the China Power Project, a globally renowned China research institute that aims to help understand China’s technological, cultural, economic, military and social power. The project is based at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, a leading US think tank. Lin tirelessly advocates a fact- and data-driven view of China. This is what her ethical standards demand, on which she bases her work on.

How the quality of knowledge can actually save or endanger lives is currently shown by the war in Ukraine. In many instances, Western observers of Russia had misjudged the Kremlin’s intentions. Policymakers in Europe and the USA were in no way prepared for an attack of this magnitude.

Understanding China’s power means avoiding mistakes

An oversimplified image of China also leads to a lack of understanding in academia and incompetence in politics, Lin says. One example: After Russia invaded Ukraine, many have begun to count the days until China forcibly conquers Taiwan. For Lin, an undifferentiated conclusion. After all, China’s Taiwan policy initially depends only on the situation on the ground. And there is currently no constellation that would simplify an invasion.

Nevertheless, Lin emphasizes that China is closely following the war in Ukraine and draws its own conclusions. Close observation of the situation in Taiwan would also do foreign policymakers in Western capitals good. That, too, is part of a realistic grasp of the situation. “We must not underestimate the resilience of the Taiwanese and should do more for their defense and training,” Lin believes.

Lin is from Beverly Hills – but from a town of that name in the US state of Michigan in the north of the USA, not from the vastly more famous city in California. China already played a role in her life early on: The American car industry in the region exported a lot to China – and her father helped in all that. However, with Michigan’s economic decline, the connections to the Chinese market also disappeared.

Putting on the China glasses to look into the future

Lin learned the craft of being a China observer from the ground up. After graduating and earning her doctorate, she first made a name for herself at the Rand Corporation, a think tank of the US Department of Defense. Back then, her area of expertise was already in geostrategies around China and Taiwan.

Because of China’s more aggressive foreign policy course under Xi Jinping, Lin’s expertise is more in demand than ever. She gathers and filters information and uses it to produce analyses and forecasts. Lin believes: If you want to anticipate the country’s actions, you have to put yourself in China’s position. It’s an approach that stems from the creation of war scenarios and, together with a keen understanding of the country’s history and current data, often yields astonishingly accurate insights.

Regarding Ukraine, Lin has already formed a clear opinion: “China did not want this war, but could not prevent it either. Now China is trying to cut its own costs.” However, Beijing would have to choose between the West and Russia in the medium term, whether it wants to or not. The Chinese are definitely afraid of Western sanctions. And China is learning from Russia’s example that power alone is not enough to be a superpower. For that, not only strength is needed, but also respect, legitimacy and recognition. Both internally and externally. Jonathan Lehrer


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