In auditing and accounting, the world is often rendered too simply, Wan-Hsin Liu thinks. Numbers often speak a clear language: good or bad. But I don’t have much use for such strict black-and-white thinking,” says Liu, looking back on her studies. The 41-year-old Taiwanese studied accounting in her country of birth. When she minored in economics, she realized, “I can do more with that.”
Without further ado, she decided to come to Germany to study economics. “I quickly realised that I wanted to study in Europe because I was interested in the introduction of the euro and economic integration in Europe,” says Liu.She wanted to explore the question of whether the EU could serve as a model for East Asian countries. She began studying in Münster in 2003 and now works as a senior researcher at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
There, says Liu, she was for a time the only Asian scientist among more than 170 employees. As a result, she still often takes on a special role today. “In discussions, especially when it comes to taking a critical look at China’s economic measures, I often bring a perspective that goes beyond dry numbers,” she says. “My knowledge of Chinese culture, language and mentality, which I have been able to gather through my personal background over the years, is immensely helpful.” Her particular perspective also helps her to assess developments that are viewed critically in Europe, she adds.
Especially when it comes to deriving economic policy measures from research, she says, it is immensely important to allow different perspectives. “And who knows best about China? The Chinese, of course. If you do research on China, you can’t do it from Germany alone.” It was Liu who began to initiate collaborations with high-ranking Chinese research institutes and universities. These include the renowned Tsinghua University in Beijing and the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Science. That was in 2011, and she received her doctorate a year later, by which time she had already been conducting research in Kiel for four years.
China continues to rely on Germany
Today, Liu’s work focuses on direct investment and global supply chains. She recently conducted research on the Chinese government’s ambitious five-year plan. In it, the country’s leadership announced that China’s industry would focus on decoupling itself from foreign countries more quickly than it already does. What is already working well with digital technologies – China has the largest e-commerce market in the world – is also set to affect other sectors. And at a fast pace.
Is this a cause for concern for Europe and Germany as an export giant? Liu does not think so – at least not in the coming years, when China will be even more dependent on Europe, and especially on Germany’s cutting-edge research, to bring expertise into its own country. “It’s true: China wants to become more independent, and in the long term some export sectors will suffer as a result,” says Liu. “But that doesn’t mean China is closing itself off to the world at all.” But foreign companies will have to build their factories locally more than before to play a role in the Chinese market, and also face increasingly fierce competition from local Chinese rivals.
Under normal circumstances, Liu would be traveling the world for her research on the five-year plan and many other projects. In the past, she said, she would be in China once or twice a year for several weeks. Normal, however, is little right now, even though China has a better handle on the pandemic than Europe. “That makes it all the more important to maintain good relations with our Chinese partner institutes virtually.” Leon Kirschgens