The Newsletter 83 Summer 2019

South Asian Studies at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences

Lan Deng

I joined the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences (YASS) in 2000, when the YASS Institute of South Asian Studies was formally established and the then President of India, Kocheril Raman Narayanan, visited us. In the initial stage of my career, I was awarded a valuable opportunity and granted a scholarship to pursue my further studies and conduct fieldwork at the School of International Studies (SIS) and the Center of Economic Studies and Planning (CESP) of the School of Social Sciences (SSS) in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, as visiting fellow and full-time student from 2002 to 2005. Yet, my own career pursuit is in alignment with the overall commitment of YASS to become a high-end think tank with international influence especially in the fields of South Asian and Southeast Asian studies.

When Premier Zhou Enlai and Prime Minister Nehru met for the first time in 1954, they discussed the possibilities of opening airlines and motorways between China and India. The YASS scholars are the successors, promoters, practitioners and innovators of their ideas. As early as the 1960s, scholars at YASS started to conduct research on India and South Asia. In the late 1990s, China and India called for regional cooperation among Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) and met with positive responses of the other two. The four countries later signed and put it into action the ‘Kunming Initiative’. After rounds of Track-II conversations, this cooperative mechanism was upgraded to Track-I channel, known subsequently as ‘The Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM EC)’ in 2013 in both Joint Statements of China and India and China and Bangladesh.

Responding to the constant changes both home and abroad, YASS continuously promotes the institutionalization of South Asian studies. In 2000, three years after its launching, the Center of South Asian Studies was upgraded to the Institute of South Asian Studies. In 2003, the Yunnan Society of South Asian Studies was established. As the first local-level society of South Asian studies in China, it is built on the capacities of research and administration of our institute. In 2006, YASS was rebranded as the Yunnan Academy of Southeast and South Asian Studies. The newest addition to its research capacity is the establishment of the Chinese (Kunming) Academy of South Asian and Southeast Asian studies in 2015. The state-level institutes such as Institute of Indian Studies and Institute of Bangladesh Studies came out of the shell as well. I was transferred to the Institute of Indian Studies and have served as its deputy director since 2016.

Compared with other research institutions of South Asian studies in China, the strengths of YASS have lain in the regional and sub-regional cooperative studies. Apart from our long-term focus on the BCIM cooperation, we have widened our research scope by monitoring other multilateral sub-regional cooperative mechanisms, such as ‘The Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) Initiative’, ‘The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation’ (BIMSTEC), ‘The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership’ (RCEP) and emerging free trade zones in the region.

Considering Yunnan’s geographical proximity to and historical links with the region in perspective, we have also expanded our work into Indian Ocean studies. A number of books are published and a few state and province sponsored projects are conducted on such topics as the geopolitics and geo-economics, maritime and non-traditional securities as well as the economic and social development in the region. The Research Association of Indian Ocean has been set up to facilitate the networking of concerned scholars.

On the one hand, focusing on the national strategies and heated issues, our institutes have carried out research and provided policy consultation, on such topics as relationships among South Asian countries and major powers, regional security, international politics and relationship between neighboring countries and China. On the other hand, country-wise research has always been emphasized in the South Asian studies in China. Nowadays, all of the eight South Asian countries have been covered by different specialists. The Series of South Asian Studies and the South Asian Annual Report have run for almost 20 years, alongside the policy briefings and scholarly monographs published from time to time. In the future, the fundamental research on history, religion and culture should not be ignored, while the applied research continues to be emphasized. The in-depth research on individual countries will be further strengthened.

Last but not least, YASS has been seeking for active engagement and partnership in the region by hosting the China-South and Southeast Asian Think Tank Forum (2013-2019) and signing Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) with major South Asian research institutions, as well as launching joint projects.

Lan Deng, Associate Research Fellow and Deputy Director, Institute of Indian Studies, Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences; Chinese (Kunming) Academy of South and Southeast Asian Studies,