Announcing the Winners: 2023 China Focus Essay Contest

The 2023 China Focus Essay Contest is organized by China Focus and is jointly hosted by the Carter Center, the Fudan-UC Center on Contemporary China, the 1990 Institute, and the 21st Century China Center. The contest is open to undergraduate and graduate students and offers two topics:

Topic 1: How has China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) affected the countries involved? Pick a country that China has included in the BRI. Assess the record of China’s relationship with the country. Discuss who benefits from what in this relationship and whether BRI projects are politically, economically, and environmentally sustainable in the country. What are the geopolitical implications of this case?

Topic 2: China and the U.S. share an interest in carbon reduction. Yet both China and the U.S. are now following policies that discriminate against the other’s “green industries.” Are there changes in domestic renewable energy policies which can contribute positively to U.S.-China cooperation and which will result in global carbon reduction?

The Contest received a record number of high-quality submissions from many talented students this year. After careful evaluation by judges drawn from all the organizing institutions, the 1990 Institute Prize was awarded to Katerina Yang and Ann-Alice Tichá and the Jimmy Carter Prize was awarded to Graham Wilmot Revare. The two runners-up are Jessie Yin and Michelle LaiThe 1990 Institute and the Jimmy Carter prize winners will receive an award of $2000 each, and two runners-up will get $1,000 each. Each winning essay demonstrated profound perspectives, insightful examination, and a thorough grasp of the dynamics between the U.S. and China. Congratulations to the winners!

Scroll down to find out more about these exceptional pieces, and click on the titles to read the full essay!

Green Protectionism: A Dangerous Consensus—2023 China Focus Essay The Jimmy Carter First Prize Winner
Author: Graham Revare (the University of Kansas)

This winning essay written by Graham Revare dives into the impact of the growing hostility between the United States and China on the renewable energy markets. While the Biden administration has expressed climate ambitions, it has quietly maintained protectionist policies such as solar safeguard tariffs and import quotas initiated by its predecessor. There is also a bipartisan push in Congress to reimpose tariffs on Southeast Asian countries, aiming to counter Chinese influence in global decarbonization. This so-called “Green Protectionism” approach, however, is detrimental, as explained by Revare. Tariffs on Chinese renewable imports increase clean energy costs, invite retaliation, and impede the transition away from fossil fuels. Instead of attempting to localize the entire renewable supply chain, a more effective strategy termed “comparative advantage plus” is proposed, focusing on subsidizing areas where the U.S. excels, such as research and development. Revare concludes that this approach is more likely to accelerate global decarbonization while moderating the tense relationship with China resulting from the hard-nosed competition of protectionism.

Politics Out the Way! Towards a Deeper U.S.-China Green Cooperation—2023 China Focus Essay 1990 Institute First Prize Winner
Authors: Katerina Yang and Ann-Alice Tichá  (Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies)

Katerina Yang and Ann-Alice Tichá’s winning essay explores the tumultuous relationship between China and the U.S. in the context of climate cooperation. Their analysis covers four focus areas for deepening bilateral cooperation: research and development (R&D), climate finance, bilateral trade, and local-level exchanges. Domestically, both China and the U.S. are taking steps to combat climate change and prioritize environmental action. The authors suggest this creates hope for bilateral climate cooperation in the four key areas. However, because of the tension between the U.S. and China, multilateral climate efforts across the globe must remain a top priority, in both the public and private sectors. A friendly “green energy race” might encourage both countries to compete in a productive manner, motivating the adoption of more climate-friendly energy policies and efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Climate change is the biggest issue in geopolitics, and while there are hurdles to overcome between the top two emitters, there is room for hope.

Untangling China’s Reconstruction of Angola— 2023 China Focus Essay Contest Runner-Up
Author: Jessie Yin (Paris School of International Affairs and Peking University)

Jessie Yin’s insightful essay offers an overview of the intricate relationship between China and Angola and analyzes how it evolved with the changing global dynamics and Angola’s domestic transformation. The partnership, which marked the exchange of Angola’s resources for Chinese infrastructure, was initially tightly bonded under mutual benefits: China received oil and geopolitical influence with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), while President Eduardo dos Santos’ regime, bolstered by Chinese capital, sustained his power within the ruling MPLA party. However, this approach soon raised neocolonialism concerns and as President Lourenco took office in 2017, the focus shifted. In 2022, Angola did not receive any BRI funding. China’s decreased reliance on Angolan oil reflects broader strategic realignment, including support for Russia in Ukraine and mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Amid the noticeable deterioration and diversification, Yin points out that China is still invested in Angola’s future, with the BRI expanding to include digital and health aspects, while Angola seeks tech and green energy investments. Navigating oil dependence, debt to China, and potential funds from the U.S.,  Angola’s prospects hinge on geopolitics and President Lourenco’s leadership.

China’s Best Friend in the EU: The Potential for Sino-Hungarian Cooperation—2023 China Focus Essay Contest Runner-Up
Author: Michelle Lai (UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy)

Michelle Lai investigates Hungary’s political shift from depending on the U.S. and EU to fostering relationships with China, Russia, and Turkey, spearheaded by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Hungary’s motivations are largely based on Orbán’s far-right agenda, its need for economic gains, and political leverage from its use of China. Lai explains the potential for large-scale economic cooperation is low due to slow progress on Belt and Road Initiative projects in Hungary, like the Budapest-Belgrade Railway. However, China recognizes the value of Hungary’s status as a member of the European Union, which might grant them increased access to the EU’s market. While Hungary’s political elite leans pro-authoritarian, Hungary’s public population views China less favorably. Lai also highlights the complicating factor of the Russia-Ukraine war, where Hungary must balance its status as an EU member and its growing relationship with Russia. Due to rising gas prices, China and Hungary have cooperated on alternative energy sources. The China-Hungary relationship will continue to develop under Orbán’s leadership, and the alliance will likely strengthen over time.