Jie (Cherry) Yu is the Head of China Foresight at LSE IDEAS. She obtained her Undergraduate degree in Politics and International Studies from Warwick University in 2007 and her MSc in International Relations from LSE in 2008. After studying for her Master’s degree she worked for Management Consultant Company Roland Berger before returning to LSE to undertake a PhD (2010-2014) examining the relationship between China and the European Union. In 2011, she started working for LSE IDEAS and later took over the role as Head of China Foresight.
What does your role as Head of China Foresight at LSE involve?
I conduct research on China. People see China as a huge entity acting unilaterally and they don’t really look further than that. Inside China, each social group (companies and public institutions) has their own economic interests they want to pursue and ultimately these are reflected in China’s economic diplomacy. I look at the domestic sources and decision making process of China’s foreign policy.
As a public academic, another part of my job is to inform both senior policy practitioners within Whitehall and the public about China’s leadership. A significant part of this includes doing media work with outlets like the BBC.
What do you enjoy most about the role?
I enjoy the intellectual challenge - as we know, China is changing on a daily basis and that requires a lot of explanation as to the causes of those changes. This evolving landscape gives me a continuing source of inspiration regarding my research.
Another highlight is working with students – I taught on the LSE 100 course and teach at the LSE-PKU summer school in Beijing. I’ve made a lot of friends doing this and have realised students are a great source of learning new things. They have different views and always bring a fresh perspective.
It’s also a pleasure working with colleagues in LSE IDEAS – they’re an extremely friendly fun team and it feels like a big family.
What is the biggest challenge?
Convincing people of my views is always challenging. There are lots of pre-existing views and misconceptions about China and I try to offer a more balanced or objective perspective but without advocating Beijing’s propaganda either.
I first noticed this knowledge gap when I moved to the UK aged 16 to do my A-levels. I realised the China I knew back home was very different to the China the rest of the world saw and this mismatch first triggered my interest in researching China’s foreign policy.
Working in diplomacy as a young woman from an ethnic minority background is also a challenge. Making sure my views are heard and taken seriously can be daunting.
Before working at LSE you worked as a management consultant. What did this work involve?
I worked at a leading European management consultancy dealing with state-owned companies in China wanting to invest in Europe and European companies - especially conglomerates - wanting to improve their performance in China. These state-owned are politically influential and most of my projects covered areas such as aviation, energy, chemicals and nuclear power.
You studied for your Master’s degree and PhD at the Department for International Relations at LSE. What was the focus for your research?
My PhD looked at China’s relationship with the European Union and how a number of actors including the Chinese government, the Communist party and Chinese companies have formed relationships with the European Union and with European member states. I used climate change as a case study to explore and disentangle this relationship.
It’s an understudied area but very topical at the moment with the current Brexit negotiations. I have briefed the Cabinet office and the Houses of Parliament on UK-China-Brexit relations and have researched this subject which has been rarely discussed in the British public political domain.
Beijing invested a lot of energy, money and resources in developing stronger UK-China relations hoping the UK would play an active role in the EU advocating for their interests but this has now gone in a very different direction.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
There have been two highlights and both relate to my work as Head of China Foresight.
Last year, I gave oral evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee on UK relations with China. I was 31-years-old at the time and the youngest person to give expert evidence to the committee since 1945. That was very a proud moment.
Secondly, I successfully pitched an opinion piece to the Financial Times earlier this year when President Xi Jinping abolished the two term limit on Chinese presidency.
Both of these were very important to me as they amplified my voice and made my opinions heard.
What leading woman inspires you and why?
I would have to say my Mum. She’s a professional woman - a geologist by training - and has constantly inspired me through her intelligence, integrity and resilience when encountering difficulties.
During the Cultural Revolution in China she was sent to the countryside as part of the ‘educated youth’ and suffered challenges and difficulties as a result of this.
Moving from the city to the countryside was a big shock for her. Similarly, it was a shock for me to move from China to the UK at 16-years-old and live by myself in a completely new environment. My Mum’s experiences taught me to be self-reliant, self-confident and resilient.
LSE IDEAS - China Foresight