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Understanding the Digital Rise of China

29 June 2023
Meet the Expert | Rogier Creemers

Meet dr. Rogier Creemers, assistant professor in Modern Chinese Studies at the Leiden Institute for Area Studies (LIAS). In his research, he focuses on China’s domestic digital technology policy as well as China’s growing importance in global digital affairs. Accordingly, dr. Creemers is currently involved in a project on China and global cyber security at Leiden Asia Centre (LAC), funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In addition, dr. Creemers is the principal investigator of the NWO Vidi Project ‘The Smart State: Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and the Law in China’. Last but not least, he is the founder of DigiChina, a joint initiative of LAC, Stanford University, and New America.

Dr. Creemers was born in a small Belgian village, which soon made him want to get out and discover the world beyond his own little town. His global ambitions came to be focused on China in particular due to a friend who studied Sinology, which inspired dr. Creemers to do the same. After an additional master International Relations and Affairs, he did not succeed at finding a job; thus, he started giving Chinese lessons in the evenings. One day, while doing so, he was spotted by a scholar in the field, which led to a PhD offer at Maastricht University. It was the start of an impressive career that eventually led to Leiden University, in which dr. Creemers makes sure to always keep looking for the societal relevance of his work.

According to Dr. Creemers, his passion for China has two reasons: the fact that it was never really colonised by ‘the West’ and thus lacks a clear Western legacy, and the constant evolvement of his field of digital technology. When asked about China’s digital policy, he explains that the Chinese state has a future-oriented approach toward digitalisation, with specific goals in mind that have to be reached. Dr. Creemers argues that ‘the West’ has sponsored China’s digital and technological advance due to its “addiction to trash” that it gets from China in exchange for money. Given ‘the West’’s growing concerns about this advance, e.g. expressed by the contestation around Huawei and TikTok, dr. Creemers therefore states that ‘the West’ first needs to practice self-criticism to find the root causes of its fear of China’s technology.

Despite these growing concerns, dr. Creemers sees that his field of Modern Chinese Studies is still relatively new, trying to make the transition from the traditional focus on “classical” China and its history, culture, and language. In general, dr. Creemers states there is still little expertise on China in Europe, and hopes to contribute a bit to this expertise with his own research. When asked about his ambitions for the future, dr. Creemers says he would like to focus on the way in which China will adapt itself in digital and technological terms to its new circumstances, now that it is no longer poor and lacking in power as it used to be. As such, his research will continue to help the rest of the world understand what to expect from and how to deal with China as a digital world power.

Interview by LeidenGlobal intern Nina
June 2023

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