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Episode 73: China, Chinese politics, and Finlandisation

27 May 2021
By Allan Gyngell AO FAIIA and Dr Darren Lim
Xi Jinping President of the People's Republic of China. UN Photograpaher Jean-Marc Ferré, sourced from Flickr,

Allan and Darren welcome Linda Jakobson to the podcast. Linda is a leading China expert, and a vital voice in Australia’s own China debate.

The conversation spans almost 100 minutes and will be released in two parts. At a time when the bilateral relationship is at a fresh low, this double episode offers genuine substance and depth on how one should understand China, diagnose the deterioration in Australia-China relations, and chart a pathway forward.

Linda is the founding director (and currently deputy chair) of the not-for-profit China Matters, an independent Australian policy institute (Allan sits on its Board of Directors). Linda lived and worked for over 20 years in China, including as the Beijing-based Director of the China and Global Security Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). She moved to Australia in 2011 to serve as Program Director (East Asia) at the Lowy Institute, and in 2015 she founded China Matters and was its first CEO until 2019.

The focus in Part 1 is China itself. However, the conversation begins with Linda’s own personal story. Being Finnish, Allan wonders what Finland’s experience neighbouring a major power can teach Australia, while Darren asks whether Linda sees similarities between Finland’s approach and strategies in the region – are there “Finlands” in Asia?

Turning to China itself, how has Linda’s understanding of China changed? And who is “China” when asking this question? Linda answers the question from different perspectives. Is China exceptional in what it wants?

The conversation turns to domestic politics. What is the range of views inside the country on the direction China is taking? To what extent is there pushback against Xi Jinping’s approach, and what could be the mechanisms through which change comes? How big is China’s political elite, anyway? And how can observers even answer these questions, given the increasingly closed nature of the Chinese system. Is “Pekingology” going to resemble Kremlinology?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the conversation!

As always, we invite our listeners to email us at this address: [at] We welcome feedback, requests and suggestions. You can also contact Darren on twitter @limdarrenj

We thank AIIA intern Dominique Yap for help with research and audio editing, and Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.

Relevant links

Linda’s biography:

Linda Jakobson, “What does China want? Xi Jinping and the path to greatness”, Australian Foreign Affairs, Issue 1, 18 Oct 2017:

Natasha Kassam and Darren Lim, “How China is remaking the world in its vision”. Extract from chapter in Australian Foreign Affairs, The Conversation, 22 Feb 2021:

Melissa Conley Tyler and Julian Dusting, “What should Australia do about…its foreign interference and espionage laws?” China Matters Explores, May 2021:

Nick Bisley, “China drops the mask on its global ambition”, The Lowy Interpreter, 22 Apr 2021:

Max Suich, “China confrontation: What were we thinking?” Australian Financial Review, 28 May 2021,

Max Suich, “How Australia got badly out in front on China,” Australian Financial Review, 27 May 2021,

Victor Shih and Young Yang, “The Make-up of the CCP Elite”, China Data Lab, 19 May 2021: