Roundtable Discussion

Perception of Islam in Chinese Social Media: Implications for Pakistan


Saturday, July. 14, 2018 | 03:00 pm – 05:00 pm

Address: CSCR House, 273, Street 85, E11/2, Islamabad

The Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research is holding a round table discussion on ‘Perception of Islam in Chinese Social Media: Implications for Pakistan’. The purpose of this conference is to discuss how Islam is conveniently being used as a tool to build perception in Chinese Social Media and its repercussions on Pakistan. The discussion would hope to propose remedies that could deter the negative impacts certain perceptions are creating not only for Pakistan, but could prove to be a long term hindrance in Pakistan-China relations. The Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research will be joined by Dr. Haiyun Ma, Founder and President of the Zhenghe Forum & Founder of Zhenge International Peace Foundation as chief speaker. The event is for the CSCR affiliates only. RSVP required.

Islam, China

Dr. Ma Haiyun

Dr. Ma Haiyun is the founder and President of the Zhenghe Forum, an organization which seeks to promote peace and strengthen relations among China and the world’s Muslim countries, through dialogue and development.

A PhD in Asian History from Georgetown University, Dr. Ma is currently teaching at Frostburg State University, Maryland. He has taught courses on Asia, Islam and China and has conducted field work in several countries, including China, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Dubai, Pakistan and India. He has also conducted international conferences on relations between China and Southeast Asia, China and the Gulf countries, and China and the Central Asian Republics.

In 2016, Dr. Ma co-edited a book published by the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, which described the work of the Zhenghe Forum in connecting China with the Muslim world. He has written extensively on the subject, with publications including ‘Patriotic and Pious Muslim Intellectuals in Modern China, the Case of Ma Jian’; ‘Tibetan Muslim or Muslim Tibetans? Chinese Muslim or Muslim Chinese: Salar Ethnic Identification and Qing Administrative Transformation in Eighteenth-Century Northwest China’; ‘Review of The Chinese Sultanate: Islam, Ethnicity, and the Panthay Rebellion in Southwest China’; ‘Review of The Dao of Muhammad: A Cultural History of Muslims in Late Imperial China’ by Zvi Ben-Dor Benite; and histories of the earliest Ambassadors of Islam to China.

Dr. Ma has also presented his research at multiple international forums, speaking on ‘Ethnic Portrayals of Hui Muslims in Southeast and Northwest China’ at Yale University; ‘Historiography of Islam in China: From Central Asia to Middle East’ and ‘The Revival of Religiosity and its Impact on China Today’ at the University of Malaya; ‘Religious Minorities in China: Jews, Christians, Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists’ at Pace University; and ‘Equality, Unity and Co-Existence: Lessons Learned from China’s Policies Towards Muslim Minority Nationalities’ at the Asian Muslim Network Conference.

Dr. Ma is a recognized authority on China’s Belt and Road Initiative. He is a recurrent interviewee on Chinese Global Network, Voice of America, AP, etc. In print and online publications, his articles are themed on connecting China to the Indian Ocean and to Central Asia, and China’s Silk Road strategy.

He is conversant in Japanese, Arabic and Uyghur.

The Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research organized a one day Roundtable conference on 14th July 2018. The discussion was themed, ‘Perceptions of Islam in Chinese Social Media: Implications for Pakistan’. It was a closed door event, with participation of a prominent panel of attendees featuring senior policy makers and academicians.

The chief speaker for the conference was a prominent Chinese scholar, Dr Ma Haiyun, founder and the president of the Zhenghe Forum, an organization which seeks to promote peace and strengthen the relations among China and world Muslim countries through dialogue and development. The distinguished scholar holds a PhD in Asian history from Georgetown University. He has taught courses on Asia, Islam and China and has conducted field work in several countries including China, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Dubai, Pakistan and India. In addition to have conducted widely published research on the topic of Muslims in Asia and their socio-cultural histories in China in particular, Dr Ma is also organized authority on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, having appeared frequently on the media to expound his views.

On the topic under discussion, Dr. Ma opined that perceptions of Muslims in Chinese social media are inaccurate and growing increasingly negative, for multiple reasons. Primarily this has been due to propagation of falsified news and information. It has helped foment existing perceptions among a significant section of the Chinese population that the Islamic ideology is of an extremist nature. The lack of cultural exchanges and absence of people to people contacts, has exacerbated these perceptions and contributed to furthering a negative image of Muslims. In Dr. Ma’s view, these biased notions could ultimately prove to be problematic for Pakistan with respect to the CPEC.

The distinguished participants shared their insights and concerns regarding the Muslim-Chinese relationship and China’s role in CPEC. Some voiced commonly held concerns with regards to the benefits CPEC would accrue for the local population and raised questions as to what China should or ought to do to increase the indigenous population’s ownership of the mega project. On the matter of addressing the gap in socio-cultural understanding between the Chinese and Pakistanis, participants pointed out that despite the large number of Chinese students studying in Pakistan, there existed a disparity of viewpoints. The Pakistani business community’s concerns with regards to the Chinese business model for the CPEC were also highlighted. Many feel that it is skewed in favor of China, rather than proving a middle ground for young aspiring entrepreneurs of Pakistan. The participants provided immense insights as to how these problems could be addressed, while sharing their personal experiences along the way.

Vice President of CSCR, Ms. Aiza Azam, highlighted the need for improving perceptions on both sides of the border. Describing on-ground research work that the CSCR had conducted in previous months within Pakistan, she shared with the audience the findings that point to a need to address the existing perceptions, particularly with regards to the CPEC, as it tied directly to the stability and progress of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. She shared that the CSCR has developed proposals in this regard and shared them with the relevant policy making circles.


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