Centuries ago, the Jesuits Order made an indelible contribution to the Western understanding of China. While China is no longer shrouded in mystery, it is now as important as ever to try to understand it in its complexity. It was thus more than fitting that the inaugural edition of the Future CHOICE summer school program was held in the former Jesuit College in the UNESCO World Heritage Town of Kutná Hora, Czech Republic, a venue steeped in the spirit of learning, which, according to the Jesuits, consisted of five elements: context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation. The Future CHOICE summer school similarly strived to combine all these elements into a comprehensive educational experience.

The exciting summer program gathered a group of sixteen aspiring young professionals and advanced university students. In keeping with CHOICE’s goal to promote a diverse community of China scholars across Europe and promote the often marginalized voices, the program welcomed participants from 14 different countries. Considering the increasingly complex EU-China relations and the need to develop local talent to understand China, this summer program is a crucial component of CHOICE’s long-standing efforts to foster a new generation of China scholars in Europe.

The beautiful venues of the Jesuit College, which now hosts the Gallery of the Central Bohemian Region, hosted the intensive program of expert lectures and also provided an abundant accompanying cultural program. The event was officially opened with a keynote speech by Dr. Tomáš Petříček, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, who outlined the priorities of the upcoming Czech EU Council Presidency. The participants had the chance to interact with high-level practitioners, including the EU’s Ambassador to China, H.E. Nicholas Chapui and the Lithuanian Ambassador to China, H.E. Diana Mickevičienė, who shared not only their considerable knowledge but also their wealth of personal experience of dealing with China.

Reflecting the multifaceted EU-China relationship, the summer school focused on different aspects of mutual ties. In analyzing EU-China relations, the differences in values and norms may not be omitted as explained in detail by Ondřej Wágner, first secretary of the Delegation of the European Union to Beijing. On the issue of climate change, which is currently one of the few areas where the EU and China may find some common ground, Isabel Hilton, OBE, the Founder and Senior Advisor of China Dialogue, explored the main determinants of cooperation in addressing this global challenge. The participants of the summer school also discussed the relations between China and Central and Eastern European countries with Dr. Jakub Jakóbowski, Senior Fellow at the China Program of the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW), Poland. Last but not least, in the context of the war in Ukraine, the discussion about security issues could not be omitted from the agenda, with Dr. Janka Oertel, Director of the Asia Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), sharing her insights with our participants. 

Focusing on the interactive elements, the summer program also included a simulation of summit negotiations between the EU and Chinese diplomats. Prior to the negotiations, the Founder and Leader of CHOICE, Dr. Ivana Karásková, delivered a lecture on practical tips regarding strategies employed in diplomatic negotiations. The active involvement of all the participants in the summit negotiation scenario led to an intensive and immersive exchange, that provided a different perspective on the discussed issues.

Apart from the educational aspect, our inaugural summer school program provided ample opportunities for networking among young professionals, who will be the next generation shaping our understanding of China as well as the nature of the European approach towards the Eastern power. The first cohort of Future CHOICE summer school alumni will join the ever-expanding community of CHOICE experts across Europe.