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Update on REDEFINE: Florian Schaefer

12 November 2021

REDEFINE is a €2.5 million project funded by the European Research Council to examine the rationale behind Chinese investments in Europe. We hear from another of the latest recruits to the project.

Florian Schaefer gained his PhD in Development Studies from SOAS, University of London, in 2017 and has held teaching positions at the London School of Economics, SOAS, and the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. He grew up in Germany and is a German national and fluent German speaker. His most recent research has been on a project closely related to the aims of REDEFINE, funded through ESRC and DFID, looking at the investment activities of Chinese firms in Ethiopia and Angola.

“I'm a mixed methods political economist, so I bring experience in a wide range of different research methods. I will be responsible for coordinating our work on the case study on Germany.

“My previous research basically looked at three things: what is driving Chinese companies to invest? How does their business adapt to the new circumstances in which they find themselves? And what are the developmental impacts of these investments – in particular, what kind of jobs do they create, who gets these jobs, and what kind of wages and working conditions are offered for local workers?

“What I find fascinating about REDEFINE is that it's not only trying to understand and answer these vitally important questions about the nature and shape of Chinese investment into the European Union, but it is trying to do that by applying key insights from development theory to the study of high-income societies. International development has historically been the study of low- and middle-income countries, but it has developed a sophisticated critical apparatus for understanding political economy.

“I don't think there is a much more important topic, strategically speaking, in political economy at the moment. It's very clear China is going to be the dominant economic weight in the world going forward, by the sheer size of its population and economy. At the same time, the Chinese political system continues to be very different, let us say, from the western model of liberal democracy.

“As it now appears China will continue to run its own system of political economy for the foreseeable future, the rest of the world needs to think about how we position ourselves, politically and economically, vis à vis what is going to become the economic center of gravity.

“This raises a range of secondary questions, such as, how can we build a co-operative relationship while retaining political differences, and retaining voice about those political differences? And how can we ensure that bilateral trade and investment relationships exist, while counterbalancing that against legitimate concerns around security and intellectual property?

“There is an unfortunate tendency, especially in the Western media but also in parts of the academia, to see Chinese firms as somehow fundamentally different actors. But if you look at the work on China and Africa, a lot of it basically shows that Chinese firms operate much like firms from any other country: they seek profits, they're not always particularly ethical in the way that they seek profits, but neither are firms of other countries. I think that those factors will be driving forces in European investment as well.”

Find out more about REDEFINE at our online seminar marking the project's first anniversary.

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