Professor Tyler Harlan Receives Wilson China Fellowship

In an era of heightened political tensions, it is increasingly important for Americans to cultivate a greater knowledge of China and its position in the world. One person whose work is deepening this understanding is Tyler Harlan, assistant professor in the LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts Urban and Environmental Studies Department. Professor Harlan was recently announced as one of 25 members of the 2021 Wilson China Fellowship class. Along with Juliet Lu, a postdoctoral research fellow at Cornell University’s Atkinson Center for Sustainability, Professor Harlan will pursue a project entitled, “Green Development or Greenwashing? China’s Cooperation-Infrastructure Nexus in Southeast Asia” during his fellowship. 

The project is an evolution of Harlan and Lu’s respective Ph.D. projects, which both examined China’s export of development experience to other Southeast Asian countries through aid activities and infrastructure investments. Witnessing China’s growing domestic emphasis on “green development” and the economic potential of Southeast Asia’s green economy, the pair feel that “it’s important to understand whether this green rhetoric will translate into more environmentally-responsible infrastructure investments,” especially given China’s hugely important role in the region. 

Harlan feels honored to be conducting research alongside such an accomplished group of scholars, and looks forward to learning from them, as well as contributing to new American scholarship on China. He notes that the Wilson Center sets itself apart by its “emphasis on influencing public policy and writing for a broad audience,” areas which Harlan hopes to further develop in his own scholarship during his fellowship.

Professor Harlan’s project will offer both academic and real-world insights. Academically, he plans to learn more about Chinese aid activities and development models, and how those models influence cooperation between Southeast Asian countries more broadly. He anticipates that real-world knowledge will also emerge regarding “how green discourse and aid activities legitimize, improve, and/or “greenwash” Chinese infrastructure investments in Southeast Asia.” The results of this research will hopefully help identify how China offers alternatives to U.S. and Western ideas, standards, and practices for green development, and thus provide “an essential step to improving U.S.-China relations in environmental affairs.”

For Professors Harlan and Lu, the initial phase of the project will last for one year, the duration of their fellowship with the Wilson China Center. During that time they will compile as much information as possible about China’s green development aid activities in Southeast Asia, with the hope that in December—if conditions permit—they will then be able to travel to China and Laos to conduct initial fieldwork. Ultimately, they aim to “build out this project into a multi-sectoral, multi-country study over several years.” If this subsequent phase receives funding, it will offer fantastic research opportunities for LMU students in the coming years. 

In addition to his work with the Wilson China Center, Professor Harlan is working on two projects involving renewable energy. The first, which Harlan recently presented on at the LMU China Studies Forum, examines Chinese renewable energy investments in Lao and Myanmar. The second remains in the planning stages, and will analyze the relationship between extractive industries and renewable energy in resource-rich regions of the U.S. It should also offer substantive research opportunities for LMU students. 

The original press release from the Wilson Center can be read here.