Ilaria Mazzocco: An Interview with Our New Fellow

Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics  >  Trustee China Hand

By The Trustee Chair Team

The Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics welcomes Ilaria Mazzocco as our new Fellow. Prior to joining CSIS, Ilaria was a senior research associate at the Paulson Institute, where she led research on Chinese climate and energy policy for Macropolo, the institute's think tank. She holds a PhD from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where her dissertation investigated Chinese industrial policy by focusing on electric vehicle promotion efforts and the role of local governments. Read her full bio here
Ilaria participated in a brief interview with the Trustee Chair Program Manager Alyssa Perez about her research, career, and new role at CSIS. 
You conducted your dissertation on Chinese industrial policy with a focus on electric vehicles. What is the biggest takeaway from your research?
My PhD research focused on the role of local governments in China’s electric vehicle promotion policy from 2010 to 2019. I compared the development of the EV industry and policies in three cities. Through my research, I found that the strategies adopted by municipal governments to develop the industry varied in quite a few ways, reflecting existing state-industry relationships and local government priorities. The implication is that even though governance is increasingly centralized in China, local conditions still have an impact on how policies are implemented and their outcomes.
More broadly, I learned how messy and complex policymaking is in practice. It’s easy to look at a policy statement and see the results ten years later and think that there was always a clear vision and direction. When you look closer you see all the readjustments and changes in the goals that were made over time, all the compromises that make implementation possible.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work and the way you conduct research?
Conducting research in person in the country you’re focusing on, whether it be China or elsewhere, is always enriching and provides invaluable context. The restrictions on travel due to Covid-19 have made it much harder to meet people in person and have informal conversations. These kinds of interactions are useful in understanding more of what happens ‘behind the scenes’ but also add a human component to the research process. I gained so much insight from the people I spoke to when I was doing fieldwork for my dissertation, for example. Talking to people also makes research fun! To make up for that, I think online communication, including workshops and one-on-one interviews, and analyzing written documents have become more important than ever.
Are you optimistic that Europe and the US will be able to cooperate on US-China policy during the Biden administration?
I am hopeful that there can be more cooperation, but I think recent events have highlighted how difficult that can be in practice. I see multiple challenges that will need to be overcome. First and foremost, the parties will have to reach a consensus on their common interests and goals. Even within Europe there is still a debate on what approach to take towards China. Plus, with the recent German election and the French one next year there could be some re-adjustments in how European interests are viewed. Finally, I think there is still no real consensus on what cooperation between Europe and the US on China policy would mean in practice and how it would benefit both parties. The Biden administration has stressed the importance of working with allies and it seems to be still fleshing out its strategy, so I think we may have to wait and see how things play out over the next few months.
What drew you to a career in China policy?
I think it goes back to my first trips to China. Taking a 48-hour hard sleeper train alone from Kunming to Shanghai when I was 20 really highlighted to me the incredible geography and human diversity of the country. While I spent some time after that studying and researching Central and Eastern Europe, I was eventually drawn back to China, and the study of Mandarin. I eventually returned to graduate school to study Chinese politics, which I felt were crucial to understanding many global challenges. 
While in graduate school, I became really interested in China’s budding environmental and climate regulatory framework because I felt it was a real-time laboratory for understanding institutional change. I even spent a summer interning at a Chinese environmental NGO to learn more about the topic. That interest brought me to electric vehicle policy and consequently industrial policy, all of which I continue to find fascinating because of their real-world implications for economic development and competitiveness, global competition, and climate change.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role at CSIS?
I lived for several years in DC and have always admired the work of CSIS, so I am very excited to be part of the organization. I’m looking forward to working on policy-relevant topics that can inform policymaking and improve our understanding of industrial policy and China’s economy and society. I’m especially excited to be part of the Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics’ team and contribute to its excellent work.

Related Trustee Chair Activity
Critical Questions: Ilaria Mazzocco, “China’s Commitment to Stop Overseas Financing of New Coal Plants in Perspective,” September 24, 2021.
Blog Post: Trustee Chair Team, “Jeannette Chu: An Interview with Our New Expert,” September 1, 2021.
Blog Post: Alyssa Perez, “Deborah Seligsohn: An Interview With Our New Expert,” April 30, 2021.