Research Reflections from an Outsider, cum Insider, during Field work in Uganda

By Eunice Akullo (Phd Candidate, University of Southampton). 


eunice

(Visual art image by Rolands Tibirusya)

This article presents a narrative of my July and September 2016 data collection experience for research exploring the integration of children born in captivity in three sub-regions of Uganda. Following the end of the research, I was puzzled about my identity/position as a young, female researcher and decided to reflect upon the process. The narrative below provides an account of the research experience and explains the complex nature of my identity as crosscutting between insider and outsider. It also explains how gatekeepers were vital in accessing some of the respondents and in providing guidance on how to conduct the research.

The quotation below, captured in my diary, represents my thoughts after one of the weeks of the fieldwork. My PhD research explores the integration of children born in captivity to females abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Community members received me with pre-conceived expectations. I remember one elderly male voluntarily offering me advice as I embarked on my field travels. He advised me to mind what I said, what I wore and how I behaved among the fieldwork communities to avoid being misunderstood. I enjoyed dressing up in long skirts and long dresses, and interacting with participants according to culturally expected norms. Having grown up this way, not much was surprising though. What concerned me was the feedback. Some respondents appeared surprised by my gestures. Others clutched on to their high cultural standards! The idea that a number of highly educated women around here despised folks in their community also took me by surprise!

Captured thoughts such as these following a week of research activity, reflect more than simply a memory of my fieldwork experience. They allow me as a researcher, in hindsight, to consider the power relationships and unforeseen moments during fieldwork. These form part of what reflexivity involves.

There are various scholarly definitions of reflexivity. Some of the appropriate ones in my research context include; Mullings (1999), for whom reflexivity applies to data collection processes and power relationships during research. Feminists focus on “power distribution between the researcher and participants” (Finlay: 2002b). These relationships may position the researcher as either ‘insider’ or ‘outsider’ (Mullings: 1999). An “outsider” denotes a person conducting fieldwork in a community they do not belong.

Furthermore, young female researchers may experience power relations working in both directions while doing research in an overtly patriarchal field context (Sultana; 2007:380). While institutional ethical clearances aim at minimising harm, the positionality of the researcher (gender, class and ethnicity) shapes the nature of investigation (Dwyer and Buckle: 2009).

I embarked on fieldwork after obtaining institutional ethics approval both at the University and in Uganda.  Semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions and notes in a reflexive diary were sources of data. Gatekeeper role in research of this nature was very vital in enabling data collection from some key informants and the focus group participants. I discuss how my positionality (gender and social status) did not neatly fit within the dichotomy between ‘insider’ and ’outsider’. I concur with Etherington (2004) that reflexivity helps to bridge the gap between institutional ethics approval and the actual fieldwork.

My positionality: Insider? Outsider? Both?

Questions like, ‘why are you interested in this study?’ ‘Is this a topic of your choice or the University’s?’ ‘How will the children benefit?’ came up during data collection.

I was neither a complete ‘insider’ nor ‘outsider’, and if the concepts of ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ were located on a continuum, I occupied a middle ground. Dwyer and Buckle (2009:60) refer to the middle ground as the hyphen position, one characterised by “paradox, ambiguity and ambivalence, as well as conjunction and disjunction”. As a tribes mate in one of the research areas, some participants considered me an ‘insider’. I was an ‘insider’ prior to the fieldwork, given that I had lived and worked in Uganda, and had over time gained knowledge of the culture and context.

My need for gatekeepers (folks I had made contact with during my professional experience) for data collection however started to affect my perception of how much of an ‘insider’ I was. I was researching among communities where I had not lived while growing up. Sometimes, I felt like an ‘outsider’ among communities where I could not speak/ understand the native language. Given that I was a researcher from a university abroad, respondents asked what the interest of the University was in such a topic. Explaining that abduction in my village indirectly affected me was helpful, yet I still did not pass for a complete ‘insider’ because I never lived there during war. The explanations were however important for building trust.

The influence of my positionality as a researcher

As a female, I met social and moral discussions surrounding females in leadership roles, within politics and academia. Conflicting opinions regarding how some women in politics and academia defied culturally expected norms is prevalent in Ugandan society.

Some of my peers expressed similar sentiments, and wondered which side of the debate I would fall after the PhD. Unknown to me, these kinds of social discourse shaped the ‘silent expectations’ some respondents had from me as an unmarried female researcher from a university in a developed country. A fact I discovered later. It became common before, during or after some interview sessions, to receive advice on the expected role of a woman in marriage, despite her career achievements. During such moments, I would listen to the advice, and find ways of steering the discussion back to the research. The various encounters with advice of this nature, more than ever, shaped my awareness of the impact that the socio-cultural construction of marriage and expected gender norms have on inter-personal interactions like research.

My helpful gatekeepers

My Gatekeepers with whom I had been in touch for about 6-12 months prior to fieldwork, helped build trust among research participants, mobilised for focus group discussions, and offered guidance on security measures to consider while conducting research on sensitive topics among communities recovering from war trauma. They offered advice on the necessary precautions and actions in light of my personal security and that of my participants.

Gatekeepers were helpful in recruiting participants for ‘seeded focus group’ discussions- the ‘seeded focus group’ approach previously used in HIV/AIDS research (Busza et al., 2009)[1], allows for the inclusion of the perspectives of vulnerable people. While recruiting participants, I requested them to ensure a few people related to, or living in homesteads with children born in captivity, participated. I did not know who the seed was during focus group discussions. The intention was to allow them to participate freely.

Taking stock of my fieldwork experience, I agree that reflexivity helps to explore “ethically important moments” in fieldwork and responses to the same (Guillemin and Gillam: 2004). However, since qualitative research is a subjective process, I recognise that another researcher conducting the same research would have a different experience of the fieldwork. However, some issues raised herein, may be relevant to researchers who adopt a ‘seeded focus group’ approach for a research on children born in captivity without being a ‘complete insider’. In addition, researchers involved in any socially, ethnically and politically sensitive research could find these insights useful.

Zika and the political battle of rights

By Pia Riggirozzi, Associate Professor in Global Politics at the University of Southampton (@PRiggirozziAcademia.edu). You can find more posts by Pia here.


 

In recent years there has been growing global awareness of the interplay between rights and social development. In 1997, in an attempt to mainstream human rights as a central feature of all UN programmes, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, called for a reorientation of the UN’s mission to reflect the realisation of human rights as the ultimate goal of the UN (UNDP 2005). Within this approach, the UNDP declared that human rights should not be regarded as the outcome of development but should rather be seen as the critical means to achieving it. With the signature of the Millennium Declaration and more recently the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) there has been a renewed focus on the links between global poverty and human rights in development. As a consequence, protecting and promoting rights, and creating opportunities for individuals and groups to access, enjoy and reproduce those rights have increasingly been furthered in transnational campaigns promoting broader civil liberties, the ‘right to development’ (Grugel and Piper 2009) and ‘human right to health’ (Oslo Declaration).

However, as Easterly (2009) argues ‘which rights are realised is a political battle’ contingent on a political and economic reality often determined by what is considered (national and internationally) visible and urgent. The response to the outbreak of the Zika in South and Central America is manifestation of that battle.

Zika and systemic injustices

In February 2016, South America became, for the first time, the epicentre of a Public Health Emergency of International Importance when the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that the Zika virus and its link to neurological disorders deserved global attention. After nine months Zika dropped from the international radar as the WHO declared it was no longer an international emergency. But the crisis is not over. The Zika outbreak that began in 2015 and has now spread across much of Central and South America has implications over the medium and long term on equity, health, education, gender and community relations. The challenges of managing the medium/long-term impact of outbreaks, as previously seen in the case of Ebola, are still poorly understood, and so are the prospects of safeguarding the right to health and the right to development in policies advanced by international and national health agencies addressing those amongst the most vulnerable.

The Zika virus, as with other insect-borne diseases such as Dengue and Chikungunya, is part and parcel of troubling inequities, amongst which health inequality is key, based on deprived living conditions. What raised international alarm in 2015 was the number of cases of microcephaly detected in countries affected by the Zika virus, particularly in Brazil. Microcephaly is a condition where babies are born with unusually small skulls. It is a developmental defect and is usually also associated with serious nervous system disorders – including deficiencies in mental functions and muscular weaknesses of varying degrees (WHO 2016). More than 1.5 million people in Brazil have been stricken with the mosquito-borne Zika virus, and since the outbreak began in 2015, the country has logged around 4,000 confirmed and suspected cases of microcephaly. This is alarming, particularly compared to 2014 when there were 147 cases.

Economically disadvantaged segments of the population are at higher risk of exposure to Zika, of being infected, and of their children of being born with microcephaly or other genetic conditions that require special care in the long term. The Zika crisis has also reinforced the socio-cultural expectations about the role of child-raising/caring that disproportionately fall on women, limiting even more opportunities to engage in education programmes or seek/obtain formal employment. Finally, promiscuity, lack of education and the simple fact that poor women might spend more time at home and thus are more exposed to dirty water, sewage, and mosquito breeding grounds than men, also means that women bear the burden of the prospect of infection. This drama typically unfolds in conditions where infrastructural deficiencies and lack of quality medical care and social services are the norm.

Consequently, poor women and their families are likely to be stigmatised as poor, as women, as sexually irresponsible, as families marked by disability. The Zika crisis is, in effect, a window that exposes systemic injustices related to poverty and marginalisation of poor women and children. It also a constitutive dimension of the ‘structural violence’ as global, regional and national responses to the Zika outbreak have disproportionately concentrated on prevention of infection and transmission which although necessary and urgent do not change the structural and related socio-cultural conditions that perpetuate injustice and inequality in these societies.

Which rights are right? 

The Zika crisis is not gender neutral and a focus on women is needed. Take Brazil, where there is a large proportion of single parent families, the majority of which are headed by women. These households are more likely to experience perpetual cycles of poverty as a result of the economic shock of disease. In addition, where children are born with potentially disabling impairments, they are often further isolated by limited support or social protection. The significant increase in the number of infants with microcephaly in the Northeast of Brazil which triggered of the WHO declaration of international emergency, highlights the centrality of the social determinants of health in the transmission chain, as well as issues such as the social division of care and debates on sexual and reproductive health.

During 2016, a roll out of official declarations put women at the centre: the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the WHO reinforced the importance of women’s human rights being central in the response to the Zika outbreak in many states (Gostin and Phelan 2016), while the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention advised pregnant women to refrain from travelling to countries affected by the Zika virus. Most dramatically, health officials in El Salvador urged women not to get pregnant until 2018; Colombia called on women to delay pregnancy for six to eight months.

This particular response focusing on behaviour is problematic for at least three reasons. First, implementing vector control programmes in the poorest areas is particularly challenged by more structural issues of lacking infrastructure, running water and access to healthcare. And even if such operations are conducted, mosquitoes have previously shown their capacity to quickly resurface whenever there is inadequate funding or surveillance. Second, shifting responsibility to women’s behaviour delinks the disease from its social determinants and their rights; not least because most pregnancies amongst poor and vulnerable women in the region are unplanned. As Davies and Bennett (2016: 1046) note, responses tend to focus on the ‘immediate’ health-care problem, while the status of gendered inequality that underpins the prevailing unhealthy conditions is considered ‘beyond’ the capacity of public health interventions. Add to this prevailing high rates of sexual violence, elusive contraception, teen pregnancies and the lack of sexual education prevalent in Zika-affected countries. According to a study published by the Guttmacher Institute in 2014, as many as 56 per cent of pregnancies in Latin American and the Caribbean are unintended, either because of lack of access to contraceptives or because of associated forms of gender violence.

Third, reducing the problem in this way to a few modifiable behaviours ignores factors of social determinants of health and poverty. Responses to communicable diseases such as Zika, and before Ebola, have so far tended to focus overwhelmingly on short-term-vector control and surveillance (Gostin and Hodge 2016; Davies and Bennet 2016). Such responses may be effective in terms of disease containment, effectively masking the precarious social conditions in which they live, in which many rights remain merely notional.

A final issue raised by the Zika crisis is that of reproductive rights. In a region where birth control is limited and sexual violence is widespread, the debate on legalising abortion has gained prominence. Last February, the Obama administration put under Congressional consideration $1.8 billion in emergency funding to help prepare for and respond to the threat posed by the Zika virus. But abortion politics sterilised these discussions as Republican lawmakers leading a congressional hearing on the Zika outbreak made funding conditional on anti-abortion policies in recipient countries. And while Pope Francis hinted at softening the rigid stance of the Catholic Church on contraception because of the threat posed by the Zika virus, it is the region’s restrictive abortion laws that remain a critical problem. In most Latin American countries affected by Zika, abortion is illegal or can only take place in exceptional situations. In El Salvador, for instance, where more than 7,000 cases of Zika were reported between December 2015 and January 2016, abortions are illegal under any circumstances and miscarriages could even lead to homicide convictions if proven to be self-induced.

Advocacy groups in Brazil are increasingly presenting legal cases to the Supreme Court to legalise abortion and secure reproductive rights for women under the principles of the 1988 National Constitution that guarantees the right to health. But the challenges ahead are many, not least in what a human rights-based approach to health may mean in addressing the long-term consequences of Zika (and other such health crises).

To be clear, vector control actions are imperative, but policies and recommendations based on behaviour, control and prevention are not only not enough to address women’s marginalisation in society and the effect this has on their health, they may further exacerbate this problem in addressing the immediate health risk. More academic and policy debate is needed on the scale and nature of future needs (health, social, economic, educational, welfare) of vulnerable communities particularly women and children, and how to calculate them. Government awareness of this issue is still low in Central/South America and although regional, global and expert/practitioner networks might be able to provide support in the future (Riggirozzi 2015; Riggirozzi and Yeates 2015) both in defining the scale of need and in providing support to governments in developing policies to address them, their roles over the medium/long term require greater definition.

Governments in South and Central America are in urgent need of a multi-policy approach – and funding- if they are to put in place effective responses to mitigate long-term effects and not derail progress in terms of meeting the SDGs targets on gender, childhood, disability and inclusive growth. Vector control and compliance could be seen as first step. The right to health needs to be delivered with a view that development in general and the delivery of health in particular should be anchored in an understanding of the inequalities, discriminations and power relations that prevent many people having access to good healthcare systems, care provisions and education and a view that states have legal and ethical obligations under international law to ensure the best possible provision of services for all.

 

Pia is currently involved in a funded project on regional organisations and access to medicines in South America.

 

The Key to Modern Democratic Leadership

By John Boswell, Lecturer in Politics at the University of Southampton.


 

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key’s announcement of his resignation at the beginning of this week has been met with surprise. An historically popular third-term leader is leaving politics on a high. The reaction over this side of the world has been one of bewildered admiration. How is this possible? What was he doing so right? What is this magical secret to success in contemporary democratic leadership? As a kiwi who has followed things closely from afar, and as a card-carrying deliberative democrat—committed more to the procedural fairness of democratic contestation than to substantive policy outcomes—this fawning is a little hard to take. A very effective leader Key has been, but the descriptor democratic is not one that fits. Specifically, three main strategies that have underpinned his National-led governments have been corrosive to established democratic conventions and practices:

1. Procedure is for wimps

Right from the outset the Key government were ‘relaxed’ about established conventions simply because they had the numbers in the House (despite NZ having a proportional system, the make-up of Parliament throughout has included tiny and mostly compliant coalition partners and supporters). An egregious example was the use of urgency in Parliament. New and manifestly un-urgent Bills in the early days especially were passed under urgency, curtailing debate and contestation, and preventing opportunity for Member’s Bills to be heard. The rituals of scrutiny and opposition were painted as nasty politicking, getting in the way of the government’s rightful mandate.

2. Governments get to control the communications environment

A change championed in particular by National’s media guru, chief strategist and all-round fixer Steven Joyce (the so-called Minister for Everything) has been to turn government agencies into cogs in an impressive political communications machine. Joyce’s own (admittedly large) Ministry, for instance, employs over 50 communications staff. That’s as many media experts as most newsrooms in the country.  These communications specialists—largely poached in fact from rapidly emptying newsrooms—seem to be employed chiefly for the purpose of not communicating, of stalling and misdirecting. I myself was rather miffed to be on the receiving end of one such run-around on a recent research trip back to NZ.  My experiences were by and large confirmed by the academics and media people I spoke to: from Key himself refusing to front for Morning Report or Campbell Live (the most critical interview rituals in NZ), to mundane operational agencies neglecting to engage with people like me, a culture of shutting-up-shop reigns.

3. The advantage of being in government is one to be used politically

The most fundamental and disturbing change has been the one uncovered by investigative journalist Nicky Hager in his book Dirty Politics: an investigation that links the PM’s office to a right-wing attack blogger. This is the below-the-line, dirty, Nixon-esque abuse of the powers and privileges of office to hurt rivals. The most notable tactic has been using Official Information Act requests to coordinate attacks on political rivals (by tipping of this blogger and then processing his requests at lightning speed) and stall genuine requests. Key has denied the former but actually openly admitted the latter.

Readers will be quick to point out that none of this is unique to the NZ context, recalling the playbooks of John Howard, Alistair Campbell, Karl Rove and beyond (after all, NZ is famously 20 years late to the party on everything). The dark arts have always been part and parcel of democratic politics. But a key part of the story here has been the context that has allowed these strategies to breed so much success, in particular the precipitous decline in media coverage of politics in NZ. There are now (according to my sources) more government communications people than journalists. What’s indisputable is that they are more experienced operators who can, in the words of one informant, ‘run rings around the cadets’. This is important because the fourth estate is in trouble everywhere, certainly in spirit even if it survives in body. NZ, with its small, deregulated, almost entirely private media market, represents the extreme edge of a broader and seemingly inexorable trend.

So what might be picked up and taken from the kiwi experience to the current travails of Brexit etc? Key’s government has of course not been populist in the mould of Farage or Trump—indeed Key has annoyed critics on the right for being far too committed to preserving the status quo. Instead I fear he has set the mould for something much less extreme but potentially more enduring, what might be called a popularist leader: a pleasantly bland PM that people (not me, you might have picked) want to have a beer with —one at home in the All Blacks changing room, bantering with shock jocks, posing for selfies—whose views on anything controversial are deliberately obscured, and whose governments’ actions afford little chance of scrutiny and are geared toward damaging enemies and furthering a personal political brand.

I, for one, much prefer it over here where people still hate their politicians.

The shadow of Brexit: delegating or pooling sovereignty?

By Pia Riggirozzi (University of Southampton) and Diana Tussie (FLACSO/Argentina).

Pia Riggirozzi is Associate Professor in Global Politics at the University of Southampton (@PRiggirozziAcademia.edu). You can find more posts by Pia here.


 

On 23rd June, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union through a non-binding yet politically compelling referendum. The result was a close 48% remain and 52% leave, demonstrating a very divided society. This division is largely due to a combination of citizen frustration with an insulated and arrogant ruling elite and insensitive political leadership leading to apparently widespread support for anti-politics parties such as UKIP and insensitive political leadership and, more profoundly, a political-economic project that seems to be cutting away, wilfully and needlessly, at the welfare system and social contract that have hitherto guaranteed social peace in Britain. As we have indicated somewhere else, this is also part of the unravelling of neoliberalism in the UK where the Right is failing to impose an economic model based on rising inequality and the Left unable or unwilling to refashion a social contract of ‘caring capitalism’ or ‘capitalism with a human face’. As a society it manifested some deeply disturbing moral, emotional and human issues of ‘national’ identity preceding any responsibility towards ‘others’, being those immigrants that legally contribute to the UK economic activity and social life, or those ill-fated, dispossessed, immigrants and asylum seekers who are simply trying to survive. Equally disturbing is, as Grugel claimed, how all this ignores both the complexity of identity in Britain and a history of internationalism of the UK in global affairs.

As the British elite spins with the implications of the vote, there is much to reflect on the current crisis in the UK and indeed in Europe more widely. Brexit is about class, inequality, voters feeling excluded from politics, as much as a loss of purpose of what regional integration is for.

 

What regionalism is and is for

Crucially, Brexit revitalised a conventional argument that regional integration is associated with a reduction of state power, especially in terms of the ‘loss of sovereignty’ to markets and normative regulating flows of people, in this case workers and immigrants, to regional institutions. Taking control back of the country was the political platform of supporters who consider that integration in larger multilateral schemes means diminution of state power as a result of the ‘pooling’ of sovereignty or surrender to the regional level. Effectively, once policy measures such as tariff liberalisation are established at the regional level, national governments’ direct control over policy is sharply diminished. Authority is thus removed not only from the state but also from societal influence. But this is not necessarily incompatible with a revitalisation of state power. Aldo Ferrer, former Minister of Economy in Argentina, defended the thesis that a successful integration rests on coordinated ‘construction of sovereignty’. This construction does not rest upon the delegation of sovereignty to supranational communitarian institutions, which in a conglomerate of unequally resourced members could lead to the subordination of the weaker states to the hegemonic power of the stronger states, as the experience of the European Union demonstrates for cases such as Greece, Portugal and Spain, nor does it rest on the transfer of sovereignty to supranational institutions, but rather on inter-governmental institutions and agreements that adequately address regional economic and social disparities within the bloc. Regionalism, from this perspective, enhances governance through cross-border intergovernmental forms of cooperation, and identified instances of regionally coordinated programmes of resource redistribution, social regulation, regional provision of welfare goods and services, social rights (including regional mechanisms that give populations the means of claiming and challenging governments).

As such, the key question is less what regionalism is (in terms of its philosophical, legal, or institutional bases) and more one of how regionalism acts, the roles and purposes to which the practice of regionalism gives expression to political actors and policies. In other words, what practices and political imaginaries specific regional governance enable or obstruct, what issues are made visible as central problems, and what modes of action are supported as a consequence.

The Brexit outcome indicates that the Leave platform in the UK successfully created a false sense that Britain would be better off on its own. By capitalizing on anti-immigration sentiments, economic inequality, and lack of understanding of the EU, the Leave campaign won the support of voters that have been in many ways the disaffected – older, less educated, low working class or non working class, and whose concerns focused on the loss of jobs, rising inequality, the supposed misallocation of government funds to the EU instead of British systems, and the increase in immigration. Brexit created a sense of identity and self-image amongst those actors who reacted to a regional integration model perceived as failing to adequately address regional disparities within the economic bloc, and across and within societies.

Likewise, Brexit shows that citizens’ information about and engagement with regional politics and institutions is vital for legitimacy and demands for accountability. A key problem faced by the Remain campaign was the lack of accurate knowledge about the EU, its normative beyond movement of goods and people, and its relationship with Great Britain and the ordinary people, including frameworks for rights, including the right to health. A 2013 EU Survey found that nearly half of EU citizens said that they didn’t understand how the EU worked, or how monetary contributions may support cross national arrangements for free health coverage and tax rebates.

 

Opportunities for reclaiming and rebuilding sovereignty through regionalism

The Brexit vote has led many in Latin American commentators to wonder about the benefits and disadvantages of regional integration. From an economic point of view, there are concerns about the prospects of economic vulnerability led by financial volatility and a halt in ongoing bilateral trade agreements with the EU. Politically, sceptics claims that compared to Europe, Latin America did not develop any ‘integration initiatives meaningful enough for people to even consider leaving’, taking this as a sign of failure. In fact, claims that Latin American regionalism has failed have been common for more than a decade despite the fact that that regional initiatives have proliferated since at least the 1960s and despite its long tradition in a diversity of regional associations.

This conclusion is certainly persuasive given the recurrent politico-institutional and economic instabilities in Latin America and holds up well if regionalism is merely understood as an economic project. However, over the last two decades regional demands for – and supply of – regional initiatives in Latin America increasingly focused not on economic deepening but on regionally-anchored projects addressing social development. These recent developments are significantly different, in content and in institutional architecture, from the experiments of the 1990s or even in the early years of the new millennium. For this reason, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) for instance are seen as a manifestation of post-commercial or what we have identified as post-hegemonic regionalism with distinctive calls for reclaiming sovereignty collectively through, for instance, health and defense. From this perspective, we must pay new attention to the ways southern regional organisations are re-engineering normative frames and debates as to what the purpose of regional integration should be, what kinds of social policies are needed, and what roles regional institutions should play in helping members to achieve those policies. This is significant because regional normative frameworks articulate political forms of thinking that configure political agency; make central or even visible particular issues; and privilege particular forms of political practice. This is also key to rethink how regionalism can serve the purpose of strengthening sovereignty through regional diplomacy.

The case of regional health policy in South America helps to illustrate this point. In the field of health policy there are multiple tensions between the interests of international pharmaceutical industry, developing countries, their national health systems and citizens. UNASUR and Mercosur have taken action on access to medicines, coordinating active resistance to the dominance of pharmaceutical companies under a motto that links regional health diplomacy with sovereignty. As a consequence a new regional ‘Database on Medicine Prices’ was set up revealing the prices paid by South American countries for their drug purchases. By making the information public and comparative, UNASUR and Mercosur are seeking to provide policymakers and health authorities information to strengthen the position of member states in purchases of medicines vis-à-vis pharmaceutical companies. Likewise, UNASUR’s Health Council has recently launched a project for mapping regional pharmaceutical capacities, to coordinate regional policies for production of medicines. Within the WHO, UNASUR as a bloc has pressed to change international norms regarding the combat of counterfeit medical products. The harmonisation of policies on medicines means that MERCOSUR/UNASUR negotiated the price for public sector purchases of the anti-retroviral Darunavir to US$ 1.27 per tablet from up to US$ 2.98 paid by some South American governments; an agreement with the pharmaceutical Gilead for the lowest possible price for essential medicines to treat Hepatitis C. These are the ways in which South America has been constructing the coordinated construction of (health) sovereignty, ways that skew hegemonic heavy riding, do not hit the headlines, careful to keep policy discretion to cope with disparities but important enough to increase bargaining power in asymmetric situations. These features lie at the core of our understanding of post-hegemonic regionalism.

Gender and leadership in Taiwan-China relations

By Dr Ming-chin Monique Chu, Lecturer in Chinese Politics at the University of Southampton.


PAIR’s Dr Monique Chu spoke on the BBC World Service last week in response to an article on Chinese state media claiming Taiwan’s recently elected leader Tsai Ing-wen has an “extremist style” because she is unmarried.

Dr Chu contends that these sexist comments reflect a deep sense of anxiety and insecurity in Beijing over the election of Tsai, whose Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has historically favoured Taiwanese independence. 

You can watch the full interview below.

China’s Ambitions in the Semiconductor Sphere and Taiwan’s Dilemma

By Dr Ming-chin Monique Chu, Lecturer in Chinese Politics at the University of Southampton.


A Chinese-language version of this article was originally published on www.bbc.com on May 6, 2016. You can access that original article here.


In recent years the Chinese government has systemically strived to improve the competitiveness of domestic semiconductor industry because of the national security importance of this industry. According to Chinese policy makers, a strong domestic semiconductor industry will become the cornerstone of the country’s economic development as well as its national defence.

As a result, Beijing has introduced various policies designed to increase local civilian firms’ competitiveness, market share, and research and development (R&D) capabilities. Efforts have also been made to increase the domestic supply of semiconductor chips, which have been largely imported so far.

Since 2001, Beijing has initiated a series of policies to help spur the spin-on in the Chinese context because of the dual-use nature of semiconductor technology and its recognition of the dominant spin-on trend in the global semiconductor industry. (The spin-on trend means that semiconductor technologies have predominantly flowed from the civilian side to the military because the former has become more superior to the latter in technological advancement.) Once China manages to improve its civilian firms’ semiconductor capabilities, the Chinese military can benefit from the technological transfers from the civilian side of the economy in its attempt to build a capable digitalized modern force, with improved precision strike capabilities and integrated abilities to operate in the battlefield.

It is little wonder that China has recently beefed up its efforts to engage in ambitious merger and acquisition (M&A) activities in the global semiconductor space in order to gain access to pertinent intellectual property (IP) in the pursuit of ascendancy in the strategic industry.

Some of the firms headquartered in the USA or Taiwan, two of the major players in the worldwide semiconductor sphere, have become the main targets. For instance, the Chinese state-owned Tsinghua Unigroup has attempted to acquire U.S. memory chip maker Micron Technology; it has also attempted to invest in U.S. hard-disk drive maker Western Digital, Taiwan’s integrated circuit (IC) design leader MediaTek, and three Taiwanese chip packaging companies. These three Taiwanese packaging firms include Silicon Precision Industries, ChipMOS Technologies, and Powertech Technology that together have more than 17% share of the global chip packaging capacity.

However, the U.S. regulators blocked the Chinese firm’s $23 billion offer to acquire Micron Technology on national security grounds last summer. In March the firm dropped its bid to become the biggest shareholder of Western Digital after the U.S. regulators had planned to investigate the deal.

As the Chinese firm turned its acquisition spree to Taiwan’s IC sector, which functions as one of the major pillars of the island’s economy, the Investment Commission of the Ministry of Economic Affairs in Taipei announced in late March that the three acquisition applications would be reviewed with scrutiny. Hence this case is likely to become one of the first major challenges for Taiwan’s President-elect, Tsai Ing-wen, after she takes office on 20 May.

To analyse Tsai’s policy options concerning the aforementioned M&A cases, it is crucial to understand the way in which Taiwanese semiconductor actors (including firms and individuals) have contributed to the development of China’s sector. According to my research, which culminated in more than 160 elite interviews by 2009, the Taiwanese contributions to China’s nascent industry have permeated through IC design, fabrication, packaging and testing subsectors through trans-border transfers of technology, human resources and investment especially since 2000. The extensive scope of this semiconductor migration across the Taiwan Strait, as detailed in my book, The East Asian Computer Chip War (Routledge 2013 and 2016), has constituted the production globalization trend in the worldwide industry.

Book Cover-The East Asian Computer Chip War-page-001

As Wang Qinsheng, Chair of Huada Electronic Design (HED), noted in Beijing in 2005, “through various forms of “internationalization,” calibre and capital from Taiwan have entered mainland China and played important roles [in mainland’s semiconductor industry]. . . [Taiwan president] Chen Shui-bian is unable to control the trend.”

Klaus Wiemer, former president of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), the world’s leading foundry headquartered in Taiwan, and former CEO of Chartered Semiconductor, echoed Wang’s observation: “I don’t think there would be much of a semiconductor industry in China today had it not been for Taiwan. . . Taiwan essentially went across the Strait and started to participate in the Chinese semiconductor industry. They took money over there. They took people and management skills.”

According to pertinent Taiwanese insiders, China’s market opportunities, location-specific resources (such as the availability of software engineers), as well as government policy incentives have primarily accounted for their decision to move across the Strait for the silicon gold rush, sometimes in defiance of regulations at home.

The strategic implications of the said migration are two-fold. In economic security terms, new Chinese entrants may thus become able competitors for Taiwanese firms in due course. In traditional national security terms, the Chinese military would seek to benefit from the domestic civilian semiconductor sector, improved over time with

 Taiwanese contributions, thereby accelerating the implementation of spin-on; this, in turn, will increase the Chinese military’s warfighting capabilities by adopting advanced and home-grown semiconductors as the building blocks of information-dependent military systems.

According to the president of HeJian Technology in 2005, a start-up established in Suzhou, China, with assistance from UMC that “made use of grey areas” in existing Taiwanese regulations, Beijing’s “obvious military ambition” would drive the Chinese military to exploit the domestic commercial IC industry to modernize its forces. China would utilize part of its chip industrial base, by pouring in state money, to produce ICs for the military as it continues to attract foreign investments to develop the industry.

As a Pentagon official argued that it would be “important to have a reliable and vibrant industry domestically” in the U.S. because the country had relied on chips to field its weapons systems, the same observation would apply to China.

Admittedly, the Chinese ambitions to enhance its domestic semiconductor capability are not without challenges, despite the tremendous state-led endeavours to establish national champions. These include, for instance, the abilities of local firms to innovate, the reluctance by foreign firms to transfer their core technologies to China, and the obstacles faced by local firms to acquire foreign giants due to national security concerns on the part of foreign governments.

However, it does seem that the Taiwan factor has continued to foster the development of the Chinese industry. For example, TSMC has recently decided to build a wholly owned 12-inch wafer foundry in Nanjing, China, to further expand its local market share. Besides, experienced Taiwanese engineers and executives have continued to join microelectronics firms in the world’s second largest economy. Two of the most recent cases involve the former president of HeJian Technology and the former president of Nanya Technology.

Given the analysis above, whether Tsai’s new government gives the green light to the applications filed by Tsinghua Unigroup to acquire the three Taiwanese packaging firms may not seem to matter much because packaging constitutes the low-end of the production supply chain. The potential cost of such decision, nevertheless, would be reduction in Taiwan’s market share in the worldwide subsector.

Nevertheless, if the Chinese M&A ambitions spill over to target Taiwanese firms in the fabrication and the top-end IC design subsectors, Taipei may face a serious dilemma. That is, to what extent will the approval of these Chinese applications further erode the economic competitiveness of Taiwanese firms by helping their Chinese counterparts gain access to crucial IPs? More importantly, will such decision run the risk of helping the Chinese military improve its warfighting capabilities, to the detriment of Taiwan’s long-term survival and security?


Dr Chu’s book The East Asian Computer Chip War is published in hardback and now paperback by Routledge. Click here to visit the publisher’s webpage for the book.

 

Explainer: why everyone is giving Poland a hard time

By Dr. Kamil Zwolski, Lecturer in Global Politics and Policy at University of Southampton (Academia.edu). You can find more posts by Kamil here.


 

Since coming into power at the end of October 2015, Poland’s new, right-wing government has caused a stir at home and drawn international criticism.

Hardly a day passes at the moment without EU officials or European leaders questioning decisions made by the government.

In its analysis, Der Spiegel warns against Poland’s “creeping autocracy”. Some observers have even compared the situation in Poland to Putin’s Russia. While such comparisons are exaggerated, there are serious questions to ask about the Polish government’s commitment to the principles of liberal democracy.

Poland has been praised for years for its successful transition from communist state to liberal democracy. Now, it is the subject of criticism, worry and disappointment. What happened?

After eight years in power, the centre-right, pro-EU and relatively moderate Civic Platform government lost the 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections. In its place came the nationalistic, conservative and EU-sceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party, led by Jarosław Kaczyński, the twin brother of former president Lech Kaczyński, who died in a plane crash in 2010.

Changing the rules overnight

Things quickly changed after the election. Kaczyński appointed Beata Szydło as prime minister but it is clear that he pulls all the strings. For his part, president Andrzej Duda appears to be limited in his role to formally approving whatever the parliament (i.e. Kaczyński) throws his way.

Under the auspices of this peculiar administrative set up, the parliament has set about making drastic reforms at breakneck speed. Laws are changed overnight and without consultation. Critical voices are summarily ignored.

Szydlo and Kaczynski. One of them is Prime Minister, but no one can remember which.
Reuters/Kacper Pempel

So far, the parliament has significantly curtailed the powers of the national constitutional tribunal, which is supposed to impose judicial checks on the government. Another law seeks to curtail the freedom of the press by allowing the government to appoint the heads of media organisations.

Next on the list is foreign policy. The government is still in the process of developing plans on this front but it is already facing a predicament. On one side, the new government dislikes Russia, and on the other, it is increasingly fed up with the EU. The two positions are not particularly compatible.

The bear or the overbearing?

Poland has traditionally been sceptical of Russian foreign policy. While Western European countries, notably Germany, have been forging political and economic links with post-Soviet Russia, Poland has been working hard to join NATO, the EU, and to nurse the independence of the post-Soviet republics.

The wars in Georgia and Ukraine have proved to Poland’s elites that their concern was justified. Under Putin, Russia’s neighbours would have to watch their borders.

However, Poland is strongest as part of a team. It relies on its more powerful EU partners on the international stage and would struggle alone. When introducing the proposal for the EU’s Eastern Partnership programme, Poland worked together with Sweden. In the Ukrainian conflict, Poland accepted the leadership role of Germany.

It is unclear whether the new government appreciates this. On one hand, the anti-Russian sentiment seems to run deeper than ever. This government seems to be more emotional and less pragmatic about the relationship than its predecessors. This is fuelled by the widespread belief among PiS politicians and supporters that the 2010 crash that killed president Kaczyński was Russian sabotage, rather than a tragic accident.

On the other hand, Poland’s new government is deeply eurosceptic. It is particularly suspicious of Brussels and Berlin. The liberal EU arguably presents a threat to Catholic, conservative, Polish values.

There are longstanding tensions between Poland and Germany stemming from their difficult history but there is now resentment over Germany’s desire for Poland to remain a pro-EU, liberal democracy.

And grumbles about Brussels’ alleged interfering on issues such as gay rights have grown to alarm as the migration crisis has worsened. Pressure to take in refugees from Syria has not gone down well and Kaczyński is more often to be found siding up with Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s notoriously anti-immigrant prime minister, than Poland’s western EU partners.

While EU sanctions against Poland are unlikely, there are informal ways in which Brussels and EU leaders can seek to influence Poland. They might, for example, apply pressure to the EU funding channelled to Poland. And of course, they could remind Poland of its desire for European solidarity in support of Ukraine.

This is the dilemma for the Polish government. How can it be anti-Russian and anti-EU at the same time? Where will it seek allies? Kaczyński has always been fond of Orbán and the sympathy seems mutual, confirmed by their recent meeting.

But Orbán is famous for his pro-Putin policy. PIS is uncomfortable when confronted with this fact. Washington is only interested in supporting Poland as a pinnacle of liberal democracy in the region and a committed EU member. What are the options then? Either way, the current policy is bound to crash.

The Conversation

Kamil Zwolski, Lecturer in Global Politics and Policy, University of Southampton

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.