Wednesday 25 November 2015

Mozambique needs a community-driven approach to electrification

By Marcus Power, Durham University

Mozambique has one of Africa’s lowest electrification rates. The national grid reached just 23% of the population in 2012. Around 68% of Mozambicans live in widely dispersed rural areas making extending access to electricity difficult. The national grid infrastructure is extremely limited and increasingly struggling to cope with rising demand.

Around 80% of the country’s residents rely on biomass resources like wood, charcoal and leaves as their sole energy source for cooking and heating. Ironically, this widespread energy poverty is happening against the backdrop of plentiful natural resources. In the past decade, significant coal and gas resources have been discovered.

The wealth generated by this extractives boom represents a significant opportunity for Mozambique. It could provide the chance to address long standing challenges around limited electricity access and widespread energy poverty. Electricity needs to be sustainable, accessible and affordable to all. It should not be the sole preserve of industrial consumers or those in urban areas.

The politics and economics of electrification

The Mozambican state has increasingly prioritised the extension of the grid to rural spaces. Yet this effort has left the country with a critically under-maintained network. There is also a heavy reliance on a single energy source, hydro power. Administrative, transmission and distribution losses – totalling 27% of power generated – exacerbate the country’s increasingly acute energy shortage.

Mozambique’s electricity quantity and quality deficit could emerge as the biggest constraint to continued economic growth. Rural electrification projects are thus heavily backed by donors who see them as a promoter and enabler of economic development. What is rarely discussed with clarity is who and how many will benefit from rural electrification.

Complex financial and technical considerations are involved when extending a grid. This includes the cost and difficulty of extending the network across vast distances and varied landscapes. Yet it is also very much a political and economic process. It involves choices around tariffs, subsidies and which areas to electrify and when. Such decisions have an impact leading up to local and national elections.

The overstretched state owned energy utility Electricidade de Moçambique (EdM) has been the subject of considerable political interference and exploitation. Some of its technicians have also been implicated in corruption.

Electrification has thus become a source of business for private companies connected to Mozambique’s elites. Many of these firms have been awarded contracts without competition or with little transparency.

Decentralisation and renewable energy off-grid

In the past few years the state has been increasingly supportive of decentralised energy projects. This is seen as the most effective way to extend rural electricity access given the high costs and complexity of grid extension. These initiatives include mini-grids supplied by solar energy or micro hydro-power.

A mini-hydro system in Milange district, Zambézia province. Joshua Kirshner

Such measures are viewed as a small-scale solution with potentially positive distributional and environmental effects. There is little expectation that renewable energy sources alone will universalise electricity access. Or eliminate energy poverty for that matter.

Since the early 2000s, renewable – particularly solar – energy has been included in projects using localised mini-grids or standalone systems. These projects seek to provide electricity for administrative centres like hospitals, clinics and schools. This process has been led by the state’s National Energy Fund.

Our research suggests that this model has so far succeeded in expanding electricity access in far-flung rural areas. The problem is that it is often undertaken with little capacity building. Local communities are also not always consulted properly or given a chance to participate in planning and implementation.

The fund’s approach is typically top-down. It relies heavily on state procurement and donor funding. It’s focused on the centralised delivery of electricity. It also focuses on connecting rural institutions. Typically it has often been more concerned with raising the number of connections than with understanding how energy matters in people’s daily lives.

Democratising energy access

There is a pressing need to democratise energy access using off-grid, decentralised power generation. This would enable communities to have greater control and sovereignty over energy. The country also needs to reform and develop its key energy institutions.

The challenge is not the predominantly technical one of expanding generating capacity. This is how it is often presented by state agencies and donors. Rather, it lies in developing and coordinating state institutions and orienting policy to deliver electricity to those who need it most. Open public debate about what and who energy is ultimately for is a necessity.

Our research highlights the value of community engagement in designing and developing rural energy projects. This approach helps to foster greater local ownership. It will also empower ordinary Mozambicans and impart important skills. This is an essential step in ensuring sustainable energy access for all.

The Conversation

Marcus Power, Professor of Human Geography, Durham University

This article was originally published on 11 November 2015 on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

A new economic geography of trade and development?

By Rory Horner

In a new article published via Territory, Politics, Governance, Rory Horner reviews emerging evidence of the growth of South-South trade and argues for the need to move beyond win-win notions from development cooperation to highlight the commercial realities and very uneven geographies and development outcomes associated with this new economic landscape. 

The new geography of trade
More than a decade ago, UNCTAD declared that “a new geography of trade is emerging and reshaping the global economic landscape”. In 2012, a milestone was passed with the value of trade between developing countries (South-South trade) overtaking developing country exports to the global North.

Various indicators confirm this shifting geography as demonstrated in the below table. Claims such as those outlined in the UNDP’s The Rise of the South or the increasingly widespread notion of an “Africa Rising” are reflected in the growing share of global GDP generated in the global South. South-South trade is growing significantly, while the geography of demand is also changing – with import demand increasing rapidly within the global South. Notably, these trends are led by the rising power economies of Brazil, India, China and South Africa.

Summary indicators of the shifting geography of income and trade in the world economy:
South % of global GDP21.7 (1980)35.8
Export as % of GDP for Southern countries16.7 (1981)29.5
South % of world exports29.6 (1980)44.7
South-South % of global trade11.7 (1995)25.5
North-North % of global trade51.2 (1995)33.9
Source: Horner (2015, 7)

South-South trade raises the exciting prospect of moving beyond the more unequal and hierarchical North-South trade relationship. Specifically, South-South trade has been heralded as “vital for development” (OECD, 2006) and such trade integration viewed as “key to rebalancing the global economy” (UNCTAD, 2011). Much of the excitement in relation to South-South trade draws on “win-win” ideas of horizontal, more equal interaction drawn from the arena of development cooperation. Given that North-South trade has been characterised by high levels of inequality and hierarchy, the implicit suggestion is that South-South may offer at least some better opportunities.

Many of these optimistic viewpoints are somewhat speculative, however. It is questionable whether and how the intended “win-win” notions of South-South development cooperation translate into the commercial realities of South-South trade. The now quite significant body of research on China, and to a lesser extent India, in Africa suggests that while trading relationships may overlap with some of the intended aims of South-South cooperation, the associated impacts are not necessarily win-win. New hierarchies can characterise these relationships, leading to some suggestions of forms of neo-colonialism.

An emerging agenda on South-South value chains and production networks
Research on global value chains (GVCs) and global production networks (GPNs) can move beyond some more macro-scale, geopolitical interpretations to take an actor-centric approach to understand the variegated, region and industry-specific development implications of trade. However, such research has, to date, largely had a North-South orientation, focussing on those firms and farms in the global South participating in chains and networks mostly governed by lead firms from the global North.

Emerging evidence on South-South value chains also highlights two competing possibilities. As summarised in the table below, nascent empirical evidence has charted the potential for easier access to South-South markets in comparison to those of the global North, but also the new competition and unevenness within the South.

Emerging evidence on South-South value chains and production networks:

Pros: More accessible marketsCons: Greater competition
Volume/priceGreater volumesLower prices, more competitors
StandardsLower requirementsLower requirements may be short-lived
UpgradingLearning and functional upgrading opportunityUneven capabilities among firms to benefit
DependencyDiversification of end-market riskPotential new dependency
Source: Author’s construction

Governance of, and upgrading within, South-South value chains and production networks are two issues which deserve particular attention. In relation to private governance, new lead firms from the global South are playing increasingly prominent roles in coordinating trade. With firms from outside the global North comprising an increasing share of the world’s largest firms, it is necessary to understand the forms of governance these firms exert, including through private standards requirements. Public governance, a less focussed-on topic within GVC and GPN research, is also crucial to understand in terms of the varying capacity of state policymakers to shape South-South GVCs and GPNs. Upgrading opportunities deserves attention, including in relation to the possibilities arising from different end markets and the associated strategies required. With increasing heterogeneity within the South, the differential possibilities for upgrading, but also the possibilities for downgrading and negative outcomes from South-South trade warrant attention.

In June 2015, I organised an early career conference on this theme of “Global production networks and new contours of development” at the University of Manchester. We had 20 presentations from early career scholars moving beyond the North-South orientation of much research on GVCs and GPNs.

In two ongoing projects, I am now researching more deeply the nature of South-South production networks and their development implications, through an investigation of the economic, social and political relationships that constitute India’s “pharmacy to the developing world”. In South Africa, funded by a British Academy small research grant, I am exploring the various engagements of Indian firms and their local development implications. In East Africa (specifically, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania and with the support of a Regional Studies Association early career grant), I am investigating the challenges for local pharmaceutical production and its viability vis-à-vis competition from Indian supply. The initial stages of these projects confirm comparatively lower entry barriers in such production networks, and find quite diverse implications for local stakeholders – with key differences, for example, between local industrial and consumer interests. Such outcomes fall in various positions along the spectrum between the two polar extremes of the discourse on South-South relations – as “win-win” development cooperation or neocolonialism.

Ultimately, new research can move beyond the win-win notions often drawn from an earlier era of South-South cooperation to unveil the commercial realities, varied outcomes and very uneven geographies of expanding South-South trade.

This blog post was originally published on Development@Manchester on 10 November 2015.

Thursday 12 November 2015

Rising Power multinationals and global development

Image by jscreationzs,

By Mo Yamin and Rudolf Sinkovics

Mo Yamin and Rudolf Sinkovics introduce a special issue of critical perspectives on international business, Vol 11, No.3/4 on the developmental impact of Rising Power firms.

Huawei phones, Nando’s chicken, Tata cars – brands from Rising Power countries are present in more and more countries across the globe. The new multinationals that produce these brands are increasingly competing with established Western multinationals, in the Europe and America as well as in Africa and Asia. But what impact do these Rising Power multinationals have on global development? As they expand their global operations, how do they influence the economy, people and the environment? These questions are at the core of a special issue in Critical Perspectives on International Business.

The developmental promises and challenges of Chinese, Indian, or Brazilian companies’ international operations are controversial. One argument in favour of South-South FDI is that firms from emerging economies might adapt more easily to local realities in a developing country than multinationals from the US or Europe. So, do they better understand the needs of low-income consumers, and can they provide these with goods and services that used to be available only for the rich? Or, on the other hand, should we believe media reports on land grabbing and giant infrastructure projects by Chinese or Indian investors that destroy the environment and harm local communities?

Against this debate, the special issue takes a closer look at the nature and strategies of these Rising Power firms. Four articles in the collection look at how capabilities of these firms differ from those of Western multinationals. First, Peter J. Williamson finds that Rising Power firms have distinctive capabilities of innovation and reconfiguration that can give them an edge over competitors. Peter Konijn and Rob van Tulder examine “Resources-for-infrastructure (R4I) Swaps” as a specific market entry strategy of Chinese firms in African countries.  Taking a different angle, Jaya Prakash Pradhan and Keshab Das highlight regional differences within Rising Power countries and their effects on export performance of local SMEs. Further, Rory Horner shows how the emergence of Rising Power firms in the pharmaceutical sector has led established multinationals to increase pressure around intellectual property rights in India and South Africa.

Three further articles examine how the concept of global value chains (GVCs) can help to understand Rising Power firms’ developmental impact. Zaheer Khan, Yong Kyu Lew and Rudolf R. Sinkovics show why Pakistani automobile suppliers have benefited relatively little from their integration into GVCs. Joonkoo Lee and Gary Gereffi  point out that new markets in emerging economies and new regional value chains can be an opportunity for developing country firms to upgrade economically. However, they warn of a risk that this economic upgrading may be accompanied by negative social effects. Finally, contributing to the debate about the social impact of Rising Power firms, Noemi Sinkovics, Rudolf R. Sinkovics, Samia Ferdous Hoque and Laszlo Czaban propose a reconceptualization of social value creation, focusing on the “root causes” of constraints to creating social value.

Overall, the special issue contributes both conceptual thinking and empirical insights to the debate around the developmental impact of Rising Power firms. In sum, the articles show that there is no easy answer to the question of whether these new Chinese, Indian or Brazilian multinationals are good or bad for global development. But one thing is sure: We should keep an eye on them.

For more details, please refer to:
Mo Yamin , Rudolf R. Sinkovics , (2015) "Rising power firms – the developmental promises and challenges: an introduction", critical perspectives on international business, Vol. 11 Iss: 3/4.

Read the full special issue of critical perspectives on international business, Vol 11, No. 3/4.

Monday 2 November 2015

Debating China in Central Asia

Will China continue to defer to Russia in Central Asia’s international security relations?
By John Heathershaw (Text and photocredits)
What kind of great powerSONY DSC is China in Central Asia?  It was this question that animated our discussions in October as colleagues and new contacts of ExCAS gathered in Shanghai and London to discuss China’s emerging role in the region.  Prompted by ongoing research and the recent report by our partner Saferworld (who wrote their own summary here), we asked whether Chinese power will remain primarily economic and whether China will continue to be a singular actor in the region.
On 14 October, several of us associated with the ESRC Rising Powers and Conflict Management in Central Asia research project met in Shanghai to discuss conflict and security questions in Central Asia and China’s current role as the region’s main trading partner and foreign investor.  This event was co-organised between the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies (SIIS) and Saferworld. Participants included: Chen Dongxiao, President,  SIIS; Aisher Khamidov, Independent researcher, Kyrgyzstan; Li Lifan, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences; Bernardo Mariani, Saferworld; Anna Matveeva, Kings College London; Yang Cheng, East ChSONY DSCina Normal University.
The following week, on 23 October, a few of the participants – including Yang Cheng, Anna Matveeva and myself -reconvened in London to consider China relations with Russia including in both Central Asia and the Russian Far East.  We were joined by Bobo Lo of Chatham House, Caroline Humphrey of the University of Cambridge, Alexei Maslov of the Higher School of Economics in Moscow and Marcin Kaczmarski of the Centre for Eastern Studies, Warsaw.  The event was co-organised between the universities of Cambridge and Exeter and hosted by the Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House.
Several core questions reoccurred across the two events.  These included:
SONY DSC1.  Is China’s role in Central Asia similar to its role in its other neighbouring regions, including the somewhat comparable Russian borderlands, or is qualitatively different?
2. How does China’s relations with other great powers, especially Russia, affect its role in Central Asia?  Are these relations shifting from formally ‘equal partners’ to subservience of Russia to China?
3. How will the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) strategy with an estimated $50 Billion of investment and associated strategic engagements transform Central Asia?
4. Is China a singular actor in Central Asia where all Chinese governmental, state-owned enterprise (SOE) and private business in the region act consistently according to a single policy from Beijing (or is something more complicated afoot)?
SONY DSC5. How can China remain an overwhelmingly economic power in the region (as its own rhetoric claims) when history suggests that rising powers always seek wider political and security roles in their neighbouring region?
6. Will China continue to defer to Russia as the security guarantor for Central Asia?  Will China continue to play a passive or very indirect role in the management of minor armed conflicts in the region, particularly with the recurrent political violence surrounding the increasingly authoritarian regime in Tajikistan?
With a variety of views expressed in the workshops, I was struck by the sense of flux in China’s current position in the region.  Central Asia remains of less importance to China than any other region.  This is reflected in the knowledge and understanding of the region in Chinese academia and the  think-tank world.  We were fortunate to have two of the most knowledgeable Chinese experts in Li and Yang with us in Shanghai and London but such researchers with field experience of Central Asia are few and far between.  Our workshop in Shanghai also included experts on the Americas, Europe, South Asia and the Middle East echoing the reality that Central Asian is often seen through the prism of these regions – where China has estbalished political and security roles.
How far will this change under OBOR and the ‘drive West’?  In other regions, as the research of Lee Jones and Shahar Hameiri shows, China becomes not just a political and security player but a decentred one as SOEs and private businesses begin to pursue agendas distinct from that of Beijing.  Tensions between ministries may emerge.  Lack of knowledge and interest, along with the relativeness newness of Chinese engagement, means that most Chinese investors presently follow Beijing’s lead in infrastructure and trade agreements.  As Central Asia is considered a ‘frontier’ region this may continue for some time.  An added complexity is the ‘Sinophobia’ apparent in Central Asia.  It is unlikely that this suspicion of China will change rapidly even as more Central Asians go to China as students and traders.  One important factor will be whether Chinese companies become significant employers of the local labour force.  The current impression – not entirely unjustified – is that Chinese businesses employ their own, pay their workers poorly, and keep themselves to themselves.   This may soon change as Chinese and Central Asian governments seek to generate real economic growth in the region to meet the ambitions of OBOR.  But impressions often last long.
In this dim light, China’s potential security role in the Central Asian republics seems distant indeed.  However, a glance across the border to China’s emerging role in Afghanistan suggests that a more activist foreign and security policy make just be a matters of the eventfulness of international politics.  History and logic also suggest that China is unlikely to allow Russia gate-keeping rights over security cooperation in Central Asia for perpetuity.  It is China which borders Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan after all, despite Russia’s claim to its ‘near abroad’.  Such deference would be rather like early 20th century America allowing a foreign power to be the security hegemon for Mexico or the Caribbean states (something which had already ruled out with the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, of course).   This is a problematic historical analogy – as the US was reacting to European colonialism, not a post-colonial world, and the America were its primary neighbour - but at a certain level it is telling.  Geopolitics is a constructed phenomenon not a pattern which emerges from simple physical and political geography.  It may be constructed in a manner which belies the supposed eternal truths of political realist thought.  But it would be surprising, perhaps unprecedented, if China did not internalise classical geopolitical discourse and play a more assertive role in all its borderlands, even the most distant from the populous East.
The question is made the more urgent by the multiple incidents of minor armed conflict which have taken place in one of China’s Central Asian neighbours since 2008.  Tajikistan has experienced no fewer than six serious incidents of political violence over that time, largely involving senior officials or former officials and mid-ranking security officers.  In addition, it saw the head of its special forces Gulmurod Halimov defect to ISIS/ISIL in March 2015. Losing both Halimov and the recently promoted deputy defence minister Abdulhalim Nazarzoda to rebellion in the same years must say something about the (in)stability of the Tajik state.  More particularly, it tells us that it is the regime which is producing these rebellions as it seeks to narrow its circle and expel all those whose absolute loyalty it doubts.  Will China stand by if a future rebellion causes wider instability?  Its notable 8 September statement in support of political stability, following the violence associated with Nazarzoda on 4 September, suggests it is watching closely.
A greater security role for China in Central Asia – beyond its formal cooperation within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – may be far off.  But rather than strategy dictating we may expect events beyond Beijing’s control to play a profound role.
This blog post was originally published by the Exeter Central Asian Studies Network on 30 October 2015 (revised on 2 November 2015).

Friday 16 October 2015

What are Russia's grand designs in Central Asia?

Conversation logo 3ef91e0a2031c5d9350f37bac3cf5273ef6da3660ffaf7c422b9695f09b6f171By David Lewis, University of Exeter, originally published on The Conversation

While international attention has focused on Russian military operations in Ukraine and Syria, Moscow has also been involved in a flurry of diplomatic and security initiatives to address the growing instability in northern Afghanistan.

But its moves to bolster regional security are more than just a response to local security concerns. Russia has a broader strategy that could leave it as the dominant security actor across much of Eurasia.

Even before the shock of the Taliban occupation of Kunduz in late September, Russian officials were concerned about the fragile security situation in northern Afghanistan, including the rise of Islamic State in northern Afghanistan and its potential spread to Central Asia and thence to Russia’s large Muslim community. As if to emphasise the domestic threat, on October 12 Russian police announced that they had uncovered a terrorist plot in Moscow apparently involving a group of Central Asian militants.

Insecurity in Afghanistan may pose a potential security threat for Moscow, but it is being seized upon as a major geopolitical opportunity. Against a backdrop of failed Western policies across much of Russia’s southern flank, Moscow is moving quickly to fill a security vacuum in the region. It is strengthening existing alliances to consolidate its hold over former Soviet republics in Central Asia and reshaping the security dynamics of the region around its own favoured security groupings – the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

The first step has been a series of meeting with Central Asian leaders, all on the front line in case of renewed Afghan insecurity. A meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Emomali Rakhmon, the president of Tajikistan, led to promises of more attack helicopters to bolster the existing Russian military based in the country, which has become the hub of a well-developed defence system against cross-border infiltration.

Crisis and opportunity

Putin also took time out of his birthday celebrations in Sochi to meet Almazbek Atambayev, the president of Kyrgyzstan, a country that has become the linchpin of Russia’s security strategy in the region. Until 2014 Kyrgyzstan hosted a US airbase, but as I explored in a recent paper, Russia has been remarkably successful in ousting the Americans and turning Kyrgyzstan into a dependable ally in the region.

If Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are relatively relaxed about an enhanced Russian military presence, the Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, is instinctively allergic to talk of renewed Russian influence and pulled out of the Russian-led CSTO in 2012.

Now the northern Afghan crisis offers an opportunity to bring Uzbekistan back into Moscow’s embrace. A delegation from the Russian MOD, led by deputy minister Anatoly Antonov, has recently paid the country its first high-level visit since 2007.

There was no coverage of the Russian visit in Uzbekistan’s heavily censored press. Instead, the newpapers led on a summit with neighbouring Turkmen president, Gurmanguly Berdymukhamedov. The two presidents both have serious security concerns about Afghanistan, but both want to manage them without Russian assistance. Both states have appalling human rights records, limiting the potential for Western aid, and it may be hard to refuse Russian offers of help if unrest grows along their borders with Afghanistan.

Friends reunited

Afghan officials have also been in Moscow, seeking assistance. Vice-president and Uzbek warlord, Abdul Rashid Dostum, has sought to revive old ties during a recent visit, also paying a side visit to the influential Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, to share experiences of “fighting terrorism”. If the Afghan situation worsens significantly, Dostum offers the potential for Moscow to build up a further band of loyal forces in the north of Afghanistan, in an effective re-run of its Taliban-era support for the Northern Alliance.

Other Afghan government officials attended a conference of SCO members and observers on Afghanistan in Moscow. The chief of Russia’s general staff, first deputy defence minister, Valery Gerasimov, took time out to give a speech that highlighted the failure of US policy in the Middle East, leaving little doubt that Moscow now sees Afghanistan through the same geopolitical prism as it frames Syria. Russian intelligence officials regularly claim that IS is part of a broader US plot to destabilise Central Asia and Russia from the south.

Still, there is no appetite for Russia to get involved in Afghanistan in the way it has in Syria. There are still bitter memories of the humiliating Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. But an anti-IS stance in the region provides Russia with the opportunity to consolidate its presence in Central Asia and become the centre of new alliances in the region – with SCO partners such as China, and with Iran – and to sponsor anti-Taliban and anti-IS forces in northern Afghanistan.

More intriguingly, some Russian officials see Moscow’s new strategic initiatives in Syria and Afghanistan as a chance to carve out a significant role in a wider region. State Duma speaker, Sergei Naryshkin, has been talking of a “Greater Eurasia”, linking Russia not only to former Soviet republics, but more widely to a range of allies in Syria, Iran, India and China.

This may be just another of Russia’s historical spatial fantasies for now, but in a rapidly changing international environment, Moscow will try to use its dominance in Central Asia as a first step towards shaping a new regional security order.
The Conversation
David Lewis, Senior Lecturer, Politics, University of Exeter

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

Saturday 18 July 2015

Bioinformatics in the UK, India and China

By Brian Salter, Yinhua Zhou and Saheli Datta

Bioinformatics has recently been recognised in the UK as a ‘huge priority for government’ with the ‘potential to drive research and development, increase productivity and innovation and ultimately transform lives.’ (UK Medical Research Council, 2014). While there is wide agreement among nations regarding the importance of bioinformatics, there is little consensus over possible pathways for maximising its contribution to the life sciences. A recent paper by Salter, Zhou and Datta (2015) explores the extent to which bioinformatics have become a strategic priority for India, China and the UK, and how these efforts are shaping or are in turn being shaped by the existing norms, rules and institutions in the global lifesciences.

Bioinformatics is the combination of knowledge, skills and techniques of biology made 'readable' with computer science, statistics and mathematics. The traditional view of the role of mathematics and computer science in bioinformatics was that of a 'means' to the end of capturing and understanding increasingly data-intensive biological knowledge production e.g. as with genomic data. However, in the last few years a more balanced view has emerged that considers computer science and mathematical tools as both the object and instrument of knowledge production. Leonelli’s (2012: 2) comment that ‘data-intensive methods are changing what counts as good science’- is perhaps nowhere more relevant today than in bioinformatics where the tug-of-war for primacy between two disparate branches of science (mathematics and biology) has become increasingly polarized.

For nations, in particular emerging economies, these spaces of rapidly advancing technology, uncertainty and political tensions that sit uncomfortably within the hegemonic norms, rules and institutions in the global lifesciences increasingly represent spaces of future growth and opportunities for catching up with the west. For emerging economies, the ensuing shift from ‘developmental state’ into what has been described as the ‘adaptive state’ and the ‘transformative state’ signals the opportunity to shape global lifesciences according to their national interests (Kim, 1999; Salter, 2009a; Wu, 2004; Wong, 2005). For the west, the changing nature of ‘science’ and simultaneously the changing role of emerging economies’ participation in global sciences, questions the established mutually beneficial relationship between ‘state and science’ – where science supplies the state with a flow of knowledge, and the state supplies science with the resources to pursue research interests – the fundamental question being how to accommodate transnational science with national interest?

Yet, it would be mistake to presume that the changing nature of science presents only opportunities and few challenges for emerging economies. From a political perspective, the mutually beneficial state-science relationship at the heart of western domination of global lifesciences since WWII never really developed in India, China or Brazil. Simply put, science in the BRICS lacked political value – until now; thus today, for science to progress the key need is to forge and nurture the ‘science and state’ relationship. Furthermore, while a scientific elite is emerging in the BRICS, their experience in negotiating the key science-state relationship to take the national scientific ambition forward is lacking - although the reverse influx of seasoned diaspora (to the BRICS) from elite western scientific communities is helpful. Similarly, the institutional tools generated by more than sixty years of western domination of global lifesciences is reflected in the hegemonic dynamic of today's global bioinformatics governance and in turn disadvantages new entrants like the BRICS whose establishment of similar institutional strengths is still in its nascent stages. For instance, the Bermuda rules of 1996 enabled the development of bioinformatics self-regulation in western nations, but at the exclusion of China and India.

In the case of China, a top-down style of innovation governance has been adopted with the State Council setting the 'science' agenda with its Five Year Plans. Similarly, India’s Planning Commission’s (recently dissolved) has so far used a similar mechanism of Five Year Plans to set the agenda for the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and the Department of Technology (DIT). In contrast the UK's bottom-up approach with funding from both public and private sources is strengthened by a state apparatus that collaborates closely with a science-led (and scientific elite led) agenda. Neverthless, the Chinese or Indian state's committment to becoming global players cannot be doubted. For instance, between 2005 and 2014, China invested a whopping £303 million in bioinformatics compared to India’s £18 million and UK’s £163.9 million. However, a close study reveals that the bulk of China’s funding of £216 million while earmarked under the broad category of ‘bioinformatics’ was further earmarked under the sub-category ‘New Drug Creation and Development (2009-2010)’ – implying that states differ in their interpretation of what constitutes or differentiates bioinformatics from biomedical innovation.

That western hegemonic domination of global lifesciences has extended into bioinformatics is an accepted fact. However, the extent to which this status quo will be retained given the changing nature of science and the spaces of opportunity it has created for the BRICS to climb ever higher in the global lifesciences value chain, is worth questioning.

This blog post originally appeared on the Global Biopolitics Research Centre blog on 15 July 2015.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Cooperation or competition? China and Russia in Central Asia

By Ivan Campbell

The recent launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank highlights China's economic and strategic ambitions, and will accelerate its economic expansion into Central Asia. As geopolitical dynamics shift, Ivan Campbell considers whether relations between China and the traditional regional hegemon, Russia, are likely to be characterised by continuing pragmatic cooperation or growing competition.

On June 29 delegates from 50 countries gathered in Beijing for the signing ceremony of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The Chinese-led initiative is being seen as a diplomatic and strategic success for China, with this new multilateral financial institution set to provide an alternative to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Its creation was motivated in part by Chinese frustration at its under-representation and lack of influence in the existing international financial architecture, which remains dominated by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. However, despite opposition from the US, several of its allies – including the UK, Germany and Australia – have joined the AIIB as founding members.

The establishment of the AIIB reflects the shifting balance of global economic power from west to east, and it is expected to advance China's broader economic expansion. Intended to fund Asian energy, transport and infrastructure projects, the AIIB will support the reorientation of China's economic policy from domestic infrastructure development to infrastructure development beyond its borders. In addition, it ties in with China's periphery diplomacy and will enable China to engage more proactively, and to develop closer relationships, with other Asian countries – or as President Xi put it, to “turn China's neighbourhood areas into a community of common destiny”.

The launch of the Chinese-led AIIB is particularly significant when viewed from the perspective of Central Asia. It is likely to reinforce Chinese trade and investment in the region, which has already expanded massively in recent years. In 2013 President Xi signed deals worth a reported US$100 billion with four Central Asian states, and this came on top of a one hundred-fold increase in trade between China and Central Asia since the break-up of the Soviet Union. The AIIB supports China's vision of inclusive trade and transport integration in Eurasia, embodied in the concept of the Silk Road Economic Belt. The vision includes rail, road and air links, as well as energy pipelines. Financing will come from China's Silk Road Fund, as well as the AIIB and the Shanghai-based BRICS New Development Bank.

What are the implications of these developments for the five Central Asian states: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan? For much of the time since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the international community has viewed Central Asia as a region of risk and potential instability. This has been compounded by the chronic violence and insecurity affecting neighbouring Afghanistan. As a consequence, international engagement in the region over recent decades has been underpinned by a concern to contain conflict risks and to shore up state stability, despite significant concerns about governance and human rights.

One view is that having regarded Central Asia primarily through the lens of security – especially in relation to Afghanistan – the major powers are increasingly shifting their focus to the region's economic potential. Henceforth international engagement will be driven as much by the desire to tap the markets and resources of Central Asia as by concerns about conflict risks and instability. China has led this reorientation of approach through the Silk Road Economic Belt, AIIB and similar instruments, but it can be seen also in terms of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the US New Silk Road Initiative, and India's Connect Central Asia policy.

The potential benefits for Central Asian states, in terms of increased trade, investment and connectivity are clear – but equally there are risks arising from increased economic intervention when one considers conflict dynamics within the region and broader geopolitical trends. There is a range of threats to peace and stability both within and between the five Central Asian states. These include poor governance, weak rule of law, ethnic divisions, competition over water and land resources, drug-trafficking, and widespread poverty. There are particular concerns that conflict could be triggered by the eventual presidential successions in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan when those changes come. Add in the threat of violent spill-over from Afghanistan, especially following the withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and the fragility of peace and stability in the region is all too apparent.

The geopolitical significance and abundant resources of the Central Asian region have long made it attractive to great powers, and thus the locus of strategic competition. China and Russia will increasingly be the principal players on this stage, especially after the final ISAF drawdown. As China steps up its engagement in Central Asia, it will inevitably affect local conflict dynamics. It may well create great opportunities for economic development in the region, but it also risks exacerbating existing inequalities or provoking local tensions. China's growing presence and influence in the region – despite being outwardly benign and focused on economic integration – has created unease about its longer-term intentions. Chinese attempts to lease tracts of land in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, for instance, have generated considerable antipathy towards China among local populations.

Russia is the traditional regional power in Central Asia and, despite its diminished influence in the post-Soviet era, it remains the pre-eminent military and political actor. Thus far, Russia and China have co-existed relatively harmoniously in the Central Asian space, and appear keen to maintain a show of good relations – for example, President Xi's seat next to President Putin at the Victory Day parade in Moscow in May 2015. And China has appeared content to cede pre-eminence to Russia when it comes to matters of direct involvement in the politics or security of Central Asian states. However, Russia is inevitably apprehensive about China's economic expansion, especially given that China overtook Russia as Central Asia's number one trading partner in 2010. Furthermore, Russia is likely to be watching China's military modernisation programme with concern, as this will allow it to develop and project new capabilities in its border areas, including Central Asia.

Another important consideration is Russia's increasingly assertive stance in the former Soviet space. Recent events in Ukraine, and before that in Georgia, have been viewed by many as Russia seeking to reassert a dominant role in its former sphere of influence. The significance of Ukraine events for Central Asia should not be over-stated, but the repercussions may be far-reaching. Russia could potentially apply the same intervention logic – to protect ethnic Russians or identified Russian interests – to other states in its neighbourhood. This has caused unease in neighbouring regions, including Central Asia. Taken together with Russian attempts to engage the region in a closer economic embrace through the EEU, there are concerns that Russia will seek to reassert itself here too.

The AIIB represents a significant new element in the geopolitics around Central Asia. In some quarters, there are concerns about a new superpower axis between China and Russia – based on flourishing trade, growing military cooperation and shared geo-strategic interests. But equally their respective aspirations may set these two powers on an eventual collision course. Central Asia represents an important test-case. How the dynamics of China's economic expansion on one side of this fragile region and an increasingly assertive Russia on the other play out will shape the future of Central Asia and prospects for peace and stability.

In 2013-14 Saferworld undertook research into China's growing engagement in Central Asia, as well as the changing role of Russia. We analysed how this affects – and may affect in the future – the regional economic and security context. In a new report we consider how the relationship between Russia and China in Central Asia is likely to evolve – whether one of continued pragmatic cooperation or of increasing rivalry and possible conflict. The report launched today, in Chinese, Russian and English language versions, summarises the findings of Saferworld's research and the implications for peace and stability in Central Asia.

Read Central Asia at a crossroads

Ivan Campbell is Senior Conflict and Security Adviser at Saferworld. This blog post was originally published on the Saferworld website on 13 July 2015.

Sunday 12 July 2015

China and Brazil in African Agriculture: new papers published!

By Henry Tugendhat
Image by Gualberto107,

If you think that the biggest story about Brazilian and Chinese agricultural engagements in Africa is land grabs, you’d be wrong. In fact, the big stories consist of almost everything else. From migration, to technology transfers, to development assistance programmes, Brazil and China have been having an impact on agricultural development in different ways across sub-Saharan Africa.

For the past three years, a team of 25 researchers has been looking at these engagements in great detail. We come from institutions across Brazil, China, Ghana, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and the UK, and often found that what was most interesting was not what we’d originally set out to observe.

This was particularly so with our ambition to map out all of the Brazilian and Chinese development cooperation engagements in the agricultural sectors of our four African case study countries. The data were simply not available, and when they were they were almost invariably incomplete or plain wrong. Agricultural engagements are still nascent in most of Africa, so initiatives were just unfolding as we did our research. Furthermore, we came up against the perennial problem of what constitutes aid and what constitutes trade, investment or public relations in relation to Chinese and Brazilian engagements. ‘Development cooperation’ is a mix of all of these, and we wanted to get to grips with this hybrid mix.

So rather than get more confused by the official statistics, we instead launched ourselves into some detailed case study research, using a mix of ethnographic methods. In the end we studied 16 different cases across the case study countries, as well as the domestic political economy in Brazil and China framing these interventions. Our aim was to understand both day-to-day practices, but also situate these within the broader political-economic drivers. As a team of anthropologists, economists, political-economists, agronomists, and international relations experts, we have therefore combined our expertise to pick out what we think are some of the most important insights from these engagements to date.

In Mozambique we looked at Brazil’s Prosavana project and the rise of civil society contestations; in Zimbabwe we looked at tractor deals coming in from both Brazil and China; and in Ghana and Ethiopia we looked at the migration patterns of Chinese farmers and their impacts on the local economies - to name but a few examples. Some of these papers look at the drivers for Brazil and China to engage in these cooperation projects in the first place, others analyse what is already happening as these projects hit the ground and how local African farmers, communities and officials engage with them. In total, we now have a series of over 20 Working Papers, alongside an earlier IDS Bulletin and a special issue of a journal which is under review. We had our UK launch event in London last month, and public events are also taking place across the six other countries involved to engage policy makers, businesses, development practitioners, civil society groups and researchers.

The papers are free to download from the Future Agricultures Consortium website, and together they present an original take – and much new empirical information - on the nature of Brazilian and Chinese engagements in African agriculture.

Monday 6 July 2015

Has bioethics matured to the point where it is capable of re-orienting the relations between science, state and bioethics in the governance of science?

To answer these questions authors Brian Salter and Alison Harvey looked at the case of the production of human/animal chimeras (i.e. genetic hybrids) in scientific research. It is not a new practice: “cytoplasmic hybrids fusing human and non-human (mouse or hamster) cells were developed in the 1960s and were used in early studies mapping the human genome” (p. 688). Yet it has only recently come under ethical scrutiny. In 2011, the UK Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS) released a report entitled: ‘Animals containing human material’ (ACHM). The report had the ambition of shaping future regulation and governance of chimera use in biomedical research.

Whereas traditionally states have used bioethics to legitimise policy-making, the case of chimeras illustrates how bioethics is becoming more of a proactive player in the mediation of state, society and science. In the case human/animal chimeras, public bioethics (distinct from academic bioethics) is actively framing the problem, the debate, and hence its solutions. Bioethical bodies in Denmark, Germany, Sweden, and in the EU, at large, have already expressed concern and interest in the issue.

What makes current and future trends in the use of human/animal chimeras even more ethically problematic is the fact that it combines existing controversial features of scientific research: genetic modification (GM) and human embryonic stem cells (HESC). Although the introduction of human elements in animals - such as mice - are unlikely to raise issues of animal welfare, there remains the everlasting conflict of values over the ‘natural’ and the ‘unnatural’. Combined with the ethical dilemma of using of embryonic stem cells, human/animal chimeras become rather problematic.

As a solution the AMS report puts forward the concept of ‘human dignity’, arguing that respect for ‘human dignity’ may serve as the ultimate guideline in the production of chimeras, by neatly addressing both the issue of GM and HESCs. It also assures that a tight leash is kept on science and the extent to which chimeras can be made ‘human-like’. Finally, such a solution welcomes bioethics, but continues to preserve its political neutrality.

To read the full paper click here. 

This blog post originally appeared on the Global Biopolitics Research Centre blog on  15 June 2015.

Friday 3 July 2015

Synthetic biology in China: An update from the field

By Yanchao Li and Philip Shapira

Over a two-week period in May 2015, we undertook a series of interviews in China with scientists and entrepreneurs working in the fast growing domain of synthetic biology.

Synthetic biology involves redesigning biological components and systems present in the natural world or making new ones from scratch. Champions expect synthetic biology to drive a new industrial revolution, shifting economies to greener, bio-materials and offering opportunities to develop innovative products and applications in medicine, agri-food, energy, information technology, and other fields. The UK published a pioneering Synthetic Biology Roadmap in 2012 and has funded a series of new synthetic biology research and commercialisation initiatives. In the US, the European Union, other developed countries, and now China, researchers and companies are now similarly exploring the opportunities presented by synthetic biology. China’s efforts are underpinned by its policy drive to shift from routine manufacturing to more innovative high-technology sectors and the considerable expansion in recent years in Chinese resources and capabilities for science, engineering, and innovation.

During our field research in China, we visited several key institutions undertaking synthetic biology research and commercialization in China, interviewing a range of researchers, entrepreneurs and high-level managers. China has long used a centrally managed five-year planning approach to signal science and technology priorities, fund research and training in the Chinese Academy of Sciences and universities, guide regional agencies, and support technology commercialization. These plans did not foresee the rapid recent growth of attention in other countries to synthetic biology. However, prompted in part by the fast scale-up of the UK programme, Chinese governmental sources have expanded support for synthetic biology research, including at local levels. Academicians and science and technology policy officials have prepared a Chinese roadmap that identifies strategic targets in synthetic biology over five, ten and twenty year periods. Nearer-term goals include building databases of standardized biological parts and developing computational competency for part and device design. China’s roadmap also outlines timelines for commercial and clinical applications of parts, devices, and systems developed using synthetic biology and engineering. Indeed, we observed an actively developing community of synthetic biology researchers, entrepreneurs and established companies.

We met with several key people involved in synthetic biology research in China, including at Tsinghua University in Beijing and at the Shanghai Institute for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Research groups in these institutions target both scientific outputs and commercialization, with close links to scientific entrepreneurs and established companies. In an incubator at Tsinghua University, we visited a start-up company that is drawing on university research to engineer polyhydroxyalkanoates (polyesters fashioned by bacterial fermentation). The company’s patented organism can be used to make biodegradable plastics using seawater (rather than more expensive freshwater). We also visited a US-owned biological research company based in eastern China that employs a labour force of Chinese scientists and technicians to provide gene synthesis, cell line development, and biological testing services and products to a worldwide customer base. The company is exploring synthetic genome design and other ways in which synthetic biology can be used to develop enhanced and new services and products.

However, systematic approaches in China to address the ethical, legal, equity, and societal implications of synthetic biology are not evident. As yet, no explicit measures to foster responsible research and innovation are embedded in Chinese initiatives to develop synthetic biology, and China has not emulated the open processes of broad consultation and public engagement seen in the UK Synthetic Biology Roadmap. This is not to say there is no discussion about broader implications in China. Just before our visit, a group of Chinese scientists from Sun Yat-sen University generated worldwide controversy through their efforts to genetically modify human embryos. We were told that this work also ignited debate among scientists and policymakers in China, although without consensus as to its appropriateness and what should be done to more effectively govern biological research by Chinese researchers to address ethical and safety concerns. Debate on such topics in China has tended to be restricted to small-scale groups of academics and policymakers. Still, there are signs that issues are being discussed. A recent Xiangshan-Science academic workshop considered ethical issues and governance of converging technologies, while one of the first academic meetings in China on responsible research and innovation is being held this summer. There are also early indications of the use of China’s extensive social media platforms to highlight specific projects in synthetic biology. It remains to be seen whether and how such developments will influence the governance and trajectories of research and innovation of synthetic biology in China.

Philip Shapira is Professor of Innovation, Management and Policy at the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, Manchester Business School (MBS), The University of Manchester, UK, and is Principal Investigator for the Project on Emerging Technologies, Trajectories and Implications of Next Generation Innovation Systems Development in China and Russia (ES/J012785/1). He is also a Co-Investigator with the Manchester Synthetic Biology Research Centre (SYNBIOCHEM) (BB/M017702/1) and lead for SYNBIOCHEM’s Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) Group. Dr. Yanchao Li is a Research Associate with the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research and a researcher with the Project on Emerging Technologies, Trajectories and Implications of Next Generation Innovation Systems Development in China and Russia and the SYNBIOCHEM RRI Group. Dr. Jan Youtie (Georgia Institute of Technology) and Xiao Liang (MBS Doctoral Student) were also involved in interviews. For further information, contact: