Second Network Meeting of Submodule 1b “Interaction and Knowledge in the Pacific Region”

On October 29th and 30th 2020, the members of the subproject “Interaction and Knowledge in the Pacific Region” met for their second network meeting. The first network meeting took place in June 2019 at the GHI Moscow (find the report here). This time however, the meeting had to take place digitally with travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic in effect almost everywhere. With project members based in Tokyo, Singapore, Moscow, Germany, Washington DC and California, coordinating the different time zones posed quite the logistical challenge. While researchers in Tokyo were giving their presentations after 10 pm, the group members in California had to get up at 6 am to join the meeting. Also, due to the massively diverging time zones, no experts and collaboration partners from the East West Center in Honolulu – who had originally planned to participate as the meeting was initially supposed to take place in Hawai’i – were able to attend. Despite these externally posed obstacles, the project members managed to successfully present, discuss and connect their various research projects with the whole group, and in doing so filled the overall project’s title “Knowledge Unbound” with life.

The thematic focus “Environment, Climate, Energy”

The first day of the meeting was devoted to research projects within the theme of “Environment, Climate, Energy”. Sonja Ganseforth (DIJ Tokyo) started by presenting her research project dealing with coastal fisheries in Japan. She explained the various challenges Japanese coastal fisheries are currently facing, such as the declining viability due to stagnating fish prices and increasing meat consumption. Other challenges include the declining work force due to the lack of successors and depopulation, as fishery jobs and rural life are unattractive for the younger generation. She then went on to explain the interesting role that cooperatives play in this sector. These cooperatives have a privileged role in resource access and management rights and fulfill a wide array of very practical tasks as well. For example, they help with the packing and trucking to different markets, coordinate mutual aid funds, serve as liaison offices for subsidies and as representatives of fishermen, but also organize youth groups or women’s groups, and therefore reach far beyond pure fishery. Sonja finished her talk by presenting the Japanese Fishery Law reform which was passed in 2018 and weakened the cooperatives power, as fishing rights can now also go to a company, not exclusively to the cooperatives anymore. This reform was passed very quickly and is highly contested as critics are afraid that it will push out small scale fishers. The exact specifics of this reform are not clear yet, as they are currently being worked out. Sonja plans to do interviews with stakeholders in Tokyo, as due to Covid-19 she couldn’t do more field research at the moment. In the discussion following her presentation, the participants touched upon questions such as the impact of climate change, the relation between this singular reform and a global trend and the role local knowledge played in the implementation of the reform.

The second presentation in the thematic area of “Environment, Climate, Energy“ dealt with the question how Chinese competition has shaped clean energy and climate change governance in the United States. Sarah Beringer from the GHI Washington gave insights into her project by presenting the history of various attempts for a national climate action in the U.S. in the past decades that all failed. This was often justified by the argument that the U.S. should “remain competitive” and would face too much of an economic burden through a national climate action plan compared to emerging markets – most significantly China. In this regard, U.S. climate politics as such can be described as a “long history of failure” even though there’s been action taken on by individual states, as well as regional and private initiatives. In one such initiative, California has recently started a cooperation on climate change governance and renewable energy technology with China.

The following presentation by Shaun Lin-Ziqiang (based at the Max Weber Foundation Research Group on Borders, Mobility and New Infrastructures at the National university of Singapore) moved the geographical focus from North America to South East Asia, zooming into the Mekong river. He explained how a cascade of dams has completely transformed the upper Mekong to commodify the water flows to drive turbines. The energy gained here travels to distant users in the Chinese seaboard and huge urban centers. He explained the various interests China has in the region (the strategy to turn the Mekong into a “Super Highway” for international trade as well as using it as an energy and water supplier for other parts of China). Shaun also highlighted the necessity to think seriously about the basin’s whole body as an interactive socio-hydrological system, mentioning critical low water levels and the river’s creeping salinity where it meets the sea, threating 850 already endangered fish species.

The final presentation in the area of “Environment, Climate, Energy” came from Benjamin Beuerle (GHI Moscow). He is working on regional, national and transnational dimensions of climate change policy approaches in the late Soviet Union and Russia (from the 1970s until present). He gave an insight in various publications he is currently working on. Among others, he is preparing an article for publication that examines approaches for dealing with urban air pollution in the Russian Far East and another piece which deals with the interconnection between richness in fossil resources, repercussions of climate change and Russian attitudes on climate change. In the second part of his presentation, Benjamin presented main findings of his current research on the Soviet Union’s and Russia’s role in the emergent international climate regime. While the Soviet Union played a very prominent role from the start in the 1970s, post-Soviet Russia has been remarkably under-represented both numerically and symbolically. The reasons and consequences will be examined in an article that is to appear next year in a special issue in the journal “Climatic Change”. In the discussion following this presentation, the links between the various research projects within the “Knowledge Unbound” became visible. Benjamin mentioned among others connections of knowledge between the Soviet Union and California with regards to renewable energies, while parallel connections between California and China where mentioned in the talk just before. Other contributions during the discussion touched upon the questions if climate change was ever seen as something positive in the Soviet Union and how the Soviet Union furthered research on climate change on an international level (for an exemplary insight into this aspect, have a look at this article by Benjamin Beuerle).

The thematic focus “Migration and Mobility”

The second day of the network meeting was dedicated to the other thematic focus of submodule 1b, “Migration and Mobility”. Christina Till (China Branch Office of the Max Weber Foundation) is researching archival practices in local administrative offices during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) in China. She is looking at methods of document production and storage which allowed documents to be preserved until today. To do so, she is pursuing a comparative analysis of different archival practices in various border regions of the Qing empire. Major challenges to her research include the access to the original documents (even pre-pandemic), the different classification and storage systems by various (colonial) institutions as well as digitalization efforts, as these can destruct the original binding in documents. In the discussion following her presentation, participants asked about the relation between borderland administrations and local knowledge production as well as the question how archival practices in the northeastern border region of the Qing Empire could have been potentially shaped by the closeness to Russia.

The final presentation of this network meeting was given by Albert Manke (GHI Washington/Pacific Regional Office) who is working on Chinese migrant networks in the Americas and across the Pacific in the late nineteenth and early twentieth Century. His presentation started out by giving a short historical context on the transpacific migration. Since early on there were connections between China and the Spanish empire via the Philippines, as the Manila galleon trading route (1571-1815), represented the first permanent transpacific connection between Asia and the Americas, and then again in the nineteenth century. In the diaspora, mutual aid societies formed a transnational network. Those were fraternal, regional, professional, familial, commercial or political groups and most of them had antecedents in China. Albert then presented a case study, the “secret society” Chee Kung Tong, which was founded formally in 1879 in San Francisco and is still active, known as “Chinese freemasons of the World.” Around 1930 it had become a global network with over 200 lodges. A question that was both raised by Albert himself and also later debated in the discussion was that if we can rewrite this diasporic history from a migrants’ perspective without falling into yet another nation-centered narrative (i.e. from China).

With this discussion the thematic part of the second network meeting of the submodule “Interaction and Knowledge in the Pacific Region” came to an end. The project members however used this virtual get-together as well to plan further activities, such as conferences due to take place in 2021. If you wish to keep up to date on the further planning of (online) events of the project, make sure to check this blog regularly, as we will update all dates and locations promptly.


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