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Can Science Sovereignty & Science Diplomacy Co-exist? China’s Health Silk Road Builds New Links in Asia

Can Science Sovereignty & Science Diplomacy Co-exist? China’s Health Silk Road Builds New Links in Asia

Online seminar co-hosted by the TransAsiaSTS network & Deakin Science and Society Network


The feverish race for COVID-19 vaccines has sparked a discourse that science nationalism is incompatible with “global health.” In a time of great uncertainty, fears of national sequestration of resources are intensifying. I suggest, however, that the biosciences as state project and as transnational technology are complexly entangled. As Asia’s science powerhouse, China’s quest for science sovereignty seems to increase its commitment to science diplomacy with poorer countries.Since SARS1, China has tried to gain science sovereignty by funding virology labs, pharma companies, and science training. But the pursuit of bio-security is not always matched by appropriate protocols in bio-safety and transparency. The outbreak of SARS2 in Wuhan fueled an on-going global pandemic, but also created technological opportunities to rework transnational relationships. The deployment of vaccines via “Health Silk Road,” I argue, enhances China’s infrastructure assemblage that circulates resources and constellates new links, drawing smaller Asian nations into a China-centered technosphere.

About the speaker:

Aihwa Ong is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. As the 2020 Social Science Research Council Fellow, she delivered a lecture”Near Humans, Cloned Monkeys and CRISPR Babies: China’s Quest for Bio-security.” Ong’s work investigated how mobile capital, technology, and science variously articulate politics, culture, citizenship and identity in different Asia-Pacific contexts. The projects inspired conceptual ideas that have formative in globalisation scholarship for over three decades. She is the author of five monographs: Fungible Life: Experiment in the Asian City of Life (2016); Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty (2006); Buddha is Hiding: Refugees, Citizenship, the New America (2003); Flexible Citizenship: the Cultural Logics of Transnationality (1999), an academic bestseller; and Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia (1986), widely recognized as a classic ethnography of global labour. She is also the co-editor of Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (2005). Other co-edited works include Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Being Global (2011); Asian Biotech: Ethics and Communities of Fate (2010); Privatizing China: Socialism from Afar (2008); and Ungrounded Empires: the Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism (1997).

Watch the seminar:

Seminar will be available to stream on YouTube live. Access using the live link:

Q&A with the speaker to follow. To send questions/participate in the chat, you’ll need to sign-in using a YouTube account.

The seminar will be recorded and available to watch on the SSN YouTube channel after the Livestream.

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