EASP 8th International Conference - Social Policy in East Asia and Beyond: Rethinking Social Policy Strategies in Times of Uncertainty

The 8th International Conference of the East Asian Social Policy (EASP) Research Network took place at the Hong Kong Institute of Education in August 2011 with over 140 delegates in attendance from across Asia, Europe, Australasia and North America. The international spread of attendees generated a vibrant atmosphere and, discussion was informed by a wide range of theoretical, practical and cross-national perspectives that went well beyond a concern with the specifics of social policy in particular East Asian nations.

The opening plenary session, chaired by Professor Yeun-Wen Ku (Chair of the EASP, President of the Taiwanese Association of Social Policy, National Taiwan University), set a broad ranging tone for the event. Professor Stephan Haggard (University of California, San Diego, USA) presented his work (co-authored with Robert Kaufman), Democracy, Development and Welfare States: Latin America, East Asia, and Eastern Europe (Princeton University Press, 2008). He pointed out that there is a substantial literature on East Asian social policy, but much less that integrates the debates in East Asia with those on the advanced industrial states or other middle-income countries. He then discussed how geostrategic factors led to very different developments across the three regions in the immediate post-war period, and how path dependence, democratization and fiscal circumstances affected the evolution of the welfare state since the 1980s.  These points were followed by Professor Ito Peng (University of Toronto, Canada), focussing on the impacts of economic globalisation and compressed modernity on welfare states in East Asia. She argued that as many East Asian countries face similar social and economic challenges as those experienced by other industrialised nations, they are increasingly forced to rethink their social policy strategies, broadly under two different approaches: one based on combination of social insurance expansion and targeted social investment (Japan, Korea, and Taiwan); and the other on more individual-focussed and market-based approach (China, Singapore and Hong Kong).

Streamed panel sessions followed the opening plenary with around thirty papers being presented to panels covering a wide range of topics. The conference as a whole featured twelve paper streams: 

Education
Family and Gender
Gender and Care
Old-age
Health and Well-being
Housing and Inequality
Immigration
Labour Market
Political Economy
Social Protection
Welfare Regimes
Work and Welfare Nexus

Papers presented in these sessions covered a wide range of cases too, covering China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and many offering broader regional analyses, comparing East Asian nations with western cases or presenting broad comparative analyses that included analysis of East Asian cases alongside a broader consideration of welfare regimes and welfare types.

The formal part of the first day of the conference was rounded off by Victoria Buttigieg from Emerald Group Publishing Ltd., offering 'Insider's Guide to Getting Published'. This was followed by a Conference Dinner.

The second day of the Conference began with two more paper sessions - broken by the second plenary session - that were devoted to streamed panels with around twenty-five more papers being presented. Again a wide range of countries, policy areas, theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches featured, ranging from a case study of migrant workers' income in Dongguan in China to broad theoretical pieces on the institutional conditions of labour market risks in 18 OECD countries. 

In between, three plenary speakers presented their keynote speeches and Dr. John Hudson (University of York, UK) chaired the session. To start with, Dr. Dominic Richardson (Social Policy Division, OECD) highlighted the evolution of family policies and family outcomes in OECD countries, before as well as during the financial crisis, in order to draw specific policy lessons for East Asian economies. By identifying recent changes to family policy in Korea and Japan, he addressed issues around investment in families and children in view of the competing demands in today's modern economies. He argued that for the recent policy changes to be effective they will have to fit in with broader education and labour market practices, and attitudes towards family life. This was followed by, Professor Ka Ho Mok (Hong Kong Institute of Education) who argued that despite the growing needs for social protection after the Asian financial crisis in 1997 the governments of Hong Kong and Macau have not drastically changed their approaches in handling the increasingly complex social welfare issues. By examining the approach and philosophy of these two governments that have adopted in managing rapid socio-economic and demographic changes in the post-handover era, he posed the question of whether the existing welfare models in these SARS would sustain to handle the growing complexity in social, economic and political developments. Finally, Professor Xiulan Zhang (Beijing Normal University) traced the development trajectory of rural New Cooperative Medical System in China and its impact on rural healthcare provisions. Based on large sample household surveys in 2005 and 2010, she discussed the impact of the rural healthcare system on the people in relation to equity, improvement of health and changes of healthcare seeking behaviour.

Professor Ka Ho Mok (Hong Kong Institute of Education) chaired the final plenary session that included keynote speeches by Professor David Gordon (University of Bristol) and Professor M. Ramesh (Hong Kong Institute of Education). Professor Gordon discussed the underlying causes of the global financial crisis and their relationship with the continuation of poverty and inequality in many countries. He argued that there is urgent need to first alleviate and eventually eradicate poverty. Yet it is not monetary resources that are lacking but political will. High quality research is required to provide policy makers with better information on which policies are working effectively and efficiently. Even in an age of uncertainty, this may assist in reducing poverty and inequality in a highly beneficial way. Professor Ramesh rounded off the final plenary session by highlighting the various ways in which the healthcare sector in China and Vietnam declined under government stewardship. He then argued that a major reason for the deterioration is government arrangements. The two governments failed to understand and address the dynamics of government relationships that underpin the sector, leading to undesirable outcomes.

Following the third plenary session, the EASP Secretary, Dr. Gyu-Jin Hwang and the Chief Organiser of the Conference, Professor Ka Ho Mok, drew the conference to a formal close, thanking the participants and conference organisers for their hard work and reflecting on how the international nature of the conference had helped deepen our mutual understanding and improve co-operation of scholars from different parts of the world. 

To assist with running the conference, EASP and Centre for Greater China Studies at the Hong Kong Institute of Education were provided with generous support from the Hong Kong Council of Social Services and Central Policy Unit of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. As some readers may be aware, EASP is less than seven years old, having held its first meeting at the University of Bath, UK in 2005. At that time it was a small-scale network being built from the bottom-up by, in the main, PhD students from East Asia studying in the UK. Indeed, the first workshop featured only around a dozen papers. As the Hong Kong conference demonstrated, the organisation has travelled a huge distance in a very short period of time since then, a reflection not only of the hard work of its committee members, but also of the growing strength of interest in social policy in East Asian universities and the growing interest in East Asian welfare systems amongst social policy scholars elsewhere. 

The 9th International Conference will take place at the University of York, UK, from 16th - 18th July 2012. This Annual Conference will be jointly held by the East Asian Social Policy Research Network (EASP) and United Kingdom Social Policy Association (SPA), under the theme of 'Social Policy in an Unequal World'. This will bring together two of the largest academic social policy conferences within a single event for the first time. Call for Papers is out now and further details can be found online at http://www.social-policy.com


Gyu-Jin Hwang (Secretary of EASP, University of Sydney)

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