The Flight of the Rohingya

Emma Donahue, Staff Writer

Behind the Name

The term “Rohingya” refers to a religious ethnic group which practices a form of Sunni Islam who have historically inhabited the Burmese (or Myanmar) state of Rakhine. Their name is controversial because it derives from “Rohang,” their word for “Arakan,” the former name for the Rakhine State, the region of Myanmar which holds the majority of its Muslim population. Since this title is essentially a claim to a portion of Myanmar’s land, the government and majority Buddhist population are extremely wary of its usage by a Muslim group who are not officially recognized as citizens.[1] Despite having their own language and cultural practices, these technicalities and years of conflict with their Buddhist neighbors have left the Rohingya as one of the largest stateless groups in the world.[2]

Tensions flared in 1982 when the Burmese government identified 135 ethnic groups who were entitled to citizenship, yet the Rohingya were not included on this list, despite having been granted equal rights as citizens in the country’s independence from Britain in 1948.[3] Following the implementation of this legislation, the Rohingya were almost immediately stripped of their previous rights. Persecution ensued over the next several decades, including the enforcement of a two-child law, the banning of interfaith marriage, and a lack of access to government-funded education and healthcare.[4] Violence emerged in 2012 after Muslim men allegedly raped and murdered a Buddhist woman, and over 100,000 Rohingya were displaced as a result of the assault. In response to the crisis, the Myanmar government offered to grant the group a reduced level of citizenship if they would register as Bengali rather than Rohingya, an offer not taken well by a group so connected to their identity and the suffering faced because of it.[5]


Continuing Violence

            In October of 2013, a group of Buddhist men carried out a series of attacks on Muslim villages throughout Rakhine. Three years later, an insurgent group formed within the state of Rakhine known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). ARSA attacked a number of Myanmar’s security outposts as a response to the recent violence towards the Rohingya and the fallout from these offensives caused the military crackdown that has displaced hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the past few years.[6] Over the next four months, Myanmar’s army, known as the Tatmadaw, (which is unaffiliated with the civic government) was responsible for the alleged killing and gang rapes of countless Rohingya, who were forced from their homes with a scorched earth policy.[7] On August 25, 2017, ARSA attacked several police posts and an army base, spurring the most current influx of refugees into Bangladesh in light of the vicious counter attacks against the civilian population: rape, killing, brutal beatings, and more burning of villages.

According to Tom Malinowski, U.S. diplomat and former Assistant Secretary of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, the Burmese military made the mistake of responding to extremist group ARSA with force towards innocent civilian populations, thereby using a religious conflict between the majority and minority populations to preserve their political authority over the Myanmar Buddhists.[8]


Myanmar’s Response

            Historically, the Burmese have been wary of the Rohingya claim to an autonomous area of land, which would be taken out of Rakhine territory near the Bangladesh border. The military believes this desire for sovereignty would create a breeding ground for ARSA-like militant groups.[9] While the Rakhines are also an ethnic minority in Myanmar, they are a predominantly Buddhist people, placing them on the same side as staunch Buddhist nationalists who do not want their country overtaken by Muslims (despite the fact that the overall Muslim population is 4%).[10]

Some responses to these issues have included the proposition of joint military action between Bangladesh and Tatmadaw against ARSA, as well as Myanmar’s UN commision under former Secretary-General Kofi Annan to review the 1982 citizenship law and issue recommendations.[11] While Myanmar’s civic government leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, embraced these recommendations, ARSA unleashed further attacks following the release of the government report which caused another military crackdown and further revenge violence towards the Rohingya.

Suu Kyi has faced much criticism from the international community for her silence regarding the ongoing persecution and subsequent refugee crisis. At one point, the Myanmar government slowed humanitarian aid to Rakhine, leaving those remaining with scarce food and water.[12] This action was explained as being a necessary counter-insurgency precaution rather than a human rights crisis, and Suu Kyi has been avoiding public statements because her power hinges on not being overthrown by the military, which she has no governance over.[13] Her office leaked a phone call made early this September to the President of Turkey, during which she is recorded saying that misinformation about the crisis is being spread to promote the interests of terrorists in Rakhine. Soon afterwards, she cancelled her planned visit to the UN. Many have remarked on the fact that she is in a difficult situation politically, as the military is backed by the majority of the country, while others have called for the recall of her Nobel Peace Prize.[14]

Despite this, she recently made a statement calling for a relief plan for the Rohingya Muslims. She wishes to set up a civilian-led agency to give aid and resettle those displaced from their homes by the violence- a number now greater than 500,000, most of whom are currently residing in Bangladesh.[15] Some have arrived in recent days, which is inconsistent with the Tatmadaw claim that it halted actions against the Rohingya in early September. One of Suu Kyi’s advisor’s claimed that the leader is attempting to make her government more transparent to the international community by accepting foreign aid to help with the migrant crisis, and that her previous silence was due to her precarious situation with the military rather than a lack of acknowledgement.[16]


Refugee Situation

            Currently, about half of the refugee population is residing around the Bangladeshi city of Balukhali in tent cities, and the rate at which it has grown over the past several months has made this the quickest mass exodus since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.[17] They are living next to Kutupalong, another refugee camp home to the first wave of Rohingya who fled Rakhine in the 90s’. To say the Bangladesh government is overwhelmed would be an understatement; only a fifth of the newest arrivals have access to food rations (which consist of rice and biscuits), and aid agencies say water sources could run out in a few months. Furthermore, only 100,000 of about 288,000 children have access to any sort of education.

Both local and international organizations have been helping the government with humanitarian aid: the World Food Program and UN agencies set up relief centers in the camps, and local Bangladeshi groups have filled trucks with food and clothing and distributed the aid.[18] The government itself has set aside 2,000 acres in Balukhali for their military to set up a more organized camp, but construction has barely begun and it has been reported that the land is nearly uninhabitable. Refugees also need biometric forms of identification in order to receive aid distribution, and the process of creating these IDs could take up to half a year.

The level of poverty and disease within these camps are unthinkable. Besides the shortage of food and water, there is an absence of latrines or any form of sewage, so the ground is covered with waste and human feces. To prevent the spread of disease and further chaos, the government imposed travel restrictions on the Rohingya so that they are not permitted past a certain checkpoint; essentially, they are trapped in these camps and largely unable to return to Rakhine. Many claim to have seen landmines being installed along the border to prevent their return, and others are certain they would not be permitted re-entry as they are not identified as citizens.[19]


Possible Resolutions

            A local government aid coordinator for Bangladesh recently stated that the refugees only have a temporary home in their country, and that while they will feed and aid the refugees for as long as they can, it is not a permanent home.[20] Suu Kyi’s recent unveiling of her plan for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees is a step in the right direction, assuming she can keep the military at bay and protect her own authority in the process. However, a long term, comprehensive strategy needs to be determined regarding Myanmar’s treatment of their Muslim population, along with more thorough investigations into the soldiers’ behavior towards civilians to prevent the same tragedies from repeating themselves in the future.



[1]  Megan Specia, “The Rohingya in Myanmar: How Years of Strife Grew Into a Crisis,” The New York Times,  September 13, 2017,

[2] Ibid.

[3]Krishnadev Calamur, “The Misunderstood Roots of Burma’s Rohingya Crisis,” The Atlantic, September 25, 2017,

[4]Megan Specia, “The Rohingya in Myanmar: How Years of Strife Grew Into a Crisis,” The New York Times,  September 13, 2017,

[5]Krishnadev Calamur, “The Misunderstood Roots of Burma’s Rohingya Crisis,” The Atlantic, September 25, 2017,

[6] Megan Specia, “The Rohingya in Myanmar: How Years of Strife Grew Into a Crisis,” The New York Times,  September 13, 2017,

[7] Ibid.

[8]Krishnadev Calamur, “The Misunderstood Roots of Burma’s Rohingya Crisis,” The Atlantic, September 25, 2017,

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12]Megan Specia, “The Rohingya in Myanmar: How Years of Strife Grew Into a Crisis,” The New York Times,  September 13, 2017,

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15]Patrick Wintour, “Aung San Suu Kyi unveils relief plans for Rohingya Muslims,” The Guardian, October 13, 2017,

[16] Ibid.

[17]Max Bearak, “One month on, a bleak new reality emerges for 436,000 Rohingya refugees,” The Washington Post, September 25, 2017,

[18] Ibid.

[19] Bearak, The Washington Post

[20] Ibid.

“Cool Japan” and the Sources, Extent, and Implications of Japanese Soft Power in the United States

Thomas Bell, Staff Writer

From our Print Edition, 2017-2018

  Throughout most of history, international relations have been largely defined by hard power.  Hard power is an element of national strength, centered around the basic functions of the nation-state: military force and economic action.¹ This historical reality is logical, given the limitations on communication and transnational exposure for much of the pre-20th century world, with hard power oftentimes being the only way to interact between states.  In the diplomatic arena before instantaneous communication, it would be difficult to exert national will in any other way, with the target country often seemingly distant and mysterious. Contrarily, soft power  is a relatively modern phenomenon, especially since the end of the Second World War. It also centers around achieving national objectives, but is more concerned with using cultural and societal means to persuade other nations to share their goals.²  This requires a high level of interconnectedness between civilizations to allow for cultures and ideas to be traded and to have an effect. Such a high level of cultural exchange was impossible before the advent of modern technology and global connectedness.

  This is not to say that all countries have been able to maximize this new element of international relations.  The culture of Kyrgyzstan, for example, is relatively unknown in the United States. That country’s morals, goals, and societal structures are difficult to understand for most non-Kyrgyz, and thus, their soft power is largely nonexistent on an international scale.  One of the countries, however, that has best adapted to this new element of the global arena is Japan.

  The reasons for Japanese dominance of soft power are arguably not by choice.  The Japanese have been largely forced down this road, and the reasons why are best exemplified in the current Japanese constitution, adopted after World War II.  Article 9 of that document states that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation,” as well as “the threat or use of force.” It further decrees that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”³ Though Japan maintains a “self-defense force,”⁴  its ability to project itself internationally is virtually nonexistent. This means that even economic hard power is curtailed, as the implicit threat of force is not present. As we have seen since 1945, it can be difficult for a nation to adequately wield hard power when its ability to use force is effectively eliminated.  

  Adapting to this new reality has been a tremendously successful endeavor for the Japanese.  Now unable to conquer nations with its once formidable military, it has had to rely on cultural domination.  The government has emphasized the idea of “Cool Japan,”⁵ in order to improve the economy and national image. Japanese society has seen itself stretch far beyond its borders, a remarkable development for a nation known for its historical isolation.  A new era of international affairs was born, and the Japanese soon found themselves exporting their culture at an absolutely unprecedented rate.

  In the United States, this has manifested itself in a number of important ways.  As an example, Japanese food has become immensely popular; or at the very least, Japanese-inspired food.  Ever since the California roll was invented in Los Angeles in the early 1970s,⁶ Americanized sushi has become a modern staple of the United States, spreading further to other countries.  Japanese food is available in most American supermarkets, and it is estimated that there are approximately 9,000 Japanese restaurants operating in the country today.⁷

  Japanese popular culture is also a critical player in the American psyche.  Media franchises such as Super Mario, Hello Kitty, Godzilla, and Final Fantasy sell a multitude of products in the United States, from video games and movies to lunchboxes and t-shirts.  Japanese manga and anime, though a relatively niche category, have become increasingly popular in the United States, with series such as Dragon Ball, Naruto, and Pokémon achieving high levels of success.  There is a level of acknowledgment of Japanese influence, and it has embedded itself in the fabric of modern American popular culture, especially among younger generations. It is the actualization of “Cool Japan.”⁸

  The impact of Japan transcends even obvious exemplars of culture, as a sampling of the largest Japanese corporations reveals dozens of household names⁹.  Americans drive cars made by Toyota, Honda, and Nissan, fixed with Bridgestone tires. They use Canon and Nikon cameras, and buy electronics from Panasonic, Toshiba, and Sharp.  Their pianos come from Yamaha, and their video games from Nintendo, Sony, and Sega. The products of Japanese corporations fill American households and workplaces, bringing a level of cultural intimacy that the soldiers on either side of the War in the Pacific could never have imagined in 1943. Ultimately, this is the point of soft power.  To imagine that a country like Japan could flip the script, from mortal enemy to supplier of cars and televisions, from militaristic empire to pop-culture hegemony, points to the influence and importance of Japanese soft power. In a 2015 Chicago Council Survey, 88% of Americans recognized that bilateral relations with Japan were either very important or somewhat important.¹⁰ As opposed to the sharp edge of military force or economic action, Japan has made its former enemy into its now-biggest supporter, while staying mostly constrained to the realm of non-forceful action.

  The extent of Japan’s soft power has even become so influential that it permeates the international community.  This was apparent in a brief video played during the closing ceremony of the 2016 Rio Games, touting the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.  Amidst a flurry of sporting events and scenic shots of Tokyo prefecture, cultural figures such as manga character Captain Tsubasa, a cheerleading Hello Kitty, and a racing Pac-Man featured prominently,¹¹ tying the most famous elements of Japan’s popular culture to the capital city itself.  Most telling, however, was a scene when the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe, was digitally transformed into Mario, before emerging in Rio de Janeiro, red cap and all. This scene represented not only a metaphorical, but a physical connection between Japanese culture and the government. It best demonstrated the desire to use Japan’s wide portfolio of cultural assets, such as the internationally known Mario, for the benefit of the Japanese nation itself and its image.  The implicit message was that to love Japanese culture is to love Japan, as embodied by the Prime Minister.

  However, this message has not worked with everyone.  This is most true in Japan’s own neighborhood, where 67% of South Koreans believe that Japan’s influence is negative, and 74% of Chinese say the same.¹²  Though the easy answer is to say that the legacy of the Second World War is to blame, ultimately nations like the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Indonesia fought long wars against the Japanese, and suffered under them, only to now have a positive outlook on the country.  Could the greater extent of devastation in China and South Korea explain the reluctance to support Japan, or does soft power simply have its limits? It is likely that the real reasons lie in the pages of history, where centuries of rivalry and conflict have poisoned the status of East Asian relations.  It can thus be argued that soft power, though effective in improving bilateral relations, is perhaps incapable of reversing centuries of tension. Soft power works as a deterrent and a healer of international wounds, but cannot heal the deep gashes of history – at least, not without more time.

  Ultimately, Japan’s ability to project and improve its national image through its soft power has opened up an entirely new element of international affairs, and a different way of measuring the dominance of states.  Writer Douglas McGray, in a famous essay, described Japan’s ability to manipulate its soft power as its “gross national cool.”¹³ Though obviously not a quantifiable statistic like gross national product or the human development index, this new term represents a variation in what it means to be a great power in the post-World War II era.  For Japan, this has meant a rise in soft power and in its ability to shape its own national image and the international perception of that image. Americans born in the years since World War II have been raised in a society where it is common to travel to the store in a Japanese car, buy Japanese inspired food and a Japanese television set, and use that set to watch Japanese cartoons and movies.  The two cultures have grown increasingly interconnected, and this has proven to be beneficial for both countries – Japan in particular. A nation once looking to heal itself and redefine its national identity after the most devastating war in human history, it has proven capable of using its soft power to not only survive in the post-war community, but to thrive as one of the world’s true great powers.


1) Nye, Joseph S. “Propaganda Isn’t the Way: Soft Power.” Last modified             January 10, 2003.     power.

2) Nye, Joseph S. “Propaganda Isn’t the Way: Soft Power.” Last modified             January 10, 2003.     power.

3) The Constitution of Japan. Tokyo, Japan: Japanese Government, 1946.

4) Pike, John. “Japan – Introduction.” Global Security. Last modified February 27, 2016.

5) Iwabuchi, Koichi. “Pop-culture diplomacy in Japan: soft power, nation branding and the    question of ‘international cultural exchange’.” Taylor and Francis Online. Last modified June 23, 2015.

6) Renton, Alex. “How sushi ate the world.” The Guardian. Last modified February 26, 2006.

7) Lee, Jee Hye, Johye Hwang, and Azlin Mustapha. “Popular Ethnic Foods in the United States:     A Historical and Safety Perspective.” Wiley Online Library. Last modified December           17, 2013.

8) Iwabuchi, Koichi. “Pop-culture diplomacy in Japan: soft power, nation branding and the    question of ‘international cultural exchange’.” Taylor and Francis Online. Last modified June 23, 2015.

9) EW Content Team. “Forbes Global 2000: Japan’s Largest Companies.” Economy Watch. Last       modified July 3, 2013.

10) Friedhoff, Karl, and Dina Smeltz. “Strong Alliances, Divided Publics: Public Opinion in the    United States, Japan, South Korea, and China.” The Chicago Council on Global           Affairs. Last modified October 19, 2015.            opinion-united-states-japan-south-korea-and.

11) Easton, Yukari. “Tokyo 2020 and Japan’s Soft Power.” The Diplomat. Last modified August    31, 2016.

12) BBC World Service, ed. “Views of China and India Slide While UK’s Ratings Climb: Global     Poll.” BBC. Last modified May 22, 2013.


13) McGray, Douglas. “Japan’s Gross National Cool.” Foreign Policy. Last modified November          11, 2009.

The Transition of Sri Lanka

 Leah Field, Staff Writer 

The South Asian island nation of Sri Lanka is currently in the midst of a difficult transition following the end of a decades-long civil war. The legacy of the Sri Lankan Civil War, which officially came to an end in May 2009, continues to cast a shadow on the country’s future. More than 100,000 civilians were killed over the course of twenty-five years in the violent conflict between the Sri Lankan government and minority Tamil militant groups. The outbreak of war was a culmination of longstanding ethnic tensions in the region. The majority of Sri Lankans, about seventy-five percent, are ethnically Sinhalese. However, Tamils make up a significant minority—between 10 and 15 percent of the population are Tamils. Sinhalese and Tamil Sri Lankans have their own cultures, languages, and traditions. The island is heavily segregated between the two groups, with the majority of Tamils living in areas in the north and east of the island. Religion is another key contention between the two groups, as Sinhalese Sri Lankans are Buddhist while Tamil Sri Lankans are predominantly Hindu. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, colloquially known as the Tamil Tigers, emerged as the most prominent Tamil militant group in the country in the 1970s, and war officially broke out when clashes between the Tamil Tigers and government forces erupted in 1983.

What followed was a bloody and violent civil war with mass human rights violations committed by both sides. The Sri Lankan government regularly committed massacres of Tamil civilians—committing torture and causing disappearances of their enemies. Likewise, the Tamil Tigers tortured, used child soldiers, and committed massacres against Sinhalese civilians. The war came to an end with the adoption of a ceasefire in 2009, but the aftermath consists of heightened ethnic tensions, violence, and discrimination.

In October 2015, the U.N. Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for the pursuit of truth, justice, and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Yet, more than two years after the resolution’s passing, the government of Sri Lanka has taken no substantial action to remedy the nation’s ongoing crisis. On the contrary, many recent government policies have only exacerbated tensions and violence. Thousands of internally displaced Tamil Sri Lankans receive no aid from the government, which has instead implemented a policy of moving Sinhalese citizens into formerly Tamil areas. Tamil regions remain largely militarized, and any protests are met with quick and brutal repression by police. One of the government policies most strongly condemned by the international community and human rights groups is the oppressive Prevention of Terrorism Act. Passed in the 1970s to allow the government to indiscriminately detain and torture Tamil Tiger members or their suspected supporters, the Prevention of Terrorism Act is still in effect today. The act is used today to detain people without due process for years at a time, and under the act, torture and sexual abuse are rampant. Political opponents and peace activists are common targets of the PTA, which is disproportionately used against Tamils. These policies only scratch the surface of the continuous injustices in Sri Lanka.

In 2016, a Consultation Task Force was appointed by then prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe with the purpose of making recommendations on how Sri Lanka should advance justice and reconciliation. In 2017, the CTF released a detailed report that extrapolated upon the policies recommended by the 2015 UN resolution. Like the resolution, the Sri Lankan government has refused to consider any of the CTF’s suggestions. However, in spite of the government’s obstinacy, the recommended mechanisms are crucial if Sri Lanka ever hopes to move past the violence and tension of its civil war.

One of the most important recommendations made by the CTF report is that of a truth commission. A truth commission, one that can formally hold perpetrators accountable and bring closure to mourning families, is an essential step towards justice and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. In recent decades, truth commissions have been used across the world as a method of moving past conflict and into the future. Most famously, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission implemented a combination of investigations, witness testimonies, and trials to cope with the country’s violent apartheid past. Truth commissions are certainly not perfect, and they cannot solve all of a country’s problems on their own. However, a truth commission is sorely needed in Sri Lanka as a first step in a transition toward democracy and peace.

In the case of Sri Lanka, an effective truth commission is perhaps even more necessary because of the nature of the country’s past conflict and civil war. Unlike in other truth commissions, such as in the South African TRC, a Sri Lankan truth commission will have to investigate and hold accountable human rights abuses perpetrated by both opposing sides of the war. The sensitivity of this endeavor is enormous, and the concept makes Sri Lankans on both sides fearful and angry. However, the alternative to accepting the civil war’s reality is much grimmer. Already the Sri Lankan government has begun to rewrite history in their favor. The government’s official stance is the denial of any human rights abuses perpetrated by their forces during the war, and they additionally continue to ignore hundreds of forced disappearances that affect families to this day. Perhaps the most obvious subversion of history by the Sri Lankan government was in the form of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) carried out by the government in 2010. Nominally, the LLRC was a truth commission intended to investigate and corroborate the human rights violations that took place during the civil war. In reality, the LLRC did no such thing. Both human rights groups and the international community have lambasted the LLRC as inaccurate, hopelessly biased, and destructive towards peace- a political tool used by the Sri Lankan government to exonerate themselves of all crimes while allowing them to claim that they pursued accountability.

False attempts to remedy the past such as the LLRC only inflame tensions in the country and emphasize the need for an accurate and sincere truth commission in Sri Lanka. While this goal is seemingly far away, it is still possible. This past fall, the Sri Lankan government caved to international pressure and established an Office of Missing Persons in order to investigate unresolved cases of forced disappearances. While many accuse this action of being merely another instance of “cosmetic maneuvering” for the sake of international actors, it nevertheless proves a point: with the combination of continued international pressure and the persistent internal outcry for justice, the implementation of a truth commission and other transitional justice mechanisms is possible in Sri Lanka. 

Controversial Australian Welfare Plan Sparks Criticism

Derek Brody, Staff Writer

  In an age of large welfare states and massive government entitlement programs, some countries are taking steps to increase accountability in the distribution of these benefits. Late last summer, the Australian government announced plans to randomly drug test welfare recipients in an effort to do just this, but this has been met with immediate pushback from those on the center-left who claim the program simply reinforces existing social and political power gaps. This has been a common proposal across the world from those who claim to have conservative political ideologies, supported by unfounded claims that these welfare recipients use their vouchers to purchase illicit substances. Minister for Social Services Christian Porter released a statement detailing the rationale behind the program, saying, “The aim of the policy is to help job seekers to receive the help they need to get on a path towards securing a job and building a better future for themselves and their families.”

The program, which took effect in January of this year, will begin by randomly selecting 5,000 people who receive welfare payments from the federal government. The government will perform urine, saliva, or hair tests on the randomly selected pool to search for traces of meth, ecstasy, heroin, or marijuana. If a recipient tests positive for one of the substances, the Australian government will convert 80% of their welfare payment to a “BasicsCard,” which is only eligible to be used for food, rent, or childcare. A second positive test will automatically trigger a medical visit and addiction counseling program for the recipient. If the recipient fails to engage in treatment at this point, their welfare payments could be stopped. This effort is being undertaken to reduce government social welfare spending, as well as a motivating factor to encourage low-income residents to re-enter the workforce.

  After a two-year trial period, the program will be reevaluated by the federal government for effectiveness and cost-efficiency. As a part of the pilot program agreement, the government will only implement this procedure in three locations: Canterbury-Bankstown, Logan, and Mandurah. These areas were selected based on their relatively high levels of unemployment and drug use. Approximately 12,000 residents of Canterbury-Bankstown are currently receiving welfare payments, and the new program plans to test about 1,750 of them by next February.

  Liberal Senator Eric Abetz utilized age-old rhetoric regarding welfare reform and fiscal responsibility in an attempt to promote the plan. Abetz touted the plan, saying, “I think most Australians are aware of some, not all, some welfare recipients that actually sadly use the welfare system as a hammock, as opposed to a safety net, and as a good, competent government looking after the welfare of those individuals as well as the taxpayers, it makes good sense that you look at policy options to encourage people into work, into self-reliance and relieve the burden on their fellow Australians.”

Randomly drug testing welfare recipients has not been widely adopted across the globe, but there are several examples of other governmental agencies carrying out similar programs. New Zealand implemented a similar program in 2015 with startling results. Armed with a $1 million budget, the country drug tested 8,000 welfare recipients. Only 22 tested positive, indicating the flawed logic behind the program itself. Likewise, the state of Florida also randomly drug tested their welfare recipients, and only 2.6 percent tested positive for any of the four substances. Recent estimates in the United States have found that about one in five welfare recipients had used illicit drugs in the past year, which makes drug use 50% more common in welfare households than the general population. The study went on to find, however, that less than 5% of welfare recipients met the diagnostic criteria for having a substance abuse problem, further providing evidence to refute many of the claims made by the Australian government.

  The Australian Green party, which holds 1 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives and nine of the 76 seats in the Senate, came out in fierce opposition to the proposal. The Green Party is a left-leaning organization whose largest commitment is to environmental rights and protections. A release from the party stated, “the legislation completely ignores the advice and evidence from both medical professionals and social security experts. The Australian Greens are deeply concerned by the government’s repeated rejection of the expertise and evidence given by stakeholders in their continued pursuit of harsh cuts to income support.”

  The Green Party went on to criticize the cost of the program, pointing to several similar attempts in the United States. A program in four American states over an 18-month period tested over 200,000 individuals at a cost of over $1 million. These tests went on to disqualify 847 recipients, equaling a cost of over $1,100 per disqualified individual. At this cost per disqualification, it is clear that programs similar to this are a poor use of public funds.

  Likewise, the response by several Australian medical groups have clarified the negative consequences of this program. Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Michael Gannon released a statement voicing his displeasure, noting that, “The populist idea is that there are armies of drug-addled people bludging off the welfare system. But the reality is, we’re talking about some of the most vulnerable people in the community who need a hand up. These proposed measured will only serve to marginalize and stigmatize an already-impoverished group.” The negative response from medical professionals, policymakers, and private industry indicate the potentially negative ramifications of this program’s implementation.

  Human Services Minister Alan Tudge responded to the criticism of the program in early August, noting that, “This is a trial in every sense of the word, where we want to try something new, evaluate it, and if it works then we might roll it out further. If it does not work then we adjust. That is how you do a trial. By the way, all medical advances are done on this basis, of trial and error. And if it is good for health policy, why isn’t it good for social policy to do it this way?” Mr. Tudge’s analogy, however, fails on numerous accounts. Clinical trials in the health field are traditionally carried out systematically and with the consent of patients, while this trial period will occur with little input from the public. Likewise, medical clinical trials are subject to strict oversight from grant funding programs, while a similar system of responsibility has not been established in this program.

  The program has also received pushback from those in private industry, including a damning statement from Jobs Australia CEO David Thompson. In a statement from this August, Thompson noted that some may stop asking for welfare assistance altogether, “Simply because they feel that the whole process is really quite demeaning and humiliating.” He went on to state that many would turn to other measures to receive the financial backing they so desperately need. He noted that some may turn to charities for this assistance, while others may resort to crime or prostitution. Fiona McLeod, the president of the Law Council of Australia, reacted similarly to the news. She went on record saying, “What we don’t see here is evidence that this will be beneficial, and we don’t see a benefit that outweighs the imposition or the punitive effect on a certain group of people. It interferes with people’s liberty and it certainly interferes with our responsibility to protect those in our community who are not so well off.”

  The round of criticism led to a response from Liberal backbencher Ben Morton, who advocated for the passage of this program. “I can’t believe there are organizations that are closing their mind to something that could work,” Mr. Morton said. “I think some of the policy officers in some of these peak bodies need to stop focusing on ideology.”

  The program also includes a secondary provision, which introduces major changes to the compliance regime for welfare recipient jobseekers. By utilizing a demerit point-style system, the government claims it will save over $200 million. It also eliminates several pension payments programs, including those for individuals who are unable to lodge a full claim or those receiving bereavement allowance. This is done as a means of reducing government spending and cutting down on social welfare programs, a conservative ideological goal.

As the government readies itself to implement the program by the beginning of next year, it must continue to respond to the harsh criticism levied from all sides. Critics have raised several questions regarding the effectiveness, cost-efficiency, and morality of the program, and the Australian polity now has 24 months to answer those queries. Regardless, it will provide important and powerful context to worldwide drug policy in the future. After careful consideration of the responses of other policymakers and health experts, as well as the results of similar programs in the United States and New Zealand, it is increasingly clear that this program’s implementation is an assault on members of Australia’s lower class. Rather creating an honest system to increase accountability in the process of welfare distribution, Australia’s polity is instead attempting to widen the existing class divide and further punish those at the lowest rungs of its socio-economic ladder.

While the World Watches: The Plight of the Rohingya

By Javan Latson

The Southeastern Asian nation of Myanmar (Burma) has been in the headlines… and not for the right reasons. The former British colony has had a very turbulent history rife with dictatorship, repression, and civil unrest. In 1988 people around the world watched as the citizens took a stance against the ruling military junta. Individuals like Nobel Laureate Aang San Suu Kyi became symbols of the country’s struggle for democracy and civil liberty. However, Myanmar has now joined the likes of Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Darfur as ethnically targeted violence rages on in the border state of Rakhine.

The victims of these attacks are the Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group concentrated in the poorest state in the nation. Members of this community trace their ancestry back hundreds of years ago to when large groups of Muslims came from present-day Bangladesh to what was then the Kingdom of Arakhan. For years the British governed the region as a part of India and during colonial rule, many Bengali workers were imported. As an Islamic community within a predominantly Buddhist state things have always been tense, but most attacks on the Rohingya refute their Burmese identity. In an effort to justify certain as illegal Bengali immigrants.

This xenophobic sentiment would soon gain a foothold within the government following Burmese independence in 1948. The Buddhist majority held some grievances against the Rohingya for their behavior during World War 2. This is because the group sided with England whereas the majority allied with Imperial Japan. Despite this, the Rohingya were mostly considered a part of Burmese society. It wasn’t until General Ne Win’s ascension to power in 1962 that things took a turn for the worse. With the backing of his military junta, General Win enacted policies that greatly restricted the rights of this minority community.  Three years into his reign all Rohingya language programs were removed from national television broadcasts despite the fact that ethnic minorities were granted slots to broadcast in their mother tongue. Removing the group’s presence from public media was one step, but it was the passage of the 1982 citizenship law that truly harmed the Rohingya community. This piece of legislation declared that the right of citizenship only belongs to members of the 135 ethnic groups recognized by the 1974 constitution. With the stroke of a pen, they became one of the largest groups of stateless people in the world.

Without the protection of the law, these individuals became increasingly vulnerable to extortion and abuse by their neighbors. Rohingya couples are prohibited from having more than two children, must obtain permission to leave their villages, and are denied access to higher education and certain professions. Just two years ago, when the world was praising Myanmar for finally having “free” elections, the Rohingya were stripped of their right to vote.  With this in mind, it is not surprising that there have been conflicts between them and the Buddhist majority. These clashes have left dark stains on Burmese history, especially during the events of 2012. Five Muslim men were accused of raping a Buddhist woman and this led to widespread violence. Radical figures such as Monk Ashin Wirathu fanned the flames of sectarianism through his fiery sermons that called for the Rohingya to be removed from the country to protect Burmese culture. When the dust had settled more than 280 people had died and thousands more lost their homes.

What happened in 2012 may have been detrimental, but what is currently happening is nothing short of a disaster. Following an attack by a group of Rohingya rebels in August, there has been widespread violence targeting members of the community. These attacks have been devastating and the main victims have been civilians. There have been reports of mass rapes, executions, and security forces working with local militias to burn down villages. More than one-third of the Rohingya community have fled the country since August with greater than 375,000 going to neighboring Bangladesh.  Over a hundred villages have been destroyed and there are even reports that the military has been installing landmines on the border to prevent them from returning.  This systematic oppression and persecution prompted the UN Human Rights Chief to label the situation, “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Yet despite the cry of human rights groups and the UN, de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said virtually nothing about the situation. Kyi, who gained worldwide support for her stance against the military junta and whose efforts earned her the Nobel Peace Prize, has failed to take a stand.  She appears to be dodging the pressure for her to condemn what is going on and to at least call the issue what it is… a humanitarian disaster. It could be argued that she is acting in this way because of the heavy influence the military still has on the government. However, the same woman that defied the status quo earlier in life for the sake of her nation and endured house arrest, should have the courage to stand.  

The election of Suu Kyi in 2015 seemed to mark the beginning of a new era for Burma.  Impressed by the apparent reforms President Obama, via executive order, lifted all existing sanctions on the Burmese government. Yet despite the so-called reforms that have occurred, Burma is far from free. Weapons continually enter the country from Israel and China even in the midst of the atrocities that are happening to arm the Burmese Security Forces. This is not a wise course of action because a lack of response by the global powers on the behalf of the oppressed could potentially lead to radicalism within the Rohingya population. There have already been reports of Al-Qaeda calling foreign militants to take up arms in Burma, stating that the government should be “punished”. Situations like these play into the hands of extremist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda because it fuels the narrative of Muslims being oppressed by an infidel government. As observed in Afghanistan during the 70s, Bosnia and Chechnya in the 90s, and the current situation in the Philippines, there is a significant possibility for non-state actors to exacerbate the conflict.  As Dr. King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.  It’s time for the global community to step up because if we don’t someone else will, and that someone may or may not share our same values and interests.

China and India’s Difficult Relationship

By Yuhang Zhang

The Situation

In World War II, the deadliest war in human history, it’s estimated that there were about 66 million deaths. As a conflict that drew in the entire developed world, occurred alongside mass genocide and famine, and involved the usage of nuclear weapons, the death number is sobering, yet expected.

There is another potential conflict brewing involving only two countries this time; between them, they share the worst famine in human history, pasts filled with ethnic and cultural atrocities, enough nuclear weapons to rip a continent in half, and one rugged 1650 mile border. If only 5% of their populations died during war (a stunningly conservative estimate given the concentration of their people, the presence of nuclear war, unstable governments, and tendencies towards famine), that would be 135 million deaths, or double that of World War II.

The two countries, of course, are China and India; the conflict, a multi-headed hydra that most recently reared its head at the Doklam Plateau. The tiny plateau, only about 89 km, is isolated within the towering Himalayas. Yet, it has been the point of fierce contention between the twin titans of China and India.

A bit of background: On June 16, China began constructing roads in disputed territory on Doklam, which India responded to by sending troops to halt construction. The two countries reached a stalemate position for a couple of months, with neither Beijing nor Delhi backing down on their stances. Eventually, the two countries reached a “consensus” when Modi (the Prime Minister of India) indicated that, unless China backed off of Doklam, India would skip the 9th BRICS summit; that threat seemed to be enough for China, who then withdrew the road workers.

And now, like ex-lovers trapped in an elevator alone, the two countries have redressed themselves in cheery diplomacy and shaky extensions of camaraderie.

China Alone

Here’s an interesting question- who is China’s ally? Of course, friendships and rivalries are always opportunistic on the global stage, and rarely stay static; for example, one would be foolish to claim that the United States and Japan have genuinely friendly attitudes towards each other.

An ally, often, is nothing more than a label, implying and bringing into existence bilateral feelings of amity. It is different than an alliance, which takes form as a unified opposition to something (usually war). It describes another country which can be relied upon to support the original country’s policies, even on issues that have little relevance to the ally. Both countries heavily benefit from the relationship; for example, the United States uses Japan as a crucial trading and tech partner, and as a regional counterpoint to China, whilst Japan relies on the United States for protection and a market.

China, however, does not have any true allies. It trades with the United States and much of the world, but hardly any of those countries would support China in a controversial policy situation. Regionally, it stands alone- to the East, the decidedly antagonistic Japan, and a horde of ambitious Southeast Asian nations nipping at its heels; to the North, the enigmatic Russia, which simultaneously confronts and cooperates with China regularly; to the West, India.

China seeks allies in Europe, South America, and the Middle East hoping to find a country willing to side with it opposite the sprawling American ally network; surprisingly, it finds little takers. There is Pakistan, much of Africa, and the People’s Republic of North Korea. Together, their GDP is 3.6 trillion (assuming all of Africa, which is not the case), about the GDP of Germany, and hardly 40% of China’s 11.2 trillion GDP.

What this means is that China is a massive and accelerating country that stands largely on its own- the aforementioned African allies are mostly one-sided beneficiaries of Chinese aid, and Pakistan and North Korea are hardly in a position to support them.

And so, like every other world power in this situation (The Roman Empire, the Mongols, WWII Germany and Japan, to name a few), China must expand to maintain its security. This operates both physically, as in China literally pushing the borders of its nation, and through exerting its hegemony within the region.

In other words, after decades of being trodden on, China has finally awoken to find an unfriendly world, where it must secure many of its own advantages and trade networks, prop up a hastily-constructed economy, and deal with political dissidence and cultural strife- all the while having to play the United States, and most of the West, in an international game of strategy that China seems destined to lose.

Hope and Potentials

Of course, neither China nor India desire a war; in fact, even barring the usage of nuclear weapons, it would easily be one of the most deadly events in history. But, as stated above, China’s survival strategy is to extend, and its border with India is contentious and full of potential strife.

The ideas here are my own, and probably won’t occur in real life, due to the fact it would require three superpowers to follow the advice of one Vanderbilt freshman. That being said, I think there are three solutions, with various degrees of impossibility.

First, and most impossibly, the root cause of China’s issues could be dealt with and the United States could relieve its multinational pressure on China. I say impossibly because it requires the United States to swallow its ego and open itself to vulnerability (highly unlikely underneath the current administration), and for China to accept this concession without exploiting it. These actions together would result in China being able to move outside of the current pressure cooker it’s been forced into- easily finding markets to sustain and grow alongside, losing much of the regional antagonism heaped upon it.

That situation will most likely never happen due to the incredible risks involved, and so we move on to the second option- improved relations between India and China, mediated and spurred on by the United States. Due to paranoia about the possibility of losing its grip in the Asian region, the United States is unlikely to support this action, and yet this would be the most logical- India and China already share many of the same goals, and if China agreed to concede the alliance with Pakistan and breaks ties, the two countries could easily work together rather than in opposition.

Neither of these are particularly likely situations, and in reality, China and India will probably stand at this stalemated cycle for years to come, two stone-willed forces separated by the jagged peaks of the Himalayas (and the helpless Bhutan). What comes next, whether it be death or reconciliation, is difficult to foresee.

Examining “Mutually Assured Destruction” in the Context of North Korea

By Dustin Cai

North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, has historically made it clear that their goal is to become a nuclear power. The East Asian country has continued its intercontinental missile tests in the face of international pressure and sanctions and has further improved their nuclear capabilities. This has led North Korea to be cited by multiple countries as an imminent threat to world safety, including concerns from South Korea, China, Japan, and the United States. While North Korean leaders have made international threats throughout the past decade, their increased sophistication in nuclear power as well as more frequent tests of longer-range missiles have put more substance into their previously empty threats.

In early September 2017, director general Yukiya Amano of the International Atomic Energy Authority, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, officially designated North Korea as a “global threat,” up from its previous status as a regional threat. This came directly after a successful nuclear test and an aggressive missile launch over Japan. North Korea’s dedication to become a global nuclear power and its willingness to aggress upon other nations puts the country at the top of the list for international security concerns.

While the power of a modern nuclear bomb has not been witnessed in war, none will disagree about the destructive capabilities contained within a single warhead. Despite this potential for catastrophe, the Human Security Report Project finds that death and violence have declined in the post-WWII era–the war in which the first and only nuclear attack occurred–while peace has continued to grow.

Many theories and pieces of literature have been formulated since the 1950s to document and explain this concept, but the most prominent theory that developed is “mutually assured destruction,” otherwise known as MAD. Coined by Robert McNamara, the U.S. Secretary of Defense during Kennedy’s presidency in 1962, MAD refers to the idea that one actor would refrain from launching a nuclear weapon because the response of an enemy nuclear warhead would be too great, causing a mutual destruction to both sides. Essentially, this created the popular concept that nuclear warheads act as deterrents against war as long as both parties hold nuclear capabilities. Although nuclear arsenals spurred a dangerous arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1950s, supporters of MAD point to nuclear capabilities as the reason war never broke out between the two countries during this time.

McNamara was an early defender of U.S. nuclear arms and defended U.S. ability to launch retaliatory nuclear strikes as the “foundation of [U.S.] nuclear deterrent.” Modern proponents of MAD still find this 50-year old theory to hold true. Professor Kenneth Waltz from University of California – Berkeley explains that, thanks to modern nuclear weapons, “never in modern history… have the great and major powers enjoyed such a long period of peace.”

To contextualize this theoretical example, real world examples can show how nuclear proliferation actually deters conflict between certain nations. Political science professor Robert Rauchhaus of University of California-Santa Barbara performed a quantitative analysis and found that nuclear asymmetry between nations, defined as one nation having nuclear weapons while another does not, increases instability and conflict. On the other hand, a Journal of Peace Research article performs an empirical analysis on world conflict and concludes the addition of one nuclear actor to a situation that already involves another nuclear actor decreases the probability of full scale war by 9%. Each additional nuclear actor added to the situation further decreases the probability of war by even larger margins. The research goes on, and Waltz concludes his own analysis by stating, “the slow spread of nuclear weapons will promote peace and reinforce international stability.”

So, if this theoretical concept of mutually assured destruction and the bevy of research on international nuclear proliferation has been so prominent in guiding international defense policy for the past few decades, then why are people so worried about North Korea gaining nuclear weapons? Theoretically, North Korean nuclear capabilities should only stabilize conflict in the Korean peninsula by creating nuclear symmetry. However, one important caveat in MAD theory is the assumption that both nuclear actors are rational. In Waltz’s defense of MAD, he assumes that all nations are rational actors and will apply the most rational choice; therefore, no nation will choose to go to nuclear war because of its destructive implications.

This caveat is one of the main reasons why many are more worried about North Korea obtaining nuclear weapons than other current nuclear holders like Pakistan or Israel. Some political leaders, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, have publicly condemned North Korea for being irrational, citing North Korea’s escalating threats and repeated missile tests despite international condemnation. Other political commentators criticize Western views of North Korea as having a biased view on the sanity of Kim Jong-Un to skew perceptions in a certain negative way, and reduce the classification of North Korea as a crazy, but rational actor. For example, current U.S. CIA director Mike Pompeo sees Kim Jong-Un as a rational actor taking necessary steps to prolong his regime and possibly extend his rule the entire Korean peninsula. But other pieces of evidence gathered by the Human Rights Watch are typically cited in proving North Korea’s irrationality, with multiple systemic human rights violations including murder, torture, enslavement, oppression of free speech, widespread censorship, and public executions. Many typically look to these atrocities and conclude that no rational actor would do this to their own citizens.

North Korea continues to bolster its nuclear arsenal, increase its intercontinental missile capabilities, and make threats against the international community. Kim Jong-Un has continued to use self-destructive methods against his own citizens in order to gain political power, and once North Korea secures higher levels of military and nuclear sophistication, the trend of self-destruction is expected continue to international levels never seen before. If North Korea locks in a nuclear arsenal uncontested, their trend of irrational behavior would unravel decades of international nuclear defense theory and force nuclear powers to rethink the benefits and dangers of nuclear proliferation. Mutually assured destruction has proven itself to be a powerful tool in keeping peace, but perceived  irrational actors such as Kim Jong-Un have yet to get their hands on the big red button.

Aung San Suu Kyi: The Cost of Silence of a Nobel Peace Prize Winner

By Adithya Sivakumar

In the midst of the instability present in Eastern Europe in the early 1990’s, as well as the Persian Gulf War, the world received one gleam of hope from Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese citizen awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her nonviolent methods to resist the ruling Burmese military junta. Although she was unable to receive the award at the time due to her presence in house arrest, the awarding of the prize symbolized that the world was behind the fight against authoritarianism, and that if you were willing to make a stand, the world was ready to back you.

Nearly twenty years later, elections were opened in Myanmar, and although Suu Kyi was not allowed to participate, she was released from house arrest, and soon contested her party in increasingly-freer elections, which allowed her to become the leader of the opposition. In 2015, the military junta finally held openly-contested elections, and her party took control of the country. It appeared that Suu Kyi’s destiny was realized: democracy had taken hold, and Myanmar looked towards a hopeful future.

However, even with Suu Kyi’s triumphs, they came with the cost of ignoring a sizable, growing problem within the nation-state, one that threatens Suu Kyi’s record as a defender of human rights, and instead leads her down the path of the dictators who suppressed her. That problem, unfortunately, is masked within her own people: it is the plight of the Rohingya.

The Rohingya: A History of their Conflict

The Rohingya are a group of people primarily characterized by their religion, which is a variant of Sunni Islam. This group traces its origins in Myanmar through immigration starting in the fifteenth century, under the tutelage of the Arakan Kingdom, and continuing under British rule of then-British India in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They are also very different than other groups in Myanmar, “ethnically, linguistically, and religiously,” especially the dominant Buddhist population.

These stark differences enabled Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya since the country’s independence in 1948, including the proclamations that denied the people status as a recognized ethnic group within the country. Instead, they were commonly regarded as illegal Bengali immigrants from the neighboring country of Bangladesh, despite the residence of the group for centuries, as citizenship laws only conferred status on those considered “indigenous” groups. These types of laws left the Rohingya as a stateless people, leading to a serious deprivation in basic human rights for these individuals. The government also advanced processes that only allowed two children per family of the Rohingya, limited movement outside of certain villages, and constantly enforced a concept of otherness, calling the Rohingya “Bengali” in temporary identification cards in a reference to their South Asian heritage, instead of their desired identifier.

The plight of this group came into full focus in 2012, with the outburst of sectarian violence in Rakhine State, where many Rohingya resided. Resulting from accusations against a group of Rohingya men surrounding the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman, the violence killed more than 280 people, and displaced more than 120,000 people. Many Rohingya began fleeing the country, fearing an increased crackdown from the government, prompting a refugee crisis that reverberated throughout Southeast Asia. Countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Bangladesh were faced with an influx of individuals, and much like the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, countries were unaware on how to deal with the large amount of migrants, creating a large number of displaced persons within Southeast Asia.

Where Aung San Suu Kyi Has Failed

Aung San Suu Kyi could not have done much in the initial creation of the restrictive citizenship laws, as she was either in house arrest or away from Myanmar. However, since the transition to democracy in 2015, Suu Kyi has seemingly had a large opportunity to expand the rights of the Rohingya. With increased reforms in the government, the potential for citizenship reform also seemed possible. Unfortunately, with the outburst of sectarian violence, supporting the rights of the Rohingya became politically unfavorable. Under pressure from Buddhist nationalists in 2015, the Myanmar government revoked temporary residence cards from the Rohingya, effectively silencing their opportunity to vote in the national election in which Suu Kyi won by a landslide.

In part due to this electoral result, as well as pressure from the electorate that voted for her, Suu Kyi’s administration has been criticized as being largely silent on addressing the crisis in the Rakhine state. One state-run commission did not necessarily recommend changing the discriminatory citizenship laws, but rather just incorporating the Rohingya in the same law. Anti-Muslim sentiment is high in Myanmar, causing Suu Kyi to have little impetus to risk political expediency, despite large amounts of pressure from the United States and the European Union.

Solving the Rohingya situation in Myanmar is not simply a matter of making Suu Kyi take another stand for democratic ideals. Myanmar is filled with a complex history, one filled with exclusion and sectarianism. Making constitutional changes will likely not cause substantive change, as seen in many nations around the world. However, Myanmar has the unique opportunity of having a unifying figure, one that is seen by the rest of the world as a marker of peace. If Suu Kyi can force democracy in a state ruled by military strife, there is no reason why she cannot work to bring peace to Rakhine state, especially in a time in which her people need it the most.

South Korea’s Political Changes

As of March 10, 2017, the South Korean President Park Geun-hye has been impeached after it was discovered a citizen with no government post, Choi Soon-sil, was acting as a “shadow president” with significant influence over Park, undergoing executive decision making and even was extorting government money. In addition, other individuals, including Lee Jae-yong, heir to the Samsung empire was arrested for bribery and embezzlement of funds in exchange for political favors from Choi and Park. Although this scandal was revealed in October of 2016, the unanimous Constitutional Court decision to uphold Park’s impeachment is making huge changes now on South Korea. For one, South Korea is currently left without an elected president as Hwang Kyo-Ahn has taken over as the acting president. But, more importantly, South Korean political parties are gearing up for the next presidential election, which is expected to be held on May 9, 2017.

The current power vacuum left by ex-President Park has substantially changed the political landscape in South Korea. Park’s ruling conservative party, the Saenuri Party, has since split into two factions, the Barun party, which opposes Park, and the Korea Freedom Party, which still supports Park. Part of this split is because there is no sole leader, and hopes of finding one dissolved when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, predicted to be the frontrunner of the upcoming elections and unofficial leader of the Saenuri Party, dropped out of the presidential race in early February. The split of the Saenuri Party will cause a huge loss of power for the conservative party and for their candidates; on the other hand, this also allows the liberal party, which has not been in control of the government for many years, to regain power in South Korea.

The liberal Democratic Party has been given the opportunity to return to power in the coming election, which CNN calls a “campaign frenzy,” given just a 60-day period between impeachment and election. A Gallup Korea poll shows Moon Jae-in as the front runner for the Democratic candidate with 32% of the people polled supporting him, 15% ahead of the next highest candidate. Reuters predicts Moon to become the next president of South Korea, although his leadership is yet to be determined given his four other potential Democratic candidates. The existing situation in South Korea all but points to the liberal party taking control of the government from the conservative party.

If Moon Jae-in and the liberal party does win the presidential election, which is the most likely scenario, South Korea will certainly push for new developments in the Asian-Pacific world. One issue addressed will be the current U.S.-South Korean relationship. The U.S. developed plans in the summer of 2016 to place Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missiles in South Korea as a defense mechanism against potential threats in Asia. This plan was signed and agreed to by ex-President Park, and was moved forward by interim President Hwang. However, many Democratic candidates, Moon included, are opposed to this plan and are critical of the recently strong U.S.-South Korean relationship developed under the conservative rule, saying that the U.S. intention to deploy THAAD missiles should not be trusted. This could put a large dent in the relationship between South Korea and one of its greatest allies of late, the United States. On the other hand, liberals in power could foster greater relationships with closer, Asian allies – both China and Russia have strongly opposed U.S. THAAD missiles, citing great security threats. The Chinese-South Korean relationship stands to heavily benefit from a liberal president, as South Korean liberals are heavily critical of U.S. involvement in South Korea, but much more welcoming to a Chinese presence.

In addition, a liberal win in South Korea could lead to faster peace between South and North Korea. Presidential-hopeful Moon has made fostering friendly relationships with North Korea a centerpiece of his campaign, something that liberals have historically supported during their last power regime between 1998-2008. During this time, South Korean enacted Sunshine Policies, designed to fix relationships between North and South Korea through openness, aid, and trust. Part of Moon’s plan to tend this relationship is to reopen the joint-venture factory in Kaesong between the two countries, which was closed by ex-President Park following North Korean nuclear missile tests. While this would certainly benefit South Korea’s diplomacy and creating better relationships with North Korea, it would set back the UN’s plan to force North Korea to stop its nuclear tests, as scholars have called this proposed move, “a major step backward for taming Pyongyang.” This would set back the U.S. and many UN nations’ plan to force North Korea away from nuclear testing via stronger sanctions.

While the UN and the U.S. have become wearier and more aggressive against North Korean nuclear tests, a changing political landscape in South Korean may not bode well for these plans. Liberal leaders in South Korea have a history of becoming more friendly towards North Koreans, and Moon states he wants to do the same. The next South Korean president will have a difficult job, balancing relations between the U.S., China, and North Korea. In addition to these international affairs, the next South Korean president will also have the job in mending domestic trust within the government following the presidential impeachment. Given the state of turmoil the conservative party in South Korea is in, the stage is nearly set for Liberals to assume power in South Korea’s government under the likely Moon presidency, which is something that is sure to have large impacts on international relationships.

Super Spending in the Super League

By Javan Latson

The People’s Republic of China is one of the world’s fastest growing economies. The rise of China has vaulted them onto the global stage and has made them a major player in global affairs. Although there is a heavy emphasis placed on manufacturing and being able to compete with other advanced nations in the economy, there is another area in which the PRC is trying to show its prowess – soccer. Having hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics and with the 2022 Winter Olympics on the way, the Chinese government has shown that they are capable of producing world class athletes. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to their performance on the field.

President Xi Jinping is an avid fan of the sport and has laid out some pretty lofty goals for the nation’s soccer program. Unlike Brazil, Argentina or Germany, China doesn’t have any World Cup championships, or many high profile athletes competing in the top leagues. Whereas the women’s program has played in the World Cup six times, including a finals appearance in 1999, the men haven’t qualified since 2002.  In fact, the Chinese Men’s National Team is currently ranked a mediocre 86th behind countries like Belarus, Qatar, and Armenia. In an effort to improve China’s reputation, President Xi made a proclamation that he wanted to make his nation a major competitor by 2050. He aims to achieve this goal by investing heavily in infrastructure, developing domestic talent, and improving the quality of the nation’s professional league.

A similar initiative was proposed in the 1950s following the revolution that placed the communist government in power. Following the civil war, the plan was to use soccer to launch China onto the global scene. In order to achieve this goal, soccer became organized and financed by the government and what would eventually become the General Administration of Sport was founded. Under the oversight of the state, this government body helps regulate athletics, create standards of physical fitness, organize major international competitions, and encourage investment in the sports industry.

People in China are passionate fans and soccer is the most watched game in the entire country. More than 300 million people (about the population of the United States) tune in to watch English Premier League matches. In fact, demand is so high for these games that the league signed a three-year $700 million deal with the Chinese streaming site PPTV for broadcasting rights. To put things into perspective, NBC Universal paid $500 million to extend its contract with the league even though viewership in the US decreased by 17% last year. However, whereas there are many Chinese spectators, there are relatively few people that actually compete. According to the Chinese Football Association, there are only 7,000 players under 18 that are registered in the entire country.

To address the lack of soccer players President Xi plans to build at least 20,000 training centers and 70,000 soccer fields throughout the country by the end of the decade. Many people don’t play the game simply because they don’t have anywhere to compete, especially in rural areas. His goal is to increase the accessibility of citizens to high quality facilities and skills training. He wants every county to have two full sized fields and every residential area in larger cities to have at least one small sized court. In addition to building state of the art fields, billions of dollars will be spent on player development in the form of training programs or institutions. Children will be exposed to soccer as a part of their physical education curriculum, with the intention that students around the country will have the chance to become familiar with the game at an early age. This is important because when it comes to athletics, exposure at an early age plays a major role in future growth as a player.

By far the most spectacular example of China’s commitment to cultivating high quality prospects is the Evergrande Football School in Guangzhou. The building, which took ten months to build and cost $185 million, is the largest soccer school in the world. Although the primary focus is athletics, students also are taught the typical curriculum found at other schools (math, science, reading, etc.). The 2800 students at the school come from all around the country, including Tibet and the predominantly Muslim province of Xinjiang. They have access to more than 50 fields, special chefs, a library, swimming pools and a gym. The 160-acre campus is a testament to the enormous investment that the government is placing on the sport, which in the eyes of some plays a role in their nation’s prestige. Each week players are instructed in tactics and fundamentals by Chinese and Spanish coaches.

The European imports are the result of a strategic partnership with eleven time European champion Real Madrid. The aim of this partnership is to help develop quality Chinese players who, with the proper tutelage, will be able to compete for the top clubs of Spain, England, Germany and Italy. The opportunity to be taught by some of the world’s best is something that is highly desired by many players in the country, but it’s very hard to get into the school. It costs $9,200 a year for a child to attend Evergrande, which is more than the average yearly income for Chinese families. The more talented athletes are given scholarships to attend or are given financial assistance to help cover the cost of attendance. Thus, for the vast majority of children in China it’s highly unlikely that they’ll ever be able to attend this prestigious institution.

Exposure and access are two important things when trying to increase something’s popularity, but in the world of sports there must be opportunities for competition at the amateur and professional athletes. China’s goal isn’t simply to have more people playing, but to produce high-quality athletes that can go toe-to-toe with the world’s best. To solve this problem the government has begun a multimillion-dollar revamp of the Chinese Super League which is the country’s professional league. The CSL has 16 teams and is regulated by the Chinese Football Association. Chinese professional soccer has a rough history rife with mediocre teams, and corruption. In 2013, dozens of referees and former players were banned from soccer after an investigation into match fixing. The probe by the Chinese football association led to two high-ranking officials being arrested, the team Shanghai Shenhua vacating their 2003 championship.

In spite of these major setbacks, the CSL has seen tremendous growth in recent years to a growing amount of investment from Chinese corporations. Firms like multibillion-dollar Alibaba  have begun purchasing stakes in professional clubs. Much like his other strategies, President Xi is setting the bar high for the country’s professional clubs and expects a few to be dominating Asian competition within a few years. To accomplish this, clubs in China have spent large sums of money to acquire some of the world’s top talent.

In December of 2016, Oscar dos Santos Emboaboa Junior left Chelsea FC for Shanghai SIPG in a deal worth 52 million pounds (over 64 million dollars). The team was shocked that one of their marquee players left a team that placed first in the English Premier League.The Brazilian silver medalist had been a part of their 2012 championship team and had only cost Chelsea 19 million pounds to acquire, but was paid more than twice his initial value. That same month, Argentinian footballer Carlos Tevez made the decision to take his talents to the Chinese team Shanghai Shenhua in a 70 million pound (87 million dollar) transaction. Tevez, who spent the majority of his career in the Premier League, now makes more than 745,000 dollars per week.

Tevez and Oscar are two members of a growing class of high-level players that are leaving Europe for China. During the January-February transfer period of 2016, CSL clubs spent $365 million on player acquisition. In comparison the English Premier League spent $275 million during that same two-month window. In addition, many reputable managers are also making the trek east. Alberto Zaccheroni, who led the Japanese national team to an AFC Asian Cup championship in 2011 and a berth in the 2014 World Cup, 2010 Japanese league manager of the year Dragan Stojkovic, and former coach of the Brazilian national team Mano Menzenes are some high profile hires that have been made by CLS clubs.

Speculators predict that by next year the CSL will become the world’s third most watched league behind the Premier League and  the German Bundesliga. The broadcasting rights within the span of one year increased from a value of $8.6 million in 2015 to $1.11 billion in 2016. In fact five-time league champion Guangzhou Evergrande is now estimated to be the world’s most valuable soccer team.

The rapid ascension and growth of Chinese soccer has caught the attention of many. European clubs are anxious about CSL clubs due to their incredible spending power. It was reported that four-time FIFA player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo was offered a huge contract by one Chinese team, but declined in order to stay with Real Madrid. There are others however, that are skeptical of this desperate spending. Critics claim these high level transactions are simply not sustainable over the long term. Others are more worried that much of the money is being spent on foreign players rather than Chinese athletes. In order to address the rampant spending, the Chinese government has begun to call for the creation of salary caps that limit the amount clubs can spend on players. There are also now rules that limit the amount of foreign players that can be on the field at one given time.

President Xi’s desire to build up his nation as a soccer powerhouse is quite impressive. However, the increased focused on athletics could all be a cover for something else. It is possible XI is using soccer to distract the people from the slowing economy or the human right’s abuses of the Communist Party. On the other hand, it could be a ploy to gain favor with other nations. There has been a history of China practicing “stadium diplomacy” with resource rich nations of Africa and Latin America. For example when Angola hosted the African Cup of Nations, China paid the bill for the construction of four new facilities. Following this act of “generosity” Angola has now become China’s second largest source of oil. China has the capabilities to excel on the world stage. It may not be long from now that we turn on our TVs and see a Chinese player as the star on Real Madrid or Manchester United, or a World Cup trophy being hoisted up in Beijing.