Author: The SAIS Observer Staff

SAIS Explainer Series: Russian Interference in US Elections

The new SAIS Observer Explainer Series aims to help SAIS students understand the most complex issues of the day. No politics — just the facts.

October 31, 2019

By Alex Kessler

WASHINGTON,⁠ D.C. — On October 30, several high-profile veterans of the U.S. intelligence community gathered at the National Press Club to discuss their assessment of Russian attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, and what measures could be taken to address this threat moving forward into 2020. Present to report on the event was the SAIS Observer.

Moderated by CBS “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan and hosted by George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, a panel comprised of former acting director of the FBI Andrew McCabe and previous CIA leadership figures John Brennan, Michael Morell, and SAIS’ own John McLaughlin fielded questions regarding their collective understanding of Russian efforts to influence the American democratic process.

According to John Brennan, the CIA knew since at least August of 2016 that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have attempted to influence the November 2016 U.S. presidential election. The CIA reportedly passed information to executive and legislative leadership, who then confronted Russia. We can not be certain how many votes were affected, or if and how the United States’ efforts to confront the Russians may have altered the Russian strategy. However, Morell warned that there is evidence that suggests that Russia is continuing efforts to influence both voters and the voting process in the United States.

What does this foreign intervention look like? Brennan listed several major avenues of the Russian effort. The most obvious of these appears in our social media feeds, where foreign intelligence units spread targeted disinformation (or normal information) to exacerbate political division within the U.S. population. There also exist vulnerabilities in both the voting process and within companies that design and store voting software, all of which are susceptible to digital attack. Russia can also attempt to influence American politics by endorsing certain politicians, or by making financial contributions to a particular political contender and later leaking information of their contribution to discredit the contender in the eyes of the public. In short, Russia aims to take advantage of the United States’ free media environment to manipulate the perception of the electorate.

McCabe described the FBI as having a robust cybersecurity organization that is prepared for the next “attack,” but individual states’ cybersecurity infrastructure may not be as secure. The question was also raised whether the U.S. government is capable of coordinating resources to detect and combat a widespread, diffuse interference campaign⁠.

Looking ahead to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Professor McLaughlin identified four major priorities for the U.S. to combat the threat of foreign interference: Better reporting of foreign connections with U.S. officials; enhancing the intelligence community’s tracking of Russian agents within the U.S. and their data collection processes; improving the system of alerting the public of public disinformation; and securing the voting process — even if this meant returning to the use of paper ballots.

All four panelists agreed that the members of the intelligence community would continue to deter and combat the present threat.

Tunisia’s parliamentary elections beget a fractured assembly

By Will Marshall

October 30, 2019

BOLOGNA, Italy — In a major milestone for the Arab world’s sole democracy, Tunisian voters went to the polls on October 6 for the first parliamentary elections since 2014.

Preliminary results released by Tunisia’s independent electoral commission, known by the French acronym ISIE,  show that Ennahdha, a former Islamist party rebranded in 2016 as the “Muslim Democrats,” will retain its position as the largest bloc in Tunisia’s unicameral assembly. Ennahdha claimed 52 parlimentary seats. Qalb Tounes, or “Heart of Tunisia,” a newly constituted populist party headed by Tunisian media mogul Nabil Karoui, placed second with 38 seats.

The ISIE will confirm official results on November 13. In the meantime, preliminary results will be subject to appeal.

Disillusionment with the previous coalition government headed by Nidaa Tounes and Ennahdha contributed to low voter turnout (ISIE reported 41% turnout compared with 60% in the 2014 elections) and a surge in support for new parties, such as Attayar, led by human rights activist Mohamed Abbou, which won 22 seats.

Mongi Dhaouadi, a Tunisian living in Washington D.C. with ties to Ennahdha, said that low turnout is attributable to the impression that the elections won’t be able to deliver improved outcomes. Many Tunisians, he added, believe the country’s politicians are incapable of curbing unemployment and rising prices or providing basic services.

“I, like many Tunisians, came out to tell those who are in charge that you have failed. We need new faces,” Dhaouadi said.

A controversial presidential election in the same month overshadowed the parliamentary results. In a  runoff vote held on October 13, Tunisians chose Kais Saied, a former constitutional lawyer, over Nabil Karoui, the media mogul behind the rise of Qalb Tounes. Karoui, who ran part of his presidential campaign from a pre-trial detention cell (he is accused of money laundering and tax fraud), was temporarily released on October 10 to be allowed to campaign ahead of the runoff. 

Saied’s victory, with 72% of the vote, was a blow to Karoui’s Qalb Tounes coalition, which is largely built around his anti-establishment appeal. Without Karoui in elected office, his party will need a strong leader in parliament who can unite the various factions of the fledgling party. 

Ennahdha, which called for its supporters to back Saied ahead of the runoff, said this week it would be willing to include the new president in talks on forming a new government. However, London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reports Ennahdha may move to name party leader Rached Ghannouchi prime minister without consulting Saied. 

The disintegration of the once-powerful Nidaa Tounes party — an amalgam of secularists, industrialists and former Ben Ali regime officials led by the late former Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi — contributed to the relative success of new parties such as Qalb Tounes and Tahya Tounes. Tahya Tounes is the party of current Prime Minister Yousef Chahed, ejected from Nidaa Tounes earlier this year after tensions arose with Essebsi’s son, Hafedh Caid Essebsi. The splintering of Nidaa Tounes also left the assembly highly fractured, with no single party receiving more than 20% of available parliamentary seats, complicating efforts to form a new coalition government.

Should the parties fail to form a coalition government, the widespread disillusionment Tunisians have with their democratic political system may be amplified, said Sharan Grewal, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy.

“The parliament is incredibly fragmented…It will take at least four parties to come together to form the government, a tall order given that each of them have already publicly expressed their refusal to work with one another,” Grewal said in an email to the Observer. “There’s a real danger that the fractured parliament will feed into desires for a strong presidential system, which could pose a threat to democracy depending on who occupies that office.”

Tunisia, which underwent a bloodless transfer of power in 2011, has been described as a model for the Maghreb and wider Middle East region. Yet the country’s ongoing transition to democracy has faltered under the strain of a series of security crises and a stagnant economy. 

A pair of terror attacks in 2015 targeting foreigners hurt the country’s important tourism industry, which has only recently begun to rebound. Recent political unrest in Algeria and the ongoing chaos in Libya have contributed to regional instability that threatens to spill over into Tunisia.

On the economic front, the unemployment rate has hovered around 15% and inflation remains at 6.8% despite tighter fiscal and monetary controls in the first half of 2019. In particular, high youth unemployment has led to an exodus of university graduates toward Europe—exacerbating the country’s brain drain.

The prospect of an extended struggle in parliament to secure a coalition may distract Tunisian politicians from the task of strengthening its nascent democratic institutions. For instance, failure to form a coalition would further delay the appointment of judges to the Constitutional Court, Tunisia’s supreme court.

Once the ISIE announces official results in November, Ennahdha will have two months to name a prime minister and collect the 109 votes needed to form a new coalition government. Should they fail, the president will have an opportunity to secure a majority in the assembly. If both fail to create a coalition, the government will call for new elections.

Disclosure: Will Marshall worked as a communications consultant for the Ennahdha party in Washington D.C. from 2016-2019.

This article refers to ISIE’s latest results release on Oct. 9.

Deadline for Brexit deal looms as UK-EU negotiations continue

By Laura Rong

October 2019

BOLOGNA, Italy — The crucial question of whether the United Kingdom will leave the European Union  remains uncertain as the October 31 deadline for reaching a Brexit compromises rapidly approaches.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson suspended the British parliament for five weeks in a perceived attempt to prevent any further action that would delay Brexit. However, the Supreme Court ruled that  it was illegal to stop members of parliament (MPs) from carrying out their duties in the run-up to the Brexit deadline on October 31. According to a poll, more than 30% of UK citizens oppose Johnson’s new deal, while another 40% remain undecided regarding the proposal.

While Brexit hinges upon a wide variety of issues, the status of Northern Ireland is particularly significant. Presently, Ireland and the UK participate in the EU’s single market and customs union, meaning traded products are exempted from customs inspection or verification of quality in cross-border transactions. After Brexit, all this could change—the two parts of Ireland may be located in different customs and regulatory regimes, which could result in new standards of inspection at the border. Of pivotal importance to Johnson’s proposal is the inclusion of a border proposal for Northern Ireland to align with the EU’s single market, eliminating the need for a hard border between the EU and Ireland. 

In an interview with the SAIS Observer, Christopher Hill, professor of European Research Seminar and Foreign Policy Analysis at SAIS Europe, said Johnson is being  coerced to reach a compromise in his own rhetoric, and that he would likely agree to further concessions with the aim of cementing a deal with the EU.

“I think Mr. Johnson is in a difficult position because he has made it so clear that he wants to avoid any extension, and at the same time that he’s willing to go ahead with no deal on the one hand,” Hill said. “And on the other hand, he wants to have the advantage of going to a general election to be able to say, ‘I settled the Brexit problem’, so he proposed this compromise.”

Jennifer Varney, professor of English language at SAIS Bologna, said it’s striking to her that Johnson has proposed to solve the Irish backstop problem by introducing not one, but two borders. 

“His proposal displays a shocking insensitivity towards, and perhaps misunderstanding of, the delicate balance that was achieved in the Good Friday Agreement,” Varney said in reference to the 1998 deal between the UK and Northern Ireland bringing peace to the region and notably the removal of a hard border between the two countries.

Daniel Hinds, an Irish student at SAIS Europe, said that the installation of a border would put people with families on both sides in danger, and that citizens need more detailed information about a border plan. 

“The biggest annoyance for people in Ireland is what seems to be Boris Johnson and the English government’s lack of understanding and appreciation of the political situation in Brexit.” Hinds said. 

In terms of trade, Hinds believes the new deal will drastically affect people in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as the majority of Irish exports are transported through the UK.

“It will drastically affect the economic growth of Ireland,” Hinds said. “It will drastically affect the agricultural sector, which has a large part of its exports to the UK. So people’s livelihoods are at risk.”

Furthermore, Hill predicts that  if the UK fails to leave by the end of the month, Brexit may be even further delayed in order to leave room for further negotiation. 

“I cannot imagine that there would be another date for leaving, until say, March 29, 2020, which would be exactly a year on from the date which we were originally supposed to leave on,” Hill said. “Now at the moment, especially to the Brexiters, it seems like a very serious delay, but in the long perspective, it’s not a long time.”

According to Hill, Britain is facing the most serious conflict in British politics since World War II. The EU is ready to grant the UK another extension, but whether Johnson will agree to further delay the date to leave remains uncertain. 

Media’s medicine: Alleviating the social symptoms of China’s healthcare system

Can a doctor show, ER Doctors《急诊科医生》alleviate some of the social symptoms (医患冲突) of China’s healthcare system?

By Markayle Schears (席凯乐)

NANJING, China — During my experience working as an intern in several Chinese hospitals, I wondered why many of the doctor-patient relationship dynamics I witnessed appeared strained, often characterized by brief interactions or frustration for both parties. As part of my research, I spoke with a young surgeon named Dr. Lin about my observations.  He said that today, most medical students in China do not study how to interact kindly with patients—and that the healthcare system gives them little time to do so.

ER Doctors’  Dr. Liu (far left) with her trainee at a patient’s  bedside. Photo credits:

Dr. Lin used wordplay to illustrate the problem. In discussing serious conditions such as cancer with their patients, some hurried doctors will quickly discuss chemotherapy treatment, or huà liáo (化疗), without offering much in the way of compassion or comfort. Some patients become so upset that in a frightening number of instances, they have jumped to their deaths from their hospital windows. Dr. Lin opined that Chinese doctors must make an effort to provide a treatment that begins with healing words, or huà liáo (话疗) – a homonym for “chemotherapy.” He believes doctors’ interactions with patients should be considered part of the treatment and infused with compassion and patience.

It wasn’t until I took part in the Hopkins-Nanjing Center’s first film class in the spring of 2019 that I considered the doctor-patient relationship through a new lens—a camera lens.  Beyond its entertainment value, visual media can serve to educate and socialize individuals. People and places once distanced, unrelated or  unfamiliar to viewers become real, human and close. What struck me in this class was the possibility that a television show could be the impetus for resolution of social challenges such as societal conflicts, stigma or ignorance. I decided to explore the complexities of the doctor-patient relationship by analyzing how a popular medical show, ER  Doctors《急诊科医生》portrays this relationship in the country.  

I was intrigued to find that the series is supported by a number of Chinese governmental arms and medical organizations, including the National Health and Family Planning Commission, Peking Union Medical College Hospital and Beijing Chaoyang Hospital. It seems as though the Chinese government believes that exposing the general public to hospital dynamics and a curated version of the doctor-patient relationship could help educate the masses,  and perhaps even relieve mounting social conflict that has arisen over the years. 

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), China’s healthcare system has made impressive leaps by significantly improving health conditions across the population. Yet many problems began to emerge after the “Basic Health Insurance System” was implemented during the economic reforms in the 1980s. Significant reform shifted healthcare from a social welfare initiative to a system that places the burden of financing on the individual. Adding further pressure, some scholars argue, is the fact that underlying institutions within China’s healthcare system are presently still in flux. Today the  government faces the difficult  challenge of meeting growing healthcare needs while continuing to develop the health industry.  Over the last several decades, healthcare reforms have led to a variety of decentralization issues. This shift forced hospitals to compete for patients, generate revenue and capitalize on the deregulation of drug prices. In response to these financial pressures, some hospitals and providers responded by speeding up patient consultations or over-prescribing expensive medications. Over the long term, these actions have contributed to the exponential growth of healthcare expenditures in China. The results of these reforms have yet to be fully determined, but serious inequities in healthcare remain. 

Unsurprisingly, this has created tension in the relationship between healthcare representatives and the general public. On an individual level, institutional moves made in response to reform pressures have resulted in the widespread mistrust of hospitals and doctors.  Patients point to a lack of privacy in hospitals, medical treatment privileges awarded to only the well-connected patients, and arrogant, uncaring doctors. Conversely, doctors express dissatisfaction in their wages, overwhelming workloads and a lack of professional autonomy.  Together, these factors have severely worsened the doctor-patient relationship dynamic in China. This strain has culminated in an alarming trend of  patients, or patients’ family members, using violence against doctors and health professionals in hospital settings. A survey conducted across 90 county-level hospitals found the workplace violence incidence rate to be a staggering 69.38% in 2016, a glaring symptom of the larger issues regarding healthcare reform in China.  To address this concerning trend, stopgap measures aimed at increasing the social consciousness of patient populations and to buy time for reform are underway. Creative examples of this can be found in the socialization efforts in the media and in the boom of Chinese medical TV shows. 

In 2017, several new Chinese medical dramas aired, representing a new wave in a previously small genre in China. One of these shows, ER Doctors, is anchored in the lives of three doctors: Dr. He, Dr. Jiang and Dr. Liu, all of whom work together in a Beijing emergency room. The show follows the complex web of interactions between the doctors, their patients, their families and their larger communities both in and outside the hospital.

From this foundation, the viewer observes the personal, professional, moral and social choices of the doctors.  Viewers are immediately positioned to learn more about the life and experiences of the doctors compared to the patients. Memorably, the pilot episode begins with a highly intense scene in which Dr. Jiang pursues a young thief attempting to steal her purse. The thief suddenly collapses as he is running away. We watch as Dr. Jiang works to assess the boy’s condition and get him safely to the hospital, all while the boy’s friends make off with her purse. Dr. Jiang is presented as a hero who places the value of another’s life above her own material possessions and as a professional who will provide care in spite of the fact that the patient took advantage of her.

As the other two doctors’ characters are developed, the camera tends to follow Dr. He and Dr. Liu in their daily lives. Such scenes are centered around common experiences such as having dinner with their families and conversations in the car while driving to work or school. A slower, leveled approach to character development and narrative flow provides contrast to the hectic emergency room pace, but more importantly, humanizes doctors for the viewers. Observers see how doctors are also just people who are raising families, sitting in traffic and going out to eat hot pot. At the hospital, viewers see the humanized doctors struggle with ethical issues such as consent or delivering difficult health news. Their professional skills are highlighted as the doctors are depicted explaining (and then re-explaining) medical treatments simply and concisely to confused patients and their families. Viewers watch as senior doctors remind the trainees to be more professional and place the patient’s needs above all. As viewers take in the scenes of  doctors doing real life chores and spending time with their families, they can relate to and even admire these characters.   

Throughout the series, the viewer has little to no information about the patients’ backgrounds, and usually learn more about family members than the patient themselves. Family members tend to be presented as rude, cheap, abrasive, dishonest, uneducated or violent. According to scholars, patients being presented as relatively one-dimensional is characteristic of the majority of medical films, and in line with other countries’ medical TV show portrayals. Such bad behaviors likely also serve to illustrate to the viewer the social challenges Chinese doctors face on a daily basis.  Patients’ families usually play active, but brief, roles in which they might accuse doctors of inventing reasons to make their son get more expensive surgeries, slap the nurse or talk loudly on their phones in the hospital. Based on the show, it appears that most Chinese patients aren’t always consulted directly; although the doctor will ask the patient questions, their attention and advice is aimed at the family of the patient. In rare scenes, doctors and patients interact directly; usually, these are the most heartfelt. 

There are many lessons to be taken from China’s ER Doctors. Viewers learn about the doctor side of the doctor-patient relationship. They are reminded that doctors are humans too, with good values, though perhaps not without ego or fault. Themes such as consent, full disclosure of information and doctor-driven charity all surface as potential solutions to creating a more transparent and cooperative partnership between physicians and patients off screen. It is a clear message in the show that Chinese patients want frank assessments and direct care. Viewers are encouraged to notice that medicine in China is changing, but it is not happening overnight. The discussions and conflicts that arise are rooted in the old paternalistic system and the precarious balance of the new economic order. 

Overall, based on highly positive ratings, this government-backed TV series is successfully exposing the wider population to a healthier view of doctors, with the intention of increasing trust all while exploring deep-seated conflicts within the healthcare system. By portraying doctors’ burdens and strong morals and humanizing their struggles, viewers and potential real-life patients can learn to trust and respect doctors.  Conversely, young future doctors watching may take away from the series the most successful strategies for better communication methods. It remains to be seen whether the government’s efforts to promote medical shows can truly ease real-life social conflict, but at the very least something can be learned about social interactions in healthcare settings and the ways to communicate with viewers through a camera lens.

Club Corner: SAIS Jams Brings Music to SAIS DC

By Editorial Staff

October 30, 2019

Following their inaugural performance at a SAIS Alumni Happy Hour, student-led music organization SAIS Jams seeks to bring local musicians together to share their craft.

Inspired by the success of SAIS DC’s annual “SAIS Got Talent” in March of 2019, DC students put their heads together to create a creative and physical space to house a new drum set, coordinate set lists and expand outreach to engage musicians at all levels of musicality. With members that include classically trained pianists and former musical-theatre vocalists, SAIS Jams is eager to tap into the passion and potential of all closet musicians at SAIS.

SAIS Jams Rehearsal in Kenney Auditorium

President of SAIS Jams and second-year HNC Certificate-SAIS MA student Kevin Acker was struck by the lack of musical engagement on the DC campus. “DC is the only SAIS campus without a formal music room or practice space…I want to provide a platform for SAIS students to stay involved in music. There are plenty of academic and career focused extra curriculars, but very few are designed for people to enjoy their hobby.”

The club hosted an open call for participants early in the semester and continues to invite all students to performances, gigs and “jam sessions.”

Professor Canetti, the organization’s faculty advisor, regularly practices with students and graces every jam session with his nearly 40 years of musical experience on the keyboard.

Other members of the organization, including experienced musicians like bass player Simon Hudes, enjoy the reprieve from the stresses of academics that this outlet for musical expression has given them. As Hudes described his experience playing and jamming with his fellow students, “It loosens people up… and smoothes out the edges,” of students in an otherwise high-stress, high-pressure environment.

For students like Acker, music runs in the family. “My mother’s a singer, my father plays drums, and my grandfather was really into Dixieland jazz,” he explained. For Acker, “Music is cathartic and meditative.”

The club will be teaming up with the Latin American studies club (LASP club) on November 8, 2019 for their next performance in Kenney auditorium.

For more information on how to get involved with the SAIS Jams, contact Kevin Acker ( or Chris Merriman (

What Trudeau’s re-election means for the Canada-U.S. relationship

By Shirley Wang and Evelyne Goulet

October 2019

On October 21, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party won the most seats during the 43rd Canadian federal election. This means that Trudeau, who has served as prime minister since 2015, will continue to head the Canadian government for the foreseeable future. However, the Prime Minister’s new mandate is also very much defined by the nature of its victory, which resulted in the formation of a minority government. Because Trudeau lacks a clear majority in the House this time around, his Liberal government cannot simply rely on party discipline in order to gain support for legislation and will be forced to negotiate with opposition parties. What will this mean for Canada’s relationship with its neighbour to the South? 

Minority governments in Canada are not a new phenomenon. Since the 1950s, the last 20 federal elections have yielded nine minorities. And despite the associated political instability, minority governments can also produce periods of legislative accomplishment due to the level of political cooperation and conciliation required. This was apparent during the Pearson years, in which the implementation of universal healthcare, the Canadian Pension Plan, and the unification of the armed forces were achieved, among other accomplishments. For Trudeau’s Liberals, however, cooperation with other parties on foreign policy may prove difficult. The NDP, for example, has called for a recommitment of Canada to peacekeeping, something that has flickered out of substantial existence since the Harper era and not faced much Liberal revival. The NDP and the Greens are also seeking the cancellation of a $14 billion contract to send Canadian-made armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, of which the Liberals have upheld. 

For the Canada-U.S. relationship, this will play out most significantly in trade. Amidst an oft-fraught personal relationship between the two leaders, U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Trudeau on his victory and tweeted he was looking forward to working with him “toward the betterment of both our countries.” 

President Trump came to power in November 2016 promising to fix the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a free trade agreement established with Canada and Mexico since 1994. Following rounds of negotiation in 2017 and 2018, the three countries were able to compromise on a new agreement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). However, while the changes to NAFTA were mostly minor, the new trade deal has yet to be implemented. Given the economic importance of the USMCA, the agreement’s ratification will be a priority for both Trump and Trudeau in the coming months.

During the campaign, the Liberal Party presented the NAFTA renegotiations as an important victory of his government, highlighting that the agreement was concluded during a time of protectionism in the United States. Given Trudeau’s touting of the USMCA on the campaign trail, it could be expected that the agreement will be ratified once the House of Commons is back in session. However, it is not guaranteed that a majority of MPs will vote in favour of the trade deal since the Liberal minority needs the collaboration of other parties to ratify the agreement. All other parties have criticized the trade deal, meaning an uphill battle awaits the Trudeau government to get a majority of votes.

South of the border, ratification is also far from a done deal. Despite a recent plea by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to lawmakers asking them to ratify the agreement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has yet to commit to voting on the agreement in the House of Representatives. Trump has expressed frustration at the slow process, recently saying, “I don’t know that they’re ever going to get to a vote.” There have been multiple meetings between Democrats and the Trump administration to come to a compromise, but nothing tangible has been achieved yet. Until a majority of Democrats support the USMCA, it is unlikely that Pelosi will agree to vote on the agreement. Trump and Trudeau favour the ratification of the trade deal, but it remains to be seen if they can both achieve domestic victories.

Trudeau’s government will also face substantial challenges in reconciling domestic concerns and energy trade with the United States. Canada’s perennial reliance on the U.S. market is punctuated by a significant surplus in energy commodity trade, with exports of USD $75.62 billion in 2017, nearly four times the value of exports from the United States to Canada. And of the aforementioned value, Alberta contributed USD $56.9 billion worth of commodity imports and exports, far out-pacing any other oil and gas production hub on either side of the border. With all but one riding in Alberta going blue this election, and similar trends throughout much of Western Canada, Trudeau will be forced to concentrate his efforts on assuaging Western agitation, all the while answering progressive calls for greater energy independence and environmental protection. In this political climate, Keystone XL, Line 3, and further cross-border pipeline development will likely continue to stall for the foreseeable future. 

Of course, trade is only one component of the Canadian-American relationship under this new, and weaker, Trudeau government. In December 2018, at the request of the United States, Canadian authorities arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei. Soon after, China arrested two Canadian citizens, who have been detained since. The Trudeau government had hoped that the White House would provide assistance to secure the release of these two Canadians, with Trump publicly committing to it. However, the Sino-American relationship is currently rocky due to a trade war, making Trump’s help in negotiating unsure. On security, the two countries will likely continue to squabble over claims to the Arctic to no significant effect and cooperate within the confines of NORAD, NATO, the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, among other cooperative defense frameworks. 

Despite all the talk of a weakened Trudeau and the election of a minority Liberal government in Canada, it is doubtful that general themes of the Canada-U.S. relationship will face significant change in the near future, excepting the possible passage of the USMCA at some point. However, President Trump will too face re-election in late 2020 and minority governments are notoriously short-lived, so just how long this relative equilibrium will hold remains to be seen. 

Tencent holdings: The Chinese technology conglomerate at the center of global pop culture controversy

October 30, 2019

By Alex Cowen

NANJING, China — The NBA regular season started on October 23 in China. If you had purchased the Tencent Sports NBA package with the intention of watching the New Orleans Pelicans take on the defending champion Toronto Raptors, you would have been disappointed. Not because Kawhi Leonard left Toronto in free agency, and not because high-flying wunderkind Zion Williamson, New Orleans’ first pick and the first overall pick of the NBA Draft, wasn’t playing. You simply wouldn’t have been able to watch the game at all — and the reasons have very little to do with basketball. 

Tencent has been streaming the first week of the NBA regular season on roughly a 40 second delay, while also only streaming a select few of the games each night (or morning in China). There has been no explanation given to customers about the selection process, but the reasons for the tape delay are quite clear. On October 4, as the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers were about participate in promotional events across China, including two preseason games in Shanghai and Shenzhen, Daryl Morey — the longtime General Manager of the Houston Rockets — tweeted out vague, now-deleted support for the months-long protests in Hong Kong. What followed was one of the stranger sports stories of the decade and has brought questions of the intersection of entertainment and politics to the fore. And every time the story starts to lose steam, something happens or someone says something that fires up headlines yet again.

Daryl Morey tweeted this image on October 4.
 Image credit: Yahoo Sports

In a story that involves multiple high-profile personalities, including but not limited to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver; players LeBron James and James Harden; Congresspeople Ted Cruz, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and Marco Rubio; President Donald Trump; and the Chinese government, one of the more underreported aspects of the affair is the technology conglomerate at the center of it all — Tencent Holdings.

Daryl Morey with Rockets star player, James Harden, who apologized for Morey’s tweet.
 Photo credit: Houston Chronicle

Tencent is a Fortune 500 company with over $47 billion in revenue and $105 billion in assets. It possesses a portfolio of over 600 companies. It owns a huge stake in Alibaba’s biggest e-commerce rival, It has a huge stake in Meituan Dianping, a Chinese combination of Seamless, Postmates, and Yelp. It owns WeChat, a Chinese combination of Instagram, Twitter, and Venmo with over 1 billion users. It owns 12% of Snap Inc., the developer behind the Snapchat app. Subsidiary Tencent Video has an exclusive partnership with HBO and owns the streaming rights to Game of Thrones. When the final episode of the series aired after a multi-day delay in China, Tencent was at the center of the story. Many customers demanded refunds for their Tencent Video subscriptions, while Tencent apologized and blamed “media transfer issues” via a Weibo post. Tencent Music (TME) is analogous to Spotify and trades on the New York Stock Exchange (Spotify and TME have a strategic cooperation where they each own 10% of the other’s shares). When Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion, it was Tencent who they outbid. 

Tencent has also been making forays into movie production. In August, this ignited a controversy about China’s soft power projection, when the trailer for the Tencent Pictures-produced “Top Gun: Maverick” was released. In the first movie, released in 1986, Tom Cruise’s bomber jacket sports patches of the Japanese and Taiwanese flags. In the sequel, these patches have been replaced by two vague symbols with similar color schemes, so as to avoid suggesting that Taiwan is a sovereign nation as opposed to a PRC territory (or that it supports Japan). In addition to Top Gun, Tencent Pictures has produced and is producing many other pieces of classic American IP for the silver screen, including “Venom,” “Wonder Woman,” “Men in Black,” a Transformers movie, a King Kong movie, and a Terminator movie. They are also producing a movie about Mr. Rogers starring Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” 

The two patches in the original jacket, left, show the Japanese and Taiwanese flags. The new jacket, right, shows patches with unidentified symbols with similar color schemes 
Image Credit: CNN

Over the summer, Tencent Sports extended its distribution rights for all NBA games through the 2024-2025 season. Analysts estimate the deal to be worth roughly $1.5 billion, and according to Tencent’s announcement about the deal, more than 490 million people used Tencent’s platform to watch NBA games last year, with 21 million people tuning in for Game 6 of the NBA Finals. But Morey’s tweet about Hong Kong and the subsequent responses of high-profile personalities who continue to attract attention to the demonstrations in Hong Kong make it difficult for the games to stream unimpeded, while also inspiring previously neutral-on-China sports fans to read up on “what exactly is happening in Hong Kong, anyway?” Responses from players, commissioners, lawmakers and commentators on both sides of the story have alternated between playing up the outrage or trying to tone it down without having developed any clear or cogent strategy for how to move forward. The NBA, an organization that prides itself on social justice and its ability to ask hard questions, has found itself holding hands with an apparatus that prefers to keep the man behind the curtain concealed as much as possible.

On the heels of the NBA-Hong Kong kerfuffle, Hearthstone player Chung Ng Wai, who streams using the name Blitzchung, was banned from Hearthstone tournaments for one year during a Grandmasters event because he made statements advocating for the liberation of Hong Kong while wearing a black mask in an interview. The interviewers were swiftly fired and Blizzard Entertainment, which makes Hearthstone (and is owned by Tencent), justified their decision by citing a rule that any action which “offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard’s image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD.” 

People use sports, video games and movies as a way to escape and forget the stress of daily life or the depressing tickers scrolling the news networks. Audiences often prefer to leave actual unpleasantness at the door when they sit down to be entertained. And it makes us uncomfortable that our entertainers might hold views about the world different than our own. But as 2019 turns to 2020, it seems as if the last thing anyone can do is just shut up and dribble.

Sino-American obstacles to addressing climate change 中美在应对气候变化时面临的挑战

Daniel Mikesell

October 29, 2019

NANJING, China — In October 2010, Chinese leaders were infuriated with the United States after the American Embassy in Beijing tweeted about “crazy bad” levels of air pollution. The embassy’s air pollution data showed that air pollution in Beijing was much worse than the official Chinese data suggested. To Americans, this episode seemed to prove China’s negligence and dishonesty regarding its environmental problems. Eight years later, Chinese mocked the resurgence of climate change denial in American politics. To many Chinese, the fact that someone who actively disregards science (or at least pretends to for the sake of economic growth) could become America’s commander in chief is evidence that American democracy is fundamentally flawed.


As the United States and China struggle to address climate change, they have encountered different types of barriers. U.S. climate policy must contend with climate-change deniers and vested corporate interests, whereas in China, climate policy is often at odds with economic development goals.


In the U.S., part of the problem is denial. About one in six Americans think climate change “is not a threat” to America at all. That’s not precisely the same as saying climate change “isn’t real,” but both statements demonstrate a similar degree of disregard for the international consensus on climate science. 


Since 2013, climate change has become a major concern for Democrats but not for Republicans.
Image Credit: Pew Research Center

This phenomenon can be understood in terms of the influence of partisanship on the American public. Worldwide, there is a strong positive correlation between one’s level of scientific knowledge and one’s belief in the risks posed by climate change. However, American Republicans are an exception to this pattern. Whether or not a Republican believes that climate change will harm the planet has no relationship with the degree of his or her scientific knowledge. 


Democrats with more scientific knowledge are more likely to view climate change as a threat, but most Republicans don’t view climate as a threat, regardless of their scientific knowledge.
Image Credit: Pew Research Center

Why do so many American conservatives deny the effects of climate change? Some researchers attribute this to the so-called “conservative white male effect” in doubting anthropogenic climate change; in other words, a growing body of research suggests that conservative white men around the world are less likely to believe in climate change than other demographic groups.


Political and business interests also play a key role in American climate denial. Efforts from the fossil fuel industry to obfuscate the conversation on climate change have successfully confused the American public. Campaign finance contributions by the oil and gas industries are primarily directed to Republicans, further leading Republicans to less stringent climate policy. 


In China, widespread climate change denial is not the problem. The Chinese government “wants everyone to believe in climate change,” said Pan Siran, a Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) student from Hainan. In China, climate change “is not a political issue,” she said. According to Fang Jianyu, an HNC student from Inner Mongolia, climate change is taught in freshman high school geography, so anyone with a high school education should know about it.


But because high school is not compulsory in China, there are some people who never learned about climate change in school. A 2017 study conducted by the Center for China Climate Change Communication (CCCCC) showed that roughly 5% of Chinese adults don’t think climate change is happening, and a 2012 CCCCC survey showed over 6% of Chinese adults have never heard of climate change.


Taken together, these data could suggest that the main reason some Chinese don’t believe in climate change is that they have never heard of it. This was corroborated by Zhang Haiyan, Associate Professor of Energy, Resources, and Environment (ERE) at the HNC. She said virtually everyone in China who has heard of climate change knows that it’s real, but that some people with less education may not know about it, and hence not believe in it.


Professor Zhang further emphasized that addressing climate change is especially difficult for developing countries like China. Developing countries are still in the process of setting up basic infrastructure and providing basic social services; how can they be expected to be on the vanguard of climate change adaptation? Chinese recognize the need to address climate change, but poverty alleviation based on economic development is a far more urgent priority. This tension is reflected in the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” which dates back to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This concept acknowledges that wealthy, developed countries with greater capabilities must shoulder a greater share of the burden of dealing with climate change.


The problem in China isn’t denial but rather the notion that developing China’s domestic economy is a higher priority than helping the planet. Compared to economic growth, the environment is a small concern. A popular phrase in Chinese media reflects this systemic lack of concern for environmental law: “The costs of illegal behavior are low, but the costs of following the law are high.”


China and America have the world’s largest carbon footprints, but their barriers to addressing the problem are vastly different. In the United States, those who dispute the facts of climate change have significant political power. On the other hand, climate change is widely accepted in China, but the reaction has been to deny responsibility. China has seen some major environmental protests in recent years, but the push for economic development seems unstoppable. 


As key players in the international effort to address climate change, America and China will face enormous environmental challenges in the coming years. Expanding the exchange of ideas between China and America may prove essential for the health of the planet. Such cross-cultural exchanges may also allow each side to avoid the mire of endless criticism and search for mutually beneficial solutions.


Facial recognition: Infringing upon privacy or protecting students?

By Natalie Craig

October 23, 2019

Facial recognition gates at the main entrance to Nanjing University’s campus. 
Photo Credits: Natalie Craig

NANJING, China — Nanjing University (NJU), a top institution in China that participates in a partnership with the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC), has become one of many Chinese universities to introduce entry-exit facial recognition technology to its gates. 

For some students, this technology brings about an Orwellian feel. With each pass through the gate, students’ faces are scanned and recognized before entry. With faces and student ID information stored in the system, many HNC students feel that this is a violation of privacy, a greater restriction on their movement within China. For others, this new security measure is viewed primarily as a way to protect students. 

According to the Daily Mail, these efforts are a part of China’s latest five-year plan to modernize schools across the country through its “smart campus initiative.” In the last year alone, China has installed over 200 million security cameras throughout the country. By 2022, the total number of surveillance cameras throughout the country is projected to increase to 2.76 billion, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC). With heightened surveillance, the government can easily monitor students’ movements, adding to its centralized control over the people.

Although this plan was a public government initiative, the students affected remained unaware and without the agency to oppose the installation of these devices. Nanjing University students received no official notice about the implementation of the facial recognition technology preceding its installation. It was only a few days ago that the university finally released information on these facial recognition gates and how they will impact students. The report covered the plan for non-students entering campus and cited the purpose of these gates as a new effort with the Public Security Bureau to aggregate a “gray list” of those who should be denied access to the university, thus ensuring the safety of students. 

“I went up and saw that it recognized my face and my ID number and had a green arrow admitting me into campus, and I felt very uncomfortable and sort of violated,” Amy Bodner, a masters student at the HNC, remarked. 

While the HNC has its own center with separate security on the northeast corner of campus, students still have access to the facilities on NJU’s campus. For second year international students, their information has been entered into the NJU database, so their faces will scan successfully. Certificate students, on the other hand, must either walk around the scanner or ask the guard to let them through, which calls into question the legitimacy and the true purpose of the facial recognition technology.

Two HNC international students attempt to pass through the gates. 
Photo Credits: Amy Bodner and Natalie Craig

“It’s not an effective measure of keeping campus safe because anyone can walk right through; the guards don’t seem to care, so I have to wonder what the actual purpose of this is…I think that it is ineffective at best and disturbing at worst,” Bodner said. 

As for Zhou Jie, a second-year Chinese HNC student, the scanners seem to be as effective as the locks that used to be on the gates at night on campus. “If you are a bad person looking to do harm, you will always be able to find a way to get in, but it may reduce the probability of some bad people from entering campus,” she stated.  

Besides the questionable efficacy of the device, the purpose that it serves is also ambiguous. “I think the purpose is data collection and eventually to restrict movement; I think that these things roll out so slowly that you become acclimated to it and then one day it is actually restrictive,” Brad Hebert, a certificate student, remarked. 

However, many Chinese students believe that this device serves two purposes: to protect students and to restrict the flow of outsiders into campus. A few years ago, at NJU’s Xianlin campus, reports circulated of a woman who had been sexually assaulted on campus. This attack outraged students, and led to widespread desire for a response from the university. According to Zhou Jie, “This probably was not the cause of the implementation of these devices, but is most likely one of the reasons the university installed them so quickly—because students were indignant this harm had taken place.” 

Meanwhile, other Chinese students believe that these facial recognition gates help to reduce the number of non-students on campus. According to Ruoyin, a certificate student, if universities are completely open, then the campus will be filled with too many outsiders. “This could influence students’ studies, so they restrict the flow of tourists,” she said. 

One key idea that both Chinese and international students could agree on with regard to these entry-exit face scanners is that they are restricting. Not only does it limit access, but also it is indicative of a future of control and targeted constraints on migration. 

“I think there is a wave to control migrations of people any way you look at it, whether it be foreigners, ethnic minorities, anyone; I think in different areas it is becoming increasingly strict,” Bodner said. 

While one can only speculate as to the true purpose and future implications of these devices, this pilot program is only a fraction as strict as new measures being taken elsewhere. Pinnacle universities in China, including Beijing University and Qinghua University, have set the trend in heightened security for university campuses throughout the country. This past year, both campuses introduced face scanners, identification card registration systems and the requirement that all visitors be accompanied by a student to enter campus. Although conditions in Nanjing are much more relaxed than in Beijing, it appears to be evidence of a small but definite step toward a more monitored and controlled China. 

The 75th anniversary of SAIS invites reflection on its past—and its future

By Yilin Wang

October 29, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On a summer morning in 1943, Congressman Christian Herter and Paul Nitze were chatting about international affairs as usual over the breakfast table in a Georgetown house, while their wives were on vacation. At that time, the world was still shocked by the traumas of World War II and the U.S. was faced with the huge challenge of assuming the responsibilities as a postwar great power. So when Herter raised the idea of founding a graduate institution to train professionals in the international affairs in Washington, Nitze immediately took notice. Acting quickly, Herter and Nitze gathered a group of friends to support their initiative. Among them was Halford Hoskins, the founding dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, who was extremely supportive of the idea of establishing a graduate school of international studies in Washington. In fact, Hoskins soon moved to Washington and became the first director of SAIS. By October 1944, SAIS was up and running at an old mansion on Florida Avenue, formerly home to the Gunston Hall School for Girls.

The initial SAIS cohorts in the 1940s were small (23 students in the first class), almost resembling a family, and they consisted only of Americans. After all, SAIS’s founding fathers had envisioned the school as an institution that would train “young Americans for world careers in government or business.” The contrast is sharp between the situation then and now, when 38% of the M.A. students in the class of 2021 are international. In a conversation with Dean Eliot Cohen, he said, “I would say that we are an American school of international affairs—not in a parochial way, but in a rooted way, as we are located in the capital of the United States and that ought to be part of the appeal of SAIS. I think SAIS is ‘American’ in terms of its approach to higher education. American universities are different from those in Europe, China, or anywhere else for that matter, in ways such as faculty-student relationships, kinds of faculty members, etc. It’s not just that our students are international—we have international faculty, staff, and international presence as well. I think one of the things that makes SAIS distinctive is that we don’t pretend we are based on the moon and have no roots anywhere. We do, but in every other respect we are international and, I hope, welcoming.”

Though a brand new, independent institution, SAIS was authorized to award PhD degrees at the time it was founded. Interestingly, the 1949-50 catalog of SAIS indicated that the PhD degree at SAIS was a professional one “intended only for those to whose vocational plans it is essential.” This was a direct reflection of the positioning of SAIS as a professional school. Contrary to what one might believe, however, there were recurring debates throughout the school’s history on whether SAIS should be academically or professionally oriented, especially when there were changes in the composition of faculty. During the 1960s, as the first generation of SAIS faculty retired, prominent scholars Robert Osgood, Robert Tucker and George Liska came to form an integral part of the second-generation faculty, teaching theory-heavy courses on American foreign policy, American history, and so on. Students joked that they were the “sixth-floor mafia” because of their affiliation with the Washington Center of Foreign Policy Research (now Foreign Policy Institute), the flagship research center of SAIS at that time located on the sixth floor of the Nitze Building. Jokes aside, in the 60s, SAIS evolved from a vocational training program to a rigorous, structured academic institution. To this day, one of the things that distinguishes SAIS from other policy schools is that it can “pursue deep knowledge and yet still be relevant to policy,” remarked Dean Cohen.

During the 60s and 70s, the student body at SAIS was very actively engaged in political affairs. The Vietnam War elicited intensive debates on campus, as there were some who had fought in the war and others who had participated in the Peace Corps, groups that held completely different positions on the war. SAIS students would gather together and discuss how the group should voice their opinions in view of the intensifying war. After the bombing of Cambodia, they signed an open letter to publicly condemn the incident and also organized boycotts and strikes to express their fury. “As intensely politicized as a lot of things seem to be right now, it’s nothing compared to what it was compared to the Vietnam era, because you not only had the war but a lot of dramatic social changes, such as the Civil Rights Movements. So that was a time when people were politically very active,” said Dean Cohen.

The 70s and 80s witnessed substantial changes in all academic programs at SAIS, as the third generation of SAIS faculty arrived during this time. For instance, the Latin America Studies program underwent an influential reform under Riordan Roett and grew into one of the largest programs at SAIS. The Asian Studies program flourished under Dean George Packard, who was a distinguished scholar in East Asian studies. Dean Packard made huge efforts to establish the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies and also helped push forward the creation of Hopkins-Nanjing Center, a significant breakthrough of SAIS and a truly rare case in the entire field of higher education in both China and the U.S. at that time. It was also during this period that SAIS acquired the Rome building, as the school was expanding both in the scope of its studies and size of its members.

Dean Cohen arrived at SAIS in 1990. In his opinion, the biggest change of SAIS since 1990 has been the demographic turnover among faculties. In recent years, SAIS has experienced enormous changes among its faculty members, now representing different kinds of interests and a wider array of backgrounds. What’s more, he remarked that we are currently still at an early stage of a transition where the school will gradually evolve from an institution with predominantly M.A. students to one that will feature more types of degrees and reach more demographics. There will also be deeper integration between SAIS and other Johns Hopkins divisions. For example, there will be more SAIS classes taught to undergraduate students at Homewood, a more direct admissions program for Hopkins undergraduates, and perhaps even cooperation with the Whiting School of Engineering and the Applied Physics Lab, with potential courses exploring the intersection of technology and international affairs. SAIS plans to launch a joint degree program with the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School as well. The move to 555 Pennsylvania Avenue will create a great opportunity for cooperation among different divisions to take place, and the move, as described by Dean Cohen, will be a “transformative” experience.


Gutner, Tammi. The Story of SAIS. Washington, D.C.: School of Advanced International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University, 1987.