Category: International Affairs/Foreign Policy

Universal health care systems around the world

September 22, 2019

By Gerhard Ottehenning

Washington, D.C. — Despite the constant hum of palace intrigue coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., kitchen table issues like health care remain at the forefront of voters’ minds. Riding off the success of the 2018 congressional midterms, Democrats have rallied behind the idea of “Medicare for all” or “single-payer” health care to bring the United States’ system up to par with the rest of the industrialized world. But what kind of health care system does the “rest of the industrialized world” have? 

The common rhetoric in health care debates in the U.S. today can sometimes deliver the impression that there are only two options: whatever it is that we currently have, and “socialized medicine,” with voters attaching various meanings to the word “socialized.” Examination of other countries’ health care systems yields a fuller picture of the various avenues to universal health care. Here at SAIS, international students can provide a unique perspective into the strengths and weaknesses of three such health care systems in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Switzerland.

The United Kingdom’s nationalized, single-payer system provides healthcare for all, but at a cost

The United Kingdom administers health care through the National Health Service (NHS). The NHS is a national, government-run, or single-payer, system. The government provides health insurance, employs health care workers and runs the country’s hospitals. Health care in the UK provides preventative services, mental health services and medical drugs for free, once citizens have paid taxes. Private insurers and private doctors exist for those willing to pay more for supplemental plans. 

Downsides of the NHS include the unavailability of certain drugs, increasing health disparities between the rich and poor, and longer wait times than those experienced by most Americans. Miranda Bain, a second year SAIS student and UK national described some of the challenges she faced under the NHS: “The issue I had was that, because it’s very under-resourced—you only get 10 minutes with a doctor—it can be quite rushed if you’re trying to talk through something complicated and they’re seeing so many people at one time. It was a bit chaotic trying to get to the bottom of what was making me sick.” 

Despite these downsides, Bain said that “people feel very strongly about the NHS and are quite proud of it. Although the current government has made moves to privatize it, if there was a big attempt to do that there would be a lot of protests and grievances from the public.” A comparison of health care systems by the Commonwealth Fund’s International Country Comparison (CFICC) gives the NHS high marks in terms of access to care, administrative efficiency and equity. 

Germany’s health care model: A mixture of public and private insurance systems

In Germany, health insurance is mandatory for all citizens and is provided primarily through a national public system, with those above a certain income threshold buying private insurance. Public non-profits run half of hospitals, private non-profits run a third, and private for-profits run the rest. Income determines health care premiums, and a tax on employees and employers pays the premiums. The government subsidizes children and those below a certain income threshold.

The German system receives criticism for its fee-for-service system, which penalizes doctors if they provide too much care. Additionally, second-year SAIS student and German national Paulina Koch said that there is public criticism of the two-class system. “If you have private health insurance…it’s easier to get an appointment because those doctors can get more money from a private patient than from a public patient. And that is obviously unfair.” While Germany scores highly on the CFICC’s measures of access to health care, it scores lower on health care outcomes and care process. 

Switzerland’s privatized health care system relies on “individual mandate”

Of these three foreign health care systems, Switzerland’s is the only one that can boast to be younger than the average SAIS student—Switzerland established its current health care system in 1996. The Swiss government obligates every citizen to buy health insurance from a private insurer, ensuring that healthy people stay in the system—which helps keep costs low. The majority of doctors and hospitals are run privately. The government provides financial assistance to low-income residents and regulates insurance companies to ensure access for patients with poor health. In the U.S., the Affordable Care Act (ACA) aimed to expand health coverage through the use of subsidies and regulation, similar to the Swiss system; Paul Krugman called the ACA an attempt to “swissify” the American health care system. 

Sarah Aver, a Tsinghua-SAIS dual-degree student and French national who attended college in Geneva, Switzerland, described the Swiss system as “really efficient. Every time you go to see the doctor, you get a receipt, you pay and then you send it to your insurance. You can do it online and it’s always very efficient.”

The Swiss often cite high costs as a major drawback of their system, a point reiterated by Aver. “There’s always a debate about the price. People think it’s too expensive.” While the Swiss system is more costly than either Germany’s or the UK’s, it is still less of a budget-buster than the United States’ current system. 

As in the U.S., politicians in Switzerland continue to debate the role of government in providing health care. Aver said, “because it’s private companies, some people think that it’s the state’s job to provide health care. It’s a debate but for most people it’s not an issue that it’s privatized.” The CFICC gives Switzerland high marks for health outcomes and equity, though its system is judged to fall short in terms of access and administrative efficiency. 

The leading Democratic presidential candidates all mention universal health care as a top policy priority. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren support implementing a single-payer system dubbed “Medicare for All” that in part resembles the UK’s NHS, with the government acting as the sole health care insurer. Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg’s campaign platforms focus on shoring up the existing ACA by adding a public option and creating a more competitive insurance market—most closely aligning with the German system. As the Democratic field narrows, expect the candidates to flesh out their plans as they strive to differentiate themselves from their competition.


Opinion – The Amazon: Before the blaze, there was the tinderbox

September 16, 2019

By Nikole Ottolia

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Brazilians have protested in the streets, world leaders have offered money, #savetheamazon has trended for weeks and yet the fires continue to burn and the debate rages on. Who is responsible for the Amazon Rainforest? Lost between the drama and the hashtags lies the story of how the Amazon came to this point. How did the “lungs of the earth” become a tinderbox of political appeasement and economic ambition?

In his memoir, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (2006) explained the origins of one of Brazil’s most controversial barriers to development: the distribution of land.

“By 1580, a mere 50,000 settlers had trickled into Brazil. Meanwhile, Portugal’s rival, Spain, was making quick headway in colonizing other parts of Latin America…Desperate to halt the invaders, the Portuguese Crown decided to make colonization of Brazil its top priority. To populate the wild and hostile lands as quickly as possible, the Crown granted unthinkably large tracts of land to a very tiny group of settlers…As technology improved over the centuries, allowing the cultivation of cash crops, such as coffee and sugar, many of these same vast landholdings then became fabulously wealthy fazendas, or plantations, that were—and to some extent, still are—the backbone of Brazil’s economy. That hurried decision by the Crown in 1580 was fundamental to so many of the problems that would later haunt Brazil: slavery, economic underdevelopment, and disrespect for the rule of law…” (p. 209)

Cardoso was referring to deeply entrenched power dynamics that continue in present-day Brazil, with power concentrated in the hands of a privileged few. This description rings especially true when considering the history and present circumstances of the Amazon Rainforest. 

During the colonial era, the magnitude and density of the rainforest was enough to keep most invaders at bay. Yet improvements in technology and a growing Brazilian population have increasingly brought the Amazon under threat. While the world may take notice of the destruction of the Amazon today, the forest’s history has always been marked by the suffering of indigenous tribes caught between greed and inconsistent government policies.

In the 19th century, Brazilian law determined that indigenous peoples’ material and personal rights be placed under the protection of the “Justice of Orphans.” This effectively characterized indigenous peoples as incapable of autonomous interaction with “civilized” society and as a population in need of guidance and protection, much like an orphaned child (Rodriguez, 2002). In 1916, the Brazilian Civil Code included “Indians,” grouped together with minors and the mentally ill, as among those considered “relatively incapable” of exercising their rights. One might think such perceptions of Brazil’s indigenous peoples might have changed in modern times—but as recently as April 2015, Brazilian politician Jair Bolsonaro said of the indigenous peoples, “The Indians do not speak our language, they do not have money, they do not have culture. They are native peoples. How did they manage to get 13% of the national territory?” (Campo Grande News, 2015)

They “managed” this thanks to the decree within the Brazilian Constitution of 1988 that Brazil recognize indigenous people’s “original rights over the lands that they have traditionally occupied, it being the duty of the federal government to demarcate these lands, protect them and ensure that all their properties and assets are respected.” However, the federal government has never completed this demarcation process and indigenous rights remain vulnerable to the mercy of whoever is in power.  

The 1988 Constitution was written as Brazil made a return to democracy following two decades of military rule from 1964 to 1984—a dictatorship that President Jair Bolsonaro describes as a “glorious” time in Brazilian history. Bolsonaro’s rhetoric has been enough to embolden farmers living on the edges of the Amazon Rainforest to claim land that falls within the jurisdiction of indigenous tribes. In her recent testimony to the U.S. Congress, SAIS Professor Monica de Bolle noted, “The rise of deforestation precedes President Bolsonaro’s electoral victory. But the dismantling of environmental agencies under his watch and his past and present rhetoric on environmental issues have emboldened farmers, loggers and other players to engage in predatory behavior in the rainforest.” 

Throughout modern history, the Amazon Rainforest has been a political tinderbox, but it was President Bolsonaro’s voice that sparked increasingly aggressive and illegal encroachment on what should be protected land. To make matters worse, Brazilian society is more politically divided than ever and the country’s economy continues to lag after a recession in 2015 and 2016. With 80% of the country’s population living in coastal areas, the Amazon is “out of sight and out of mind” for most Brazilians who will likely turn their attention back to their everyday lives. 

Now that the world has realized it will choke if the Amazon continues to burn, it may not be easy for Bolsonaro to brush off pressure to improve protection of the Amazon. Yet global attention and discourse on this issue will fail to drive real improvement  if the Brazilian government and its people do not acknowledge the legacy of colonization and indigenous peoples’ rights. Unfortunately, for that to happen, Brazil may have to wait for the next presidential election—but until then, what will become of the Amazon Rainforest? 

Sources: Cardoso, F. H., & Winter, B. (2006). The accidental president of Brazil: A memoir. New York: PublicAffairs, 209-210. 

Constitution of Brazil. (1988). Available at:  

De Bolle, Monica. (2019). Preserving the Amazon: A Shared Moral Imperative. Peterson Institute for International Economics. Retrieved from

Marques, A. & Rocha, L. (2019). Bolsonaro diz que OAB só defende bandido e reserva indígena é um crime. Campo Grande News. Retrieved from

Rodrigues, M. (2002). Indigenous Rights in Democratic Brazil. Human Rights Quarterly, 24(2), 487-512. Retrieved from

Xuexi qiangguo: The digitalization of Chinese propaganda

By Sydney Tucker

NANJING, China — Historically, China has been a nation filled with propaganda. On almost every city block, one can find the 12 guiding principles of Chinese socialism, including freedom, equality, democracy, harmony and patriotism, plastered on a wall. These core values remind Chinese citizens of the foundational building blocks that guide their country, though many of these ideals have yet to actually manifest in Chinese society. From billboards to subway ads, signs feature one-liners promoting socialist values. This method of promoting propaganda is considered traditional, harkening back to the Mao era when Party policy was painted or posted on walls for public consumption. But earlier this year, political propaganda reached new technological heights under the leadership of President Xi Jinping. 

Photo Credits: Amy Bodner

A list of the twelve guiding principles of Chinese socialism. From top to bottom, left to right, “Prosperity, Freedom, Patriotism, Democracy, Equality, Dedication, Civility, Justice, Honesty, Harmony, Rule of Law, Friendliness.” 

In January 2019, China’s Publicity Department launched the country’s first official government mobile app, Xuexi Qiangguo (学习强国), which roughly translates to “studying strengthens the nation.” Intended to help Communist Party members and average citizens gain a deeper understanding of China’s political goals, the app aims to demonstrate the path that Xi wants China’s future development to take. 

Through the app, party members are encouraged to immerse themselves in Xi Jinping thought. According to the New York Times, “Xi Jinping thought” focuses on strengthening China’s three core bases: the nation, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Xi himself. The emphasis on the Communist Party has proven to be the most important. Xi frequently emphasizes that the party is responsible for China’s successes, but not for its problems. Xi’s plan is to take steps he believes will allow the country to become not only an economic heavyweight, but a well-respected political power as well. As China continues to grow and strengthen, the central government wishes to see all of its citizens united under the same political ideology. The Chinese government believes that the single-party system is the driving force for the country’s path to global superiority and hopes the app will promote this belief.

Screen Shot 2019-05-07 at 11.01.41 PM.png
Screen Shot 2019-05-07 at 11.07.41 PM.png
Xuexi Qiangguo’s registration and login screen 

At its core, the sometimes game-like app is designed to award points to users for engaging in pro-China propaganda. Upon registering for the app, users must enter their telephone number, full name and place of employment, and agree to its terms of use. Completing this step earns the user a tenth of a point. Thirty-eight channels are available to “enhance” the learning experience, covering topics such as politics, news, party history, law, new political thought and the ideologies of current and previous Chinese leaders, as well as less political topics including science, technology and traditional Chinese culture. Despite the variety of its content, the app heavily emphasizes politics and reinforces traditional study methods such as extensive reading and rote memorization. The app also includes forms of audiovisual learning through documentaries, news broadcast clips and online courses.

Under the point system, users’ efforts don’t go unrewarded. Wishing to remain unnamed, a Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) professor detailed the ways in which a user can earn points. Tasks including reading,commenting on an article, watching a video or completing a quiz each earn a user one point. Users can even view the scores of their friends, fellow party members, classmates and coworkers to compete for the week’s high score. A running joke among Nanjing University students claims that the higher one’s score, the better spouse or partner one can be. 

Xuexi Qiangguo has quickly risen to the top of app store charts, with over 100 million downloads within four months of its launch date. Notably, downloads of the app briefly surpassed those of WeChat, China’s most popular messaging, social media and mobile payment app, rendering Xuexi Qiangguo the most downloaded app in China’s Apple store.

Xuexi Qiangguo holds the top spot for most downloads in China’s version of the Apple store
Photo Credits: South China Morning Post,

However, these numbers do not clarify whether the Chinese citizenry are genuinely interested in learning Xi Jinping thought—or if they feel they must do so in order to demonstrate party loyalty.

Culturally, Xuexi Qiangguo is something China has never seen before as perhaps the only app to have made the unprecedented jump out of pop culture and into politics. The Chinese government has harnessed China’s increasing technological sophistication and growing population of Internet users to spread its political influence. So far, the greatest influence has been on younger generations, especially college students.

A CCP-affiliated student at the HNC, who chose to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the subject, described the app as “politics made fun,” and believes the app will have a larger impact on students as a whole than the current and well-established method of political indoctrination—mandatory classes on Marxist theory for every undergraduate student. They added that “when I attend my Marxist class, I often focus on everything else but what the teacher is saying. Whether shopping online via Taobao or working on an assignment for another class, I am not emotionally invested in this class because it is required of all Chinese students.” The student believes this app is a creative and effective way to promote understanding of the Party’s political goals.

While competition among friends and colleagues to earn points within the app may be just for fun, users of Weibo, a popular Chinese app similar to Twitter, have expressed concern. Many claim the app intensifies political pressure on party members to prove their political loyalties in a quantifiable way by measuring users’ interest in Xi Jinping thought and the CCP. The HNC student interviewed for comment recalls how a teacher questioned students about news published on the app that very morning, impressed with those who could respond and disappointed in the ones who could not. Similarly, a hospital employee posted online about having to report her score at her workplace on a weekly basis. 

When does voluntary use begin to feel forced? Westerners looking in may view the app as hypocritical, relying on fear of political reprimand to encourage its use, directly contradicting self-proclaimed Chinese socialist values such as freedom and democracy. Forced political conformity works to characterize Xi as a feared leader, rather than a respected one. 

It is too early to determine the future of Xuexi Qiangguo and its influence within Chinese society. However, it is clear that Xuexi Qiangguo hopes to be the future of China’s propaganda machine and wield influence over how citizens view the government. While the app is spun as a positive step to enhance political unity it is important for observers to err on the side of caution. Importantly, this app has raised several questions of concern for Chinese citizens. Are users expected to fall in line with Xi Jinping thought? What are the consequences if they disagree with these ideals? 

Looking toward the anticipated implementation of China’s social credit score system in coming years, it may be only a matter of time before one’s score on Xuexi Qiangguo or similar apps will directly correlate with his or her social standing. If utilized effectively, the app could be used to bend the thoughts of the next generation toward the Communist Party line. 

Bannon leads Committee on Present Danger’s efforts to reshape the US-China relationship

By Jesse Adler

CPDC homepage graphic
(Photo credit:

NANJING, China — In 1950, the same year that SAIS became part of  Johns Hopkins, SAIS co-founder Paul Nitze became the chairman of a study group which set out to review U.S. national security policy. Soon after, Nitze became the principal author of a top-secret foreign policy paper later described by American historian Ernest May as “the blueprint for the militarization of the Cold War from 1950 to the collapse of the Soviet Union.” The United States Objectives and Programs for National Security, better known as NSC-68, received criticism from many in Washington at the time of its issuance, including from U.S. President Harry Truman. In response to this criticism, the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) was formed to advocate for the policies proposed in NSC-68. 

Over the past seven decades, the CPD has appeared and reappeared, its influence waxing and waning through different political eras as perceived threats to the United States evolve. A second iteration of the group met in the 1970s to lobby the Carter administration against détente with the Soviet Union and the SALT II agreement on arms control. After the 1980 presidential election, dozens of CPD members became top officials in the Reagan administration. Another CPD was launched in 2004 “to stiffen American resolve to confront the challenge presented by terrorism and the ideologies that drive it.”  

Now, in 2019, a fourth CPD has formed. The Committee on the Present Danger: China, or the CPDC, exists to “educate and inform American citizens and policymakers about the existential threats presented from the People’s Republic of China under the misrule of the Chinese Communist Party.” The group states on its official website that “there is no hope of coexistence with China as long as the Communist Party governs the country.” The CPDC accuses the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of attempting to “steal the personal information of ordinary American citizens and to subvert their perceptions, opinions and behavior,” in addition to using “an array of asymmetric financial, economic, cyber, information, influence, espionage, political warfare and other techniques to weaken and ultimately defeat America.” 

Dr. David Arase, international politics professor at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, describes Steve Bannon as “the Godfather” of the CPDC. Bannon, co-founder of Breitbart News and former White House Chief Strategist for U.S. President Donald Trump, spent early 2019 criss-crossing the globe, warning American allies of the threat he argues the Chinese Communist Party poses to the United States and to all nations. His unrelenting efforts appear to have resonated with many in Washington, D.C.’s national security community: CPDC membership includes a former CIA director, congressmen and cabinet secretaries, as well as numerous think tank scholars, businessmen and journalists. 

It is difficult to estimate how much influence the CPDC may actually have over U.S. foreign policy decision-making. According to Dr. Arase, increased bipartisan Beltway support for a tougher U.S. stance toward China is a natural response to China’s behavior under the leadership of Xi Jinping; he added that “Xi is essentially rebranding China into a communist country, and he has been very clear that the CCP must rule according to Marxist-Leninist principles.” The CPDC may signify a developing consensus of more hardline views within the U.S. foreign policy establishment regarding China.

This sentiment has already manifested in policies of disengagement toward China, especially on trade and economic issues—a change that has not gone unnoticed by the U.S. business community. In an April 2019 statement, the American Chamber of Commerce in China, the only officially recognized chamber of commerce representing American businesses in mainland China, stated that “the mood has shifted,” adding that “the U.S. business community in China, so long an advocate of good bilateral relations, can no longer be relied upon to be a positive anchor. U.S. companies continue to face an uncertain operating environment in China amid decreasing optimism about their investment outlook.” 

Difficult though it may be to read the tea leaves to predict the future of the U.S.-China relationship, interested observers might be advised to keep an eye on Steve Bannon and the CPDC. Bannon has not called for total disengagement with China, instead focusing his efforts in urging all Americans to “back President Trump.” Should President Trump be re-elected, the CPDC—and the president’s closest advisors—may conclude that a majority of the American public is prepared to engage China in a renegotiation of the U.S.-China relationship with ramifications that may outlast the Trump administration.

The Committee on the Present Danger: China could not be reached for comment. 

A desire for change brings new faces to Tunisian politics

September 24, 2019

By Ryan Grace

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Seizing on Tunisians’ lack of faith in traditional political elites, two outsiders beat a field of 24 other candidates to advance to the final round of voting in Tunisia’s presidential elections. Law professor Kais Saied and businessman Nabil Karoui, who is currently in jail on charges of money laundering and tax evasion, led the field in the September 15 election and will run against one another in early October. Their success thus far represents a popular shift in Tunisia, where consensus between Islamists and secularist elites has driven politics since the 2011 Tunisian Revolution.  

In the past eight years, Tunisia has struggled to deliver on the promises of the revolution that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. According to World Bank data, unemployment in Tunisia hovers around 15% and has been estimated to be near 30% among young college graduates. A lack of jobs, coupled with high inflation and a weak currency, has hampered economic development. The repeated failure of the main political parties to address these problems has nurtured disdain for the establishment. This feeling is reflected in voter turnout, which dropped to 33% in last year’s municipal elections.

This election comes at the tail end of a tumultuous summer punctuated by the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi. His passing in late July caused the timing of the presidential elections to be shifted from November to September, placing them before parliamentary elections. This change may have allowed independent candidates such as Saied to attract more attention, as voters were less inclined to focus on party affiliation due to parliamentary results.

The field of 26 candidates included big names such as current Prime Minister Yousef Chahed of Tahya Tounes and Abdelfattah Mourou of Ennahda. According to Nizar Ben Salah, lead researcher at the Maghreb Economic Forum, “the large number of presidential candidates does not reflect diversity…22 out of 26 candidates share almost the same ideas, messages and initiatives.” Those who were able to differentiate their message found success. 

Nabil Karoui’s rise as a populist alternative has been spurred by his successful use of the private television station he owns, Nessma Tounes, to publicize his anti-poverty charity organization’s work to aid Tunisia’s poor and promote the political message of his political party, Heart of Tunis. His populist messaging and business background have led some to call him the “Tunisian Berlusconi,” a reference to Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian media tycoon and longtime politician. His arrest on money laundering and tax evasion charges (which he claims were purely politically motivated) caused Karoui to be in jail during the election. Despite this, he was still able to capture 15.5% of the vote, a large portion of which came from older Tunisians who saw him as someone who could deliver economic reform.

If Karoui is known for being popular and visible through television and media, Kais Saied might well be described as the opposite. Known for his rigid style of speaking and preference for Modern Standard Arabic rather than the Tunisian dialect, the man nicknamed “Robocop” by his supporters built a campaign centered around humility, youth appeal and conservatism. 

Running a small campaign consisting of door-to-door canvassing and a heavy social media presence, Saied’s appeal seems derived from the perception that he might be an incorruptible “clean slate” for Tunisia. He argues for a drastic shift in the political makeup of Tunisia that would introduce direct democracy and widespread political decentralization. This would lead to greater autonomy in local government, which he claims will empower youth. His willingness to take aim at the broader system in Tunisia appealed greatly to frustrated youth, a demographic where he captured 37% of voters between the age of 18-25, and 18.4% in the overall results.

Saied’s conservatism has prompted some concern from the activist community. He calls for the return of the death penalty, the maintenance of an inheritance law that allots women a fraction of the money that men receive, and the continued criminalization of homosexuality. Despite Saied’s success, many activists remain optimistic about the trajectory of social justice issues in Tunisia. Describing this year’s elections, one activist said, “during the debates, topics that were once taboo were talked about on live TV,” reflecting how mainstream political discourse has expanded to include LGBT and women’s rights. 

To win the presidency, the presidential hopefuls will need more than 50% of the vote in the final round. Since leading the first round, Saied has received the backing of at least five other parties, including the Islamist Ennahda party. His appeal to youth is likely to attract more voters in the upcoming round. In contrast, support for Karoui’s candidacy has not grown significantly, and his base of mostly older Tunisians is not expected to increase much. Saied’s support, coupled with the fact that Karoui is currently in jail, has left Saied as the favorite to win the presidency.

Whether Saied or Karoui ultimately proves victorious in the final round of the election, they may both face additional challenges as political outsiders navigating a political environment that still requires successful presidents to build coalitions with political elites. 

Speaking to the Observer, SAIS alumnus and Tunisia-based journalist for El País Ricard Gonzalez (SAIS ’07) explained that, if he wins, “Saied will be a weak President. He was only able to win about 18% of the vote in the first round, and in the last election [former President] Essebsi won 37%. Also, he does not have a political party and will need to make compromises with political elites.”

The unanticipated rise of outsider candidates like Saied and Karoui bodes for an interesting October as Tunisia holds parliamentary elections. It remains to be seen if the anti-establishment wave will carry over to the legislative elections set for October 6.

North Korean Special Economic Zones: an untapped opportunity in nuclear negotiation

By Ashley Curtis

WASHINGTON — When U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un over Easter weekend of 2018, he offered North Korea “prosperity on par with our South Korean friends” in return for denuclearization. A survey of the country’s late 20th century history suggests that the Kim regime does not view integration into the global economy as a path to prosperity, but rather as a dangerous abdication of sovereignty. U.S. negotiators should therefore offer Kim an economic deal that allows him to cultivate foreign commercial ties while maintaining control over a “hub and spokes” configuration of trade relationships. One way to achieve this is to allow U.S. corporations to invest in North Korea’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in exchange for mutually-defined denuclearization.

In 1946, Kim Il Sung nationalized key industries and began to design North Korea’s economy to achieve internal interdependence and external independence. This objective clashed with the USSR’s 1949 “New Course” strategy, which sought to establish collective interdependence with its Communist allies through the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. Kim was allergic to the idea of dependency, even with friendly countries like the USSR and China, and feared a new version of colonial subservience to more mature Communist countries. He refrained from joining the collective socialist organization, opting instead to mobilize indigenous resources through a number of national economic plans.

At this time, the North Korean economy was performing relatively well — it did not begin to decline until foreign aid petered out in 1956. And yet, even under auspicious economic conditions, Kim was unwilling to risk dependence; he felt that joining a multilateral conglomeration of pooled interdependence would jeopardize his country’s economy. This historical insight sheds light on the Kim regime’s view of global interdependence today — if the regime was unwilling to run the risk of depending on allies when the North Korean economy was performing well, why would it risk dependence on “hostile regimes” today? From Kim’s perspective, such a move would threaten its already abysmal economy rather than strengthen it (Person 2019).

Another historical event that offers insight into the DPRK’s hyper-defensive stance towards its independence is the 1956 Sino-Soviet joint party intervention. In a clear abrogation of North Korea’s domestic sovereignty, China and the USSR compelled the regime to make economic reforms that derailed Kim’s Five Year Plan. This event drove Kim to aggressively minimize foreign influence over the country’s political, economic and cultural developments. To achieve this objective, he operationalized “Juche,” an ideology of national pride and identity into daily life. The nationalist ideologies that were adopted during this era continue to guide policies and daily life in the DPRK today.

With these observations in mind, the State Department should tailor its nuclear negotiation strategy to fit North Korean desires for selective, bilateral trade arrangements. An offer to permit foreign direct investment (FDI) by U.S. firms in North Korean SEZs is one win-set that would greatly entice the regime. Kim Jong Un has made economic growth through SEZs a policy priority, establishing dozens of new zones since 2013. However, the country has failed to attract the desired foreign investors and economic activity has languished as a result. Bringing American FDI to these areas would allow Kim to achieve a major national priority, and therefore represents a powerful incentive to induce denuclearization. U.S. negotiators should propose talks between the U.S. Trade Representative and the DPRK Ministry of External Economic Relations as a starting point.

While it is true that many firms are unwilling to invest in areas with high political risk, North Korea’s abundance of relatively well-educated, inexpensive manpower may be enough to attract companies in labor-intensive industries. Regardless of the level of investment that actually takes place, the benefits of officially establishing trade relations with the U.S. would have a positive ripple effect for North Korea, since trade relations with the U.S. are critical for re-establishing trade with Japan and South Korea. This downstream benefit would make the offer even more enticing to Kim.

In the present status quo, China remains firmly in the lead as the DPRK’s single-largest trading partner, trumping modest Russian and Mongolian FDI in SEZs. In line with Kim Il Sung’s philosophy, the current regime views this dependence on China as a national security threat; the government’s recognition of this vulnerability is reflected in the Central Committee and Central Military Commission’s calls to “make the foreign trade multilateral and diverse.” By allowing American investment in SEZs, the U.S. would offer North Korea a solution to its China problem while allowing the regime to retain political and economic independence. This would serve as a highly effective carrot for inducing denuclearization.

Skeptics may say that the United States should not negotiate with the DPRK because it has flagrantly disregarded various nuclear agreements since the 1990s. Indeed, North Korea has reneged on two major agreements in which the U.S. offered aid in return for denuclearization. A key reason for these failures was the use of vague language in the agreements, which caused misunderstandings regarding the scope of the deals. With these concerns in mind, permitting American FDI must be contingent upon establishing a clear framework for denuclearization using mutually-defined and concise language. According to CSIS’s Nuclear Project director Rebecca Hersman, employing a cooperative threat reduction, a comprehensive approach or a step-by-step framework would allow the U.S. to ensure that that it is not “giving things away without getting something in return.”

The Kim regime’s historical aversion to pooled interdependence continues to animate economic and political policies today through the cornerstone concept of “Juche” upon which national identity is built. Only by offering rewards that allow Kim to maintain a sense of control over the economy can the U.S. make an offer attractive enough to induce denuclearization. Historical evidence suggests that although the regime would like to cash in on Pompeo’s offer to raise the country’s level of prosperity to that of the Republic of Korea, it does not seek to get there by replicating the South Korea’s chosen path for economic growth.

Decades of devotions and friction: the Catholic Church and sinicization

By Joe Wojciechowski

NANJING, China — A father stands in front of his congregation, breaking the ceremonial eucharist wafers symbolic of the body of Christ. An altar boy clad in white vestments swings a thurible, filling the air with a cloud of fragrant incense. Several congregants receive their eucharist host and quietly leave to beat the end-of-Mass rush. Moments like this can be seen in Easter Masses in Catholic churches worldwide, but there are some differences in this particular Nanjing church. Outside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (圣母无染原罪始胎堂) sits a placard from the Nanjing Municipal Religious Affairs Office labeling the church a five-star institution — “a model place of worship.” A bulletin board outside the church extolls the 12 “Core Socialist Values” and labels the church as an honorary recipient of the 2016 Third National Committee for the Advancement of Harmonious Temples and Churches award. The board also lists “patriotic education” as the first and foremost responsibility of the church community.

Though government controls on religious practice have long been the norm, scenes like the one above are becoming increasingly common. “National Sovereignty of Religion” has been the guiding principle of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since the 1950s. In 2009, a document issued by the National Religious Affairs Committee (国家宗教事务局) outlined this principle succinctly: Chinese religious organizations are “to adhere to the principle of independence and sovereignty, and to resolutely oppose the infiltration of religion by foreign entities.”

Since the rise of the Xi Jinping government, the CCP has greatly expanded efforts to exert control over domestic religious practice. The Xi administration has considered the sinicization of religion official policy since 2017.  However, even Jesuit missionaries during the Ming dynasty sinicized certain Catholic practices for proselytizing inside China. In the 1950s, the new Chinese communist government emphasized sinicization to address its worries about the influence of foreign bishops in China. After all, Chinese bishops represented a communist-averse foreign government — one that had threatened to excommunicate any Italian Communist Party member during the 1948 Italian election — and many foreign clergy in China supported the KMT during the Chinese Civil War. Chinese cadres suspected that the Catholic Church was used by foreign powers to undermine Chinese sovereignty. From 1952 to 1956, the Chinese government expelled over 8,000 foreign clergy, leaving over 90 percent of Chinese bishoprics empty. Traditionally, Chinese-born Catholic clergy had been priests or deacons, but now the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) has begun to appoint bishops to fill the vacancies.

This policy established a sinicized clergy in the Chinese Catholic Church — but led to a huge rift between Chinese Catholics and the Vatican. According to long-held Vatican law, only the Pope can appoint bishops, and investiture controversies have sparked wars in the past. This policy led to a conflict between Rome and Beijing, as popes began to appoint bishops in China’s underground churches without Beijing’s approval. In turn, Chinese officials imprisoned several appointed bishops and forced others to participate in bishop appointment ceremonies held by the CPCA. The Rome-Beijing relationship has only recently seen improvement, as September 2018 saw a deal struck between CCP and Vatican representatives regarding the shared appointment of Chinese bishops.

However, the tension t between the Catholic Church and Beijing is far from resolved. Under the Xi administration, the renewed sinicization campaign has seen the removal of over 1,500 church rooftop crosses in Fujian province alone. Even after signing this deal, Catholic temples, shrines, churches and places of pilgrimage that are not adequately sinicized face possible demolition. Strict government controls on other aspects of religious life are likely to continue exacerbating the tenuous nature of the Chinese government’s  relationship with both the Church and China’s Catholic population. These points of friction include policies limiting the number of children per couple, the heavy-handed suppression of underground church clergy, alleged forced sterilizations and abortions, and Chinese insistence that the Vatican abandon their nunciature in Taiwan.

The Catholic Church is not the only religion facing government-mandated sinicization — the Muslim Uyghur population in Xinjiang is perhaps the most pressing example, but Protestant Christians are also targets of this sinicization campaign. But the Catholic Church has a glaring difference: It is s a religious organization supervised by a foreign state with permanent observer status at the United Nations. As such, Chinese policy toward the Catholic Church holds both international and domestic implications. Meanwhile, Chinese policies toward Protestant and Muslim groups inside their borders are much less likely to have direct international implications, as they are unlikely to be part of a large centralized international entity.

The international responses to China’s policy toward the Catholic Church have been varied, but they invariably impact relations between China and other countries with Catholic populations. On June 17, 2018, thousands of Vietnamese protested the establishment of several Special Economic Zones (SEZs) along Vietnam’s coast. Among the earliest and fiercest opponents for the SEZs were Vietnamese Catholic clergy, who feared that closer relations with China would embolden the Vietnamese government to pursue harsher policies toward its own Catholic population. Strict Chinese policies toward Catholics might also influence China’s relations with countries in Sub-Saharan Africa — the region with the greatest growth in Catholic populations from 1965 to 2010. For instance, Zambia is a country whose Catholic population increased 108 percent from 1965 to 2010 that has a significant trade relationship with China, a politically-active bishops’ conference and a history of violence between Chinese copper mine bosses and their local Zambian miners. In such conditions, it is not outside the realm of possibility for a domestic Zambian Catholic response to growing Chinese influence to emerge.

How Chinese officials proceed regarding China’s religious policy will have profound effects on the Catholic Church worldwide. While many points of friction still exist between the Vatican and the government in Beijing, there is hope that the 2018 deal is the first step in the right direction. However, only time will tell if Chinese reconciliation with the Vatican will result in reconciliation with the Catholic world at large.

Joe Wojciechowski is a Hopkins-Nanjing Center M.A. student studying international relations.

Online nationalism in China and the “Little Pink” generation

By Jing Xuanlin

NANJING, China — China’s youth, often known to be fired up with patriotic zeal, are referred to in Chinese as the xiao fenhong, or “Little Pink.” The term can be traced back to the Jinjiang Literary City, an original love-story writing forum predominately frequented by female users that featured a pink background on its website. Over time, however, the term describing these young female writers has spread to include young Chinese nationalists of both genders.

Beginning with the surge in national pride leading up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the “Little Pink” became known for discussing contentious political issues. Some group members sharply criticized netizens who posted negative news about China or comments glorifying Western countries. More recently, the group has focused on debating hot-button issues like the South China Sea dispute, the Taiwan election and air pollution in China.

Following the announcement of the South China Sea arbitration, some young nationalists quickly directed their anger towards other countries involved, including the United States, the Philippines, Japan and South Korea, even boycotting products imported from those countries. One group of “Little Pink” nationalists held a protest at a KFC storefront in Hebei province, calling for Chinese consumers to stop supporting the American chain’s business.

Such activism has been labeled “parochial patriotism” within China, although international disputes are often misinterpreted by the “Little Pink” as incidences of foreign antagonism against China, leading to extreme aggression on the part of Chinese citizens. This type of irrational nationalist behavior has been most pervasive in Sino-Japan relations, which has affected economic, political and even interpersonal exchanges between China and Japan, especially after 2010 when the captain of  a Chinese fishing boat was arrested by the Japanese coast guard.

Sometimes, online nationalists’ viewpoints are more extreme than those of the central government. For example, although has Beijing opposed Japanese leaders’ visit to the Yasukuni Shrine or the United States’ increased weapons sales to Taiwan, the public has responded even more radically. They have vandalized Japanese stores, smashed and burned Japanese cars, and also called for a hard-line foreign policy in Japan. The state intervened, calling for the angry masses to “be calm and rational.”

Protesters holding a banner with the slogan “Boycott the US, Japan and Philippines –– love our Chinese nation.”
Photo credits: Sina Weibo

In recent cases, even celebrities have found themselves embroiled in these digital wars, including the 18-year-old Taipei-born actress and violoncellist Ouyang Nana. Due to speculation that one of Ouyang’s family members was involved in Taiwan’s independence movement, the star’s Instagram and Facebook accounts were flooded with demands for Ouyang to issue an apology. In response to the nationalist backlash from mainland China, Ouyang released a statement on the social media platform Sina Weibo, asserting that “It doesn’t matter if I’m from Hong Kong, Taiwan or Beijing… I am Chinese. I love my country.” This concession, however, angered Taiwanese netizens, who took to Facebook and accused her of selling out.

In mainland China, according to the People’s Daily Online Public Opinion Monitoring Center, a large number of the “Little Pink” have congregated around the official Weibo accounts of the Communist Youth League, forwarding and “liking” pro-China comments. Their influence is widespread; their non-violent ideas have been recognized by the official press, including People’s Daily and the Global Times.

Though “Little Pink” has been suspected to have been organized by state authorities, no evidence so far has proven that they are regulated in any way. Undeniably, applause from the government will attract more young internet users who believe they have a duty to defend China online. These young revolutionaries are called China’s 0 fen dang, or “0 cent army,” which evolved from the  “50 cent army” — the official name of internet commentators who were hired and paid by the government to produce and publish pro-CCP messages online, according to VOA news.

Furthermore, the “Little Pink” has adopted a less aggressive stance to distinguish themselves from older, angrier Chinese generation that has incited violence, especially against Japanese people. The “Little Pink” are more liberal and globally-oriented than the older generation, organizing or joining a series of mass campaigns on overseas social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which are all officially blocked within the mainland.

As millennials grow up, the “Little Pink” group has expanded to include both the post-1990 generation and millennials.The original “Little Pink” generation subscribes to a type of nationalism that differs from that of the traditional “angry youth” and younger millennials. The post-1990 generation has already reached working age, many with graduate or doctoral degrees and/or experience abroad. Their more mature and comprehensive understanding of foreign affairs allows them to have a more nuanced perspective towards problems regarding China’s development, but they continue to guard China against criticism from Western media.

Times are changing and millennials now dominate social media, effectively replacing the original “Little Pink” group which was headed by the post-90s generation. However, most of them are immature and easily stirred up by the media; many ultimately become radical jianpan xia, or “keyboard warriors.” The crucial question is, to what extent do these “keyboard warriors” stand behind what they advocate online? To the extreme, this online nationalism can be seen as ‘substituting’ Chinese patriotism in favor of blind promotion of China. Such nationalism has not contributed to liberalism; instead, it has undermined pragmatic policy proposals. In the words of one People’s Daily article, “Patriotism needs both passion and rationality. Neither blind resistance, reckless actions nor encroaching the bottom line of the law is the right way to guard our country.”

Jing Xuanlin is currently pursuing both an HNC certificate and a master’s degree focusing on international relations and world history from Nanjing University.

Tongqi in China

By Lai Chuxuan

NANJING, China — “Tongqi” is a relatively modern Chinese term used to refer to heterosexual women who unknowingly marry gay men. The tongqi is a marginalized group in China that symbolizes an unintended side effect of LGBTQI discrimination, particularly against homosexual men, in China. Professor Zhang Beichuan of Qingdao University, an expert of sexuality studies who investigates this phenomenon, estimates that 80 percent of gay men in China eventually choose to marry women and that the existing number of tongqi is as least 16 million. This is corroborated by the 2016 United Nations report “Being LGBTI in China,” which states, “Among the married minority respondents, nearly 84 percent are married with heterosexuals, 13.2 percent are in ‘marriages of convenience’ and 2.6 percent in same-sex marriages registered in foreign countries.”

A still from A Dog Barking at the Moon (再见,南坪晚钟), which won the Teddy Award in Berlin for LGBT-themed features. In this scene, a gay character marries with his straight wife.
Photo credits:

Tongqi are sometimes subjected to emotional abuse and sexless marriages. However, due to the  pressure of traditional family values and insufficient legal protection, very few tongqi choose to get divorced. The Anthropological Research Group at the Harbin Institute of Technology conducted a three-year follow-up survey of 173 tongqi active on QQ, a multi-user chatting app popular in China. This survey was China’s first systematic research report focusing on tongqi. According to the report, more than 90 percent of these tongqi experienced domestic violence such as emotional abuse, physical abuse and serious domestic violence. In response to questions about sexual activity in the marriage, 40.5 percent of tongqi answered “less than five times in half a year,” while 34.1 percent of tongqi answered “almost never” and “never.” In online discussions with those surveyed, researchers found out that 93.1% of tongqi thought that their marriage was a tragedy and that life was meaningless, but only 31.2 percent of them chose divorce. Experts report that children and economic concerns are the main reasons why many tongqi do not choose divorce.

There are social, cultural and legal factors behind the tongqi situation in China. Sociologist Li Yinhe believes that the phenomenon of gay men entering heterosexual marriages is mainly due societal pressure, imposed by traditional values to get married and produce a male heir to continue the family line. In the 2016 UN report, many interviewees admitted that they succumbed to family pressure and were forced to marry and raise children. The vast majority have established relationships with the opposite sex, including marriage with women, to fulfill traditional societal roles as the filial son, husband and father. Compared to gay men, lesbians suffer less social pressure but more family pressure, which may be why tongfu straight husbands of lesbian women are less prevalent.

Homosexuality is not accepted by mainstream Chinese society. More than half of LGBTQ individuals say they have been discriminated against or treated unfairly. In schools, work units or religious communities, only about five percent of sexual minorities choose to make their sexual orientation or gender identity public. Since gay men do not publicly disclose their sexual orientation, there is still social and familial pressure on them to marry. Chinese society is in a sharp social transition period, but homosexuality issues are still not given priority, explaining why gay marriage has not yet been legalized.. In contrast to Taiwan, the first region in Asia where gay marriage was legalized, no representative of the National People’s Congress in China has ever made a proposal to legalize gay marriage.

Though homosexuality was decriminalized in China in 1997 and removed from the list of mental disorders in 2001, many challenges remain for LGBTQ individuals — and, as a result, for tongqi — in society. According to a 2014 poll, only 21 percent of Chinese people support gay marriage, which was only five percentage points higher than five years ago. Just this March, the government banned the depiction of homosexuality on film and TV because it is considered “pornographic or vulgar.” There are no specific protections for LGBTQ people under the law, and LGBTQ couples are still not allowed to adopt children.

In recent years, however, China’s attitude towards homosexuality has improved, especially among the youth. According to the 2016 UN report, the younger the respondents are, the more likely they are to be open-minded and accepting of sexual and gender diversity. “The majority of people surveyed are generally open and accepting in their attitude towards sexual diversity. The overwhelming majority (70 percent) doesn’t support the pathological view of homosexuality and stereotype-based prejudices against LGBTQ people…nearly 85 percent support legalization of same-sex marriage. In addition, over 80 percent opine that the law should clearly state that the rights of sexual minorities be protected.”

How should the rights and interests of LGBTQ individuals, and by extension tongqi, be better protected? The first thing to do is to improve China’s current cultural and social environment for LGBTQ individuals by eliminating misconceptions and by strengthening legal protections. We can increase social and familial acceptance and recognition of homosexuality through government action and social organizations. According to the UN report, “As the primary advocate and guardian of the citizens’ legitimate rights, the government can strengthen the awareness of gender diversity and gender equality in both officials and grassroot administrative personnel through staff training and internal regulations.” In addition, strengthening sex education can help people have a better understanding of homosexuality and enable them to recognize their own sexual orientation.

A tongqi in the film A Dog Barking at the Moon (再见,南屏晚钟).
Photo credits:

With a friendlier social environment and improved sex education, more gay men would be willing come out, and more people would promote the legalization of gay marriage. Women would not feel the need to resort to “gay identification guidelines” online to avoid entering into relationships with gay men who want to lead them into marriage under false pretenses. Promoting the legalization of gay marriage will also lessen the prevalence of the tongqi issue. If legalization is not possible in the short term, the marriage law could potentially be amended to include “one of the parties in the marriage is gay” as a ground for revocation of the marriage, in order to maximize the protection of the rights and interests of the tongqi in these marriages.

In recent years, a social environment that is opposed to discrimination against LGBTQ people has been emerging in China. China should seize this opportunity to actively promote societal awareness of LGBTQ issues and strengthen the protection of the rights and interests of all sexual minorities. Only real changes in public sentiment can prevent and ameliorate the suffering of the tongqi.

Will China wash away the influence of the “Korean wave”?

By Li Jiyun

C:\Users\Jane\AppData\Local\Temp\WeChat Files\195817838247291631.jpg
A plastic surgery advertisement at a subway station in Nanjing, China.
Photo credits: Wang Zhen

NANJING, China — Although the popularity of Korean pop music and TV dramas seem to have waned in China, advertisements for Korean-style plastic surgery clinics continue to pop up in subway stations throughout Nanjing and other Chinese cities. This phenomenon raises the question of whether the tides of the “Korean wave” that once took the country by storm are rising or falling.

The term “Korean wave,” or “Hanliu” in Chinese, is well known to the Chinese public, which was exposed to the explosive popularity of South Korean culture following the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1992. Since then, the warming of Sino-Korean relations has further popularized various aspects of Korean pop culture, including K-dramas, K-pop, K-fashion, Korean variety shows and even Korean standards of beauty. This is due in part to the Chinese public’s ability to relate to Korea’s balanced blend of Western and Confucian cultures, as well as the willingness of both governments to capitalize on this cultural phenomenon to improve relations.

This cultural diffusion ushered in a honeymoon period for Sino-Korean relations in the 2000s, during which it was common to see K-dramas on China Central Television (CCTV) during prime-time slots. Numerous Korean stars swarmed onto Chinese TV programs and self-promotional commercials. At the same time, hordes of young Chinese people flocked to South Korea to get their fill of its culture, consuming Korean makeup, Korean-style clothing and even Korean plastic surgery procedures. According to the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, of the 17 million tourists who visited South Korea in 2016, about 7 million came from mainland China, marking a 37 percent increase from the previous year.

Chinese officials used to welcome the “Korean wave.” Former Premier Wen Jiabao noted in a 2007 joint interview with South Korean reporters that “the Chinese people, especially the youth, are particularly attracted to [the “Korean wave” phenomenon] and the Chinese government will continue to encourage cultural exchange activities between the two countries.”

However, this honeymoon period came to an abrupt halt in late 2016 when South Korea agreed to install a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system designed to shoot down short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles. This rapidly cooled relations between the two countries, and Korean actors and pop stars were blurred out or completely removed from Chinese TV programs almost overnight. Although there was no official explanation for these abrupt changes, it was no secret that these were Beijing’s retaliatory measures against South Korea. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang rejected such speculation at a press conference in November 2016, claiming that he had not heard of the so-called “Korean restrictions.”
Taiwanese actress Hsieh I-lin (left) beside a blurred-out Hwang Chi-yeul (right), a Korean singer featured on the Chinese variety show “Challenger’s Alliance” in 2016.
Photo credits: Sohu

Regardless of whether or not such “Korean restrictions” exist, the reality is that the Chinese government has shifted its attitude towards the “Korean wave” and is aiming to reduce the influence of Korean culture. The Chinese public has followed suit, supporting a boycott. In 2016, the hashtag slogan “no stars put before national interest” (“guojia liyi qian wu ouxiang”) started trending on Chinese social media.

Is the THAAD incident truly the origin of this newfound anti-Korean sentiment? While it has certainly played a role, it may have only been a trigger for the Chinese government to take action against Korea’s soft power influence. Behind the scenes, Chinese officials are concerned with what they perceive to be the gradual loss of Chinese cultural identity. Rather than rely on Korea, they have ambitions to establish China’s own pop culture.

Chinese people, especially those who take pride in China’s rich cultural history, share government officials’ concerns. When Chinese consumers start blindly purchasing Korean goods, they become the subjects of South Korean cultural promotion, whether consciously or not. This is a tragedy for many Chinese who are proud descendants of Confucian culture. The impact on the local cultural industry is one issue, but a more pressing concern is the thought control of China’s youth. Chinese adolescents’ attraction to Korean culture has made some Chinese question their sense of cultural identity. With hundreds of millions of Chinese youth obsessing over Korean celebrities, delicacies and fashion trends, how could their values and outlooks not be influenced?
Korean stars during production of the TV show “Produce 101” (left), and the cast of the Chinese version (right).
Photo credits: SEGYE, Sohu

Faced with such concerns, the Chinese government would have had to take action against South Korean cultural imports sooner or later, with or without the THADD incident. For Beijing, the question at hand is how to shift the obsession with Korean culture to favor its own. It has not been a big challenge so far, as emulating Korean TV shows and buying copyrights to create Chinese spinoffs has proven effective. China is now mimicking the Korean “celebrity-creating factory” to churn out its own pop stars, although they inevitably take on Korean characteristics from their makeup to their clothing. This strategy seems to be successful in restricting Korean cultural influence in China while satisfying the Chinese youth’s desire for entertainment. However, it is a shame that creativity and innovation have been sacrificed in an attempt to establish China’s own cultural industry. The strategies indeed have been successful in cooling down the Chinese youth’s fixation on Korean-style pop, but few Chinese would admit that China’s own pop culture has been deeply influenced by its small neighbouring country.

Li Jiyun is an HNC M.A.’20 student concentrating in comparative and international law.