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.


A bright future awaits SAIS at the Newseum

September 26, 2019

By Dennis Murphy

Photo Credit: Celine Bteish

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It has been about half a year since the news broke that Johns Hopkins SAIS had purchased the Newseum as a future location for the Washington, D.C. campus. The move has been the subject of much rumor and speculation since. On September 26, the SAIS Observer met with Dean Eliot Cohen to put to the record some useful facts about the move, and what it means for the student body here in Washington.

As it turns out, the idea to change the Washington campus is an old one, and is related to the broader issue of consolidating Johns Hopkins University’s programs in the Washington area. As such, the Carey Business School, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and several others will also find a home in the new location. 

While the Newseum location will cast a big tent, SAIS will comprise about 70% of the new location. Other schools will contribute faculty and students, but only SAIS will make a complete transition to consolidate its Washington presence.

One of the potential benefits to SAIS of the new location at 555 Pennsylvania Ave NW to will be its closer proximity to Capitol Hill. SAIS and its graduates enjoy a close relationship with the executive branch’s departments and agencies, which employ hundreds of former SAISers across the Treasury, State, and Defense departments, among numerous others. At the Newseum, SAIS will be within walking distance of Capitol Hill as well, facilitating greater opportunities for SAISers to pursue internships and foster connections that might just be their big break. The first floor of the Newseum will be open to the public, and it is to be hoped that this space will help to foster career-shaping interactions between these students and the powerful institutions that have made their home on Pennsylvania Avenue. Such is the power of location.

SAIS has enlisted architects to ensure the Newseum can fit all of SAIS—which currently takes up three buildings on Massachusetts Avenue—as well as Johns Hopkins’ other Washington programs. Floors, walls, ceilings–anything that can be rearranged, may be rearranged, as SAIS appears to look to its Bologna campus as a guiding example.

Dean Cohen invoked the Bologna campus as he stressed the importance of commensality. He wants people from all over our school to constantly be stumbling across each other, in the process finding a good place to sit with each other, eat with each other, and build community. He expressed a strong desire for there to be an excellent cafeteria and an excellent coffee shop at the new location, so that students could have a great place to share meals together and bond.

This was one of the great secrets to academic life, Cohen continued, that Oxford and Cambridge discovered. It seems clear that Cohen envisions the same type of close camaraderie fostered at Bologna to play a powerful role at the new campus.

Dean Cohen underscored that this spirit of camaraderie should not be limited to students’ sense of community with each other. Rather, he hopes that faculty, administration and students will constantly be bumping into—and getting to know—each other. It is hoped that the close quarters will foster greater integration across social lines. One of the great things about being at SAIS, Cohen remarked, was that MIPP students and BA/MA students could sit together in the same class and learn and grow from each other. One should expect even more of these types of interactions at the Newseum.

As the move takes place, there will be a home for new degrees, joint degrees, and other types of affiliations with SAIS in the new Washington, D.C. Hopkins Center. The DIA—a practitioner’s Doctorate in International Affairs—is one of those new degrees, as is the MIEF—the Masters in International Economics and Finance. Dean Cohen mentioned that a dual degree program with the Carey Business School is likely to take shape, and hinted toward future discussions about other dual degree programs. Currently, MA students account for about 80% of the SAIS student body, but this may change in the future.

Most importantly for current students who will graduate long before they will be able to enjoy the new state-of-the-art classrooms in the Newseum location, the future of SAIS will be one where greater alumni interaction with the school will be encouraged. Discussions are taking place on how best to allow SAIS graduates to share in the future of SAIS—but the dean stressed the importance of having many different kinds of Hopkins alumni come back and spend a day to a few weeks at the new location. Dean Cohen wants this new school to be a home to us, even after we have graduated.

At its heart, the main reason for the move is this: It will provide for greater interaction and collaboration across all of the schools, and among all the students, faculty, and alumni, that form Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C.

2023 is a long way off for us current students, who will be long gone by then. Should the new school fulfill its promise, we will have the good fortune to have a home at SAIS in Washington, D.C. as we move forward into the unknowns of life. 

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: https://www.refworld.org/docid/4c4820bf2.html  

De Bolle, Monica. (2019). Preserving the Amazon: A Shared Moral Imperative. Peterson Institute for International Economics. Retrieved from https://www.piie.com/commentary/testimonies/preserving-amazon-shared-moral-imperative

Marques, A. & Rocha, L. (2019). Bolsonaro diz que OAB só defende bandido e reserva indígena é um crime. Campo Grande News. Retrieved from https://www.campograndenews.com.br/politica/bolsonaro-diz-que-oab-so-defende-bandido-e-reserva-indigena-e-um-crime

Rodrigues, M. (2002). Indigenous Rights in Democratic Brazil. Human Rights Quarterly, 24(2), 487-512. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20069611

Taxation without representation in DC

September 23, 2019

By Gerhard Ottehenning

WASHINGTON, D.C. — D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser provided testimony before Congress on the merits of D.C. statehood last week, bringing the issue to the House of Representatives for the first time in over 25 years. Despite widespread opposition outside of the District, statehood holds the distinction of being one of the few issues that unites most D.C. residents. While the D.C. government remains mindful of political headwinds, its goal is to keep the issue at the forefront of voters’ minds in 2020, should the Democrats retake the U.S. Senate and presidency. In a crowded field of headline-grabbing policy proposals, that may prove no easy task. 

The popular D.C. slogan “taxation without representation,” emblazoned on the District’s license plates, encompasses D.C. residents’ primary complaint: Washingtonians currently elect all of the officials that run the city (e.g. the mayor, D.C. city council), but Congress ultimately has the final say on D.C.’s laws.

In 2016, D.C. residents participated in a symbolic referendum on statehood. The New York Times reported that 85.8% of voters approved the measure. A non-scientific poll of SAIS students found most students either in favor of statehood or undecided. Second year HNC Certificate-SAIS MA student Kevin Acker said, “I am indifferent, but that’s only because I don’t know enough about it. The key question for me would be, would statehood better equip the D.C. government to provide public services to its residents?”

D.C. statehood has the backing of most of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. However, the path to statehood faces two hurdles: In a recent Gallup poll, 64% of Americans opposed D.C. statehood, and the partisan lean of D.C. guarantees that Democrats would gain a congressional seat and two senators—ensuring fierce opposition from Republicans. 

Opposition to D.C. statehood should not be interpreted as a broader reluctance by the American public toward admitting new states into the Union. A July Gallup poll found that 66% of Americans were in favor of Puerto Rico becoming a state. Nor can the blame be laid solely on partisanship. The majority of conservatives, moderates and liberals surveyed were not in favor of D.C. statehood. 

In an interview with Politico, Gallup senior editor Jeff Jones drew a link between D.C. statehood and the public’s opinion of the federal government. “People aren’t very positive about the federal government, so it’s possible some of that rains down on D.C.’s population and local government.” It’s also possible that the public falls back on their opinion of the federal government due to a lack of information. Acker said, “if the people surveyed have only done as much research on this as I have or less, then they don’t know enough about it to make that judgement based on facts.”

Despite this opposition, Mayor Bowser took a strong stance during the congressional hearing on H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act. She said, “It should not matter what our politics are or what yours are—that is beside the point. The point is that to continue to deny statehood to the 702,000 residents of Washington, D.C. is a failure of the members of [Congress] to uphold their oath of office. I would, likewise, fail to do my duty by not forcefully advancing our statehood petition…This is America, and Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law, and that’s why we are demanding statehood.”

Six-figure salary? There’s a class for that.

September 24, 2019

By Nikole Ottolia

WASHINGTON⁠, D.C. — As SAIS students settle into the joys of economics problem sets and language proficiency training this fall semester, our contemporaries at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (HKS) are diving into, “Fundamentals of Negotiation Analysis.” Taught by Professor Brian Mandell, who has been teaching public policy, international conflict resolution and negotiation for 30 years, the course is known for having an intense pace and heavy workload. He begins the first class each year with a statement: “I am going to teach you how to negotiate your way to a six-figure salary.”  

The statement highlights the culture at HKS, where the importance of graduating students into high salaried positions remains a top priority. All HKS students are required to take the course during their first semester at school, where typical programs require two years of study.  “It’s one of the most difficult classes because it’s a huge time commitment. You meet twice a week, once for lecture and Tuesday evenings for case study role plays,” explains Pedro Armelin, a Master in Public Policy candidate, HKS ’20. “But it’s super rewarding in the end.” 

However, there is more to the course than salary negotiation. In addition to an introduction to negotiation analysis and bargaining, the course includes weekly exercises covering real life case studies with topics ranging from dealing with piracy of U.S. intellectual property to the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the JCPOA). “The case studies are the real beauty of the class because they are actually historical cases, and we [the class] are broken up into teams and have to decide what we would do in that situation,” Armelin went on to explain. “All of the HKS first years have to take the course—no matter if they were expert negotiators before coming to Harvard or not. At the end of the term, Professor Mandell meets with each student individually to discuss how each of us can move forward.”

This is not to say that SAIS is lacking negotiation courses; on the contrary, the Conflict Management Department offers several such classes including “International Bargaining and Negotiation,” taught by Professor Sinisa Vukovic, which has a comparable syllabus to its Harvard counterpart. What is striking about the Harvard model is that all HKS students are required to take the course. While HKS also uses a bid point system for class selection, all first-year students are enrolled in “Fundamentals of Negotiation Analysis” automatically; whereas at SAIS, non-priority students needed to bid a minimum of 500 points to squeeze into “International Bargaining and Negotiation” this semester.  

Should SAIS institute a school wide negotiation course that all students must take to graduate? Matt Eiss, a Latin American Studies concentrator graduating in 2020, agrees, “It’s a very useful skill to provide students—and to make it mandatory, that’s key.” Meanwhile, others cite the fact that many students come to SAIS in order to focus on economics and the specialization of their choice, while negotiation skills are something they have already acquired or feel they have no need to study. As for HKS’ Armelin, the skills he honed while taking “Fundamentals of Negotiation Analysis” assisted with negotiating the terms of his housing lease for this academic year. What’s next for him? That six-figure salary, no doubt. 

Are you learning “rational” economics?

By Leif Olson

It began with a simple question: Are people rational actors? More importantly, are people rational enough that we can predict and model their behavior?

Many SAISers will recognize this as the fundamental question that economics, and, to an extent, social science in general, is trying to answer. 

But, to what degree do economics courses at SAIS get at this fundamental question? After slogging through hours of calculus or game theory to answer ostensibly simple questions like which combination of goods satisfies a consumer’s preferences, many students may feel exasperated and discouraged. After all, I certainly don’t use calculus to decide what I’m buying at the grocery store, and I assume you don’t either.

Consider a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. When children play the game, normally the child who is older and has played the game before will win. This is an example of asymmetric information. Now, imagine that both players are SAIS students who have played the game several times in their respective lives. The game will, nearly every time, lead to a draw. Imagine that the game is an analogy for the simplified economic models SAISers learn in our economics classes, where a tie is the market-clearing equilibrium. Simplified systems lead to predictable outcomes.

By contrast, the real world market functions somewhat like a hyper-complex game of chess, where rational choices often are obscured amidst the complexity. Even in situations where the rational choice seems obvious, people often choose the economically irrational option for reasons that range from altruism to bias to emotional attachment. 

How, then, do intelligent people reconcile the economic models they learn in Micro, Macro, Trade and Monetary with the complex reality of global economics?

When asked about the assumption that people are rational actors, Dr. Mine Senses, an Associate Professor of International Economics at SAIS, responded in good humor: “I do believe people make irrational choices…I do interact with people in my daily life.” She went on to say, “But in the aggregate—especially when we think about macro questions or trade questions, how people respond to prices in aggregate, how they respond to income changes in aggregate—do I think the models describe reality in a reasonable way? I do.”

Rather than provide a perfect model of human interaction, Dr. Senses explained that economics is just one part of a more holistic understanding. “I can totally think of contexts where the rationality assumption is invalid,” she said. “But once you understand how the model works when individuals are selfishly making decisions, it’s not too hard to modify the model so that you have individuals who also think about the greater good as well as their own welfare.”

Indeed, the models we learn in the International Economics Concentration are simplified. But one must first develop a sophisticated understanding of a simplified model in order to then incorporate more variables and bring the model closer to reality. So what are these complex variables and how can SAIS students learn about them?

Say you enter a restaurant. Should it makes a difference whether calorie count is listed before or after the price on a menu? In an economic model based on perfect information, the order in which you receive the information should not matter at all. However, as Dr. Jason Fichtner, Associate Director of the Masters in International Economics and Finance (MIEF), teaches in his Behavioral Economics course, the order often significantly alters a person’s choice. Dr. Fichtner explains that it is not just the information or the choice that matters but also “the framing of that choice, the architecture of that choice [which] changes the behavior.” “This,” Dr. Fichtner continues, “technically, is not rational.” Yet behavioral economists have discovered that calorie counts only entered the “choice architecture” of a consumer when it was the first thing they read (i.e. when the calories were on the left). According to Fichtner, when calorie counts appeared on the right side (after the price), they rarely affected people’s decision-making. This subtle behavioral tic would be left unaccounted for in a basic rational decision-making model. 

When asked how to reconcile this with the four courses of the International Economics concentration, Dr. Fichtner said, “You have to understand the basics of how any sort of historical model of economics is taught before you can have discussions of the nuances and why the models don’t necessarily apply in the real world.” He continued, “In some places, behavior trumps standard economic models—but you won’t understand why, you won’t understand that nuance, until you have the foundational economics to begin with.”

The four International Economics courses are an introduction to how economics works in the real world, but they do not tell the whole story. However, if we want to understand how people act in the real world, we need a starting point to extrapolate from. “You can’t build the second floor before you build the first,” Fichtner said.

SAIS alumna Emily Hardman Rodgers, who currently works at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, agreed with Fichtner’s analysis, saying, “The basic economics courses at SAIS certainly gave me a better understanding of policy.” When asked what she would change about the economics requirement at SAIS, Rodgers stated, “I would definitely make sure students understand more policy and real-world implications surrounding economics… a lot of the courses center on figuring out equations and models that aren’t necessarily relevant in all lines of work.” She continued, “I’ve found that the fundamental assumptions [of economics] do hold in theory, but when one experiences these models in the real world, they’re normally much more complex.”

Perhaps changing the way our economics courses are taught is not the solution. As Dr. Fichtner stated, “It could be a question, not of changing the courses, but of offering more courses, and allowing students to take one of the electives as a core.” By taking a policy-oriented course which uses economic intuition, SAIS students may feel that their economics courses are more relevant. Courses like Fichtner’s Behavioral Economics will give students a perspective that may be more palatable to those left unconvinced by the assumption of human rationality.

Life after SAIS: Dialogues with young alumni at the International Monetary Fund

September 24, 2019

By Yilin Wang

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, the SAIS Observer sat down with four recent SAIS graduates who shared a common interest in macroeconomics despite their different backgrounds. They shared stories of how attending SAIS changed their lives—often in ways they had not expected—and which courses from SAIS’s extensive catalog have had the greatest impact on their careers.

For Miguel Mendes, a 2017 MA graduate who concentrated in Latin America Studies, his path to his current job in the African Department of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was all but linear. “My first job out of college was a financial auditor, and then I also worked as an economic adviser in the Portuguese cabinet for a while. My work at the government focused on private sector development and export promotion, and it was through this experience that I first got to engage in work related to the emerging markets. I kind of built on that experience later when I pursued a specialization in emerging market at SAIS; I also did an internship at the World Bank office in Brazil through my concentration, which was a valuable on-ground experience that allowed me to observe different worlds and see different realities.”

While at SAIS, Miguel took a broad variety of regional studies courses deepening his knowledge of Asia, Africa and Latin America, along with coursework in emerging markets. “I think courses where you could learn hard skills are important, but it’s also imperative that you understand the story behind the numbers. In that sense, the regional courses at SAIS are very helpful,” he said.

Fellow SAIS alumna Mengyi Li, who graduated from the MA program in 2018 and recently joined the Commodity Unit at the IMF, also found that her career aspirations changed over the course of her time at SAIS. “I initially wanted to work in the development field. In the past, I had some experience researching [the] poverty trap and working on microfinance projects. I enjoyed the work in international development and believed that people in the field had very respectable ideals, but I had my reservations. Over time, I thought that getting out of poverty required a lot more than just external aid; people in poverty need to have motivation on their side, and what we could do was limited.”

At SAIS, Mengyi took several classes that proved to be imperative for her later career development, one of them being “Energy Markets in the Middle East and Central Asia”—a class she took simply because, she said, the subject material sounded interesting. “I never thought that I would end up working on the commodity team here at IMF, but you know, things just happen like that. Another class I really liked was called ‘Financial Market Development,’ in which I wrote a paper about the financial sector of Saudi Arabia. I was just curious at the time when I chose the country, but it turned out that at my first job after graduation at the World Bank, I was assigned to research Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. My advice to current students is that, instead of only picking those ‘practical’ classes, it might be a good idea to explore a little bit and choose classes out of your personal interest—you will be surprised by how they will come to influence your career later.”

Of the four alumni interviewed, perhaps 2019 SAIS MIEF graduate Manchun Wang, who currently works in the African Department at the IMF, experienced the biggest change in her career trajectory while at SAIS. “SAIS gradually changed my views on how I should plan my career, and it was the first time that I had ever considered working in the public sector,” she said. “I didn’t know about other choices but private-sector jobs when I first arrived at SAIS. After talking to several SAIS alumni working at multilateral organizations, I learned about public sector jobs. Then, I started to realize, it’s very important to keep your options open. And this would probably be my only chance to work at a job like this—I could always go back to work at securities or corporates at a later time. Therefore, I made up my mind to pursue a position in the IMF.”

Manchun found the courses in the MIEF program extremely helpful in preparing for her job at the IMF—especially the four econometrics courses she took. Nonetheless, she stressed that for students seeking solid, quantitative theory training in preparation for a Ph.D. program, they might need to take more advanced economics courses than those offered at SAIS. When asked about her future plans after the IMF, she said, “I am now doing research as part of my job while learning more skills to help me in my research. I still did not make up my mind if I should pursue a Ph.D. degree, an MBA degree or even take other options. After all, people choose differently at different phases of their lives.”

In contrast to the other three alumni, Simon Paetzold, who graduated from the Tsinghua-SAIS dual degree program with a concentration in International Political Economy (IPE) in 2018, said he had a clearer sense of his career plans before attending SAIS. Simon, who joined the Finance Department at the IMF after graduation, said, “Prior to my undergraduate study, I lived in China doing a cultural diplomacy program and thus formed strong connections with this country. I was specifically interested in dual degree programs in international relations between a Chinese university and a university in the United States or Europe. Among all programs that met this criterion, the one at SAIS had the strongest quantitative and economic component, and that’s what I valued.”

Of the IPE program at SAIS, Simon said, “The IPE discipline is, in my understanding, and especially the way it was taught at SAIS, a very academic discipline. But there were also classes at SAIS that focused more on applying economic and political analyses, one of them being ‘Financial Market Analysis in the Public Sector.’ We looked at how political processes and financial markets interacted in the real world and it was truly fascinating. Nevertheless, I do find the academically-oriented classes in IPE as well as econometrics courses taught at SAIS very important, as they allow you to speak more intelligently about the literature and quantitative research methodologies.”

SAISer Book Review: “The Financial Markets of the Arab Gulf: Power, Politics and Money,” by Professor Jean-François Seznec and Samer Mosis

By Leif Olson

For many, the Arab Gulf is associated with generous rentier states, opulent monarchs with fantastical material wealth, and behemothic buildings like the Burj Khalifa. One might wonder how the region developed such a robust financial ecosystem. Jean-François Seznec, an adjunct lecturer in the Middle East Studies department at SAIS, and Samer Mosis, a SAIS Strategic Studies alumnus, seek to answer this question and peer into the future of Gulf finance in their 2018 book, “The Financial Markets of the Arab Gulf: Power, Politics and Money.” Seznec and Mosis delineate a detailed financial history of the Gulf economies and their structural dependence on culture. Seznec and Mosis argue that several interrelated factors changed the form and function of financial institutions in the Gulf and led to its current wealth. They  predict that, given economic pressures, Gulf states will slowly relinquish their stranglehold on markets, allowing them to develop practices and norms typical of Western markets. For students interested in the role of the Gulf economies globally, especially regarding investment in Asia, financial diversification, and cultural-economic “Westernization,” this book is an essential resource.

Seznec and Mosis trace the history of financial markets in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, taking note of Islamic banks that shaped interest creation in the region, money-changers who went from individual entrepreneurs to institutions, and the Bahrain Offshore Market, which, with the development of new financial technologies, became obsolete, excluding Bahrain from financial dominance. They then transition to individual analysis of each GCC state—the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. The UAE chapter revolves largely around Dubai, which the authors compare to Abu Dhabi. The authors explain that the UAE is an excellent business location, highlighting how well-managed Free Trade Zones (FTZs) like the Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority facilitate foreign investment.

Where the UAE’s financial markets are relatively free, Saudi Arabia seems intent on total control. The Saudi Arabia chapter explores the relationship between the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority , the Saudi Public Investment Fund, and the rest of the financial market. Since the 1970s, the Saudi Crown has regulated or controlled much of the economy—but Samer and Mosis predict that it will likely cede some control as the industrial sector grows and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “2030 Vision” unfolds. 

The chapter devoted to Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman paints a less optimistic picture. Bahrain has become economically reliant on Saudi Arabia and the UAE, despite its once hopeful position as a banking hub. Qatar suffers from some form of “Dutch Disease” with little indication of diversifying significantly from its major export, natural gas. Kuwait is a stereotypical rentier-state with an anemic private sector—which prevents it from attracting investment and precludes its candidacy as a major financial power. Finally, Oman, while benefiting from a miraculous transformation at the hands of Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, has economically stagnated. Unless Omanallows privatization at a greater rate, these conditions may generate political unrest. The remainder of the book is made up of four case studies which illustrate in detail the interaction between financial markets and power structures in the Gulf. 

Seznec and Mosis excel when combining stories of the past with projections into the future. In one example, the authors examine the Gulf’s new focus on Asia. Between 1990 and 2013, the percent of total GCC exports to Europe and North America shrank from 40% to 19%. In the same time frame, the share of GCC exports to India and China grew from 2-3% to 12%.  The authors use this data as a warning to Europe and North America. The authors describe the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, a time when Gulf states were treated as second-class economies, and xenophobia punctuated their interactions with the West. As the crisis deepened, the West changed its tone toward the GCC, pressuring them to bail out the global economy with their massive dollar-denominated liquidity. While the GCC eventually conceded, they have not forgotten how the West treated them. The authors contend that this could mean trouble for Europe and North America in the event of another major recession. 

GCC funding organizations, like Mohammad bin Salman’s Public Investment Fund, are leading investment in Asia. The PIF is tasked with carrying out Vision 2030 by investing in diverse, high-risk, high-return investments. In the 1970s, Saudi Arabia created the PIF, the Saudi Industrial Development Fund, the Agricultural Development Fund, and the Real Estate Fund, to prevent chronic “backwardness” in their economy. The authors chronicle the push from the Saudi monarchy to ensure economic diversification and modernization. They describe a similar process in the UAE. Abu Dhabi and Dubai have intertwined economic and cultural structures that drive diversification. Again, the authors demonstrate that financial and economic change are driven by more than just economic factors, citing the unique political structure as one factor in the shift from non-oil GDP of 37% in 1972 to 69% in 2015. The authors also explain that the UAE’s growing private sector is due, in large part, to the proliferation of FTZs in Dubai.

FTZs and diversification are indicators and drivers of modernization in GCC markets. This modernization comes with a degree of “Westernization.” Seznec and Mosis make a tentative, but astute, observation that as Saudi industry continues to develop, more people from diverse familial backgrounds will meet each other in the workforce. Perhaps, they surmise, this will lead to cross-cutting cleavages within the society which may reduce historico-cultural separation. More broadly, financial markets across the region are becoming more dependent on the private sector, which may mean similar cultural shifts in other states. 

Seznec and Mosis’s compelling storytelling and forward-looking conclusions make this book both an engaging read and an excellent resource for students interested in transitioning economies in the GCC. Students looking to learn more might consider Professor Seznec’s classes, which include Business in the Middle East, Energy in the Gulf, and Politics in the Gulf. Mosis, who now works as a Senior Analyst at Global Platts Analytics, serves as a student mentor through the SAIS Career Center and may represent another resource for interested students.

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.

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Xuexi Qiangguo’s registration and login screen 
Credits: http://www.jnnews.tv/p/683470.html

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,  https://www.scmp.com/tech/apps-social/article/2186037/chinas-most-popular-app-propaganda-tool-teaching-xi-jinping-thought

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: presentdangerchina.org)

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.

Victory for the left in Spain comes at a cost

Photo credits: @Bernat Armangue/AP

By Olivia Magnanini

BOLOGNA, Italy — In a decisive victory in last Sunday’s elections, current Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez succeeded in bringing the Socialist Party (PSOE) their first governing victory in 11 years, making Spain one of the only European nations to be led by a leftist party, albeit with a fragile ruling coalition.

The call for a snap election by Sánchez’s government in February underscored the frustration that many Spaniards felt with the government and its inability to govern effectively. However, the electorate’s decision to give Sánchez’s party another chance can be seen as both a victory and a warning for the progressive movement in Spain, as Vox, the far-right movement, lost decisively but still gained seats for the first time since 1982.

Spain’s fractured electoral field made this election particularly interesting. Although it was still primarily a contest between the two leading parties, the conservative Partido Popular (PP) and the socialist Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), the far-right Vox, far-left Podemos and the center-right Catalan party, Ciudadanos, also won seats.

The political division seen in this year’s elections is the result of many years of growing polarization and frustration among the Spanish electorate with their leaders. Both the right and the left capitalized on hot-button issues, such as women’s rights, immigration, gender violence and the autonomy of regional governments, helping to drive Spaniards to the polls with a turnout rate of 75.76 percent, the highest number since 2004.

Over the last few years, Spain has suffered increasing polarization stemming from the 2015 migration crisis, the 2017 Catalan separatist referendum and sustained levels of unemployment (which, according to Eurostat, sat at 13.9 percent in February, a dramatic shift from its peak of 26.3 percent in July 2013).

In addition, the high profile Gürtel case, the largest corruption case in Spain’s history, implicated many prominent PP leaders last year, driving their voters into the arms of Ciudadanos and Vox. Many former PP leaders, including leader Santiago Abascal, splintered off to form Vox, calling his former party the “derechito cobarde,” or the cowardly right.

This pressure pushed PP candidate Pablo Casado to take a more definitive stance on culture issues, such as abortion. His PP is more pro-market, pro-U.S. and tougher on regional nationalism than former PM Mariano Rajoy had been previously. But the lack of solidarity on the right contributed to a growing momentum for the Socialists.

This was an existential election for many Spaniards, who were faced with the threat of anti-democratic Vox party in a country that still struggles to reconcile a difficult past marked by a bloody civil war and a four decades-long fascist dictatorship. In fact, after winning, Sánchez declared that through this election, “the past has lost,” implying that no political party reminiscent of Franco’s rule would have a leading role in Spanish politics.

But despite his victory, Sánchez will lead a fragile coalition, bringing together Socialists, the far-left Podemos and moderates from the Basque and Catalan nationalist movements. Sánchez’s incoming government needs to focus on structural reform around pensions, education and labor markets and other issues that impact Spaniards on many levels. Sánchez’s decision to raise the minimum wage by 22 percent and give public sector workers a 2.5 percent pay rise upon entering office last year was already a strong step in this direction. If they continue to focus on these issues, they will garner more favor from a deeply polarized electorate and take away potential future momentum from the far-right populist threat.

Sánchez and the Socialists need to build a strong coalition, perhaps making some concessions in the process, to pass initiatives that will move Spain forward and provide an example for other similar European nations, such as Italy, Greece and France, who have seen their own challenge with far-right movements.

In a country that is still trying to rehabilitate from the deep impact of the 2008 financial crisis, the Socialists need to present a clear economic plan to continue focusing on improving the lives of Spaniards. But this election still represents a victory for a country that only transitioned to democracy some 50 years ago — perhaps the rejection of the far-right is a definitive statement that Spaniards want to make in an increasingly unstable European political landscape.

Olivia Magnanini is a SAIS MA ‘20 student from the U.S. concentrating in Latin American studies and minoring in international law.

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: https://movie.douban.com/photos/photo/2548282915/

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: https://movie.douban.com/photos/photo/2548282910/

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.

Zelenskiy’s presidency will be rife with challenges

Photo credits: Ze Komanda

By Olena Dobrunik

BOLOGNA, Italy — April 21 will be remembered as the day when Ukraine turned against the traditional political establishment by electing Volodymyr Zelenskiy as their president. The resounding defeat of Petro Poroshenko at the hands of Zelenskiy, who received over 70 percent of the vote, should be seen as a positive step forward for the democratic health of a country that is still riddled with corruption in all major domains of public policy.

The election of a new and politically-inexperienced candidate tells us a lot about the status of politics in Ukraine. It tells us that since the beginning of the Ukrainian political crisis and conflict with Russia in 2014, and Poroshenko’s corresponding election, little improvement has been made in key issues such as corruption, economic growth and the war in the Donbass.

Indeed, when it comes to corruption and transparency, Poroshenko’s narrative appears to be rather unclear. For a president who wanted to build an image based on fairness and transparency, and not that of a business magnate, it was surprising to see his name surface in the Panama Papers and to be accused of offshore business and tax evasion, particularly given the fact the Ukrainian constitution bans the president from business activities.

That said, all those who consider Zelenskiy’s political inexperience a major shortcoming should exercise caution when making their assumptions. Perhaps his inexperience will lead to better management of corruption and set the basis for the reform of both the internal and external policies of the country.

Yet, there should be no illusions about the magnitude of the change that the newly-elected president can have on Ukrainian politics. Being an outsider, Zelenskiy lacks the political capital necessary to make major changes although he does have something more valuable — a genuine commitment to fostering positive change in Ukraine.

Zelenskiy’s foreign policy is expected to take a more pro-Western approach, which cannot be taken for granted given the country’s history of Russia-backed presidents. On the internal front, he promises to reshape major policy areas such as public financing, pensions and utility costs, using Europe as a model. Moreover, his anti-establishment stance during the campaign suggests that one of his first political moves will be the abolition of prosecutorial immunity for deputies, judges and the president himself. However, the way with which many these reforms will be undertaken is rather innovative. Zelenskiy advocates a direct democratic-style referendum system for all major political decisions, suggesting that a country historically ruled by few, will finally be given the opportunity to express its will.

Concerning foreign policy and the resolution of the conflict in the Donbass, no precise plans were suggested in Zelenskiy’s platform, but one idea in all his talks has been that the surrender of Ukrainian territories cannot be a topic for negotiation. What we can expect is a proposal for an improved Minsk Protocol, capable of involving more Western countries, that will hopefully guarantee a successful peace.

One challenge for Zelenskiy will be that he has not received the warmest welcome from the country’s administrative apparatus that was generally supportive of Poroshenko. As an example, the night before the second round of the election, a Poroshenko supporter dragged Zelenskiy to court trying to prevent him from participating in the election, exemplifying the non-transparent and questionable methods used by the outgoing president that voters finally decided to oppose.

What is certain, is that the electoral success of Zelenskiy is a triumph for the majority of Ukrainians and for the young Ukrainian democracy. But, the newly-elected president will not only receive the presidential bulava (mace), but also a heavy responsibility. The responsibility of reforming the most corrupt country in Eastern Europe and the duty to protect the Ukrainian identity in a time when this identity is being shaped in different ways, languages and traditions, would prove challenging for any new head of state, especially one with no political experience.

Olena Dobrunik is a second-year MAIA student at the Bologna campus. She was born in Ukraine and moved to Italy at the age of seven. She earned her bachelor’s degree in international relations and diplomatic affairs from the University of Bologna.

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.

The Past Shapes the Future: The Weimar Constitution in context

Wie es eigentlich gewesen ist

Germany is celebrating three important events this year: The 100th anniversary of the Weimar Constitution, 70th anniversary of its Basic Law and 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To commemorate these occasions, the Center for Constitutional Studies and Democratic Development (CCSDD) in Bologna and The SAIS Observer are partnering for a series on the future of German constitutionalism. This article is the second of eight.

By David C. Unger

This year marks three German constitutional anniversaries: the centennial of the 1919 Weimar Constitution, 70th anniversary of the 1949 Basic Law of the (West) German Federal Republic and 30th anniversary of the 1989 breaching of the Berlin Wall, leading to the absorption of the former East German lander (states) into the Federal Republic the next year.   

Anniversaries are not events. They are reminders of past events, occasions for reflection, celebration, regret or indifference, depending on how the sequels of these past events are currently perceived. Judgments change as new events reshape the questions we ask of the past.

Otherwise, there would be no point writing new histories of the French Revolution, Germany’s 19th century unification or the Versailles Treaty. All of these, particularly the last, shaped the world in which the Weimar Constitution operated. The Versailles Treaty, concluded six weeks before the Weimar Constitution was adopted, left a toxic legacy of constricting German borders, leaving significant German minorities outside those borders, unrealistic reparations and, most crucially, the ideological trope of a Germany that had not been militarily defeated, but politically “stabbed in the back” by socialist politicians, on whom all the above-mentioned problems could be blamed.

Early judgments about the Weimar Constitution were shaped by the 14 turbulent years of the Weimar Republic, then reshaped by the following 12 years of Nazi rule. Today’s judgments must also consider the 70 years of the postwar Federal Republic and more than six decades of treaties that have shaped, and continue to reshape, the European Union. East Germany’s 45 years of constitutionally separate existence must also be taken into account.

This contextual approach does not ignore the dictum of the 19th century German historian Leopold Von Ranke that history is what actually was (wie es eigentlich gewesen); it recognizes that what actually was consisted of complex and multidimensional interacting phenomena, some of which can be better understood in the light of subsequent experience or as new generations confront similar problems.

A new era of income inequality and fiscal austerity lets us see the political stresses of the 1920s and early 1930s in a clearer light. The same goes for today’s heightened politicization of ethnic nationalism and ethnic difference. In fact, much about the interwar decades of the 1920s and 1930s seems eerily relevant to much of today’s politics, as a rereading of Karl Polanyi’s “The Great Transformation” makes clear.


The Weimar Constitution, drafted by Germans under the watchful eyes of the victorious powers of World War I, had many flaws, such as its now notorious Article 48, which gave German presidents the power to declare national emergencies and temporarily rule without parliament (the Reichstag). As with Donald Trump’s recent use of emergency powers to build a border wall, Weimar’s emergency powers could be cancelled by a vote of the Reichstag (Weimar required only a simple majority, not the two-thirds required to override a U.S. presidential veto).

As the Trump example shows, presidential emergency powers under the Weimar Constitution were not outside the parameters of representative democracy. Weimar’s elected presidents were less free to ignore Reichstag majorities than the pre-war hereditary Kaiser had been.

What made Article 48 so notorious to later eyes was that it paved the way for Hitler’s 1933 Enabling Act. The act, a constitutional amendment and therefore requiring a two-thirds majority, was passed by a Reichstag that the Nazis dominated and intimidated, but in which they held less than a simple majority. As William L. Shirer notes in “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” before the vote, Hitler reassured the Reichstag, “The government will make use of these powers only insofar as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures . . . The number of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to such a law is in itself a limited one.”

It was the Enabling Act (not Article 48) that allowed Hitler to rule indefinitely without the Reichstag while remaining technically within the bounds of the Weimar Constitution. So was the problem Article 48 or Hitler’s later use of it to legitimize one-man rule? Or, was the underlying problem the political, economic and social crisis of the early 1930s that made this extreme stretching of constitutional emergency powers seem acceptable to the German voters of 1933 and their elected representatives? While Donald Trump is no Adolf Hitler, similar questions could be asked about the use of presidential emergency powers in the U.S.

Another criticized feature of the Weimar Constitution was its provision for national referenda, like the 1934 plebiscite that combined the offices of president and chancellor to make Hitler absolute dictator. While no one would ever mistake David Cameron for Adolf Hitler, the parliamentary paralysis following the 2016 Brexit referendum reminds us that plebiscitary democracy can imperil parliamentary democracy anywhere, not just Weimar Germany.

Weimar Germany has also been faulted for its system of proportional representation, which weakened large parties, empowered small ones and made stable majorities difficult. Yet even in Britain, with no proportional representation, Theresa May has been hostage to the 10 votes wielded by the small, sectarian Democratic Unionist Party.  Once again, was the real problem the Weimar Constitution or the fractured political world it operated in?

Weimar Germany’s most corrosive problem was its violent rejection from birth by the nationalist and militarist right. Under assault by rightist putschists and communist revolutionaries during its first five years, the Weimar Republic seemed to stabilize after 1924, only to be battered again after 1930 by the social economic and political stresses of the Great Depression.

Technically, the Weimar Constitution remained in force until Germany’s unconditional surrender of 1945, used by the Nazis to apply a veneer of legality and legitimacy over a totalitarian dictatorship. And the vast majority of German bureaucrats kept on following orders, no matter who gave them, a phenomenon not unique to the Weimar Republic.

Amid the disasters of defeat and occupation, Germans came to believe in the 1940s that a more thoroughgoing change in constitutional and political culture was needed for Germany to be reborn.


Conventionally, the Weimar Constitution has been remembered for its flaws, the 1949 Basic Law for correcting those flaws and reunification for the triumph of that Basic Law which formed the basis for a new, democratic, united Germany. Perhaps a better way to understand these three turning points is to broaden the frame from constitutional history to the longer-running process of German unification.

In this broader view, we can analyze a halting, problematic process which begins with Napoleon’s destruction of the Holy Roman Empire and moves through the 19th century dynastic power struggles, Bismarck, Weimar Germany, the Third Reich and the cold war division of Germany to culminate after 1990, for the first time, in a democratic and federal German nation-state peacefully cooperating with, rather than worrying and threatening, its European neighbors.

The constitutional strand of this broader history is itself rich in paradox. Drafters of 1949 Basic Law were less sovereign actors than their 1919 Weimar forebears, yet produced a constitution that enjoyed a much more broadly-based (West) German consensus. Through the traumas of defeat and occupation, a vital new democracy was born. Couldn’t the same be said in slightly different ways, of France and Italy?

David C. Unger is a journalist and former foreign affairs editorial writer for The New York Times (1977-2013) and adjunct professor of American foreign policy at SAIS Europe.

让座礼仪 Generational tensions on display: public transport culture in China

By Shen Hao

Translation by Amy Bodner

A sign featured on buses and subways indicating who is entitled to priority seating
Photo credits: Baidu Baike

南京,中国——据新华社报道,截止2017年底,中国60岁及以上老年人将达到41亿人,占总人口17.3%。同时,到2050年老年人将占到我国总人口的三分之一。 随着老龄化日趋严重,老年人正在和年轻人共享甚至竞争有限的资源,年轻人和老年人因此产生各种代沟和误解,这一点体现在中国地铁和公交等公共交通的利益文化中。孝道为先的中国传统文化与提倡自由的新时代观念产生了碰撞,两者间的矛盾分歧亟待解决。

NANJING, China — According to Xinhua News Agency, by the end of 2017, China’s elderly population — those over the age of 60 — will reach over 4.1 billion people, accounting for 17.3 percent of the total Chinese population. By 2050, this elderly population is estimated to exceed one-third of the total population. As the average age increases, the elderly must share or compete with younger people for limited resources, which creates a generational gap that can breed misunderstanding between the young and the old. This tension is reflected in the public transport trends in China. China’s traditional culture, which values Confucian filial piety and deference to the elderly, has clashed with modern Chinese culture, which values personal freedoms.    


On April 1, 2018, Netease News reported that an elderly gentleman in Beijing took bus No. 807 and sat on a young woman’s lap, even though there were empty seats on the bus. The young woman objected and asked the man to move. Instead, the elderly man criticized the young woman for being “unreasonable” and stated that he had the right to sit where he liked. The controversy quickly caught the attention of netizens, some who criticized the elderly man but others who criticized China’s inadequate governance of its aging population. Incidents like this one have forced Chinese society to reflect on how to solve generational tensions between the young and old that arise when resources are limited — even bus seats.      

无独有偶,网易新闻于2018年5月20日爆出另一桩新闻,一名女孩在地铁上未给孕妇让座,遭到老人批评。当时一位年轻男子为女孩辩解,却引发了老人和年轻男子的对骂大战。事实上,很难判定到底是谁站在道德制高点上,争辩双方都声称自己同情并帮助弱者,问题症结在于当弱者同时出现时,到底该偏向哪一方。自古以来,让座行为体现了中国尊老爱幼的传统美德,当今社会,尊重个人权利,发挥个人自由也备受推崇,“让不让座”也是一种个人权利,我们必须在此之间区分一个界限,这条界限就是到底谁更需要这个座位, “让不让座”这个问题没有标准答案,具体问题具体分析,我们可以呼吁道德,但不能道德绑架,捍卫权利,也要厘清权利的边界。

In a similar incident, Netease News broke another story on May 20, 2018 in which a young girl was criticized by an elderly man for refusing to give up her seat to a pregnant woman on the subway. A young man came to the defense of the child, which triggered a tirade of abuse from the old man and incited a heated argument. It is difficult to determine who held the moral high ground in this situation, as both sides claimed to be helping and sympathizing with the “disadvantaged.” The crux of the problem seems to lie in the question of who should compromise when both parties have rights to priority seating. In Chinese culture, giving up a seat on public transport has become associated with the traditional virtue of “respecting the old and cherishing the young.” In today’s society, respecting individual rights is also highly valued and many argue that the right to not give up a seat is a personal freedom that must be protected. Chinese society is still struggling to reach a consensus, and each incident must be judged on a case-by-case basis. We can appeal to a sense of morality, but first we must clarify and uphold the boundaries between individual rights.

The younger generations in China tend to give up their seats to the elderly
Photo credits: Baidu Baike

艺术源于生活,电影中也对这一现象有所记录。2013年国内有一部影片“搜索”(Caught in the web)讲述了一个患癌女孩在公交车上未让座给老人,被乘客拍视频发到网上,引起了社会巨大谴责,最终女孩选择了自杀。这部影片反映了当今互联网时代之下,恶意宣传会让群众盲目卷入 “道德绑架”的情境之中,并且对当事人造成难以愈合的创伤。这一部以公交车事件作为主题的影片,如果年轻人和老年人同时处于弱势群体中,到底谁可以获得座位这个问题摆在了群众和媒体面前,也敦促我们做出客观且公道的选择。

As art imitates life, controversies surrounding seat-forfeiting culture have also been captured in Chinese film. The 2013 domestic film “Caught in the Web” chronicles the life of a cancer-stricken young woman who refuses to give up her seat to an elderly passenger on a bus. This interaction is recorded and posted online, which leads to vitriolic attacks against the young woman. Unable to bear the social backlash, she eventually decides to commit suicide. This film mirrors the modern internet era, where malicious or misrepresentative media can cause the public to blindly judge or persecute people, sometimes causing irreparable harm. If young and old people can both be classified as “disadvantaged,” and the question of who deserves the seat is put to the masses and media, the correct outcome is unclear. The film encourages us to make objective and fair choices.       


The disputes associated with seat etiquette can be attributed both to a lack of resources and the particularities of traditional Chinese culture. It is worth remembering that China’s emphasis on the practice of traditional values was originally intended to maintain a harmonious social environment. When overdone, however, these values clash with the ideals of modernity. It is critical that Chinese citizens analyze this contradiction dialectically. We should not emphasize personal freedoms at the expense of traditional morality. At the same time, we need to be alert to the potential for excessive reliance on traditional values which harm individual rights and promote an atmosphere of differential treatment.    


To solve this problem, we can look to Zhengzhou’s  model of “female-only” cars on the subway. Perhaps we could introduce a similar program that includes an “elderly-only” car, which would guarantee a seat for those elderly people who truly need it. As the young generation in China, we should inherit traditional virtues while moving away from enforcing the morally problematic elements of seat-forfeiting culture.  

Shen Hao is a first-year M.A. student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center focusing on international politics.

Hopkins-Nanjing Center students experience changing Chinese countryside


Politics of rural development field study participants pose with Professor Adam Webb, left, by a Yunling village landmark (along with a few local children).
Photo credits: Lu Yuyan (HNC Certificate ’19)

By Ryan Lucas

NANJING, China –– China’s economic rise over the past several decades is often symbolized by modern cities like Shanghai or Shenzhen, or the massive development of urban centers such as Chongqing. Foreign and domestic observers alike look to these cities and dozens of others as representative of the contemporary Chinese experience. However, an estimated 577 million people still live in China’s rural areas. No single story can sufficiently cover the human experiences of China’s development transformation, but gaining insight into the changes underway in the countryside is essential to understanding the greater trends occurring in Chinese society. Last semester, students at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) travelled to Yunling village in southern Anhui province, three hours driving distance from Nanjing, to conduct individual research and see first-hand the changes occurring in rural communities.

The students were members of a class popular with Chinese and American students alike. The course, Politics of Rural Development, was taught by the current American co-director of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, Adam Webb. The course combined a semester of theory and case studies looking at the sociological, anthropological and political factors of economic incorporation and development across the world. Ultimately, each student chose an element of rural life to focus on for their research project, ranging from topics as diverse as traditional burial practices to industrial development. According to Webb, “The field trip gives us an opportunity to dig more deeply into rural life in one place in China… [the students’] interviews and final papers add up to a multifaceted picture of the community’s circumstances and challenges.”

The trip was an immensely valuable experience for the Chinese students of the class. Although many of their parents grew up in the countryside, and some still had grandparents living in rural areas, all of the Chinese students have grown up in cities. Ashley Wei, a student whose parents migrated from the countryside, said she was “completely unaccustomed” to rural life. Another student, Li Xuan, said that to her it was a “whole different world.”

Students conduct interviews with Yunling locals working outside their homes.
Photo credits: Tiantian Shi (HNC Certificate ’19/SAIS M.A. ’20)

Beginning in the early 1980s, agricultural reforms enacted by the Chinese government fundamentally changed rural life. The reforms left the countryside with a large amount of surplus labor itching to find economic opportunities elsewhere. At the same time, the beginnings of China’s industrial boom, coupled with a relaxation of China’s rigid residential “hukou” registration system, drew these residents to the cities in search of work. This combination of push and pull factors resulted in a mass exodus from the countryside in pursuit of a better life. Over the course of the weekend, I could count on two hands the number of working-aged men I saw in the village. The village was seemingly hollowed out; the only time of year it would attain its full vibrancy would be the annual rite of passage home for Chinese New Year.

Most of our classmates’ research focused on the social effects of this migration, particularly on the so-called “left-behind” children and elderly. Alex Hardin, an HNC Certificate/SAIS M.A. student, surveyed how labor migration has affected perceptions of the village’s future among its inhabitants. To Hardin, “there was this sense that villages would continue to develop…but it wasn’t because the village is on its own, developing internally.” Instead, there was a feeling that rural China’s way of life is undergoing inevitable and irreversible change “not something that the village can control, but rather is dependent on these outside factors.” Of course, this outside development has allowed migrant workers to receive an income far greater than they could ever receive in the countryside. Indeed, many homes in the village were recently constructed after families acquired enough money through migrant labor. However, the future of rural communities without any form of sustainable local development is ultimately in question.

Central authorities have also recognized this trend and, in an attempt to provide greater self-sufficiency to rural communities, have aggressively pursued a rural revitalization strategy, coupled with a continued poverty alleviation campaign. Rural revitalization is one of the key components of the “New Vision of Development and Developing a Modernized Economy”, released by the Chinese Communist Party’s National Congress in 2017. Finding ways to develop the countryside and reduce urban migration is seen as essential for greater social stability and balanced development. The poverty alleviation campaign is an even more ambitious government initiative, based on the 2011 Ten-Year Poverty Reduction program set to expire in 2020. The ultimate goal of the program is to lift all residents of China above the poverty line, defined as an annual per-capita income of 2,300 RMB (US$342).

One Chinese HNC Certificate student focused her research on rural tourism, a highly touted element of the rural revitalization strategy. In Jing County, where Yunling is located, a variety of tourist sites highlighting the area’s connection to People’s Liberation Army units and Chinese Civil War battles have sprung up, including one directly next to the village. However, she found that although these sites have promised to employ local residents, very few people have received a job. Instead the primary source of personal income is subsidies from the government that amount to a total just above the poverty line. To her, it seemed that “the government only cares about the ambitious goal it has set for 2020 and the number of people in absolute poverty it can lift up.”

It is expected that in 2020 the Chinese government will declare victory over poverty in China, and officials in the near future will continue to promote self-sustainability in rural communities, but travelling to Yunling showed that the current reality and future trajectory of the Chinese countryside are less clear. For the time being, it seems certain that rural communities will continue to rely on migrant workers and outside development to indirectly sustain their livelihoods. Not fundamentally different from conversations occurring in the United States about economic transition, one is left to wonder if any government policy effort to counteract these social trends will ultimately be fruitful.

Ryan Lucas is a current B.A./M.A. student at the Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and SAIS. He is completing a certificate at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center before starting at SAIS DC in the fall of 2019.

Learning from China: Comparing special economic zones in Ethiopia and Vietnam

Tang Keyi (HNC M.A. ’19) presenting findings from her master’s thesis research project.
Photo credits: Amy Bodner (HNC M.A. ’20)

By Nova Fritz

NANJING, China — This week at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, M.A. candidate Keyi Tang presented findings from her thesis research project, “Learning From China: Comparing Special Economic Zones in Ethiopia and Vietnam,” in which she examines the development of such zones in Ethiopia and Vietnam under the influence of China and Taiwan respectively. Tang focuses on the policy learning process regarding the adoption of special economic zones (SEZs) in Ethiopia and Vietnam, examining how countries look to East Asian models in their pursuit of development.

The first couple of SEZs in Ethiopia were funded by mainland Chinese firms, while Taiwanese firms had a significant role to play in creating them in Vietnam. In both cases, firms’ entry into these developing countries was a result of national policies to encourage “South-South cooperation.” Mainland China spurred firms to go overseas with the promise of RMB 300 million for establishing cooperation abroad (though later, this payment did not materialize). Taiwan had a similar program; with the goal of diminishing dependence on imports from the mainland. Once these SEZs were established, they became entry points for more mainland and Taiwanese companies, creating cultural and linguistic bubbles. Since systematic training programs were rare in these early SEZs, knowledge transfers at the individual or production level was largely based on informal training.

Nonetheless, Ethiopia and Vietnam took policy and administrative lessons from these SEZ trailblazers. Both countries furthered the spread of SEZs (Vietnam now has more than 300),which now include the provision of important administrative functions, such as “one-stop service” (OSS), which consolidates the exorbitant amount of red tape involved for an international company to set up shop. However, Tang expresses doubt regarding the SEZ model by highlighting that both lack the administrative centralization or bargaining power to effectively implement SEZs akin to the China model. Tang believes one lesson Vietnam and Ethiopia have yet to learn is how to effectively adapt the SEZ policy to their respective local conditions.

Nova (Nathan) Fritz is an international master’s degree student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. Her concentration is energy, resources and environment, but also takes an interest in social issues in global contexts.

The Briefing: Commencement speaker Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein

Photo credits: The Washington Post.

By Cecilia Panella

WASHINGTON — Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein is a Jordanian diplomat of Turkish, Swedish and Iraqi descent, making him the first Asian, Muslim and Arab to serve in that role. His tenure at the United Nations has been on prominent display — his rhetoric has been unabashedly uncensored and his speeches fiery — and he has used his platform, as one of the world’s most public diplomats, to advocate for human rights and global responsibility. Hussein has also relished his role as a “global nightmare” to the intolerant, admitting that “no one takes this job to win a popularity contest.”

Despite his obvious reputation for intellectual and ethical rigor, Hussein was not expected to be a reformer when he was originally elected as High Commissioner in 2014. Since that appointment, the Jordanian prince has made short work of the more bureaucratically-inclined practices that he sees as plaguing the United Nations. While his supporters point to his willingness to focus on more periphery conflicts like Colombia and Uzbekistan, Hussein’s critics within United Nations’ circles argue that the prince critically misunderstood the role that diplomacy must play in “encouraging states to willingly support human rights.” They say that his speeches — notably one from September 2016 that condemned leaders like Viktor Orban and Donald Trump — harm the fragile infrastructure of cooperation on human rights issues that the United Nations has tried to cultivate in the post-world war environment. To that Prince Al-Hussein reiterates that this unpopularity is a price he is willing to pay. In that same speech, Prince al-Hussein demands that the world “draw a line and speak” out against the injustices committed by dictatorships, ignored by international community, and carefully and insidiously perpetuated by those who would seek to preserve their own power at the expense of human dignity.

Prior to his time as High Commissioner, Hussein was a key player in the establishment of the International Criminal Court, where he worked specifically on the statutes governing the identification and prosecution of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Hussein guided the court from its role as “only a plan on paper” to a fully-functioning judiciary body with 18 inaugural judges over a three-year time frame. His most prominent contribution to human rights during this time was his work on the “crime of aggression,” extrapolating on the core legal definition of the term and the court’s jurisdiction over the matter. This is no coincidence: The crime of aggression was identified by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg as the “supreme international crime,” something that Hussein has been keenly aware of since the beginning of his time at the United Nations. In fact, his hero is Ben Ferencz, the Chief Prosecutor for the United States Army at the Einsatzgruppen Trial and an investigator into Nazi war crimes following the World War II.

This is not to say that the legal work on human rights law has since been completed; rather, it has found itself a powerful advocate in Zeid al-Hussein. Moreover, his relentless pursuit of the codification of human rights protections has not dulled his sensitivity to the living and breathing nature of these issues and the laws that govern them. Hussein’s outrage at a child’s skull used as a decorative prop on a warlord’s car in Bosnia and his condemnation of the suffering of refugees in Myanmar suggests that there is still much work to be done regarding the legal and theoretical frameworks that govern how states and individuals work on human rights. Ben Ferencz’ colleague, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who served as prosecutor for the United States at the International Military Tribunal, is quoted as saying that human rights law “is not static but by continual adaptation follows the needs of a changing world.” While Zeid al-Hussein’s time as UN High Commissioner may be over as of September 1, 2018 with the appointment of current head of UNHCR Michelle Bachelet Jeria, it is clear that his work on human rights has not stagnated. He, like the laws he seeks to create and protect, has continually adapted to best serve those who most need defending.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein will be the SAIS commencement speaker for the May 2019 graduating class. More information on that event as well as information on commencement speech archives can be found here.

NATO at 70: In its prime or prime for retirement?

Photo credits: The White House

By Silje Olssøn

BOLOGNA — When the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded after the Second World War, its objective was to promote cooperation among its members and preserve their freedom against the threat posed by the Soviet Union. Last week, NATO celebrated its 70th anniversary, despite it being almost 30 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, and it seems appropriate to ask whether NATO still adds value to the preservation of security among its member states or if it is an outdated institution that needs to be disbanded.

The future purpose of NATO lies where it always has been, namely in Article 5. The cornerstone article of the Washington Treaty institutionalized collective defense and remains the best way to ensure that outside states don’t attempt to expand into NATO territory or other areas of interest. This is especially important in relation to Russia’s ongoing westward, and possibly Arctic, expansionism. In addition, as China continues to expand and overtake the United States in certain economic and political arenas, NATO may prove to be important in counter-balancing China’s rise.

But major power confrontation won’t be the only threats that alliance members will face. Future threats will range from increased authoritarian tendencies within NATO member countries to new arenas for territorial dominance caused by the receding Arctic. One of the many consequences of climate change, the melting Arctic will give Russia new opportunities for extracting immense resource wealth and a possible new shipping route that could also carry military advantages. The rise of populism and the increase of member states and partner countries that are led by authoritarian leaders will also prove problematic, as it directly contradicts one of the founding principles of the organization and removes the value that NATO adds to the international community in terms of security and bolstering of international institutions.

Moreover, to have an effective future, NATO will have to overcome the internal turmoil caused by the debate surrounding the two percent of GDP rule on defense spending. The United States has for a long time shouldered the burden of financing NATO and this isn’t ideal. The value of an organization such as NATO is the “all for one, one for all” element it brings to security politics, and this principle doesn’t hold if it lives and breathes on the American defense spending.

However, while this is an issue, President Trump’s rants about member states not paying their dues isn’t helpful to amending the situation. Furthermore, the two percent rule doesn’t take into account the growing GDPs of some member states, which leads to a shifting of the goal posts on a yearly basis; nor does it take into account the hypocrisy employed by the United States whereby it uses the two percent goal as a means to promote the sale of American military equipment.

With these issues and many others looming — do we still need NATO? Or should the European Union or the United Nations be relied on more for providing collective security? NATO’s strength, and ultimately its future, lies in Article 5. To this end, “diluting” the organization with new members and territories is a sure way to retire it. We saw this with the League of Nations, and we are seeing it again with the United Nations: Organizations can’t defend us if they have too broad a range of members and too many competing ideologies.

NATO has successfully managed to do what the League of Nations attempted to do but failed at — preventing conflicts that could cause another world war through collective security guarantees. This is something that will continue to be of immense importance for the security and stability of Europe and the North Atlantic area. By focusing on bolstering the existing members and ensuring that NATO remains true to its mandate, the organization can last for another 70 years.

Silje Olssøn is a second-year MAIA student at SAIS Europe. Her thesis is on the designation of terrorist organizations.

Have you been praised today?

By Zhou Jie

NANJING, China — One day in early March, a friend from Nanjing University invited me to join a WeChat group named “Nanda Kuakua Qun,” or the “Nanjing University Praise Group.” As a member of this group, I observed something quite novel. A group member said, “I have been lying in bed and watching a TV series for the last five hours. Praise, please!” Immediately, other group members started their compliments: “The TV series must be extremely appealing. Praise!” “You can keep steady and focused for five hours. Praise!”

Center: Chinese characters “qiu kua” or “seeking praise.”

Photo credit: CNWest news

Nanjing University is not the first to establish this kind of online praise group. Back in 2014, there existed a similar praise group on Douban, an online community where people remark and comment on films, books and music. The Douban praise group still exists today, but is fairly low-profile, since Douban is a relatively niche social media platform. However, beginning in March 2019, similar praise groups have become prevalent again, especially at top universities in China. Starting with Fudan University in Shanghai, many college-based praise groups have sprung up at Peking University, Tsinghua University, Zhejiang University, Nanjing University and so on.

People can join these online communities by scanning a praise group’s QR code or by invitation from a group member. Each college praise group usually contains hundreds of people who are not acquaintances in real life and do not use real names within the group. The general purpose of the praise group is to provide a platform for students to ask for praise and to praise others in friendly and creative ways. Though there is no restriction on the forms of praise, content such as critique, satire, advertisement, pornography and links to video games are forbidden in praise groups. A set format for praise-seekers and praise-givers has been established in these groups: Those seeking praise use one short sentence to describe what they did or feel and then add the two Chinese characters “qiu kua,” or “praise, please,” at the end. Those who respond send their compliments and also add the character “kua!” or “praise!” after.

“Kua kua qun” or “Praise group”
Photo credit: Southern Weekly newspaper

Why have these praise groups become popular among students from top universities in China? After interviewing several group members in the Nanjing University Praise Group, I learned of the benefits they reap from participation in this online community. First, they all mentioned that the praise group brings them simple happiness and effectively helps relieve stress and loneliness. You can ask for sincere attention and praise for whatever you have done, even if it is trivial or asinine.

“It is really a relief to engage in the praise process and have fun after a stressful day, even though I just watch [the chat],” one member said. The high demand for stress relief reveals the high pressure environment college students live in. There is a catchphrase in China called “yali shanda,” which sounds like “Alexander,” but means “pressure (“yali”) is as heavy as a mountain (“shan”).” The generations of young people born in the 1990s and 2000s face heavy pressure to pass college entrance examinations, succeed in competitive environments and secure high-paying jobs after they graduate. They are eager to rely on these praise groups to free themselves, even if only temporarily, from these pressures.

The other main motivation for people to seek praise in these virtual forums stems from the negative characteristics of traditional Chinese culture and education. Chinese people are historically reticent with praise and even advocate “frustration education” — that is, education that emphasizes criticism and discouragement. If students cannot find proper emotional support from their parents, teachers or peers in real life, they tend to be attracted to these online communities. Praise-seekers are not the only beneficiaries either: Praise-givers feel needed, and even those who always keep quiet in the group feel encouraged and happier due to the positive atmosphere of the group.

Business opportunities have emerged from this unique demand for praise. After the popularity of college-based praise groups, some customized services have popped up on Taobao to offer professional praise services. For example, one 30 RMB ($4.47) offer promises to send a flowery “praise bomb” with personalized messages to recipients every 10 minutes.

Some official media outlets such as The People’s Daily have praised (pun intended!) this cultural phenomenon, regarding it as positive energy. However, some parents have expressed their concerns. They question whether it is appropriate to praise behavior they consider negative or wrong. They label it a frivolous exploit that threatens to “amuse ourselves to death.” Some psychologists also caution that praise groups only provide temporary happiness while realistic connection and support are more powerful for those who really need psychological help or mental health support.

After the rapid rise and plateau of this online carnival, the Nanjing University Praise Group has already begun to fade. Lately, much less praise is exchanged and members have become less active. Perhaps people have already grown tired of instant support and temporary happiness. These finite and illusory online praises cannot thoroughly relieve young people’s infinite anxiety and pressures. I predict college praise groups are more likely to collapse, especially after those active praise-givers grow weary of praising others. After all, encouragement and mutual understanding between real friends are far more meaningful.

Zhou Jie is an HNC M.A.’20 student concentrating in energy, resources and environment (ERE).

The Briefing: Dr. Lance L.P. Gore on China’s governance model

Dr. Lance L.P. Gore presents at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center
Photo credits: John Urban

By Nova Fritz

NANJING, China — Last week at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, Dr. Lance L.P. Gore  presented research findings from his recent article, “China’s Governance Model: Legitimacy, Accountability, and Meritocracy,” in which he compares the Chinese government’s model to Western ideals of good governance. In his article, Dr. Gore explores the limits of China’s model of governance as well as gaps in the traditional model of good governance. Departing from what Dr. Gore refers to as the “holy trinity of development” — the World Bank’s 1994 call for capable public administration, democratic accountability and rule of law — Dr. Gore scrutinizes the Chinese governmental system and its achievements. For example, Gore points out that in the “voice and accountability index,” China ranks alongside so-called failed states such as Syria.

Yet China’s developmental outcomes seem positive, challenging the World Bank’s assertion that the “holy trinity” of good governance is a prerequisite to economic development. Moreover, while many democratic governments in possession of these important qualities are nonetheless suffering a crisis of faith among their people, the Chinese government seems to enjoy relatively high public approval.

Gore points out that while the Chinese government is not democratic in the electoral sense, it does have a sort of “connective tissue” which allows it to keep in touch with the populace. It oversees a series of grassroots party organizations that interact with every part of social life in China. “Jiguan” organizations are connected to local government, while “danwei” organizations are connected to business operations and social programs. In addition to these institutions, ideological indoctrination, which creates a “corporate identity” at higher levels of the party, as well as pressure from the political center, represent mechanisms of accountability. Moreover, unlike the typical Western model of governance, Gore argues that through college education requirements, cadre training programs and the ever-improving cadre responsibility system, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has successfully constructed a meritocracy.

Gore acknowledges some weaknesses of this system. For example, there is a tension between party leadership and the rule of law, and the above-mentioned mechanisms of popular accountability remain underdeveloped, meaning that corruption and losing touch with the masses remain an existential threat to party leadership. Additionally, Gore contends that party-building institutional reform conflates party and state bureaucracies, further weakening the function of the CCP as a bridge between the state and society.

Ultimately, Gore posits that the Chinese style of governance can help expand our ideas of what constitutes good governance, contrasting the Chinese government’s success against that of developing democratic countries. Gore notes that the Chinese style of governance is based on a unique context and believes its lessons are theoretical, rather than concretely transferable.

Nova Fritz is a second-year master’s degree student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center studying energy, resources and environment (ERE).

Chinese society in trans-ition 中国的跨性别文化

By Nova Fritz (福清雨)

NANJING, China — Transgenderism is a relatively recent concept to enter Chinese society’s consciousness. Since the Reform and Opening Up period of the 1980s, mainland China has increasingly been exposed to outside cultural influences, and through this avenue, critical concepts of gender and identity have entered the country. However, within the borders of the mainland, the government has resisted this outside influence. China has carried out periodic “anti-spiritual-pollution” campaigns, which have targeted homosexuality and other forms of queer expression. As China has risen as a secondary global hegemon, the government has taken steps to vigorously promote Chinese culture abroad, such as through cultural exchanges as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. To this effect, mainland Chinese film has increasingly sought to reach the international market, where its intolerant censorship standards take on a new significance.


The sinister Madam from A Chinese Ghost Story
Photo credits: Hong-Kong Movie Database/香港影库

Despite the frequent censorship of homosexuality in Chinese film, transgender themes are not altogether uncommon. In “Trans On Screen,” Helen Hok-Sze Leung breaks down transgender representation in Chinese films along three lines. Perhaps the most common is gender-variant characters as a symbol of cultural anxieties or fixations regarding gender. Buffalo Bill from “Silence of the Lambs” is an apt example of this trope, where gender-variant characters are typically underdeveloped and instead function as symbols of cultural anxiety and fascination over gender boundary crossing. Take, for instance, the twisted Madam in the 1987 film “A Chinese Ghost Story.” Her mix of gendered symbols — sporting masculine facial features and voice but feminine clothes and demeanor — is not only sensational, but also denotes her monstrosity. Transgender representation can also occur when characters exhibit transgenderism through relationality, such as with Sister 13 in “Portland City Blues,” who acts as a man among men. Finally, there are characters, such as Dieyi in the well-known “Farewell my Concubine,” whose body and ultimately identity are altered through intensive training and abuse. It goes without saying that these examples are based on some rather problematic assumptions. Even though Dieyi’s portrayal is rather sympathetic, his transgender identity is an outgrowth of his trauma, another note in his disturbed psychological medley alongside his drug abuse and self-destructive tendencies.

尽管中国电影经常对同性恋题材进行审查,但跨性别主题现在并不罕见。在《Trans On Screen》中,Helen Hok-Sze Leung使用三个人物模型剖析了中国电影中的跨性别者形象,其中最普遍的模型是用跨性别人物代表对性别的文化焦虑和刻板印象。《沉默的羔羊》中的水牛比尔可以作为典型,其人物形象往往被过分简化且极其消极,并作为跨越性别边界的象征。另外,以1987年《倩女幽魂》中扭曲的“夫人” 为例,她将性别符号混杂在一起,将男性化的面部及声音特征与女性化的服饰和举止相结合,这种性别象征不仅耸人听闻,也展示了其畸形。此外,除了人物本身外,跨性别也可以通过人物的关联性得到表达。例如《古惑仔情义篇之洪兴十三妹》中的 十三妹,她在男人中行为举止表现得像个男人,又如《霸王别姬》中的 程蝶衣 ,他最终的身体认知是通过强化训练和虐待而被改变的。不可否认的是,这些例子都是基于一些待定假设:虽然蝶衣在《霸王别姬》中的角色颇具同情心,但他的跨性别身份是心理创伤的结果,掺杂着药物滥用和自我毁灭倾向的干扰因素。

Gender-bending movies exist outside of this model, though the degree to which they are “transgender” is sometimes difficult to say. For example, in “Hua Mulan,” although Mulan passes as a male for the majority of the film, her gender identity is never called into question. She returns to acting as female by the end of the film, seemingly unmarked by the experience (watch former Hopkins-Nanjing Center co-director Chengzhou He discuss this film and Chinese gender politics). The comedy movie premieres that annually accompany Chinese New Year, such as “All’s Well, Ends Well Too” likewise commonly feature gender-bending gimmicks or female characters played by men for laughs. Broadly speaking, gender bending is at present a taboo in everyday Chinese society. When carried out in real life, it often results in social alienation, harassment and assault, and this is reflected in its representation in films as a sort of aberration — in the best cases, a comedic one (such as with “All’s Well, Ends Well Too”), and in the worst, a demonic one (such as in “A Chinese Ghost Story”).

此外,还有一些表达“性别错位”(gender bending)的电影,不过有时候很难说它们在多大程度上是“跨性别”的。譬如, 在《花木兰》中,虽然木兰可以短暂地表现出一些男性行为与特征,但其真实的性别认同是毋庸置疑的。电影最后,木兰回归女性身份,这证明她似乎并没有什么特别经历。 (看前中美中心联合主任何成洲讨论这部电影与中国的性别政治)。在中国春节档电影中,幽默可以说是其共同特征 ,比如《花田喜事》中通常伴有性别扭曲的噱头,或者男性通过扮演女性角色来娱乐观众。一般而言,性别错位在中国社会的日常生活中仍然是一个禁忌,在现实生活中还往往导致社会异化、骚扰和攻击,这反映了中国电影中另一反常现象,跨性别的人物表达,最好也不过是一个荒谬且幽默的形象(如《花田喜事》),而在最坏的情况下会被刻画成一个恶魔(如《倩女幽魂》中的夫人)。

A still from Escape
Photo credits: The New York Times

Shifts may be occurring however, as prominent celebrities like fashion model Han Bingbing (寒冰冰 ) or talk show host Jin Xing (金星) have been increasingly vocal about their transgender experience, stirring up interest in the topic in Chinese social media and tabloids. Similarly, “Escape,” a film by a group of Beijing high school students exploring youth transgendered identity,  has received positive coverage in Chinese state-run media. Though it is difficult to be certain, increased visibility, media attention and organization are perhaps beginning to improve things for transgender people in China. In popular film, the 2008 Valentine’s Day film “Mr. High Heels,” though frequently reductive and riddled with cheap laughs, nonetheless manages to make overall tolerant and normalizing statements on gender-bending, depicting it as socially acceptable.

然而,这一切可能正在发生转变,随着时尚模特寒冰冰或脱口秀主持人金星等知名人士越来越多地讨论自己的跨性别经历,一批中国社交媒体和通俗小报开始关注这一话题。同样,由北京高中生拍摄的探索青少年跨性别身份的电影《逃离》在中国官方媒体上也获得了正面报道。尽管如今局势难下定论,但随着该话题的知名度日益提高,媒体和相关组织的关注度日益增强, 中国跨性别者的情况可能会逐渐得到改善。在2008年广受欢迎的情人节电影 《高跟鞋先生》中,虽然一些有关跨性别的情节被过分简化,也充斥着廉价笑话(毕竟这是一个情人节浪漫喜剧),但这部电影总体上对性别错位做出了较为宽容和正常化的表述,将其描述为被社会所接受的内容。

Broadly speaking, I’m hopeful that Chinese society can follow a similar trajectory to that of the United States, in which increased tolerance of transgendered people has come on the heels of more widespread tolerance towards homosexuality. “The Rib” traces this tolerance trajectory, not just in its struggle for the acceptance narrative, but also in its peculiar censorship experience, including being approved by the Film Bureau on the condition that the church be allowed to censor it. Nevertheless, the general outlook toward transgender people in either country remains contested, a situation which spurs a broader cultural, as well as, for me, a deeply personal anxiety.


Nova Fritz is a second-year M.A. student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center studying energy, resources and environment (ERE).


Four Strat Bros in an afternoon lecture, to say nothing of an IDev-er

Photo Credit: Wil Stewart

Disclaimer: All names have been hidden to protect the guilty

Scene: Kenney-Herter Auditorium in the later afternoon hours

Guest lecturer (wrapping up an informative 30-minute presentation): …and with that final point about the consequence for our conception of [country name redacted] by the presence of this infinitesimally tiny subculture I’ve just written a book about, I will happily take your questions.

(Break for applause, whereupon several hands are raised)

Guest lecturer: Yes, you there. The one with the government ID badge hanging visibly from around your neck and which you seem to be subtly tapping for emphasis?

Strategic Studies student #1: Hello, I was wondering if I could make a point which echoes the status quo understanding of aforementioned region among “Washington Post” readers? I would like to add that I am presenting this idea as nuanced and bold, when, in reality, it is hackneyed.

Guest lecturer: That’s certainly a valid observation, as I’ve assured all previous questioners who have expressed that same opinion at each institution I’ve been to in the last two days. It is extremely hackneyed, but, as I am a decent individual, I will not go out of my way to make it obvious in what contempt I hold you and your ideas. Subtle clues, such as a slightly perceptible eye twitch, are the only honest response I can offer. Next question?

Strategic Studies student #2: Hi. My name is [redacted] and I’m [nationality redacted]…

Guest lecturer (smiling): It’s not relevant and I never asked you, but okay.

Strategic Studies student #2: …and I would like to make an extremely specific, but definitely underthought, analogy from something from my personal experience. Its bearing on what you’ve talked about is dubious at best, but do you think I’m smart and pretty for having a slightly different perspective?

Guest lecturer: I’m not familiar with the case, but it certainly sounds like a profitable road for further study, if that will make you feel vindicated enough to desist.

IDev student: Foucault?

Guest lecturer (nodding): Foucault. Next question?

Strategic Studies student #3: Do you think future American policymakers (as we will all surely be) will have to weigh the costs of what you’ve talked about when choosing to bomb your subject country?

Guest lecturer (drinking the branded SAIS water and wishing it was vodka): Without a doubt, if it will get your school to buy three more copies of my book. Frankly, my research grant only allowed me to do a quarter of the requisite sampling to determine statistically significant results, but I’ve been sure to include a lot of anecdotes that you will pilfer for the “country background” section of your next memo before you outline, in detail, how many Marine battalions you think will be necessary to invade it.

IDev student (reemerging): Colonialism?

Guest lecturer (giving a thumbs up): Colonialism. Alright, you in the back there?

Strategic Studies student #4: I’m going to start off by invoking devil’s advocacy as a prelude to a question that reveals my far-right political leanings…

Guest lecturer: Ah yes, what a frightful displeasure this is for me.

Strategic Studies student #4: …and by the end I’m going to suggest that yours is just a “s***hole” country that east coast elitist globalists are sending my hard-earned tax dollars to?

Guest lecturer: I’ve managed to make it this far without evoking Trump directly, so I’ll just make a discursive remark about “recent changes in the political climate.” Are you satisfied?

Strategic Studies student #4: Climate change is a myth.

Guest lecturer: Right, next question?

IDev student (noticeably perturbed by the last exchange): Marxism?

Guest Lecturer (obviously relieved): Marxism.

Strategic Studies student #4 (enraged): MARXISM!

Moderator: And let’s end it there. I want to thank our guest lecturer for their time today. They will be waiting here on stage afterwards for your overeager/pointless/vindictive follow-up remarks, like a lamb led to the slaughter.

Guest lecturer (sighing resignedly within, but making a show of blithe extroversion): If you buy a book, I couldn’t care less!

(Polite laughter and mass adjournment to the buffet)

End scene

Enter your name into NameCoach if you ever want to see your daughter alive again

Phot Credit: Nick Abrams

By Maria Gershuni

The emails started out innocuous enough:

“You have four days left to enter your name into NameCoach. You will not be allowed to enter the Grad Fair to pick up tickets and/or your cap and gown until your name is recorded.”

That’s fine, I reasoned. I had already gotten my cap and gown from my local cap and gown dealer behind The Front Page, and I didn’t need any graduation tickets, because my family had disowned me after a brief fling I had with a StratBro. Question my judgment all you want, Grandma, but he was 6 foot 4 — and how tall was grandpa again? Exactly. I ignored the email.

The next day, I received another, more concerning email.

“You have three days left to enter your name into NameCoach. You will not be allowed to walk at graduation until your name is recorded.”

I paused to think. Well I much prefer sitting, because sitting has chairs and walking does not. I ignored the email.

Then the next day,

“You have two days left to enter your name into NameCoach. You will not be allowed back into school until your name is recorded.”

Joke’s on you, SAIS, I wasn’t planning on going to class anyway, and all my finals are take-home.

Then, the one that made me panic.

“You have ONE day left to enter your name into NameCoach. You will not see your daughter alive again until your name is recorded.”

I couldn’t ignore that. I didn’t even know I had a daughter, and now her life was being dangled in front of me until I recorded my name onto a platform I had never heard of. What was my daughter’s name? How old was she? I should probably call that StratBro, he might know. At least she would be tall.

I decided I couldn’t ignore the emails any longer. I needed to do this — if not for me — for my child. I opened the platform and entered my name, my “name country of origin” (Um, what?) and my phone number. And then I got a robocall.

I had been getting a lot of these robocalls lately. From Mauritius, from Senegal, from Belarus. The best part was, they all had the same disconcerting female robot voice that was also employed by this NameCoach system, so I felt very comfortable handing over my personal information through the phone.

“Record your name,” the women ordered. I did my best to comply.

“You recorded MSIBHF GIHBOJBVDL,” the woman said. Well…that’s not my name, but close enough. I pressed the nine key and hung up.

Before I submitted my form, I took some time to read the terms and conditions, as I always do when the life of my daughter is at stake.

NameCoach, I discovered, had the right to retain the recording of my voice saying my name indefinitely, even if I asked them to delete it. When the sun finally implodes and envelops us all in a fiery inferno, I can rest easy knowing that the recording of my name will live on in NameCoach.

NameCoach also had the right to sell that information to third parties. What a great opportunity for me! I was sure they would Venmo me the profits they made after selling my information. I might even be able to quit my Herbalife influencer side gig if my information was in high demand.

All in all, I never got my daughter back. But right now, I am on the phone with the robot woman who, according to caller ID, is in Madagascar. She is asking for my social security number. Maybe she will help me find my daughter. It will be hard to miss her. She is tall.

Instant karma: Did Russians fall victim to the IRA’s anti-vax fake news?

Photo Credit: Aurelien Romain

By Maria Gershuni

WASHINGTON — When we were in school, our parents warned us against spreading rumors claiming they would come back to bite us. It seems their advice could also be true in the Twitterverse. A new study by George Washington University’s Dr. Broniatowski — in collaboration with our very own Johns Hopkins University — recently unveiled the role St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) has played in stoking both sides of the vaccine “debate” in the U.S. and in Europe. However, as measles rates alarmingly tripled in the Russian Federation in 2018, the question arises: Did Russians fall victim to the IRA’s anti-vax fake news? Correlation between the rise of the anti-vax movement in eastern Europe and Russia, the rates of unvaccinated children in Russia and the prevalence of fake accounts stoking passions around the vaccine debate prove that this is a question worth exploring.

According to Dr. Broniatowski, fake IRA accounts based out of St. Petersburg promoted conspiracy theories and fake news about the dangers of vaccination, stoking the fire sparked within the anti-vax community. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers anti-vax sentiment to be one of the greatest threats to global health worldwide. In a 2018 report, the WHO stated that “vaccine hesitancy — the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines — threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases.” The report also noted that measles has seen a 30 percent increase in cases around the world, including in Europe and Eurasia.

Most of the newly-reported cases of measles in Europe have come from countries that have previously been the targets of IRA disinformation campaigns, such as Georgia, Serbia and Ukraine. Katrine Habersaat, technical officer at the WHO, told Radio Free Europe that misinformation online is a factor in the resurgence of measles. This misinformation has had a devastating effect.  According to Radio Free Europe, Georgia had 96 measles cases in 2017, and 2,193 cases in 2018. In Serbia, the number of measles cases shot up from 702 in 2017 to 5,076 in 2018 making it the country with the second-highest measles outbreak in 2018. In Ukraine, the situation is even more dire. It experienced 53,218 new measles cases in 2018 (up from an already devastating 4,782 in 2017).

The Russian Federation makes a surprise appearance on the list of European countries that have experienced the worst measles outbreaks. Russia reported 2,256 cases of measles in 2018, a rise from 897 cases in 2017. This is surprising because, historically, Russia’s vaccination rate has been nearly 100 percent as a relic of the Soviet Union’s vaccine coverage system. Furthermore, according to Russian state news media source TASS, Russia undertook a mass immunization campaign, leading to low measles morbidity rates. Despite this, the Russian Ministry of Health stated that those who have not been immunized account for over 90 percent of the measles cases.

The IRA’s posts represent a tepid testing of the waters of the American anti-vax landscape, if not a full blown attack on public health. Could it be that U.S.- and European-targeted misinformation campaigns on vaccines are contributing to the vaccine hesitancy within Russia? There is plenty of Russian-language anti-vax content on the internet that is viewed by Russian-speaking communities in the West. A Washington State clinician Dr. Tetyana Odarich notes the worrying rise of anti-vax sentiment among her Russian and Ukrainian patients. She notes that their hesitancy is fueled by Russian-language fake news being circulated among social networks. Dr. Odarich specifically mentions a video her clients have showed her, which looks like a legitimate news website video about a boy in Ukraine who could no longer walk after being vaccinated.

The video was clearly fake yet it was extensively shared on a Russian social media site called “Odnoklassniki.” It currently has 5 million views. Though the intended targets for the video might have been Russians living in the U.S., such as the patients in Dr. Odarich’s clinic, the video is accessible to Russians within Russia as well. A cursory search of the Russian social media website Vkontakte reveals hundreds of various anti-vaccination communities, posting memes and misinformation about how vaccines cause disabilities in children. Many of these groups link the same flawed studies and fake statistics as the IRA disinformation campaign aimed at the U.S. and Europe.

The timing of the surge of disinformation regarding vaccines, some of it created by the IRA online, coincided with a spike in measles cases in Russia. It is very easy for Russians within the Russian Federation to view this disinformation, even if it wasn’t intended for them, and use it to make decisions about vaccinating their children. This could be why, after eight decades of mass immunization, some Russian children are left susceptible to deadly diseases.

The Past Shapes the Future: The German Constitution at 70

Germany is celebrating three important events this year: The 100th anniversary of the Weimar Constitution, 70th anniversary of its Basic Law and 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To commemorate these occasions, the Center for Constitutional Studies and Democratic Development (CCSDD) in Bologna and The SAIS Observer are partnering for a series on the future of German constitutionalism. This article is the first of eight.

By Stephen F. Szabo

The Federal Republic of Germany celebrates its 70th  birthday this year. Much has changed since 1949. Today, the FRG encompasses all of Germany and not just the West, as it did at its founding. No longer the eastern border of the West, the FRG is now at the center not only between east and west but between north and south. Furthermore, it is once again Europe’s largest power both in terms of population and economics, although not so large as to be a hegemon. What remains unchanged, however, is that it still lives under the constitution of 1949. What are the implications of this constitution for contemporary Germany?

The Grundgesetz was written by Germans who did not trust their country. The founders, with the assistance of American authorities and German emigrés, created a constitution which was not even called a constitution but a Basic Law (Grundgesetz), as it was meant to be temporary until the country was reunified and an all-German constitution could be written. It was written with both the Weimar and Hitler experiences seared into German memory. Both the failure of democracy in Weimar and the mass support for Adolf Hitler meant that the framers believed that the German public could not be trusted to be democrats and had to be restrained within a democratic context. Consequently, a number of “never agains” were built into the constitution which was not a constitution.  

The Basic Law contains a ban on anti-democratic parties and speech both to prevent a return of an extreme right nationalist party like the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), as well as to prevent the Communists from taking power. The Communist Party (KPD) was banned in 1956 by the Constitutional Court and only reemerged under a different name in 1968. Strict laws on hate speech including those pertaining to social media are a current manifestation of this concern. The numerous checks and balances built into the political system including a vigorous federal system of strong state governments, a Constitutional Court, the limits on a federal police force to prevent a new Secret State Police (Gestapo) and a liberal asylum clause all stem from this aim. The restrictions on militarism and the military was another goal, and the Grundgesetz limits the autonomy of the German military and its missions by requiring it to operate in a multinational coalition and expressly for territorial defense. The Bundestag must approve any deployments of German forces and the Chancellor is not even granted the power as commander-in-chief.

In addition to the bans on extreme parties and speech, the electoral law passed after the constitution includes a 5 percent clause which limits the number of parties in the federal parliament with the hope of avoiding the ineffective multiparty system of Weimar. The office of the President, which was held by Paul von Hindenburg in Weimar and led to Hitler being appointed Chancellor, was downgraded to a figurehead role. The Constructive vote of No Confidence (which requires a parliamentary majority not only to remove the Chancellor but also to elect his or her replacement) was designed to maximize executive continuity and prevent revolving door governments. The limited use of referenda, which had the misuse of referenda in Weimar in mind, limits direct democracy and has spared Germany from a Brexit type quagmire.  

In addition to the legacies of Weimar and the Third Reich, the reunification of the country in 1990 has been influenced by the Constitution. When Germany was able to get the agreement of the Allied Powers to reunify under the Treaty which followed the Two Plus Four negotiations, Germany had two ways to constitutionally unify. It chose the Article 23 accession route, which simply extended the constitution to the eastern states of Germany rather than the Article 146 route, which would have called for a new all-German constitution. By doing so, the Grundgesetz remained in force. This has had a number of consequences, most notably the lack of a feeling of agency in the former East Germany (GDR) and the failure to consolidate the Länder (states). This left 16 state governments in a country the size of Tennessee and Oregon combined. The Final Treaty also banned German production and possession of atomic, biological or chemical weapons and limited the size of the Bundeswehr.

A constitutional success story with limits

There is no doubt that the Grundgesetz has been a very stable and successful constitution. It has avoided the excessive personalization of power found in presidential systems and has promoted consensus-oriented, centrist coalition governments. Its federalism has both reflected and strengthened a polycentric society which has avoided the centralization of power and wealth in the capital, thus limiting the sort of populist backlash evident in more centralized countries like the U.K. and France. The requirement of the wealthier states to make transfer payments to the poorer ones, based on a concept of solidarity, has also limited the number of economic and political losers. To live in Munich, Leipzig or Hamburg, for example, is quite different than to be in Lyon or Manchester. The concept of an armed democracy, which proactively combats extremism, has allowed Germany to better defend itself against extremist speech and groups, as well as against the abuses of privacy by American social media companies.

All successes contain the seeds of demise and Germany is no exception. The consensus-oriented centrist politics of coalition governments has limited the role of opposition, and of the Bundestag. Grand coalition governments, as is also the case in Austria, have opened the door to the extremes which argue that there is an elite consensus which prevents real change. Despite the five percent clause, the voting system set up by the electoral law is essentially one proportional representation which has ensured a multiparty system. As a result, Germany now has a six-party system which includes a far-right extremist party as the largest opposition faction in the Bundestag. The fact that much of the former GDR, despite receiving close to $1.5 trillion in funding since unification, has been left behind, has opened the door for the rise of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and other extremist groups.

The anti-militarism of the past has not only produced a culture of strategic restraint but a Swiss style parochial mentality which avoids taking responsibility and providing larger public goods. Rather than restraint, there is a tendency for free riding in post-unification Germany. The need for parliamentary approval of all military action and the limits on the Chancellor in this field have hindered Germany’s role as an alliance partner and provider of security beyond its borders. The fear of a Gestapo and the decentralization of the security services have hindered Germany’s ability to counter terrorism and extremist groups at home.

These are, however, largely problems of political leadership rather than of a constitution, which in comparison to others in the West, still looks to be a model.

Dr. Stephen F. Szabo is currently a Senior Fellow at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies and Adjunct Lecturer in European Studies at Johns Hopkins SAIS.

Turkish democracy isn’t dead – municipal election takeaways

By Corey Ray

WASHINGTON — Turkish municipal elections, which concluded on March 31, issued a stunning rebuke to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and to President Erdoğan. It appears that the AKP has lost Istanbul, where Erdoğan served as mayor, and Ankara, Turkey’s capital city. Election results demonstrate that turnout continues to be above 80 percent in Turkey and that elections continue to be competitive and relevant. Although Erdoğan declared that the elections were a matter of “national survival,” the Turkish public was more incensed over pocketbook issues like high inflation and recession. Here are a few takeaways:

1) Turkish opposition (and Turkish politics) sees new life

While commentators frequently frame Turkish political developments through a zero-sum lens of how events affect Erdogan and the AKP, the lack of opposition unity and ineffectual opposition parties have hindered Turkey’s health as a democracy and allowed the AKP to portray itself as the only party with the capacity to govern. Indeed, Turkish voters opposed to the AKP range from hardline nationalists, traditional secularists to liberals and leftist Kurdish-majority blocs who all have little overlap with which to work together. The elections demonstrated a revived opposition, however. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) triumphed in taking major cities from the AKP such as Istanbul and Ankara and is a continuation of the party’s partial revival since the Justice March and the exciting presidential run by Muharrem Ince. Turkey’s largest opposition seems to be finding its “mojo” again. The CHP will now likely hold Turkey’s three largest cities (with the addition of the city of Izmir) and most important economic centers. As the largest opposition party, a revived CHP is critical for those hoping to unseat the AKP in coming years. The party will need to govern major cities effectively and inclusively. Most critically, however, they cannot succumb to corruption and scandal if they want to provide a real alternative to the AKP at the national level.

2) The MHP transition from kingmaker to electoral crutch

The ruling AKP has previously secured an alliance with the far-right National Movement Party (MHP) and continues to rely on them to maintain slim overall majorities. MHP voters have been critical to Erdoğan’s agenda in transforming Turkey into a presidential system and have partly driven the government’s increasingly nationalist policies. While commentary often focuses on the AKP’s monopolization of political control, the political reality is that the era of the AKP commanding ever-rising vote shares has given way to perpetual reliance on the MHP to shore up lagging AKP votes. Should this continue, the MHP’s far-right influence will continue to be felt across policy and the bureaucracy. Erdoğan, therefore, will be incentivized to shift course in the coming year to attract wayward former AKP voters that are not satisfied with simple appeals to religious and national identity in the face of economic tumult.

3) Kurdish swing voters

It seems ancient history that the AKP rose to power partly owing to religious and liberal Kurdish voters optimistic about a less ethnically-defined Turkish identity. That same AKP further led the “Kurdish Opening” that saw violence drop while Kurdish cultural expression flourished. One surprising result from the elections was the rising AKP vote share in southeastern Turkey in some Kurdish-majority provinces. The fact that many HDP officials were imprisoned does not sufficiently explain the AKP’s increased vote share in Kurdish regions. Promises of economic development and the religiosity of many Kurdish voters drive support for the AKP which had dwindled in 2014. The Kurdish Question is already contentious in Turkey and the presence of the YPG, a sister organization to the PKK in Syria, does not bode well for a renewed revival of peace talks with the PKK in Turkey. But Erdoğan could tap into a future pool of voters in the southeast should he deliver stability and economic development while toning down nationalist appeals after the election losses.

Likewise, it was the HDP’s decision to refrain from fielding candidates in major cities like Istanbul that allowed the CHP to consolidate opposition voters and make unprecedented gains. This is rare in Turkish opposition politics as splintering and infighting has typically prevented meaningful cooperation. Thus, the Kurdish electorate has emerged as a new critical bloc which could enable further opposition momentum if the CHP caters to HDP voters’ interests to maintain these gains. The CHP will need to balance the need to maintain HDP cooperation and the nationalist wings of its own party and alliance partners in the Iyi (Good) Party.


Evidently, Turkish elections and democracy are still relevant despite its trend towards centralization of political power. Moreover, both Turkey and the AKP should benefit in the long term from stronger, more competent opposition. However, Turkey does remain  a presidential republic. Therefore, the opposition will need to formulate a coalition to attract new voters in order to gain a national majority which they have been unable to muster so far despite impressive gains in major cities.

Corey Ray is an M.A. candidate concentrating in Middle East studies and international economics at Johns Hopkins SAIS focused on Turkey’s regional energy and security issues.

Provinces changing hands in 2019 local elections
Photo credits: Bianet

Gaokao reforms clash with reality 高考改革与现实冲击

By Jing Xuanlin

New gaokao reform sparks outcry from Chinese parents, they hold the slogan “equality of education” in Nanjing, Jiangsu province.

Photo credits: sixthtone

NANJING, China — A new plan for the college examination and admission system (also known as “gaokao”) was announced by the State Council in September 2014,  marking the most radical reform since the system’s revival after the Cultural Revolution. The plan aims to shake up the exam-oriented education system and reduce the overemphasis on grades and test scores in China’s college admissions process.


The initial pilot reform was launched in Shanghai and Zhejiang Province in September 2014. The pilot system allowed students to take the gaokao multiple times within their last two years of high school, replacing the previous system’s restriction that students may only test once over a three-day period during their final year of high school. A more comprehensive evaluation system was also established to incorporate additional merits into an applicant’s portfolio, such as awards and honors, evidence of good citizenship, morality and ethics, athletic performance, high school grades and teacher recommendation letters.


From the launch of these pilot programs to October 2018, 14 provinces successfully implemented the new reforms, while nine regions, including Sichuan, Inner Mongolia and Tibet, had to postpone development for one year due to a lack of educational resources. The difficulties in implementing these new reforms have truly reflected the severe longstanding educational gap between eastern urban areas and the less well-off central and western regions of the country.


The gaokao is modeled after the centuries-old imperial examination, or “keju” system. This civil service examination assessed the qualifications of ancient Chinese scholars to serve as officials. The gaokao represents a commitment to evaluating students based on their academic performance rather than their age, marital status or family background. In recent years, it has begun to gain international relevance, with up to a reported 1,000 institutions across 14 countries now accepting Chinese applicants’ gaokao scores as consideration for admission. With this international recognition, why would China want to pursue a new education reform?


This question can be approached from two angles: China’s consumption-oriented economic transformation and the country’s outflow of talent from middle- and upper-class families. On the one hand, the new program, meant to promote creativity among students and emulate America’s latest pedagogical practices, has been increasingly welcomed in China. On the other hand, an increasing number of children from China’s upper class prefer to study abroad to avert the immense pressure. It is estimated that more than 10 percent of students are enrolling in local non-gaokao programs, where they will be conferred with an international high school diploma to apply to universities abroad. In some cities, these programs are so popular that local governments have begun to set limits on their expansion. It is difficult to say if the new reforms are meant to benefit the majority of students rather than cater to wealthy families.


Two groups of children in particular, those from poor rural areas and those of migrant workers in large cities, are the most disadvantaged under the gaokao system. According to China’s household registration (or “hukou”) rules, many social benefits are tied to where a person’s hukou is registered. Regulations stipulate that only registered local residents are qualified to attend the locally-administered gaokao. However, few migrant workers hold urban hukou, let alone their children. At the end of high school, in order to take the gaokao, these children must return to where their hukou is registered, typically in poorer counties, where they have to adapt to new teaching materials and a new school environment and stay with relatives whom they perhaps have not seen in ages.


Unfortunately, these children go from being disadvantaged “migrant children” to disadvantaged “left-behind children.” Although a limited number of high schools have more flexible gaokao policies for students without a local hukou, their parents are required to go through tedious evaluations of their jobs, salaries and social insurance payments. Even now, there has been no coherent policy between the central and local governments and no unified standard among different local departments, so most children of migrant workers are excluded from the fairness of the gaokao.


Students use pieces of paper as makeshift dividers as they prepare for the gaokao,

Photo credits: Baidu

The reforms themselves have been met with constant complaints. Some parents and students claim the changes have kept them anxious throughout the past three years because they prolong the battle of preparation and testing. It has become clear that, although the examination system has changed, people’s recognition of the life-determining nature of the gaokao hasn’t adjusted accordingly. If people’s perceptions haven’t changed, how can we tell whether the reforms are successful or not?


In addition to the incessant anxiety of Chinese parents, the equality of the reforms has also been called into question. The original gaokao was praised by many as being a relatively corruption-free method of ensuring advancement for those who study hard. Corruption is a serious social and political problem, and parents are understandably worried that Chinese elites use their wealth and connections to ensure spots for their own children at top universities, similar to the college admissions scandal exposed in March in the United States. This begs the question: How can one compete with the “fu’erdai,” or “rich second generation,” without the gaokao?


According to Minister of Education Chen Baosheng, China will build a new comprehensive national college entrance examination system by 2020. For the remainder of 2019, China should ask itself how it can avoid corruption in the comprehensive evaluation system and how to improve enrollment among children of migrant workers and rural and poverty-stricken areas. Until more holistic practices can earn the public’s trust, the process of reforming this system will be slow, and the fundamental primacy of the gaokao in China’s education system will continue into the foreseeable future.


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

Battling the mind: How China fights mental illness

Photo credits: Alexander Rosas

Nanjing University

By Alexander Rosas

NANJING, China — My name is Alexander Rosas. I study international relations at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. Aside from studying politics, I am a vocal advocate for accessible and effective mental health care. This topic is something I have a personal investment in, as I have suffered from depression. This article is the first in a series of articles that will point out the severity of mental health issues, especially depression, in China and examine how they are being addressed.

According to the 2017 WHO China office fact sheet, depression has become one of the world’s biggest health issues. Over 322 million people worldwide suffer from this mental illness, 54 million of them residing in China. This mental health issue has grown so severe that it has forced the Chinese government to respond..

With a population of over 1.3 billion, it’s hard to imagine how China can reasonably respond to the mental health concerns of its citizens. According to the WHO, in 2014, China had roughly 23,000 psychiatrists in the country. That’s only 1.7 psychiatrists for every 100,000 people. There also still remain serious cultural barriers that make it difficult for those who need help to obtain it. These barriers include, as the WHO fact sheet suggests, stigmas attached to mental health issues, as well as the lack of trust in those providing care.

Over the past few weeks, I have engaged with my Chinese classmates and friends to understand how Chinese people feel about the current state of China’s mental health care. For sufferers in the 18 to 27 age group, one issue is that they prefer not to talk to their parents or friends about mental health issues they experience, due to worries that it will place an unnecessary burden on their loved ones. Another cultural factor relates to the idea of “mianzi” or “face.” Those who suffer from mental illnesses in China will often keep quiet for the fear of losing face — the fear that their reputation will suffer if everyone knows about a perceived weakness.

Concealment of mental health issues does not only happen with individuals; it can extend to the family and community as well. For a number of Chinese families, a member of the family admitting to any sort of mental illness can be seen as shameful or embarrassing. Some families will go to the extent of physically excluding the mentally ill from society. Furthermore, discussions with close friends reveal a phenomenon in which universities or communities will actively try to hide mental health issues or instances of suicides. A reported incident occurred at our host school, Nanjing University, where a student, distraught over his grades and stressed from familial and society pressures, committed suicide. He took his life in a public space in the morning, when there was a lot of foot traffic on campus. According to my classmate Fengyao*, the Nanjing University administration urged those who witnessed the incident to stay quiet. No story about it has ever been published, and the suicide remains largely unknown to the public — as Fengyao pointed out during our interview, “If I didn’t hear from my friend, I would have never known this incident happened.” He continued, “The campus wants parents to think the campus is safe, so this is their incentive to bury the story…this happens pretty much in every university in China.” Indeed, institutions sweep the problem of depression and mental health under the rug so often that no one knows the true severity of the issue.

The lack of privacy and the unreliability of services are two other sources of concern for Chinese patients seeking care. They complain that mental health providers are “too cold and do not show much professionalism for their work.” Part of this is because the jobs in the mental health profession pay low wages, reducing the incentive for  professionals to provide patients the best care possible. Moreover, as there is no equivalent of the United States’ HIPAA laws and thus a lack of health information privacy, there is no guarantee that a psychiatrist will protect your information. Thus, patients are concerned that psychiatrists will share their private confessions or other sensitive information. Such concerns have a justified historical basis: In the past the Chinese Communist Party persecuted those who displayed mentally ill behavior, so patients are concerned that if their information is leaked, there could be similar consequences. Nowadays, this information may be conveyed to crowds, albeit anonymously, in order to market mental health services, which some feel is a violation of patients’ privacy. As one friend stated, “When I was a freshman, one of the teachers was giving very personal details about patients they’ve had several years ago. My worry is what happens if I get treated, will I become one of their stories?”

The Chinese government has proposed a few initiatives, such as the 686 programme, to address the mental health issue in China. The measures within the 686 programme, as well as those in China’s 2012 mental health care law, include calls to increase the number of mental health professionals and raising awareness about and destigmatizing mental health issues in China. According to some studies, the Chinese government has been approaching this issue from all levels of government and has even produced propaganda to promote better understanding of mental health issues. On the privacy front, China has continued to strengthen and reform its data protection regime. In 2018, China has implemented a national standard of data protection, often referred to China’s equivalent to the EU’s “General Data Protection Regulation.” This ensures that, at least on a basic level, there is some form of protection of patients’ medical data. However, this is a relatively new regulation and has yet to gain the trust of those seeking care.

However, the burden of treating mental illness is still placed almost completely on one’s family and peripheral community. Although there have been laws that have tried to emphasize the importance of treating mental illnesses and the state’s role in the matter, these initiatives still have yet to catch on, as does the destigmatization of mental illness. The perception that doctors do not care about a patient’s mental health deters sufferers from seeking help, which leaves the issue unknown and untreated. No one knows until it’s too late.

In my opinion, although there has been an honest effort to improve the mental health situation, China is still lacking in three crucial areas: an effective and proportional response for China’s large population, a reduction of cultural stigma and a lack of effective health data privacy. China is improving in all these areas, but still has a long way to go. First, China needs to continue to emphasize the importance of mental health professionals in the community. This includes an emphasis on psychiatric studies as well as offering better wages for those entering and already established in the field. Second, there needs to be a whole-of-government response to ending the stigmatization of mental health illnesses. There need to be serious consequences for those who fail to report serious incidents involving mental illnesses. The government also needs to implement policies that promote positivity and acceptance for those who suffer from mental illness. Lastly, China needs to improve its mental health data protection regime. Previous laws that have been passed need to be strongly enforced to deter people from disseminating personal health data. These are just a few suggestions on this massive and complex problem in China. “I really wish we had better services. I feel everyone has problems.” Fengyao concluded, “Even a company has their own mental health counseling services. A university should not care about a student’s grades or alumni status, instead they should care about their health. Universities should focus on a student’s success and happiness.”

*Name has been changed to protect this student’s privacy.

Volunteering offers a glimpse at special education in Nanjing

Ben Miles draws with the children. Photo credits: Zhao Yixuan

By Benjamin Miles

NANJING, China —On an overcast spring day reminiscent of Nanjing’s winter weather, I emerged from the Jiangwang Miao metro station to find many curious and bewildered faces. Unlike the streets of downtown Nanjing, which are frequented by foreign students, the residents of this community weren’t used to seeing a “laowai” or “foreigner” wandering around their neighborhood. This particular excursion was to a small, privately-run school for autistic children, whose name I have omitted to protect the privacy of the students.

According to Human Rights Watch, the state of special education in China is dire. Though China allows students with disabilities to attend mainstream or special education schools, their futures are cut short by systemic hurdles. Mainstream schools do not provide the necessary accommodation and special education schools are non-standardized. These schools are tucked away in obscure places and their facilities are less than ideal. The autistic school in Nanjing, while equipped with better facilities, still faces challenges.

I had been invited to participate in this day of service by the Nanjing chapter of my alma mater’s alumni association, the University of Southern California Alumni Association. The event was organized by our chapter president, who has a personal connection to the school. We were given a tour of the wide range of facilities offered to its students in need and had a chance to interact with students by reciting the English alphabet and drawing pictures together. The school operates on a subsidy from the Chinese government and tuition is kept affordable for low-income families with children who have special needs.

During the tour, I learned that the school caters to students with a wide range of learning and mental disabilities, including autism. While classes for younger students usually comprise a mix of so-called “normal” and “special” kids, there is a higher concentration of “special” students in the upper grades. These terms were used specifically by the school; however, it was unclear if there was a wider differentiation between individual children’s disabilities. As the children progressed in their education, “normal” children tend to advance to regular primary schools, leaving the seriously handicapped children behind. When visiting a classroom of older children with severe disabilities, one of my fellow USC alumni was startled by one student who seemed to get uncomfortably close to her.

“You remind him of his mother,” our guide said. “She has a similar hairstyle to yours.” This particular child was non-verbal, yet the caregivers at the school seemed to be able to read the children’s minds. “He knows how to speak,” one caregiver said. “He just doesn’t want to.” These students were considered the “hopeless” ones by the staff at the school, as students as old as 24 still attended the school because of their disabilities. We continued our tour downstairs where we joined a group of younger children.

When we met with a class of younger children, they were finishing their lunches in the activity room. The children had just woken up from their naps and some seemed a little groggy. I sat down at a table to be greeted by several curious tykes. “Wow! You have blue eyes!” one curious student exclaimed.

“Was your bread good?” I asked one rambunctious boy, who shot back, “Nope!”

For the children’s activity time, my three companions and I proceeded to write the letters of the alphabet on a blackboard and teach the kids how to sing the ABCs. We took turns asking kids to name the letters we pointed to, but one particularly smart little one always knew all the answers. Some of the kids seemed distracted, but what particularly caught my interest was the diversity of the students.

There were three children in the class who looked somewhat different from the rest. The staff pointed out that they were from Xinjiang, a province in western China primarily populated by ethnic Uyghurs. These kids clearly stood out from the rest as they not only looked different, but would also occasionally speak their native language among themselves. Sometimes they even spoke Uyghur to me, perhaps in the hopes I would understand. Needless to say, the class, including myself, would respond in Mandarin and they quickly settled back into the lingua franca of the group.

This scene exemplified the state of special education in China to me. Whereas the U.S. offers Specialized Education Plans (SEPs) and individualized education programs that help parents and educators find methods and options that better fit each child’s needs, it seems that in China special education has a component of standardization. Even though this school boasted specialized rooms for one-on-one sessions with the kids, this case of Uyghur children being made to speak Mandarin was perhaps another manifestation of the requirements for sameness in China.

The class broke into smaller groups and we drew with the kids. My fellow volunteers and I switched tables every few minutes to mingle with all the children. As I jumped from table to table, I noticed that the kids had varying degrees of dexterity. Some were able to color neatly within the lines, while others colored in abstract shapes. There were some earnestly trying to recreate the alphabet, and others who just drew as they pleased. One kid drew exclusively outside the lines, to which an older staff member said, “You can’t draw like that! You should color within the lines!”

“Don’t worry,” I said to the child. “I think your drawing is great.” I felt that these kids needed encouragement, especially when it came to creativity and expressing themselves. In a society that can be as demanding as that of China, it is important for those who hold relatively little power to know that they have control over something. For the “special” students, it was important for me to reinforce the idea that they were fine the way they were. Perhaps this is the greatest challenge of special education in China — namely, that it struggles to find ways to play to each individual student’s strengths. Rather, it attempts to either normalize them or shut them out entirely.

Are we passing up on UPass?

Photo credits: Khun Nyan Min Htet

By Khun Nyan Min Htet

WASHINGTON — SAISers in D.C. are still anxiously waiting to learn the result of the vote on whether SAIS students will join the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) UPass program.

Four months after SAIS students voted in the UPass referendum, which was required by the WMATA as one of the steps in rolling out the UPass program, the SAIS administration has yet to announce the result of the vote, leaving students frustrated and irritated with the lack of responsiveness from the school.

“It’s not so much the timing that bothers me as it is the lack of transparency from the administration and the SGA. I understand that this could take time to implement even if it passed, but as it is, we’ve been kept in the dark wondering whether or not [UPass] is even still on the table,” exclaimed Sierra Janik, a second-year M.A. student.

In addition to frustration felt by the student body as a result of the school’s lack of communication about the result of the vote, students have been left to speculate about what actually happened with the referendum.

When asked why the results of the vote have still not been announced, Khorey Baker, the director of Student Life, explained that announcing the referendum results right after the vote would have led to student inquiries that the school wouldn’t have answers to.

“We don’t want to give out half-information or even quarter-information. I can understand the students’ frustration of having to wait for an answer but I think it would be more upsetting for them if we rushed our announcements and gave the wrong information, particularly with issues that would affect the entire student body,” says Mr. Baker.

Meanwhile, the SAIS Student Government Association (SGA) has not been sanctioned by the SAIS administration to release the result of the UPass vote. As the body tasked with publicizing the UPass referendum and providing all relevant information about the program, SGA played an important role in the referendum process. SGA has expressed concern and frustration over its inability to announce the results.

“The SGA is always as transparent as possible. We understand the frustration that students have felt regarding UPass, and we too have been frustrated that we were not allowed to say the result,” SGA told The SAIS Observer.

Students like first-year M.A. Kyoka Nakayama speculate the UPass program may have been scrapped since there has been no mention of it by the school since November of 2018.

“I think maybe because the majority of students voted ‘no’ to the UPass program, nothing is happening… If the vote was a ‘yes,’ the school has to announce that we will get UPass, because things will change and we will have to pay for it.”

Sierra Janik, second-year HNC student added, “It’s been this long and we haven’t heard anything back, so I started to assume it must have been voted down. Maybe the school doesn’t want to talk about it, and they figured that if they just sweep it under the rug, we will forget.”

There is also speculation among the student body as to why the referendum results haven’t been announced. Conjecture includes the discussion of possible legal reasons that may affect whether the SAIS administration can reveal the results of the vote during its negotiation process with WMATA, as well as speculation that the UPass program was voted down. Throughout this process, students have simply been left to speculate.

“The only reason I could think of is that there might be legal issues that prevent the school from telling us,” says Mabel Alamu, a first-year M.A. student. “I can’t think of any other reasons why they haven’t said anything about the results.”

While the release date of the UPass vote result has not yet been specified, both SGA and the office of Student Life have confirmed that there will be an announcement regarding the result of the vote “very soon.”

Despite the lack of official statements from the school administration regarding the result of the UPass vote, the SAIS Financial Aid Office website has listed a $200UPass/Metro fee for the upcoming academic year. Is this an indication that SAISers will get UPass in the fall semester? Only time will tell.

Khun Nyan Min Htet is an HNC Certificate/SAIS M.A. student who is currently completing his master’s degree at SAIS D.C.

UPass fee listed on the cost of attendance for 2019-20 academic year. Source: SAIS website

Deadly pleasure threatens to curtail China’s growth

By Jesse Adler

Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping smoking. (Photo credits: Forrest Anderson)

NANJING, China — Smoking cigarettes is said to be like adding “punctuation” to daily life. Whether it’s to curb a panic attack, break the ice with a stranger or relax after sex, cigarettes can serve to complement almost any life moment for the world’s one-billion smokers. As a student living in China, and as someone who likes to get outside of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center’s bubble every so often, it is practically impossible to escape the clutches of secondhand smoke exposure. Except for inside public facilities and on public transport, smokers seem to be everywhere.

I’ve recently found myself a victim to secondhand smoke at the unlikeliest place: the gym. Why are fitness trainers lighting cigarettes inside a facility that is supposed to serve as an oasis of healthy living? When I asked them why, I was repeatedly given this response: “[Smoking] makes me feel good.” The optics of smoking in a gym didn’t seem to matter, nor did the health consequences. I gathered the sense that trainers believe a cigarette break is simply a means of escape — although from what, I wasn’t sure.

While it is often overlooked, smoking is one of the most serious social issues in China today, and one that can be directly linked to the country’s hyperfast modernization. China is home to one-quarter of the world’s smokers who collectively consume one-third of the world’s cigarettes. China’s total cigarette production accounts for 40 percent of the world’s total production — about four times that of the second-largest tobacco-producing nation, the United States. Over 300 million Chinese citizens smoke every day, and nearly two million die every year from smoking-related causes, with half of them dying between the ages of 35 and 64. The number of people in China subjected to daily secondhand smoke exposure is estimated at 750 million. With an aging population, coupled with rising health care service costs, the economic burden of smoking has only increased. It is estimated that between 2006 and 2015, China lost more than $5 trillion in net national income due to smoking-related illnesses and death.

Cigarettes became mainstream in China due to a combination of social custom and revamped business practices. First, it is important to understand the role cigarettes have played as a lubricant in building relationships, known in Chinese as “guanxi.” Offering a cigarette is part of an unwritten code of etiquette among men. It is a simple, polite gesture that is intended to establish rapport and build trust by presenting something of material value, which may be linked to Chinese gift-giving culture. In many instances, the brand of cigarettes that one chooses to smoke can identify their social class. China’s former leader and economic reformer, Deng Xiaoping, was famously known to smoke Panda Cigarettes — a premium Chinese brand that is also one of the most expensive.

But what truly sparked China’s smoking boom was the commercialization of its cigarette companies. The Chinese tobacco industry is immensely profitable, with cigarette sales alone accounting for nearly 10 percent of all government revenue per year on average. This is due to the monopoly enjoyed by the state-owned China National Tobacco Corporation. China Tobacco was founded in 1982 during the early years of Reform and Opening Up, the program of economic reforms termed “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and a “socialist market economy.” The creation of China Tobacco concentrated all tobacco businesses into one centrally-controlled entity, making logistics between farmers, cigarette factories, distributors and retailers more efficient than before. Today, the organization controls 98 percent of China’s cigarette market and produces over 2 trillion cigarettes each year.

Take a walk through any Chinese city center and it becomes obvious that the vast majority of smokers are male. Over half of adult men are reported to be smokers, compared to just around two percent of women. From conversations with Chinese friends, however, I found that the true number of female smokers may be grossly underestimated. “I feel so much pressure to be successful. Smoking helps me to calm down when I feel too stressed,” said a female friend from Suzhou, a large city in between Nanjing and Shanghai. “I know a lot of girls who smoke, but they won’t readily admit that. Or they may try to hide it, because they worry others might judge them poorly.”

Though the industry continues to amass massive profits, the year 2000 marked a turning point for China Tobacco, when the cost of medical and labor losses associated with tobacco use exceeded the tobacco industry’s economic profits. Five years later, China joined the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which obliges the country under international law to adopt and implement effective measures to curb smoking. Tragically, compliance with the law has been difficult to achieve. The city of Beijing, however, has taken a leading role in enforcing anti-smoking laws. Since 2015, community volunteers have been recruited to monitor public spaces for people violating smoking bans. Violators face stiff fines, and in some instances suffer a penalty affecting their social credit scores.

Behaviors will change as the penalties for violating rules become more strict. It is also worth considering that China’s current leader, Xi Jinping, is a non-smoker and that his wife, Peng Liyuan, has been an ambassador for the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control since 2009. While fitness trainers at my gym may begin going outside the gym to take cigarette breaks, society’s general attitude towards smoking will not change overnight. For many smokers, it seems that smoking serves as a coping mechanism to deal with mounting social pressures that are a result of China’s rapid economic development. It is an ironic and accurate fact that even Deng Xiaoping — who is widely credited with modernizing his country — endorsed a habit that any truly modern society would seek to eliminate. When China finally does resolve to tackle the issue of  preventable disease and death caused by smoking nationwide, it may be too little, too late for the hundreds of millions suffering today from secondhand smoke exposure and other tobacco-related injustices.

Jesse Adler is a HNC Certificate ’19/SAIS M.A. ’20 student currently completing his Certificate at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center before starting at SAIS DC next fall.

Amidst allegations, Pope Francis calls for critical change in the Church

Photo credits: Reuters

By Gabriela Saenz

BOLOGNA, Italy — Recently, the Roman Catholic Church has come under scrutiny worldwide for sexual abuse allegations, forcing the Vatican to speak out for the first time in an official capacity. For decades, the Catholic Church has been accused of covering up these crimes and denying the existence of a systemic problem. The Global South considers this phenomenon to be a problem for developed countries such as the United States, Australia and Ireland, often ignoring the impact in their own congregations. Additionally, the apprehension to speak out and report the abuse is prevalent amongst victims, generating a culture of denial by authorities. At most, priests have been relocated after promising to “never do it again.”

Upon his election in 2013, Pope Francis was inherently aware of the scandals surrounding the Catholic Church, even calling for “decisive action,” but since then he has amassed growing criticism for a lack of action on the matter. However, this past December, the pope vowed to bring perpetrators to justice and end all cover-ups. This unprecedented action by the pope was evidenced by a recent four-day summit with 114 senior bishops on tackling the issue of pedophilia in the Church. This response confirms its recognition of sexual abuse as a worldwide problem for the first time in history. In a letter to U.S. bishops, Pope Francis wrote, “The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them.”

Days before the conference was due to take place, the Vatican found one of its most prominent leaders, Cardinal McCarrick, guilty of sexually abusing minors. The now-defrocked cardinal is the highest member of the Church to be discharged. This has raised speculation and concerns on how McCarrick managed to rise through the ranks and if anyone had been aware of these accusations – including Pope Francis. Furthermore, the pope also spoke out on sexual abuse of nuns, specifically a case in India where a bishop has been accused of consistently raping a nun over a two-year period.

The aforementioned summit, held in Rome on February 21-24, congregated hundreds of bishops, a dozen heads of eastern Orthodox churches and 10 representatives of women’s religious orders from around the world with the intention to address the severity of this ongoing problem. After facing opposition within the Catholic Church, Pope Francis declared: “If we don’t commit ourselves to fight against these crimes, in society and in the church, then we are not fulfilling our duty.”

As the highest authority in the Catholic Church, these actions have raised expectations in the hopes that Pope Francis will use his authority for instituting a churchwide law dismissing abusive priests and the bishops who covered up for them. However, with so many diverse cultures and judicial systems within the Church, implementing universal protocols would be difficult to achieve. During the summit, the Pope released a list of reflection points explaining how bishops should tackle allegations, but no course of action was decided upon. The summit ended in apologies for the victims and mere promises for reform, leaving many wondering about the Vatican’s direction on the issue.

Zelenskiy is Ukraine’s best hope in upcoming presidential elections

Photo credits: Kyiv Post

By Olena Dobrunik

BOLOGNA, Italy — A matter of days separates us from the first round of the next presidential election in Ukraine. The March 31 election is the first since the 2014 victory of Petro Poroshenko after the Maidan Nezalezhnosti revolution that ended with the expulsion of former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. However, since his election, Mr. Poroshenko has only partially fulfilled his campaign promises. One fulfilled promise was the signing of the European Union Association Agreement that established a long-awaited visa-free travel regime. Another was the establishment of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s independence from the Moscow Patriarchate.

But a glaring absence from Poroshenko’s list of fulfilled promises is a resolution to the conflict in the east that has been draining Ukrainian lives and resources for more than five years. Moreover, Mr. Poroshenko’s way of tackling escalating issues, such as temporarily introducing martial law after the Kerch Strait incident, seems to have brought more controversy than support.

Whether this move was to safeguard the interests of the nation or to stem his ever-declining popular support is hard to say. Nevertheless, despite not delivering on structural reforms and failing to fight lingering corruption, which might ultimately hurt his chances, Mr. Poroshenko has presented himself as the candidate of continuity in the upcoming election.

Another leading candidate in the presidential race is Yulia Tymoshenko, a long-lasting figure of Ukrainian politics (perhaps a bit too long). Twice prime minister and a former gas magnate, Tymoshenko has been implicated in several corruption scandals and investigations throughout her political career. The fact that on her third presidential run she is vowing to write a new constitution, reform the army and reduce energy prices, she sounds less credible if one looks at her previous record and all the broken promises that she has made in the past. Perhaps her only chance at the presidency depends on whether she can convince voters that her incessant commitment to Ukraine’s democratization and “de-oligarchization” is legitimate.

The remaining major candidate in the election is comedian and showman Volodymyr Zelenskiy. According to BDM, a polling agency, he is the frontrunner by a large margin, with 25.9 percent of the vote, compared to 17.9 percent for Mrs. Tymoshenko and only 13.3 percent for Mr. Poroshenko.

Zelenskiy’s success is partially due to his recognizability from the popular television show “Servant of the People,” where he plays the president of Ukraine. But his success is more attributable to his genuine opposition to the traditional political establishment. Both his strength and weakness is his unfamiliarity with politics. However, his lack of political experience hasn’t prevented him from promising radical policies, like taking away prosecutorial immunity from political elites, fighting tax evasion and working closely with International Monetary Fund to comply with Ukraine’s economic obligations.

A further boost to Zelenskiy’s popularity stems from a YouTube series where several experts suggest ways to transform and improve specific policy domains. While that doesn’t make him necessarily the best candidate, it certainly reinforces the people’s belief that change is possible, and perhaps that change will begin by electing somebody with something to prove.

An outstanding 39 presidential candidates will be presented to voters in the election but only the three mentioned have a realistic possibility of making it to the runoff, which will be held on April 21. At stake in the election is the fate of a well-educated country of 42 million people located in a significant geostrategic position that is drowning in corruption and fiscal problems.

Ukraine’s best shot at recovery is a candidate who not only recognizes its deepest problems but also acts in a way that detaches from an ever-present Soviet legacy and inaugurates a truly European-style democratic nation. Mr. Zelenskiy represents, at this time, the only candidate embodying these qualities and is the sole chance Ukrainian people have to get out of the stagnation-inducing corruption of the country.

Olena Dobrunik is a second-year MAIA student at the Bologna campus. She was born in Ukraine and moved to Italy at the age of seven. She earned her bachelor’s degree in international relations and diplomatic affairs from the University of Bologna.

Wrongful advertising lawsuit to move forward against gun manufacturer in Sandy Hook shooting

By Cecilia Panella

WASHINGTON — On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle to kill six educators and 20 children in Sandy Hook Elementary School. On March 14, 2019, the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed an earlier trial court ruling that dismissed the wrongful death suit against Bushmaster Firearms International LLC and remanded it back to the lower case for further proceedings. The plaintiffs in this case consist of the relatives of several victims as well as a survivor; they alleged in the underlying case that Bushmaster’s marketing campaign glorified the weapon used and specifically targeted younger people as buyers, a violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA). Moreover, the plaintiffs argued that Bushmaster should be held liable as a result of Adam Lanza’s actions, saying that they “negligently entrusted to civilian consumers an AR-15 style assault rifle that is suitable for use only by military and law enforcement personnel.”

The Connecticut Supreme Court came to a 4-3 decision on Thursday, March 14 based upon the contents of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) that afford protections to firearms manufacturers and prevent them from being held liable as a result of any legal action brought by survivors or representatives of victims of gun violence. To be clear, the majority opinion states that PCLAA does legally protect Bushmaster from the majority of the claims made in Donna L. Soto, Administratrix (Estate of Victoria L. Soto), et al. v. Bushmaster Firearms International LLC, A/K/A et al. Where it differs significantly is in terms of marketing practices for weapons like the one used in the Sandy Hook shooting: The Supreme Court ruled that PCLAA does not bar the plaintiffs from suing on wrongful marketing grounds. More specifically, PCLAA prohibits the “unethical advertising of dangerous products for illegal purposes,” and the Supreme Court stated that the lower court was wrong in its finding that the plaintiffs lacked sufficient legal standing in this regard.

There is a critical long-term ramification here: The Supreme Court of Connecticut calls into question the scope of PCLAA, stating that it did not believe that “Congress did not intend to immunize firearms suppliers who engage in truly unethical and irresponsible marketing practices promoting criminal conduct” from legal action entirely. As a recent NPR report points out, gun manufacturers have almost never held liable for any crime or crimes committed with the assistance of their products. The most recent exception to this is Williams v. Beemiller Inc., 952 N.Y.S.2d 333 (N.Y. App. Div. 4th Dep’t 2012), amended by 103 A.D.3d 1191 (N.Y. App. Div. 4th Dep’t 2013), but this case was decided on an exception clause rather than on the contents of the law itself. Nevertheless, a reassessment of the scope and intent of PCLAA would certainly be probative, especially when we consider that PCLAA was originally signed in 2005. Since then, increases in gun violence – notably in schools – have raised questions about the sufficiency of legislation surrounding liability for crimes committed with firearms. The De Soto case calls into question the extent to which laws like PCLAA were intended to insulate companies from consequences associated with the products that they make and the marketing tactics that they use to market them.

This doesn’t mean that survivors and victim representatives now have unlimited license to pursue cases against arms manufacturers — quite the opposite. This opinion simply remands the case back to the lower court for reconsideration on grounds specific to the nature and intention of the defendants’ marketing campaigns.

For those interested, the full docket for the underlying case can be found here.

Author’s note: An amicus curiae brief filed in 2017 by Gun Owners of America association also contains the following: “Contrary to mischaracterizations of Plaintiffs’ brief, the AR-15 rifle is not a Galactic Empire Death Star equipped with a Romulan Cloaking Device.” This is why we don’t mix our metaphors.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The aftermath of Pulwama

Photo Credit: Surajit Das

By Cecilia Panella and Srijoni Banerjee


Conflict in Kashmir isn’t necessarily a new occurrence. Since gaining independence from the British in 1947, India and Pakistan have each claimed sovereignty over this mountainous region. Since each country only controls part of this territory, the fluidity of national boundaries has sparked conflict after conflict in the area. To make matters more complicated, both states started nuclear weapons development programs in the mid-1970s and have since accrued at least 130 warheads each. Thankfully, conflicts over the Kashmir region have never escalated to the point of a nuclear detonation, but the introduction of terror groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed in Pakistan have pushed the bounds of diplomacy.

The most recent crisis seems to touch upon — and exacerbate — many of the sensitive issues between the two states. Border security, the rise of violent non-state actors and air power escalation have all played a role in the events this past February, when a suicide attack on a bus carrying Indian paramilitary forces in Kashmir sparked the two-week confrontation that led to the capture and eventual release of an Indian air force pilot. While onlookers may now take a sigh of relief as tensions subside, many analysts fear that this mini-crisis may be reflective of more sinister long-term problems in the India-Pakistan relationship. This week’s episode of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” will be analyzing the crisis and its second- and third-order effects on the region and around the world.



The United States has long counted on India’s non-alignment on the global stage as a balancing factor between a potentially dangerous Pakistan and a revisionist China. While this crisis highlighted some of the worst aspects of modern international relations — fueled by jingoistic vitriol and rapidly deteriorating relations in the global spotlight —it also forced American policymakers to take a critical look at the India-Pakistan relationship, its positioning in relation to the United States and the rest of the global order and ultimately confront the dangers of regional conventional and nuclear force imbalances.

American diplomatic efforts in Pakistan have run the gamut from expansive diplomatic dialogue in attempts to limit the flow of terrorist financing operating in and around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to threats of escalation should Pakistan not ally itself with American counterterrorism operations in the region. It is clear that the Americans have underestimated the leverage that Pakistan has in this arena, especially given recent American overtures toward a peace agreement with Taliban forces. As much as the United States would like to be able to minimize the threat that Pakistan poses to the Indian border, the reality of the situation — one drawn out by this crisis in particular —is that the United States cannot “meaningfully inhibit Pakistani risk-taking” in this area. That is not to say that the United States is without avenue for improvement: As Brookings Institution Visiting Fellow Madiha Afzal points out, the United States would do well to establish a relationship with the Pakistani civilian government rather than simply seeking to cooperate with the military. If the United States hopes to leverage Pakistan in support of future American interests, a reassessment of our foreign policy approach is necessary.

When taken individually, these events suggest that there is little if any upside to the crisis. If we drill down further on this issue, it is obvious that this is only true if our unit of measurement is efficacy of American involvement. When we note that this situation was de-escalated by Pakistan and India themselves without a meaningful American influence and in spite of the fact that previous military posturing would have favored further escalation, we really have to credit the diplomatic efforts of the Pakistani and Indian governments. Slightly cooler heads did, in fact, prevail.


Indian Wing Force Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s safe return from Pakistan was the first silver lining in a regional crisis that was on the brink of devolving into an issue of international concern. Not only did it prompt a sigh of relief from millions across the world who were waiting with bated breath to see what would unfold next, but it also showed Pakistan’s keenness to follow through with its request of  renewing peace talks with India. I believe this gesture of goodwill will, at least temporarily, de-escalate tensions that had been on the rise in the wake of the Pulwama terrorist attack. Commander Abhinandan’s positive treatment while in Pakistani custody and his timely return might bring India back to the negotiating table, but this is not a guarantee given India’s surprising military attack on Pakistan’s Balakot region on Feb 26. It is obvious that the jury is still out as to what India intends to do strategically. In terms of global support, an overwhelming majority of states have openly denounced Pakistan for allowing the safe haven and financing of terrorist cells — including typical allies such as China and Iran — signaling a moral victory for India in winning international sympathy and emerging with the diplomatic upper hand.



What was particularly concerning about this conflict was the blatant distortion of facts and hype around misinformed rumors that surfaced from premier news sources.This kitsch display of “performative nationalism,” as Shashank Joshi of The Economist would call it, was in full force and, predictably, resulted in inflammatory reactions from both countries. After India’s surprise airstrike in Balakot, the Indian government did not release any visual evidence of the effectiveness of the operation. Instead, the Indian media took it upon itself to produce footage showing fighter jets attacking a town, which turned out to have taken place in 2017. In a similar fashion, Pakistani news outlets also shared a photo of the Pakistan air force supposedly taking down an Indian fighter jet, which was later revealed to be the wreckage from a previous crash. This flagrant disregard for fact-checking or responsible journalism was wildly successful in guiding public opinion and inciting hyper-nationalistic sentiment on both Indian and Pakistani soil. It’s bad enough that sensitivities regarding India and Pakistan’s equation were at an all-time high without the media’s twisted, yet heavy, involvement in our lives causing everyone — and I do mean everyone — to claim to have an “informed” opinion on the matter.


My concerns are more focused on the role of other regional actors in this crisis. I’m still of the opinion that a lack of American leverage was not a bad thing in this particular situation, but this crisis exposed a larger regional power vacuum. China’s border with India and Pakistan made it a natural political behemoth in this space, and Chinese calls for restraint and diplomatic dialogue dominated the news. Despite these peace overtures, the Chinese have exhibited a vested interest in the continuation of a India-Pakistan squabble in two major ways: First, China has repeatedly allied itself with Pakistan against Indian interests, forcing the Indian military to divide its attention between its eastern and western borders. Second, China sends 40 percent of all of its military exports to Pakistan, including the new Wing Loong II UCAV, China’s largest drone export.

When coupled with India’s recent deal with Russia for $5 billion worth of weapons, the message is clear: South Asia is aligning itself away from the United States. Another fun fact? India’s deal includes the S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system, the very same defense system that has strained the U.S.-Turkish bilateral alliance in recent news. India has also publicly committed to continued purchases of Iranian oil in the wake of the American exit from the JCPOA to the tune of 1.25 million tons of Iranian crude. Essentially, Russia and China are capitalizing on regional friction to further limit American influence in South Asia, and they’re committing to this effort monetarily as well as politically. This doesn’t bode well for longer-term American interests of limiting Iran’s economic freedom of movement and confronting and combatting a rising China.



Worst for last! The biggest question here is the changing role of Pakistani and Indian nuclear arsenals. According to Brookings Institution Fellow Joshua White, India and Pakistan “represent the world’s most likely venue for nuclear conflict.” A history of conventional conflict in the region as well as the increasing boldness of regional actors like Russia and China also don’t make this situation any easier. It is also very important to note that Pakistan is not the lone aggressor in this arena —according to Christopher Clary and Vipin Narang, Indian policymakers have shown increasing interest in a “hard counterforce strike” against Pakistan’s “strategic nuclear assets.” More dangerously, Clary and Narang argue that this interest has been recently translated into more forward-leaning policies that would eliminate the “specter of Pakistani strategic nuclear use altogether” and leave India free to act with impunity and wage a conventional war against Pakistan. Recent Indian investment in more precise targeting systems as well as the aforementioned deal with the Russian Federation suggest that the Indian state is preparing for a more severe conflict in the future.

While tensions may have de-escalated this time, I think American policymakers need to start seriously considering what a more prolonged — and more dangerous — conflict over Kashmir could bring to the region and the world. Given the recent escalation of nationalist sentiment on social media, aggressive reporting by state media, and rapid regional alignments with notoriously anti-American world powers, it is easy to see how this could go very south very quickly.


I suppose the possibility of things turning truly “ugly” is minimal by this point. However, a spat of attacks between two nuclear-armed neighbors — the Pulwama attack and its aftermath being only one such instance and not the complete story —is not one that the world should take lightly. If anything, this conflict in particular was on the precipice of escalating quickly and grave enough that the world was forced to sit up and take notice. I don’t expect any future peace talks that take place in the immediate aftermath of Pulwama to resolve the ever-present Kashmir question. It’s one that not only goes back decades but also involves a heavily-contested border dispute, 72 years of tension, three wars in half a century and everyday instances of casualties and skirmishes along both sides of the 740 km (460 mi) Line of Control. But what is particularly alarming about this situation is Pakistan’s rapidly-dwindling reputation in the international arena due to its repeated failure in constraining and preventing terrorist activities within its borders. Even natural allies such as the Gulf countries, who were willing to show their support for Pakistan after the 2008 Mumbai attacks by assigning blame to “non-state actors,” seem unwilling to turn a blind eye any longer.

Earlier this month, India’s Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj was invited to deliver the inaugural address at the Organization for Islamic Cooperation in Abu Dhabi, to which Pakistan had initially objected. Not only did the OIC disregard Pakistan’s disapproval, the conference went on with Pakistan’s pointed absence, highlighting its increasing global isolation. Furthermore, India’s triumph at Pakistan being forced to stay on the global FATF “gray list” for terror financing serves to exacerbate Pakistan’s economic perils and could negatively impact its upcoming appeal for an IMF loan bailout. Crippling the economy of a nation that has already lost the goodwill of many global actors might not be the most prudent way forward — for any stakeholders..

Despite growing confidence, uncertainty remains a key factor in US-China trade talks

By Mariah Franklin

Photo credits: Reuters Media

BOLOGNA, Italy — In recent months, observers in both the United States and China have become increasingly positive toward the prospect of a mutually beneficial conclusion to current trade negotiations between the two countries. President Trump once warned that continuing negotiations beyond March 1 would lead to a 15 percent increase in tariffs on Chinese goods, yet he ultimately extended that deadline, tweeting in late February that the six days of talks preceding the extension of the deadline had been “very productive.” However, despite the optimistic approach taken by both sides, a certain amount of uncertainty continues to characterize the discussions.

U.S. negotiators have proven amenable to removing the $200 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese imports leveled during the trade war, while their Chinese counterparts have shown some willingness to remove a number of tariffs targeting U.S. products. Analysts have suggested that a final deal will involve the U.S. removing the vast majority of its current tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for an end to tariffs on U.S. agricultural products. Hope that the talks could spell the end to a costly trade war that began in the summer of 2018 has contributed to a political spin in mainland China and the U.S., with leaders in both countries attempting to monopolize their share of the credit for ending the disruptive trade restrictions. The impact of concluding negotiations without putting an end to Chinese tariffs on American agricultural products could be damaging to Trump’s 2020 campaign prospects, as agricultural workers made up a significant proportion of Trump’s voter base in 2016.

Robert Lighthizer, the United States Trade Representative and chief negotiator of trade policy, and his team have been participating in the drafting of six Memoranda of Understanding to cover new procedures for evaluating currency, handling intellectual property disputes and reforming agricultural trade policy. Until recently, disagreement on the content of the memoranda has been a significant obstacle to reaching a deal to end the trade war, particularly with regards to China’s Made in China 2025 plan to stimulate domestic growth. The plan has provoked accusations that China is aiming to detract business from American firms.  

Though analysts largely agree that the negotiations have taken a more productive turn, aspects of the discussion process remain beset by misunderstandings. A notable example happened in early March when, responding to press questions during a White House meeting with Lighthizer, President Trump presented an alternative definition of MOUs. The president stated that he preferred the use of contracts to MOUs, as the latter are non-binding, despite the fact that MOUs are considered legal agreements in China, and are, for the most part, synonymous to contracts. Countering his negotiator’s attempts to correct his apparent mistake, Trump reiterated his specific dislike of MOUs, and Lighthizer conceded that the agreement would no longer be referred to as an MOU.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed his own belief that a deal will soon materialize during an appearance on WMT, a radio channel based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on March 4. In this instance, President Trump’s extemporization appears unlikely to have a negative impact on the conclusion of trade negotiations.

Nitze Café

Photo Credit: Zdeněk Macháček

By J.W. Dixon

WASHINGTON — It’s 8:50 a.m. on a misty Tuesday and — mother of God — “these snacks are under surveillance.” Kit Kats and frozen cheeseburgers kept in check by Big Snack’s unblinking eye. But, really, I am the one under surveillance. In fact, I get the best look at my softening body in line for the Nitze Grab-N-Go. I have my deepest thoughts. Hell, I make my worst choices.

Time has no meaning, and I’m passing the basement pool table. Who are these people? I want to follow the basement-dwellers’ trope to its belittling conclusion but can’t shake the feeling that these are the coolest folks south of Massachusetts Avenue. Have you ever seen the Rockwellian picture of dogs playing poker and smoking cigars? Well, they probably didn’t play poker when anyone was around. I’m closing the doors and heading upstairs. It’s a house full of hounds up there. I can say that for sure.

It’s nearly noon and three feet of Michael Cohen’s head is being beamed into the ambiguous politics of the Nitze “lounge.” Everyone’s lunch is a proxy for their level of self-control and thus their relative likelihood of being employed by graduation. Peeled grapes will outperform even last night’s leftovers etc. “These snacks are under surveillance,” upon reflection, feels even more foreboding. 

It’s marginally darker outside. Cookie hour ostensibly has a purpose, but no one knows what it is, and nor does anyone care. I’m here for the glorious rush of temporary poverty smashing against permanent calories. Hook. It. To. My. Veins. It’s at the same time every week, yet I never know when it’s coming. I’ve been gifted a taste of the peanut cookie, evidently a rarity, and I can always take two.

I’m on the seventh floor. Massive industrial fans are furiously expelling musty heat down a shaft of very on-brand books. “Whaling and Japanese Trade Union Assimilation.”  “Airpower and Colonial Pacification.” “So, You Want to Be A Neoliberal Shill?” No library has ever been forced by size to distill its own essence so aggressively. Mason Library Washington D.C. is this library.

We should also talk about the slab of the Berlin Wall so subtle and well-matched to Nitze’s brutalist facade that the occasional visitor mistakes it for vandalism. This hunk of liberty in progress mainly bears witness to smoking. It deserves more attention if only because it encapsulates the high-water mark of neoliberalism that SAIS traditionalists love to trumpet — or, more recently, to eulogize. I wonder if it will come to 555 Pennsylvania Ave? The Newseum puts their piece of the Berlin Wall inside, which seems cruel, like boarding a zoo animal in a hotel lobby. And that is the trouble with newer, nicer spaces: You must fill them with something.

The Briefing: Nuclear strategy in the 21st century with Francis Gavin and Matthew Kroenig

By Cecilia Panella

WASHINGTON — The Alexander Hamilton Society will be hosting a lecture on Tuesday, March 12 with Dr. Francis Gavin and Dr. Matthew Kroenig. The two scholars will be discussing modern nuclear strategy, a remarkably timely topic given recent negotiations between the Trump administration and North Korea. Moreover, both have recently published on the changing nature of nuclear strategy: Dr. Gavin’s most recent article is available in Texas National Security Review, and Dr. Kroenig’s newest book, “The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy,” is available through Oxford University Press. Their works call into question the prevailing logic of nuclear strategy in policy circles and demand that we revisit our approach to nuclear strategy as a piece of a larger American foreign policy framework.

Dr. Francis Gavin

Prior to his current post as the Giovanni Agnelli Distinguished Professor and the inaugural director of the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at SAIS, Dr. Francis Gavin was the first Frank Stanton Chair in Nuclear Security Policy Studies and worked as a professor of political science at MIT. Even in 2014, Gavin was convinced that the United States was in a “renaissance of nuclear studies,” and argued that a more deliberate analysis of existing doctrine would help policymakers make better policy decisions. Since his appointment to the Kissinger Center, Dr. Gavin has formulated a curriculum in conjunction with SAIS meant to critically examine the history of foreign policy. The Kissinger Seminar Series is the Center’s academic flagship, and it features Dr. Gavin as well as Professor James Steinberg of Syracuse University and Professor Hal Brands of SAIS, who is also a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).

Dr. Gavin’s most recent article on American nuclear strategy, “Rethinking the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy, confronts some of the tough questions that have arisen from our development and treatment of nuclear weapons. Notably, Dr. Gavin says that we really don’t know as much as we should about how nuclear weapons shape American politics, and more importantly, that this lack of knowledge is predicated on “steep methodological, linguistic and normative barriers to understanding nuclear strategy and statecraft.” Not only are we plagued with incomplete histories of nuclear decision-making, we also must incorporate seemingly disparate policy approaches to nuclear weapons into our larger American grand strategy. Dr. Gavin argues that these faulty understandings of our own past with nuclear weapons can also problematically influence the future of nuclear policymaking, and points to four key trends that are currently shaping the nuclear policy environment.

First, he points to shifts in the geopolitical structure of the world order, saying that revisionist powers like Russia and China are currently actively influencing how the United States conceptualizes nuclear power and nuclear weapons in the world. Second, there are significant shifts in technology development that have and will continue to dramatically influence how we engineer and defend against nuclear weapons. Most notably, Dr. Gavin argues that these technological developments have eliminated the previous “binary” associated with nuclear weapons — the “haves” or “have nots” of nuclear states are now more faithfully painted in shades of gray. Nuclear arsenals are not only more sophisticated than ever before, they are also more vulnerable. This expansive treatment of nuclear weapons development is certainly something to consider for strategists and policymakers alike moving forward. Third, Dr. Gavin notes that recent trends in public opinion toward denuclearization are likely to impact how America treats its own arsenal as well as those of other nuclear states. Finally, the consistent degradation of deterrent threat credibility is also a critical factor for policymakers. Dr. Gavin is quick to point out that the use of nuclear weapons becoming “increasingly unthinkable is obviously a good thing,” but mentions that this trend highlights a tension between American Cold War-style deterrence strategy and its more modern incarnations.

The common thread for Dr. Gavin is the need for academics and policymakers alike to interrogate what it means to develop nuclear weapons and the policies that govern them. His research leaves us with more questions than answers on the future of nuclear policy, but his willingness to eschew complacency in nuclear strategy in favor of dissecting complicated policy problems is certainly something to look forward to in the upcoming lecture.

Dr. Matthew Kroenig

Dr. Matthew Kroenig is an associate professor in the Department of Government and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is also the deputy director for strategy in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, and has previously been a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, Harvard University, University of California and Stanford University. His most recent book, “The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy,” addresses the complex position that superiority of capabilities has held in the American nuclear strategy lexicon. Dr. Kroenig argues that leaders like President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev placed great importance in cultivating the appearance of nuclear superiority and that their policies were noticeably impacted by this perception. He powerfully points to why world leaders are drawn to nuclear superiority over the concept of nuclear parity, stating that nuclear superiority gives leaders flexibility in escalation and also allows them to run risks in crises that would otherwise be inaccessible. In essence, Dr. Kroenig pinpoints nuclear superiority as a key to nuclear policy flexibility.

Central to Dr. Kroenig’s argument is his development of “superiority-brinkmanship synthesis theory,” which he says explains why states seek nuclear advantages and why those advantages are ultimately beneficial. The military advantages of nuclear weapons provide states with more leverage over their adversaries and introduce greater flexibility of risk-taking for states in a crisis. Conversely, those states without a nuclear military advantage lack political and strategic leverage and are also more likely to experience higher costs of nuclear confrontation. This is significant — Dr. Kroenig says that there are, in fact, meaningful differences in the conduct of nuclear war and that nuclear-superior powers are less likely to experience these more negative ramifications.

Moreover, Dr. Kroenig complicates the traditional understanding that more nuclear weapons — a natural consequence of the competition for nuclear superiority — heightens the overall risk of nuclear war by promoting  instability in the international system. Instability, according to Dr. Kroenig, is overly simplified: Many theorists fail to differentiate between “bad” instability that can trigger nuclear war and “good” instability that can work in favor of American interests. Dr. Kroenig’s research indicates that there is little to no evidence that American nuclear superiority has created a dangerous level of instability in the international system. Furthermore, there is no evidence that international proliferation or nonproliferation goals are entirely incompatible with the maintenance of a strong American nuclear posture. Dr. Kroenig uses a case study on the Iranian nuclear program and JCPOA to point out that American nuclear arsenals ultimately had little to no effect on Iranian decision-making in this regard, and eventually turns to quantitative analysis to show that the size of the American nuclear arsenal is not a statistically-significant determinant of the proliferation or nonproliferation activity of other states.

Like Dr. Gavin’s research, Dr. Kroenig tries to bridge the gap between rigorous scholarship on nuclear strategy and meaningful policy. While their approaches are vastly different, both scholars ask us to question existing norms in nuclear policymaking and seek to improve our understanding of our force postures in order to create better policy.

For those unable to attend the Alexander Hamilton Society event on March 12, the Politics and Prose Bookstore will also be hosting both speakers on the same topic on March 10, 2019 at 1:00 p.m.. To RSVP for the SAIS event, please send an email to pkunze1@jhu.edu.

The unsustainability of the INF

By John Fenton

Photo Credit: Daan Stevens

WASHINGTON — The Russian use of Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCM) upsets the status quo established by the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty because it possesses capabilities forbidden by the treaty. In response to this, the United States has the option to reestablish the status quo by sacrificing defensive capabilities. Additionally, the U.S. can choose to adapt to the changing world around it, either by expanding the number of participants in the INF Treaty by including China and Iran or by discarding the treaty altogether to develop its own response to the Russian threat. Alternatively, the United States can take no action, and remain bound to its treaty obligations. However, this allows Russia to continue developing and fielding GLCMs with no suitable countermeasure. Russia is achieving military superiority in Europe through an unmatched and cost-effective means. The United States’ response to these developments will determine the security of the European continent.

Seeking to restore the parity of the INF Treaty requires the United States to sacrifice its missile defense systems in exchange for Russia dismantling its GLCM capabilities. While the U.S. accuses Russia of INF Treaty violations with its SSC-8 GLCM system, Russia also accuses the U.S. of violating the INF with its Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System (AAMDS). Both the U.S. and Russia deny any violations, but any efforts to restore INF compliance necessitate cooperation and compromise by the U.S. and Russia through the verifiable dismantlement of the SSC-8 GLCM and AAMDS. However, it is an unlikely trade since the AAMDS is INF-compliant, and the U.S.’s defense of Europe is substantially weakened without it.

To adapt the INF Treaty to the changing world around it requires the U.S. to incorporate China and Iran into the agreement. In addition to the AAMDS in Europe, Russia cited other countries outside of Europe and along its periphery as being able to develop an asymmetrical capability, threatening Russia’s defense. The U.S. has mentioned potentially bringing China and Iran onboard as signatories to the treaty. However, this is unlikely since China and Iran possess thousands of INF-forbidden missiles.

Remaining INF-compliant while Russia continues to develop the SSC-8 GLCM serves to further jeopardize the European continent. Though the U.S. has the option to deploy more AAMDSs to counter the Russian GLCM threat, it is more expensive to do so. This means Russia has the ability to field far more GLCMs than the U.S. has the  ability to deploy interceptors. This renders the AAMDS ineffective.

Leaving the INF destroys it — however, it does allow the U.S. to adequately address Russia’s GLCM. NATO leaders agree that if only the U.S. remains INF-compliant, then the treaty is essentially useless and disadvantageous. The U.S. is already pursuing INF-compliant means to address Russia’s GLCM; however, without the INF, the U.S. is better positioned to respond to the deteriorating security situation. The United States can counter the Russian GLCMs with its own intermediate-range missiles. Once parity has been reached, then Russia and the U.S. can begin to enter negotiations over a new INF Treaty.

Russia seeks to attain an unprecedented military advantage over Europe. The SSC-8 GLCM is a nuclear threat to conventional forces. Remaining INF-compliant without taking any action allows Russian aggression to continue unchecked. Attempting to include other nations like China and Iran in the INF Treaty is unlikely to succeed. Dismantling the AAMDS in exchange for the dismantlement of Russia’s GLCM poses an unacceptable risk to Europe, and is also unlikely. By pulling out of the INF Treaty, the U.S. not only preserves its ability to sufficiently counter the Russian GLCM, but also creates opportunities for the U.S. to renegotiate the INF Treaty from a position of power.

John Fenton is an alumnus of Johns Hopkins University SAIS. He graduated from the Bologna Institute in 2018 with a Master of Arts in Global Risk. He is currently working in a graduate fellowship program.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The INF Treaty withdrawal

By Cecilia Panella and Dani Thompson

Photo Credit: John Salvino

WASHINGTON — On February 1, President Trump announced not only that the United States would be suspending its obligations under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) but also that the United States planned to leave the Treaty entirely in six months’ time. Shortly afterwards, Russian President Vladimir Putin also announced that Russia would be suspending its obligations under the treaty, which was originally signed during the Cold War to create grounds for future cooperation on arms control and stave off potential conventional and nuclear conflict between the two countries. While Putin said that Russia would neither “seek confrontation” with the United States nor be the first to deploy missiles as the treaty was suspended, he did issue a stark warning to the United States: Should the Americans deploy to any nation in Europe, Russia would aim its missiles directly at the United States. This escalation of tensions puts more pressure on the already tenuous relationship between Washington and Moscow, leading many critics of the Trump administration to draw parallels between current events and Cold War tensions. Not only could the suspension of this treaty ease the way for a new arms race between Russia and the United States, but the abandonment of the INF Treaty has also eliminated one of the few remaining aspects of arms control cooperation between the two countries.

However much this development may speak to Cold War diplomacy, the White House has stood by its decision. They note Russian violations of the treaty, including the production of “INF-violating, nuclear-capable missile(s),” as well as the dangers of a rising China and Iran, neither of whom are a party to the INF Treaty. According to President Trump, this move signifies American commitment to genuine arms control — but we’re not so sure. On this week’s episode of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” we’re going to take you inside the history of the INF Treaty and deliberate on whether or not American withdrawal really is a good thing for the future of global arms control efforts. Buckle up.



Concerns about Russian treaty violations in this area are nothing new. Russian cruise missile testing took place as early as 2008, which eventually culminated in the Obama administration designating Russia as a “compliance concern” for the INF Treaty in 2011. Then in 2014, the United States raised its concerns with NATO allies, eventually officially accusing Russia of noncompliance with the treaty in the State Department’s 2014 Compliance Report. Despite repeated earlier statements that the Obama administration was doing its best to preserve the treaty and the arms control cooperation that came with it, the 2014 report was a result of an administration that had clearly been “considerably patient” with Russia in this regard.

In the face of increasing public condemnation of Russian missile activity, the Obama administration held fast to the idea that the treaty could still be salvaged. As of January 2014, President Obama had firmly stated that the United States “would not retaliate against the Russians by violating the treaty and deploying its own prohibited medium-range system.” However much the Obama administration may have worked towards a reasonable reconciliation of the INF Treaty, it was clear that relations were deteriorating. With the introduction of the Trump administration’s policy towards treaties as a general rule, it’s easy to overlook previous concerns and chalk this up as a another Trumpian gesture towards isolationism. Arguments that the treaty is outdated could also be compelling — China, the focal point of this presidency, is not bound by the INF Treaty. Not only has China’s economic and military encroachment in the region been a concern, but the United States under the INF Treaty was limited in its ability to pursue regional missile deterrence. But simply pulling out of the treaty does not automatically beget reasonable policy moving forward. In the context of the Obama administration, Trump’s policies are understandable on their face in this regard if not entirely substantiated by logical policy planning. This dumpster isn’t on fire yet, and that’s the best thing we can say about it.


The good news is that I think this was a good decision and one that was crafted and developed by key non-partisan strategists in the White House and military. That is just my perception, but ultimately, we have to give credit where credit is due. Even Obama had issues with the INF Treaty, and particularly with Russia violating the terms of the agreement. They again violated the terms under the Trump administration while denying it fervently. So this isn’t the first time Russia has violated the treaty, nor the first time it has been claimed that the 1987 treaty is an outdated holdover from the Cold War.

Furthermore, I don’t believe that this decision was made with Russia in mind at all. This was a strategic decision made with regards to China, a party that is not hindered by the INF and one that has been developing intermediate-range weapons, which they can do without violating international law. Meanwhile, the United States and Russia are bound by the INF Treaty only in theory.To be clear, the United States has not abandoned weapons research, but has in fact stopped short of full development. Regardless, I think this was a strategic decision made by high-level officials who have more information than is publically available and have shrewd long-term plans in mind.



On the other hand, while this dumpster isn’t on fire, it is smoking slightly. For me, this is a decision with long-term ramifications made on the schedule of a myopic administration. Exiting this treaty without bringing other arms control options to the table is not an effective way to make policy, especially with regard to a dangerous if not entirely rogue Russian Federation. When compounded with the United States leaving the JCPOA and the impending end date for the New START Treaty, these policy decisions speak to a dangerous pattern of the United States prioritizing its own military flexibility over stability in nuclear arms control.

That prioritization also speaks to something concerning in American foreign policy — notably the perception that arms control and nonproliferation treaties reflect a politics of wrongful constraint as opposed to a politics of responsibility. For the Trump administration, and especially National Security Advisor John Bolton, “escaping” the INF Treaty would allow the United States to try and compete against China’s mid-range conventional weapons buildup. Despite arguments that there is little point to adhering to a treaty that the Russians blatantly flout, the United States does relinquish its legitimacy by condemning Russian weapons buildup when it, not the Russian Federation, withdraws from the INF Treaty. Moreover, leaving the INF will not necessarily bring the Chinese to the table for arms control or nonproliferation negotiations. The United States has simply sacrificed its future leverage in its pursuit for current flexibility.


Pulling out of another treaty, which is starting to look like a trend at this point (it’s not trendy) is not great for U.S. foreign policy. It sends a message to the rest of the world that any treaty made with the United States could fall apart at any time. All of the progress that we have made in past years and the relationships developed between allies and non-allies alike mean nothing and can be reversed with a poorly-worded tweet. These are relationships that take decades to build. Diplomacy is not a short-term game and alliances are not easily developed. Ultimately, while I agree with pulling out of the INF Treaty, the fact that the United States has now reneged on several treaties does not set a high standard for American credibility.



The worst part of this is that there isn’t a precisely “right” answer. The INF Treaty was outdated and clearly ineffective in bringing the Russian Federation to heel regarding arms control and nuclear nonproliferation, but it was one of the few areas of meaningful bilateral policy cooperation in this regard between Moscow and Washington. The question then becomes whether or not leaving this treaty was directed at the Russians to begin with — I’m amenable to the argument that this was a move focused more on Chinese development than on Russian unwillingness to abide by treaty law, but I don’t think this was the most direct way to confront that issue. Once again, the Trump administration has chosen to approach foreign policy through a confrontation at the periphery rather than drilling down into the complex problems that will be confronting policymakers for the foreseeable future.

As I see it, those problems are twofold: First, how to negotiate with the Russian Federation in order to prevent Cold War-style escalation in Europe; second, how to limit or combat Chinese mid-range weapons development. Unlike the Cold War power dynamic, the United States does not have the political capital to leverage Russia back to the table via threat of force. The idea that the United States would be willing to defend its allies by placing missiles on the European continent in the face of a threat to the American homeland may have been slightly more believable in the 1960s, but it certainly will not work now. The decline of American prestige means that there is at least a tangential drop in U.S. deterrent capabilities in this realm, and Putin knows this. Considering the problem at hand, I think that it’s unlikely that the United States will be able to push for the same level of bilateral cooperation on this issue, at least during this administration. The Trump administration simply hasn’t prioritized the transatlantic relationship enough to make a sudden reversal on this issue credible. Moreover, the Russians haven’t experienced a meaningful consequence as a result of their actions, and it’s unreasonable to think that a petulant Trump will inspire them to fall in line.

That said, I think that the Chinese angle is much more workable. It’s clear that the Chinese have proven themselves as a reasonable geostrategic and economic alternative to the American-led world order, and recent reports of their weapons development projects suggest that they are trying to modernize their armed forces in a way that would place them in serious and direct conflict with American power projection in the region. More problematically, the Russian Federation and PRC are slowly re-aligning themselves against the United States — unlike the last time this happened, China is the political behemoth.


The main issue however is that without the INF Treaty, Russia can develop and use weapons that were previously banned. However, it can reasonably be argued that they were doing that anyway. Russia’s denials that they were not violating the treaty mean very little; after all, they denied they were invading Crimea and we can all see the reality of that situation. Furthermore, while leaving the INF Treaty might be good in the short term, there is no plan in place for long-term constraints on ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and missile launchers with ranges of 500-1000 km. Europe, the clear beneficiary of the treaty, no longer has that reassurance of safety from Russia from these particular weapons, and China is still free to develop these weapons at will. The question moving forward is do we enter into negotiations with China to continue to ban these weapons? I personally doubt that the Chinese will consider doing so. China has been steadily increasing its defense spending since 2007, and it doesn’t seem in their best interest to put restrictions on that progress.

Jewish studies flourish in Chinese universities

By Jesse Adler

Jesse Adler presenting on the Jewish American experience to students at Nanjing University (Photo credits: Lai Chuxuan, HNC ’19)

NANJING, China — On Christmas Day, at the invitation of the director of China’s National Institute for Jewish Studies, my Hopkins-Nanjing Center classmate Benjamin Miles and I discussed the Jewish American experience with an audience of 200 students at Nanjing University. During the two-hour talk, we first outlined the history of Jews in America, discussing various waves of immigration and what made each group unique. We shared personal insights on Jewish youth culture and identity, comparing regional and international divergences, which included a comparison of New York and Los Angeles, as well as the United States and Israel. The audience was highly engaged and particularly interested in understanding the roots of anti-Semitism in the West, as well as Jewish perceptions of China. For most people in the audience, this was their first time meeting Jewish people their own age.

Nanjing University is unique amongst Chinese universities in that the school houses a research institute dedicated to Jewish studies — one of the first of its kind to open in China. It was founded just four months after the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Israel in 1992. Since then, about a dozen similar institutes have opened across China, in far-flung locations such as Yunnan, Henan and Heilongjiang provinces.

But the emergence of Jewish studies in China goes back to the early 1980s. As China began experimenting with economic and social reforms, and as more Chinese students set out to study abroad, Chinese people came face-to-face with more Jews than ever before. What they encountered was a “Jewish people” who strongly valued family, their ancient history, and the pursuit of professional achievement – not unlike the Chinese themselves.  

Interest in Jewish studies in China has spread for various reasons. One reason is the necessity for Chinese businesspeople and policymakers to understand Israel, a self-proclaimed “Jewish state” with a population that is three-quarters Jewish. Economic synergy between the two countries has never been stronger, with bilateral trade growing from $50 million in 1992 to over $13 billion as of 2017. China is Israel’s largest trading partner in East Asia and China invests billions of dollars a year in Israeli tech firms.

Another explanation for the rise in Jewish studies in China deals with complex questions of identity. Following our guest lecture at Nanjing University, multiple students privately expressed to me that Chinese people strongly envy the Jewish people because they are a “successful” ethnic group. They referred to the wide representation of Jews holding leadership positions in various industries, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, and from Hollywood studios to centers of medical research. When a group of people that accounts for less than 0.02 percent of the world population is awarded 22 percent of all Nobel Prizes to date, the word “successful” tends to get thrown around. But who is a “Jew?”

While Israel has been called the “homeland of the Jewish people,” it is not Israeli nationalism that unites global Jewry in the 21st century, but instead the sacred religious texts, passed down from generations, which shapes the notion of a common Jewish heritage. Judaism as an ethno-religion is categorically distinct from the ethno-nationalism that shapes identity in modern China. While mainstream society is dominated by the majority Han ethnic group, Chinese people are composed of a total of 56 ethnicities, who are bound not by a sense of shared religious heritage, but instead to the concept of Chinese nationalism as propagated by the Communist Party. For the Chinese, to desire to be a “successful ethnic group like the Jews” is to raise complex questions of identity. What does it mean to be Chinese in the 21st century?      

In recent years, many bestselling business guides in China have sought to decode the Jewish people, instructing the Chinese how to emulate the best practices of Jewish businesspeople to succeed in negotiation, develop corporate strategies and provide advice on money management. These texts reinforce stereotypes of Jews that have traditionally been found in Western countries. Chinese writers tend to stereotype Jews in a positive light, holding Jews up as a people who the Chinese should strive to emulate.

As anti-Semitism continues to resurface in the West, more Jews may begin to look east to countries that have traditionally lacked a culture of anti-Semitism as places to study abroad, work or even settle down. Already, cities such as Shanghai and Harbin have opened Jewish history museums, appealing to Jewish tourists seeking to better understand the history of their people in China. Synagogues are tolerated in multiple Chinese cities, and China-Israel relations have only grown more robust. And for the 200 students who attended our guest lecture, they can bet this wasn’t their last interaction with Jews of their generation.   

Jesse Adler is a HNC Certificate ‘19/SAIS M.A. ‘20 student currently completing his Certificate at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center before starting at SAIS DC next fall.

Does a housing bubble threaten China’s economic health?

By Zhang Yaoyao and Amy Bodner

Zhang Yaoyao is a master’s student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center with a concentration in economics. Amy Bodner is a master’s student with a concentration in China Studies. We offer our viewpoints on the state of China’s housing market bubble.

Source: Marketing China

China does not have a housing bubble

By Zhang Yaoyao

NANJING, China — According to a report by a Chinese research firm on the Chinese housing market in October 2018, the growth in  housing prices in China has started to show signs of slowing down. But does this mean that there is a bubble in China’s housing market? Research from various housing agencies and comments from Chinese people on the street argue that the answer is no.

Although the soaring housing prices in first-tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou seem to have slowed their jaw-dropping speed since 2014, they still show great potential to rise again. The only reason they have not gone up as quickly as they did in previous years is strong intervention by the central government, which claimed on multiple occasions that it will “strongly curb the increasing of housing prices and expedite the establishment of a system to help the long-term healthy development of the real estate industry.”

What lies behind the statement is the investment value of houses in China. Due to capital control and a volatile, immature stock market, a vast amount of money in China cannot find its proper mechanism to reward investors with a satisfactory return. Therefore, houses in China have always remained the number-one investment choice for middle-class families and financial institutions.

Furthermore, the demand for buying a house to live in, as opposed to one to invest in, is also unfulfilled. For example, even for a husband and wife each holding a Shanghai “hukou” as a registered resident, couples are generally only allowed to buy one house, with a down payment of about 35 percent. In some circumstances, couples are allowed to buy a second house with a down payment of no less than 50 percent. For non-Shanghai “hukou” holders, it is much more difficult to buy a house, even if they work in the city and can afford such staggering housing prices.

Besides this highly restrictive policy on buying a house, cultural factors are also very important. According to the 2018 Single People’s Living and Transportation Consuming Report, published by 58.com, China’s largest urban service provider, 62.5 percent of young people prioritized  buying a house over marriage. Aside from this deeply ingrained expectation of home ownership before marriage, buying a house for oneself or one’s parents also remains strong. Due to zoning and education policy in China, buying a house in a reputable school district is also essential for couples to ensure a strong education for their children.

When demand is high, the likelihood of housing prices to decrease sharply is trivial. Lofty down payments, often paid by couples with help from their parents, are a great cushion for preventing large-scale defaults when a situation similar to the subprime mortgage crisis arises. But most importantly, due to the vital significance of the housing market and the consequences expected should it collapse, the government will not stand by and watch it fall. Besides, what the government is busy with right now is curbing the housing prices, not worrying about them going down.

The housing bubble is a threat to China’s financial future

By Amy Bodner

NANJING, China — China’s housing bubble, a key component of China’s larger debt crisis, sets the nation on the precipice of the next big financial crisis. Similar to the United States on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis, China currently has soaring levels of public and private debt. Economists have debated the possibility of China’s real estate Armageddon for over a decade, and with good reason. If the housing bubble bursts, China’s economy will descend into chaos, and due to huge debt, China might lack the resources to bail itself out.

The threat lies within the Chinese government’s high debt-to-GDP ratio, which comes from significant debt spread across local governments, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and real estate development projects. Officially, China’s debt-to-GDP ratio is reported at only 47 percent, though in reality the number is as high as 300 percent.  By comparison, the United States operates at a 105 percent debt-to-GDP ratio. Beijing has managed to stave off a debt crisis through a series of kick-the-can-down-the-road debt rollover policies, essentially refinancing its loans and waiting for GDP growth to generate the resources necessary to pay back debt. However, China’s housing bubble has an increased chance of bursting as GDP growth slows. It is simply a matter of when.

The origin of the housing bubble in China is its booming real estate market. Wang Jianlin, founder of China’s megalithic Wanda Corporation, labeled the real estate sector “China’s biggest bubble.” Real estate is a significant driver of the Chinese economy, accounting for around 30 percent of GDP growth. Housing prices have grown by around 13 percent annually since the early 2000s, while land prices in major Chinese cities have increased by five times their original value. Seizing the opportunity, Chinese developers have been purchasing land and building residential real estate — an average of 5.5 million apartments a year. Employment in the construction sector accounts for 16 percent of urban employment currently in China.

Why is real estate such a hot investment in China? Iron-fisted Beijing allows few legal channels for overseas investment, the stock market is volatile and banks keep interest rates artificially low. Naturally, nouveau-riche Chinese looking to expand their wealth turn to real estate because it is perceived to be a highly profitable and stable avenue of investment. Housing prices have exploded 31 percent from 2015 to 2017, and now they are the most expensive in the world. China is interested in letting developers build houses to boost GDP, there is no shortage of buyers and returns on housing investments keep increasing. Enter the housing bubble.

New house prices in China are the most expensive in the world.
Source: Financial Times    

All of this investment leads to debt. Chinese borrowing is on the rise, increasing to from 162 percent of GDP in 2008 to over 266 percent of GDP currently. Chinese citizens have massive public debt as they take out loans to buy houses and the Chinese government has debt in investment projects whose goal is keep GDP numbers high. Beijing has to walk a tightrope between taking out investment loans to stimulate the economy while trying to manage the consequent ballooning debt. In 2016, Chinese banks issued a record high of 12.65 trillion RMB in loans to meet economic growth targets. Residential real estate investment has increased 14 percent from 2017 to 2018, while development loans have increased 21 percent in that same time-frame.

Debt is not an issue so long as returns are high enough to cover the interest payments on loans. China has relied on this method of kick-the-can-down-the-road debt alleviation since its economic boom in the 1980s. At that time, China lacked basic infrastructure, housing and transportation, so investment opportunities in those industries were highly lucrative. Beijing could just take out loans, wait for the economy to grow and then pay down the loans when they were wealthier as a nation. Now, China’s pattern of massive lending, massive development goals and then massive payoffs can only continue if China’s GDP growth continues at high rates. Previously, China’s unprecedented GDP growth generated the resources necessary for the government to pay off its loans. But GDP growth is slowing. One reason for falling returns on investments is underperforming SOEs, but these must be supported by the government as they are “too big to fail,” and so they contribute to Beijing’s overall debt level.

As Beijing searches for a solution to the debt crisis, it follows its nose to high returns in the real estate market. This increases the likelihood that the housing bubble will continue to inflate and burst. Ideally, China needs to continue to boost its GDP growth, likely via development projects, while deleveraging debt. Unfortunately, these two moves are fundamentally at odds, as it is necessary to borrow to fund development. One option would be to let house prices fall, which would cool investment, but this is not politically feasible. Homeowners expect their property values to increase, and reforms that threaten this growth have led to protests. Also, given that many real estate development firms are at risk of financial insolvency if house prices even level out, letting prices fall significantly might start a domino effect of bankruptcy, leading to domestic instability. Chinese citizens are used to a planned economy and expect Beijing to protect them from the pitfalls of market failure under capitalism.  

China’s GDP growth in the third quarter of last year was only 6.5 percent, the lowest it has been since 2009. It is projected to sink even lower as the effects of the trade war with the United States are felt. China’s trade woes wedge it between a rock and a hard place: Beijing currently relies on tight monetary policy to deleverage this debt crisis, but it will eventually have to loosen its monetary policies to encourage growth so that China can stomach the brunt of Trump’s tariffs.

The next few quarters of GDP growth reports will reveal much about the future of China’s housing bubble. If China’s debt-to-GDP ratio swells to a level that the returns on investment are not enough to cover the cost of the interest accrued on the loans, the bubble will burst. Perhaps Beijing will look for ways to give its economy a competitive advantage, such as seeking higher productivity from workers or considering giving more autonomy to the private sector. However, given Xi’s political tendencies to tighten rather than liberalize, this seems unlikely. The only thing that is certain is that if China’s bubble bursts, there would be an economic recession the likes of which would make the 2008 financial crisis seem minor by comparison.

Joel Nommick and the man who never came home

Photo Credit: Timothy Kolczak

By Cecilia Panella

WASHINGTON — Last Friday I met a man who told me that he hopes his father had died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Despite being liberated by the British from Nazi control in April of 1945, Jean Nommick never returned home from Bergen-Belsen. His son, Joel Nommick, has spent a large part of his own life trying to piece together the history of a man he never met — a man who it seems evaporated into thin air in the spring of 1945. What he knows is this: For the majority of the war his father was detained in labor camps in Nazi Germany, spending time in Camp Vernet, Gross-Rosen, Drancy, Auschwitz and Mittelbau-Dora, until eventually surviving a death march to Bergen-Belsen.

He was a man of indomitable will and a talent for survival. Those over the years who had contacted the Nommick family told them of how he nursed others in the camp back to health, risking his life to supply them with food. But some time after Jean Nommick’s liberation from Bergen-Belsen as one of 60,000 emaciated victims of Nazi horrors there, he never made it home.

Despite a letter he carefully wrote and posted to his family, despite surviving the death march to Bergen-Belsen and the horrific conditions at Auschwitz, despite his ability to make himself invaluable to his Nazi overseers and despite his invitations to others in the camps to visit his family for a meal back home in Toulouse, Jean Nommick was last seen marching towards Russia.

Last Friday, his son leaned forward toward a group of students seated in an auditorium and told us very slowly, yet very firmly that he hopes his father died in Bergen-Belsen, and not in a Soviet gulag. Since Jean was originally from what is now considered part of Estonia, it was likely that he, along with a few thousand other prisoners, were “repatriated” to the Soviet Union after Germany’s surrender.

This was no march towards freedom. In many cases, these people simply traded the concentration camps for the deplorable conditions of a Siberian gulag. Stalin’s notably anti-Semitic rule led to thousands of deaths from malnutrition and the gulags’ brutal conditions. The question for Joel is not whether his father survived, but whether he died before having to experience the brutality of the Soviet reeducation system. Imagine a world where dying in Bergen-Belsen was somehow more merciful than surviving the Nazis but meeting a harrowing end in Soviet Russia.

For us — listening to Joel’s story at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in comfortable seats — such a world was beyond the furthest and darkest reaches of our grasp. For Joel Nommick, such a world will hopefully remain beyond the grasp of our society for the rest of history. He left us by saying, “Remember that love is stronger than hate…love life, love family, and your community. Stand up for your beliefs and for others when they need it.”

This trip and lecture was made possible by the SAIS Strategic Studies department and the dedicated faculty and staff associated with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in preparation for International Staff Ride 2019. Participating students will be studying the French Resistance during the Holocaust in France from March 16-22.

Deal or no deal? UK still divided as Brexit deadline approaches

Photo credits: BBC

By Danielle Minnett

BOLOGNA, Italy —The window of opportunity for the British Parliament to approve a Brexit withdrawal agreement is closing fast. Yet the future of the U.K. and the EU’s relationship remains unclear. The Withdrawal Agreement proposed by Theresa May was defeated by a record margin in the U.K. Parliament last November. The controversial Irish backstop, which said that Northern Ireland would broadly continue to function as part of the EU, suffered much of the blame for the defeat. After surviving a vote of no confidence, May is working to avoid a no-deal Brexit that could take place on March 29 if alternatives are not approved.

Two weeks ago, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, U.K. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier met, but made little progress was made towards solidifying the future of the U.K.-EU relationship. The group has since convened for further meetings, but the U.K.’s hope of reopening November’s Withdrawal Agreement and placing a time limit on the Irish backstop to reduce Parliamentary resistance to the deal seems unlikely. The EU has been firm in its refusal to return to the negotiating table. As a result, it seems both sides have been dismissive of a possible breakthrough.

In consequence, May is left with few options to push her agenda. She can request the extension of Article 50 in order to delay the March 29 deadline for up to three months. An extension beyond this time period would obligate the U.K. to participate in the May 23-26 European Parliament elections, an outcome both sides want to prevent. While May has consistently opposed a change in schedule to the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU, a parliamentary revolt could force a delay request regardless.

Three possible scenarios seem likely as a result of this impasse. First, Parliament could demand an alternative strategy to negotiations and enact amendments that could change the manner of the U.K.’s exit from the EU. Alternatively, Parliament could simply force an extension of Article 50 and buy the U.K. more time to put legislation in place to deal with its withdrawal. Finally, Parliament could express its approval of May’s negotiation tactics and opt to wait for the March 21-22 EU summit, where it would be faced with the decision to  accept or reject a withdrawal agreement. This agreement could look identical to the version proposed in November 2018, or it could potentially include some small concessions from the EU. If the U.K. rejects the deal, a last-minute extension could be requested — but any postponement would have to be approved by the remaining 27 EU members. If no extension is made, a no-deal Brexit will be the outcome.

British MPs have already begun to act on their concern over this issue. Labour MPs Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Ann Coffey, Gavin Shuker and Joan Ryan have all left the party due to their disillusionment with the party’s direction and leadership. This week, three Tory MPs, Anne Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston also defected from the Conservative party, claiming Brexit has been taken over by the party’s right-wing, anti-EU members. These MPs have since united to form the Independent Group, bonding over their opposition to a no-deal Brexit.

With a falling sterling and fluctuating market volatility, the uncertainty over Brexit is already affecting U.K. citizens. Furthermore, anticipation of border disruption has caused large companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, Ford and Honda to pause production and cut jobs within the U.K. With the window of time closing for no-deal Brexit protesters, May and the U.K. Parliament face mounting pressure to find a solution to alleviate the rising political and social unrest.

Ghosted by WMATA – SAIS students left on read

In December the SAIS student body voted for DC’s student public transportation subsidy: UPass. Like any truly democratic vote, only 50 percent of the student body actually participated. The student body was divided in their opinion about the subsidy, but nevertheless, the UPass vote was held.

Carrie Dababi, who lives in Petworth, voted for UPass so she could save some money traveling to and from SAIS. When she first moved to the city, she didn’t realize how far Nitze was from her apartment (nor was she prepared for what an eyesore it was). With UPass, she says she might finally have enough money get the occasional Harvest Bowl from Sweetgreen on her busy days at school. Corey Ander, who lives in Adams Morgan, didn’t need UPass because he walks to school everyday. He doesn’t want to pay the 0.48 percent tuition increase for a pass he won’t really use. Regarding his thoughts on the DC Metro, he says he cannot stand the 22-minute wait for the Green Line on the weekends and would rather stay in. Dilbert Pickles however has taken too many economics classes at SAIS and had plans to sell his UPass at a premium to the most populous student population in DC: George Washington University.

Months have passed. Students have gone and returned from their winter breaks as peace negotiators, cultural experts and budding diplomats yet no results have been officially announced. Both Dilbert and Carrie continue to grudgingly pay for public transportation but only use the metro during off-peak hours between 10:45-11:00 p.m. Carrie can still only shop at Trader Joe’s and yearns for her Harvest Bowl. Corey still walks to school and buys his $5 coffee at an indie cafe because he won’t support chains. Dilbert is taking Game Theory this semester so he bought a couple of UPasses from American University students and sold them at a premium to a George Washington students after bidding up the price himself.

WMATA never responded as to what happened and why SAIS won’t be eligible for UPass; however, American University still has the passes for 10,000 students. Rumor has it you can still buy one from Dilbert at an extreme price markup that may or may not be worth it, but only if you ask him nicely.

SAIS: … so I still haven’t heard from him..

Debbie: I’m sure he’s just busy! You know how it is. Grad school, problem sets, snow days. It happens!

SAIS: Are you sure? I was really into him… I thought we had a connection.

Debbie: I’m sure you did! Just give him some time. He’ll text you back.




WMATA: *read* ✓

Europe struggles for consensus on Venezuela

Photo by Edilzon Gamez/Getty Images

By Gabriela Saenz

BOLOGNA, Italy — The beginning of Nicolas Maduro’s second term on January 10 as head of state set off a series of controversial events in Venezuela, and paved the way for the international community to move from neutrality to action. Highly contested elections were held in May 2018, with Maduro victorious once again, though on a mere turnout of 46 percent, a number the opposition claims to be lower due to their boycott of the elections. The international community, led by the United States and the Lima Group, a body of 12 North and Latin American countries, denounced the results through protests, cutting diplomatic ties, imposing further sanctions and deeming the election unfair and illegitimate. Maduro dismissed these claims in his victory speech and was sworn into his second five-year term as president pronouncing democracy victorious.

However, on January 23, Juan Guaidó, the current president of the National Assembly, declared himself acting president on the grounds that Maduro’s election last year was fraudulent. As per Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution, “when the president-elect is absolutely absent before taking office, a new election shall take place […] and while the president is elected and takes office, the interim president shall be the President of the National Assembly.”

Following these proceedings, on January 26 the European Union advised Maduro to hold proper elections within a given period of eight days. Thus far — approximately a month later — Maduro has yet to comply, claiming such stipulation to be a U.S.-led coup d’état. Consequently, countries such as Spain, the United Kingdom, France and Germany recognized Guaidó as interim president.

Of note, the decision to recognize Guaidó as president was put forth by individual states, and the EU has not made any statement. The latter was a result of Italy’s veto on a bid to toughen the EU’s common position on Venezuela, because foreign policy positions to have a unanimous backing from all 28 member states. Italy’s situation stems from a division within the coalition government in Rome on how to address the crisis at hand. Matteo Salvini has spoken out declaring that “Italy is losing face” by not backing the opposition, whose de jure status places Guaidó as the official president of Venezuela under national law. On the other side Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the Five Star Movement, remains neutral, neither opposing nor siding with the opposition, arguing this to be an interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs. Additional abstaining EU member states include Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece and Malta.

But the EU has not been uninvolved. EU leaders met with several Latin American countries — Costa Rica, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Bolivia — on February 7 in Montevideo, Uruguay to discuss a political and peaceful process to end Venezuela’s ongoing crisis as part of a newly-formed International Contact Group. In a joint statement after the meeting, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, announced “[the EU’s] goal is to help establish as soon as possible the necessary guarantees for new presidential elections, and to allow for the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance. […] For these reasons, we will soon send a technical mission to the country.” With no clear decision in sight, the group will reconvene at the end of March.

The Briefing: Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda

By Cecilia Panella

WASHINGTON — On March 7, the SAIS Careers in Diplomacy Club will be hosting Egypt’s  ambassador to the U.S. Yasser Reda for a luncheon and discussion on Egyptian security and global terrorism. According to his biography from the Egyptian embassy, Amb. Reda is a 33-year veteran of Egypt’s diplomatic corps who has served in China, Cyprus, Iraq and Italy and speaks fluent English, French and Arabic. Among his more notable tours, Amb. Reda was deputy chief of mission in Berlin in 2004 and later was Egypt’s ambassador to Israel, a post he held from 2008 to 2012. Ambassador Reda’s experience is not limited to foreign service. He also served two separate, non-consecutive terms as assistant minister of Foreign Affairs and chief of the Cabinet of Egypt — once from 2006 to 2008, and again from 2013 to 2015. After his second term, Amb. Reda was appointed to his current post as ambassador to the United States in September 2015.

During his time as ambassador, Ambassador Reda has been an integral part of Egyptian-American relations. After a two-year hiatus on the dispension of American military aid to Egypt under President Obama, the Trump administration not only repeatedly welcomed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, but also took a much softer line on Egyptian-American relations than his predecessor. Ambassador Reda is on the record as confirming meetings between the two leaders as having been “constructive” and has said that President el-Sisi’s tenure as president has done much to improve Egypt domestically and increase trade with the United States.

Since President el-Sisi won his April 2018 election with 97 percent of the vote, Amb. Reda has continued to serve and defend his government here in Washington. In response to critics of President el-Sisi who claim that economic reforms and alleged political crackdowns have deeply impacted the president’s popularity, Amb. Reda has reaffirmed Egyptian commitment to judicial independence and rule of law. He points out that both are critical for a functioning democracy and is quick to laud Egyptian efforts to protect these rights in a region “otherwise fraught with turmoil.” With the ramifications of the 2011 Arab Spring still echoing across the region, conversations with diplomats like Amb. Reda provide critical insights into Middle Eastern politics and policy. To attend the SAIS Careers in Diplomacy Club event with Amb. Reda, please use the Eventbrite link here.

The Briefing: Marta Serafini, foreign correspondent for Corriere della Sera

Serafini (pictured right) with GWIL Executive Board member, Alissa Pavia.

By Olivia Magnanini

BOLOGNA, Italy — On February 18, Marta Serafini, a foreign correspondent for Corriere della Sera, came to SAIS Europe to speak with students about her work, the challenges of reporting in the Middle East, the changing media landscape and financial pressures facing news organizations and her experience as a female journalist in an intense and scrutinizing media landscape. Serafini, who studied international relations at the University of Bologna, focuses her work on terrorism and the use of social media for propaganda purposes.

In 2013, Serafini traveled for the first time to Syria in the second year of the war, reporting from the opposition territory which was under ISIS scrutiny. Spending a night in a refugee camp under the control of the Free Syrian Army, she spoke with men who were scared of being recruited into ISIS, a reality that they faced daily. She also spoke with women and children who had experienced sexual and physical violence at the hands of the Syrian forces. When she returned to Italy and gave her story to her editors, it appeared in the digital edition, but not in print. Although she was disappointed, she understood their reasoning. But, she stressed that in everything, “if you are a woman, you have to do more.”

Prior to working at the foreign affairs desk, Serafini covered Italian politics, including the rise of the Five Star Movement. Last summer, she covered the decision by the government to deny migrants coming by boat across the Mediterranean the right to disembark in Italy. Serafini underscored the importance  of understanding situations from all angles, particularly what is happening behind the scenes, when trying to write a story. She also addressed the difficulty of a journalist to rely solely on observation, especially when addressing sensitive issues with sources who could be in danger, including victims of domestic violence, refugees and protestors. When working with these sources, Serafini stressed that “you must always use your conscience” and that “the way you write must be more neutral, [it is] not necessarily right to be impactful” by inserting your opinion or feelings about the situation.  

One of the most challenging times for Serafini to maintain her neutrality was for her story on Maria Giulia “Fatima” Sergio, an Italian student who left Italy to become a foreign fighter for ISIS in 2015, and which later became a book. Serafini first contacted her by Skype, curious to see if she would submit to an interview and was surprised when she agreed. Although initially Sergio wanted information about her parents from Serafini, their conversations eventually grew to the point where Sergio recounted her story of going to Syria to fight for ISIS. Serafini discussed the importance of maintaining balance, stopping Sergio when her propaganda tactics would leak into the conversation. She stressed that her role as a journalist was “not to judge or save her, just to tell her story.”

Serafini says that “new media,” such as podcasts and using social media to aid in the reporting process, are some of the most exciting parts of the job. For example, when reporting on the refugee boat crisis last summer, she was able to capture a scene on her smartphone and send it to her news desk immediately. They were able to upload it as a story in less than three hours. She admits that Corriere della Sera is still catching up with other organizations in using these tools but is hopeful for the future of journalism as these means allow news outlets to reach new audiences, like The New York Times’ wildly successful podcast “Caliphate.” Serafini ended her talk by encouraging SAIS students who want to be journalists to keep pushing and to follow the truth, wherever that may be. She said the vital work of foreign correspondents in the far-flung corners of the world is more important than ever, helping to bring stories on war, political conflict and humanitarian crises to our attention.

Cas Mudde: Populism and extremism in Europe

Photo credits: Vasilia Anayiotos

By Lisa Nations

WASHINGTON — On February 14, the European and Eurasian Studies (EES) program hosted distinguished Professor Cas Mudde for the Leonard Schapiro Memorial Prize Lecture on “Populism in Europe: An Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism.”

Mudde is a leading scholar on political extremism and has published five books about populism in Europe, particularly with regard to extreme right-wing parties. He is currently a professor at the University of Georgia and the co-founder of the European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on Extremism and Democracy.

It was fitting that Mudde delivered his lecture about the love-hate relationship that society has with populism on Valentine’s Day. People love to talk about populism but hate that it is establishing footholds across the globe. Media outlets report on populism as often as other political movements, even though it is only capturing an average of 25 percent of the vote in Europe.

Mudde began the lecture by introducing his often-cited definition of populism and highlighting its key implications. Mudde defines populism as “an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups: ‘the pure people’ and ‘the corrupt elite,’” and argues that politics should be an expression of the “volonté générale” (general will) of the people.

The first implication for Mudde is that populism is a “thin-centered ideology,” meaning that it does not determine policy goals without being tethered to a host ideology (e.g. nativism).

Secondly, “homogenous and antagonistic groups” are based fundamentally in monism and moralism. Monism sees people as one unit with shared interests and values rather than accepting a plurality of values. Moralism creates the fundamental distinction between the ‘pure group’ and the ‘corrupt elite’ who have objectively wrong values. Mudde later expanded on this point in saying that people are only populist in opposition. Once they are in power, they can invent a new elite, which becomes dangerous when liberal democratic response is weak. He believes this is the current case in Europe vis-à-vis Hungary.

The third implication, according to Mudde, is that the “general will of the people” demonstrates that populism is pro-democracy but anti-liberal democracy. Given the belief in homogeneity, populism has a fundamental problem with liberal protections because they create delineations among “the people” (e.g. along lines of race, gender, heritage etc.). In the eyes of populists, these delineations do not exist.

After detailing the key implications of his definition of populism, Mudde explained that populism in Europe is an illiberal response to undemocratic decision-making. He claimed that politicians made decisions that were “democratic in process but undemocratic in spirit.” He used the example of European integration, arguing that state representatives joined the EU without the support of their constituents.

Monumental decisions like these have drawn increased scrutiny during a time of heightened “cognitive mobilization.” Populism is a response to this undemocratic liberalism, positioning itself as a new movement capable of responding to the negative backlash from decisions such as European integration.

Professor Mudde concluded that the means to defeat populism lies in a re-politicization of politics. Doing so requires more fora through which “the people” can have open, ideological debates. Everyone, not just populists, speaks of “the people” in a homogenous sense but everyone knows that societies have infinite gradations in opinion. Politicians, in proposing policies, must explain convincingly why they support those policies and allow a conversation between different points of view to unfold.

“If you believe well-informed people will make the wrong choice, then you have the wrong system.”   

The Briefing: Exploring Foreign Policy Through the Creative Process

Photo Credit: (Left) Peter van Agtmael, www.petervanagtmael.net/
(Middle) Lea Carpenter, taken by: Michael Lionstar (Right)
Elliot Ackerman, www.aspenpublicradio.org

By Cecilia Panella

WASHINGTON — “Exploring Foreign Policy Through the Creative Process” took place on February 21, 2019. It included in the speaking list are Peter van Agtmael, Elliot Ackerman and Lea Carpenter. This issue of The Briefing digs into the motivations of each speaker in creating their work and the complex relationship between domestic American politics, humanity and morality, and the horrors of conflict overseas.

Peter van Agtmael

Peter van Agtmael didn’t originally want to become a photographer. He went to Yale University to study history and eventually found Catherine Opie’s photography class. After graduating, he worked with The New York Times Magazine for three years, where he spent time on and off embedded in Iraq’s Helmand province with U.S. Marines. He discussed his fascination with conflict and his time in the Middle East in a 2018 New York Times article as compelling on personal, emotional and deeply political levels.  Despite his assertion that “photography is photography,” van Agtmael drew powerful connections between his work on conflict overseas and how these wars seeped across the sand and ocean to soak into the very fabric of American society.

In a December 2009 article, he noted that the men he spoke with in person and captured on film seemed to be caught between the worlds of conflict and of the society that willed it into being, pointing out the “rampant” post-traumatic stress disorder among those he worked with in Iraq. When asked about the extent to which his work has influenced his politics, van Agtmael said that he aspires to be a truthful photographer, something he says is markedly different from an objective photographer. “At the end of the day,” he says, “you are choosing what to frame…what’s the objectivity in that?” Peter van Agtmael’s perspective on conflict and its greater ramifications throughout the fabric of American society makes him a natural choice for the speaking series, “Exploring Foreign Policy through the Creative Process,” where he was joined by Elliot Ackerman and Lea Carpenter at SAIS. More information on his work can be found on Magnum Pro, where he is currently listed as a photographer, and more information on his time in Iraq can be found at the New York Times’ “At War Blog.”

Elliot Ackerman

According to his official publishing page at Simon and Schuster, Elliot Ackerman received a Silver Star, a Bronze Star Medal for valor and a Purple Heart for his tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. More recently, he is known for his literary works, which span from essays in The New Yorker and The Atlantic to full-length novels. His 2017 novel “Dark at the Crossing” was a finalist for the National Book Award and dealt with the complexities of interpersonal relationships and interstate conflict while detailing an account of an Arab-American who seeks to cross the Turkish border to fight in Syria.

His work is emblematic of the powerful bond between literature, culture and conflict. Like Peter van Agtmael, Ackerman’s personal experiences have informed his way of viewing the world and the methods he uses to share them. In his most recent book Waiting for Eden, Ackerman closely details the suffering of the main character, Eden, as a result of injuries he sustained on the battlefield — but he isn’t centering the book around the circumstances that brought Eden to his hospital bed. He says in a 2018 interview with NPR that the book “isn’t about war,” but rather is focused on the emotional ramifications of conflict. He, like van Agtmael, is acutely aware that “trauma outside of wars can just echo and echo and echo,” and his novels are both a reflection of and homage to the humanity of those who experience conflict.

Lea Carpenter

For Lea Carpenter, experiencing loss was the impetus for writing her first novel, “Eleven Days, which debuted in 2013. She says in a 2014 interview with Penguin Random House that she “wanted to write about something that she knew very little about” and ended up writing “Eleven Days” as a result of research she was doing into her father’s history and a dare from an agent to try her hand at fiction. Similar to Ackerman’s characters in “Waiting for Eden, Carpenter’s lead, Sara, is coping with immeasurable and continuous loss. While Eden is bound to a hospital bed without means to communicate with his wife Mary, Sara’s son Jason is declared missing as a result of a Special Forces Operation. Neither Mary nor Sara are mourning the deaths of their loved ones per se, but the circumstances of both situations evoke the same sense of emotional exhaustion at the hands of conflict.

The interpersonal relationships that are shaped by war and conflict are also at the center of Carpenter’s newest release, “Red, White, Blue,” which asks its characters to cope with betrayal and questions their reasoning for choosing to work for the Central Intelligence Agency.  In an August 2018 article she wrote for Time Magazine, Carpenter delves into the effect that war has had on her own past though her relationship with her father, a World War II veteran, and his relationship with his past as a member of the Doolittle pilots rescue mission. Like both van Agtmael and Ackerman, Carpenter’s work is expansive in its treatment of war and its effects on families. Also like van Agtmael and Ackerman, Carpenter’s works don’t provide concrete “answers” for how or when grief and loss are manifested in war, and her perhaps intentional choice to leave some “loose ends” at the end of “Red, White, Blue” mimics the United States’ complex relationship with conflict abroad: Sometimes there isn’t a clean ending, and perhaps we shouldn’t expect one.

Picking up the pieces: The Kurdish independence movement looking forward

Photo credit: Levi Clancy

Originally published in 2018 as a larger piece in DEMOS Vol. 1, Article 6,“The Kurds: Independence is Going to Have to Wait … Again” explores the past, present, and future implications of the Kurdish independence movement. The piece in its entirety can be found here. This piece is also the 2018 Winning Recipient of the Annual First-Year Writing Contest at Lake Forest College.

All of the previous installments of this series can be found on The SAIS Observer website here, covering the political positioning of a Kurdish referendum as well as potential international responses. This upcoming piece is a reflection of the author on the current situation since the publication of the paper — where policy should go and what to expect moving forward.

By Zach Klein

Future policy for the Kurdish independence movement should focus on accepting its losses and working toward solidifying a future independence bid. Maintenance of the current status quo — a stateless yet autonomous Kurdish population — is unsustainable. The Kurds have made great strides in the past decade that bolster their case for statehood and have proven to be capable of defending themselves should they have support from an ally. Whatever the extent of such improvements in government, the Kurdish independence movement is still far from a united front. The disunity in the movement stems from the present state borders and is further fragmented by relations with regional actors. One thing all Kurds can agree on is that they desire independence and a sovereign state beyond their current level of political autonomy, which was substantiated by polling results from the September 2017 referendum. An overwhelming 92 percent majority of those who voted in September supported the referendum.

Despite this apparent momentum, the aftermath of the referendum has left the Kurds without U.S. support to fend off the wrath of the Iraqi, Turkish, and Iranian governments. With no U.S. backing and little prospect of future support given the American retreat from the Middle East, the Kurds have to find a way to seek greater autonomy by negotiating with their respective central governments. This means that the Kurds will have to find new partners in the region and in the international community in order to have leverage when negotiating for increased autonomy. Looking at Iraq specifically, where Iraqi troops pushed the Kurdish Peshmerga out of Kirkuk and continued to isolate the KRG, the Kurds have lost a significant amount of negotiating power and political capital in Baghdad.  It is clear that the KRG will have to publicly display its unwillingness to seek independence at the moment and seek to negotiate with Baghdad to recover the broken relations between the two governments.

In Syria, the U.S. retreat has led to the YPG opening channels with Russia and Assad to attempt to gain a seat at the table in the final settlement of resources at the end of the Syrian Civil War. For example, recent reports of U.S.-allied Kurdish forces routing oil to the Assad regime suggest that the Kurds are shoring up access to trading partners in preparation for what will likely be a very messy American withdrawal. Making deals with Russia, whose future in the region is more certain than that of the United States, would help the Kurds secure their political positioning. Moreover, a strong and politically assertive partner with significant regional allies is what the Kurds need to keep the wrath of the various federal governments at bay. Despite other potential costs, befriending Russia could grant the Kurds a stronger voice at the final settlement of the Syrian Civil War and possibly enable them to regain territory lost to the Turks in the push against the Syrian town of Afrin. Additionally, should the Kurds seek to create deals with Damascus, Assad’s troops stationed in Aleppo could also provide support in defending Manbij from Turkish incursions. This is an especially high priority given recent statements by Turkish President Erdogan that Turkey’s fraying patience “will end” should the Kurds refuse to leave Manbij. Kurdish unwillingness to cede to Turkish forces also puts the United States in a political conundrum — American forces can either withdraw without a legitimate protection plan in place for their Kurdish allies and honor the previous American agreement with the Turks to remove YPG units from Manbij, or the U.S. can renege on its previous agreement with Turkey and further endanger Kurdish forces when the large-scale withdrawal commences in April. Either way, rapidly shifting power dynamics could favor non-state actors and trigger an uptick in violence in this already war-torn region.

Given the region’s instability and past political conflicts, it has become even more unlikely that any state will grant independence to the Kurds. However, if the Kurds can work peacefully within the international system and maintain their current sovereignty levels through closer management of the currently decentralized political apparatus and maintenance of the Peshmerga, these steps could provide a solid foundation for future full independence. Their stated preference for maintenance of American control in Syria vis-a-vis smaller allied forces and UN observers would seem to split the difference, though success of such a measure would be predicated on careful diplomatic overtures to British and French allies as well as the cooperation of the United Nations. The fact remains that military and political stability is a necessary prerequisite for Kurdish independence, and with regional conditions poised to deteriorate, the Kurds must focus internally to consolidate power, provide a bastion for good governance practices, and carefully negotiate these next few months if they wish to push for independence in the near future.

Zach Klein is a sophomore majoring in international relations and economics at Lake Forest College. Zach wants to continue to study Middle Eastern politics and hopes to work as an analyst for the State Department.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The shutdown

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump currently owns the largest government shutdown in American history — 35 days of political deadlock and recalcitrance. The president pushed for funding for a border wall that Democrats were unwilling to support, and the resulting gridlock furloughed thousands of federal employees and contractors and left multitudes unpaid. The end of this partial shutdown came on January 25, when the president signed legislation that funded the government until February 15, 2019. However, this legislation did not include funds for a barrier at the southern American border, a result that incensed the president’s conservative critics and bolstered the early days of Nancy Pelosi’s newest term as speaker of the House. The important thing here is that this partial shutdown will not quickly fade from the memory of the American people or the institutions starved for resources as funds dried up.

Now, The SAIS Observer presents its newest series: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which endeavors to tackle the tough questions in domestic and foreign policy. Spearheaded by editor-in-chief Danielle Thompson and lead for outreach and external sourcing Cecilia Panella, this project is meant to address the nuances of policy in a way that is both accessible and thought-provoking. We’re glad that you’re with us on this journey, and if you have suggestions on topics you would like us to take a look at, email us here.

Think of us as your tour guides through the jungle of American politics, economics and international relations, minus the bucket hats and necessary malaria vaccinations.

The Good


Honestly, this is a pretty depressing start to the series. Looking around at the benefits of the shutdown, it’s hard to see how the Trump Administration could tally this one up as a win. That said, let’s take a look at the strategy that Trump used. Overall, the president wanted to use the entirety of the federal government as leverage in order to push the Democrat-held House of Representatives to fund the wall and thus cave to the president’s immigration agenda. As I see it, Trump was relying on two things: first, that the House would be unwilling to let the government lapse into partial shutdown, especially with the Democrats at the helm after the midterms. Second, the president was betting that Nancy Pelosi’s leadership would not be enough to make sure that Democrats toed the party line despite the impending backlash for the shutdown. A fractured Democratic Party could have resulted in a funded border wall and a brutal and early blow to Nancy Pelosi’s term as House speaker. This would not only have increased support from Trump’s base, but also emphasized a preponderance of power with the president after big losses in the midterms. At the end of the day, we all know how this story ended: Trump didn’t get a dollar for the wall, and the government has been funded through the second week of February.

The main — and perhaps only — beneficiary of the shutdown was the Democratic Party. Speaker Pelosi clearly consolidated power, and her willingness to call the president’s bluff has stifled criticism of her in the media and tangentially addressed concerns within her own party about her leadership capabilities.

Those who were negatively impacted by the shutdown, be it due to lapses in food stamp licensing in grocery stores or due to the loss of paychecks, will certainly remember Trump’s willingness to use people as bargaining chips when it comes to voting next November. For others who wish to see Trump be a one-term president, the possible fragmentation of his base as a result of his well-publicized failure to deliver on this particular campaign promise may also be reflected at the polls. These may be upsides for the Democratic Party, but they certainly aren’t upsides for the American people.


There is really only one perspective from where it can be argued that any good came out of the government shutdown and that perspective is a liberal/Democratic one.

Historically, government shutdowns never really benefit the party that initiates them. The initiating party is usually blamed for the negative repercussions that accompany a government shutdown. Parties may try to spin this, and I’m sure they do a tremendous job of doing so, but bottom line is that it just doesn’t work out politically for the party that uses a government shutdown to get something they want.

This shutdown was an especially tough situation just because of its record breaking length. Government workers lost two paychecks and government contractors aren’t going to get that money back. As a former government contractor, I know that there will be no back-pay, no hours to make up and no recompense for those who are not government FTEs (full-time employees). A situation like this was always a big fear of mine. The only good I can see in this situation is the increased awareness of issues like these and the fact that blame for these hardships was placed squarely on the appropriate person: President Trump.

The Bad


What an unmitigated disaster. Given Trump’s tenuous grasp on control of the federal government, his reliance on the Democrats to bow to his demands was a major and easily-callable bluff. If you’re going to use the entirety of the government and the livelihoods of thousands of Americans as leverage, you have to make sure you actually control the lever first. Trump didn’t, and he won’t in February.

The results of the shutdown have brought the executive branch very close to a legitimacy crisis. My concern is looking ahead to February. If Trump sees this next deadline as a chance to re-exert his power over the legislature, January may have only been the start of a political conflict that could send the American economy and international prestige reeling. Furthermore, this isn’t something with an instantaneous fix. Despite the president signing what is essentially a continuance for this particular matter, the damage has already been done. Re-funding the government doesn’t mean that those thousands of federal workers can suddenly pay rent or a mortgage, fund their healthcare costs, or pay for childcare; their obligations did not pause with the shutdown. This is a long-term threat to the stability of American economic and personnel infrastructure and I sincerely doubt the president is capable of mitigating that with any degree of finesse.


Where do we start? The short-term losses I suppose? This looks terrible internationally; a government shutdown usually does. What does this look like for our economy as well? I understand we still had a great jobs report in January, but much of that was catch-up from the significant decline in December. The economy lost $11 billion. Federal workers lost out on two paychecks, although they’ll receive back pay whereas federal contractors will not

So basically this shutdown affected more than just our domestic economy. Thankfully, another government shutdown was narrowly averted, only to be followed by the announcement of a national security on our southern border; but that is another topic altogether.

I would also like to note that a wall is not border security because it realistically won’t secure anything. The budget for real border security has increased dramatically every year since the 1990s. It has not been neglected. Furthermore, a wall simply won’t stop even the majority illegal immigration on our southern border since the majority of undocumented workers in the U.S. simply overstayed their visas. A wall won’t stop that.

Additionally, building a 30-foot wall just creates greater demand for 31-foot ladders or tunnels. A wall wouldn’t have even stopped El Chapo’s drug movements. Bottom line though, this is not an argument about border security or a wall, it is now a political battle that will have decidedly more devastating consequences.

The Ugly


We kicked the can down the road to the middle of February. With the President still poised to declare a national emergency, the American government is still being held hostage despite efforts by Congress to secure a more stabilized funding bill. This shutdown is a symptom of the discombobulation of the American federal government with Trump at the wheel, and I see no change of course for this administration any time soon. I support safe and well-managed ports of entry for the safety of travelers and the American people, but this “policy” isn’t going to solve the “problems” that President Trump campaigned on in 2016. Also, “aesthetically-pleasing steel slats?” Goddamn, that’s just terrible.


We are now just more divided than ever, and jobs hang in the balance. The truly funny part of this situation is that the shutdown ended almost immediately the second the airline industry was affected. When air traffic controllers weren’t getting paid, they stopped working. That affected private industry and then the shutdown ended. I think this shows where the true power lies in Washington D.C.

The Greek crisis is far from over: Three things to look for in 2019

By Marcus Walsh-Führing

BOLOGNA, Italy —— As the political debate in Europe has focused its sights on the effects of Brexit on the European Union (EU), the middle class in Greece is struggling to cope with a growing tax burden. While European leaders want to see an end to the crisis by imposing austerity policies, the citizens of Greece have yet to see economic relief.

While the EU and Greece have collaborated in stabilizing the Greek economy, and Greece has made headways in reducing its debt with the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), recovery is nowhere in sight. For Greece to recover, political stability and a new injection of capital into the economy is crucial. With disenchantment in Greek society and a politically divided Europe, the coming year looks like an uphill battle. So, how did we get here and what does 2019 have in store?

1. Elections

The center-right opposition the New Democracy Party is leading in the polls and is challenging the sitting government, Syriza, to overturn austerity reform. This demand from the opposition has led to greater polarization in Greece and has pressured the government to hold national elections in the fall. While in the past, Syriza has been able to capitalize on political discontent from labor and business, these supporters have now grown frustrated with ongoing economic stagnation and put additional pressure on the acting government.

The political stability in Greece will depend on the outcome of upcoming EU elections in May. These elections will determine members of the European Parliament, who will lead the European Commission. In addition, a new central bank president will be selected, who has the power to change economic policy towards Greece.  Both Greek domestic elections and EU elections carry the danger of derailing political stability in Greece, especially if the winners take an even more polarizing position.

2. Private and public debt

In Greece, small and medium-size enterprises have felt a decrease in domestic demand, credit restrictions and capital controls. These enterprises make up 76 percent of the country’s employment. While the 153 companies of the Athens Stock Exchange reported pretax profits of 957 million euros in 2018 showing a return to growth, there is still more that needs to be done to attract foreign direct investment and retain domestic labor before victory can be claimed.

This positive news pales in comparison to the public debt hindering economic success. Since 2009, Greece has borrowed 288.7 billion euro  from EU institutions and the IMF. Even with a debt write-off of 107 billion euros in 2012, the public debt in 2018 was 357.25 billion euro.

While there is some growth in the private sector, it is still riddled with debt and the public sector has not been addressed. This leaves Greece with facing an uphill battle in trying to stabilize the economy. The success of the Greek economy in 2019 will be dependent on reigning in high debt to be able to meet EU expectations.

3. Tax burden

To meet debt obligations, the Greek middle class has been subject to a growing tax burden in property and income taxes. In 2017, property taxes increased to 3.7 billion euros from pre-crisis levels of 600 million euros. This has repressed the housing market with a loss of an average of 40 percent in value between 2007 and 2017. Property value and the extraction of capital from the housing market through property taxes will pose a persistent problem in Greece in the near future.

The current tax situation has negatively affected new job hires and has shifted full-time workers to part-time. This has put even more strain on the middle class. As debt grows, more citizens are at risk of poverty. The inability for the state to collect delinquent tax debts from its citizens has exacerbated the current domestic economic situation. The current delinquent tax debt is 103 billion euros with overdue debts to social security funds at 34.4 billion euros. This has placed severe stress on an already fragile economy.

To create political and economic stability, it will be necessary for the Greek government to generate more private sector growth and reduce the public debt. Economic success will also be dependent on EU and local elections and the policy agenda passed by the EU Commission. Also, the Greek government needs to build tax collection capacity on addressing delinquent tax debts. Greece is at a tipping point where EU and domestic political outcomes can either keep the Greek government on a positive growth trajectory or push it back into a recession.

Marcus is a Postdoctoral Fellow at JHU SAIS Europe.

The rise of rap music in China

By Jing Xuanlin

NANJING, China —— Last summer, the question on every young Chinese person’s lips was: “你有freestyle吗?”—“Do you have freestyle?” The phrase circulated in memes and trended on all social media platforms. The rise in popularity of this phrase was all thanks to Chinese pop singer and actor Kris Wu, who appeared as a judge on the popular reality TV show, “The Rap of China.” The country’s first hip-hop TV show, it first aired in June 2017 and brought Chinese rappers from the underground into the mainstream.

On the show, each time Wu decides whether a rapper can “pass” the first round of the competition, he will invariably ask, “Do you have freestyle?” He gave the show — and, as a result, hip-hop — mainstream appeal due to his huge fan base of young people. According to the South China Morning Post, by January 2018, the show had accumulated a total of 2.94 billion views, including 1.3 billion views in the first month, and $46.4 million in advertising sponsorships.

IQIYI Video screenshot of Wu on “The Rap of China,” with the caption “Do you have freestyle?”

The popularity of “The Rap of China”  can be traced back to 2000, when the first generation of rap groups began to appear on the scene in China. Some record companies anticipated that new music trends, including rock and hip-hop, would spread from the Western world to China, so they created a new rap group called Yincang (literally “hiding”), which released its first hip-hop album Serve the People on December 1, 2003. However, it did not set off a hip-hop boom in China because the market was held back by traditional tastes and music piracy. Chinese consumers simply weren’t ready to spend their disposable income on a genre as new and non-traditional as hip-hop. Additionally, the beginning of 2000 marked a low point in the recording industry: music piracy became a major issue, and the once profitable sales of pop music suffered. Thus, recording industries refused to sign new rappers or publish their records. Many rappers could therefore only create music for themselves, or, if they were lucky, perform in small underground venues like bars. This was the origin of “underground rappers.” It was not until 2016 that the domestic market awakened as more and more local record labels, through copyright authorization and music festival tours, commercialized hip-hop music.

Chinese rappers often explore China’s social and political issues and spread Chinese culture to the world via their music. Take Zhou Yan (stage name “GAI”), the champion of the first season of “The Rap of China,” who writes rap music on topics such as the Great Wall, the Yangtze River and the Yellow River. Rappers from different cities will also usually use their unique dialects to showcase regional culture. Rap songs that showcase the Sichuan and Chongqing dialects, such as “Hot Pot Soup Base” and “The Boss,” are incredibly popular.

Hip-hop quickly became an advertising medium of choice for many Chinese brands, such as the smartphone company Xiaomi and the beverage company Nongfu Spring. Rappers were hired to write rap songs to advertise these companies’ products, emphasizing product quality with catchy beats and rhyme. These advertisements soon gained widespread approval from both brand owners and viewers. Such campaigns were highly successful, and companies quickly took note of their staggering click-count increase.

In addition to advertisers, the Chinese Communist Party has also played a big role in fueling the rise of rap commercials. These commercials, known as “Red Rap” in China, promote patriotism and loyalty to the CCP. For example, a rap music video issued by People’s Daily in May 2017 celebrated China’s Belt and Road Initiative and promoted core socialist values. Moreover, the Communist Youth League created a rap called “Marx is a Post-90,” which portrayed Karl Marx as someone who really “gets” millennials. As the rap lyrics state, “I don’t read magazines, I read Marx and I was born in the 1990s. I am your Bruno Mars, but you are my Venus, my dear Marx.”  

Screenshot of the Belt and Road Initiative rap from Tencent video

Rap today is used to promote positive values as defined by the state, but views toward rap are not always so positive. Rappers who glorify what Beijing considers to be unpalatable aspects of society will also receive heavy censure. For example, PG One, one of the co-champions of “The Rap of China,” was forced by the Communist Youth League to apologize for his latest hit single, “Christmas Eve,” because the song’s lyrics glorify drug culture and insult women. Furthermore, PG One’s performance as part of a “The Rap of China” tour stop in Changsha in January 2018 was canceled due to force majeure. Before this, he was involved in a scandal with a married actress that caused a huge outcry on social media. The more PG One’s fans defended him, the more others looked down upon PG One and rap in general.

Screenshot from Weibo: The Communist Youth League criticized “Christmas Eve,” saying it may encourage youth to take drugs. Drug users, if they exist, would be in violation of state law. Public figures should instead give young people proper guidance.

On January 19, 2018, Gao Changli, publicity director at the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of the People’s Republic of China, outlined “Four Don’ts” that must be upheld when content is aired on Chinese television. Two of them, in particular, were widely seen as specifically targeting rappers: “Do not use those whose morality is ignoble, tasteless, vulgar and obscene,” and “Do not use those who have stains, scandals and problematic moral integrity.” After that, Chinese news outlet Sina announced that the ban specifically prohibits featuring actors with tattoos; but in China’s entertainment industry, rappers are the biggest tattooed group.

Hip-hop is a relatively new phenomenon in Chinese music and has not always been accepted by the public. Most Chinese people, especially elders, see hip-hop music as glorifying drugs, sex and violence, and this has caused many parents to ban their children from listening to hip-hop. However, as participants on “Rap of China” have composed music with themes like cherishing family and friendship, recalling childhood and striving for dreams, the public has developed fresh and positive impressions of hip-hop. In addition, rappers have gained fame and fortune from the success of the TV show and the hip-hop market has boomed as visionary entertainers have seized the opportunity to capitalize on this growing industry. The catchphrase, “Do you have freestyle?”, has also awakened a hidden passion for rap music among Chinese youth,and “Red Rap” has helped the genre earn the approval of parents and government alike. Changes in the entertainment industry from 2000 to the present have paved the way for today’s rap craze, and this enthusiasm will only continue to heat up in the future.

Why disease outbreaks are an international security issue

By Matteo Todisco

Photo Credit: newsweek.com

WASHINGTON — Global pandemics can be as devastating, lethal and catastrophic as the world’s worst conflicts.  They combine staggering casualties with economic collapses on a scale that threatens global stability. They also have unique psychological effects on populations causing panic and hysteria unlike those observed with other sources of human strife. The greatest security threat to national governments potentially comes in the form of scared human populations fleeing disease, taking desperate measures to avoid infection, or simply capitalizing on the chaos  for their own private gain.

Statistics  clearly demonstrate the grave security threats that pandemics present. According to the National Academy of Medicine’s Commission on Global Health Risk, the Spanish Flu wiped out between 50 and 80 million people. For comparison, the total death toll of the Second World War (including both civilian and military deaths) was estimated at 50 to 70 million. Economic projections from the Commission estimate that if an epidemic on the scale of the Spanish Flu was to sweep the planet today, it would reduce global GDP by 5 to 10 percent, representing a global loss of $3 to 6 trillion. This eclipses the economic impact of the 2008-2009 recession that only dropped global GDP by 1 percent, and might rival the Great Depression from almost a hundred years ago that took out between 10 to 15 percent of the global economy.

Why focusing on outbreaks is good for global health

Outbreak preparedness is one of the most important topics in global health and international security. Lying at the intersection between the largely humanitarian mission of global health and more practical considerations of security and national interest, outbreak and pandemic preparedness provides one of the few genuine crossroads between the objectives of humanitarian globalists, and more nationalistic, inward-looking policymakers.

As such, the topic of pandemic preparedness provides one of the most politically viable engines for furthering global health causes and initiatives. The ability to phrase the need for a robust global health regime in terms of national security, national interests and “America First” is an invaluable rhetorical tool.

Furthermore, the nature of outbreaks requires achieving fundamental global health goals before addressing them. You can’t build a wall around Ebola. You can’t shoot it out of the sky with a missile, deport it or cripple it with aggressive sanctions. The only way to face the threat of pandemic outbreaks is by furthering global health initiatives. Solutions include funding organizations like the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and dedicating significant resources towards monitoring, recognizing and responding to outbreaks as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Slamming the brakes on international trade and taking a not-my-problem approach to outbreaks in the developing world comes with serious repercussions. Not only are there enormous economic consequences for closing the borders, but any attempt at quarantine while letting an outbreak rage outside is vulnerable against even a single failure in isolation. The only effective tactics are early response and treatment of outbreaks no matter where they occur.

Why global primary healthcare is the solution

Arguably the single most important part of effective pandemic preparedness is the ability to detect the emergence of infectious disease, identify outbreaks and give response efforts the best head start possible. Monitoring, however, must necessarily come out of a robust institution of global primary healthcare over the course of a person’s life. Periodic checkups, easy and convenient access to healthcare facilities and an overall healthier population are all fundamental parts of outbreak resilience.

The widening of primary healthcare networks also provides bases of operation for outbreak response efforts. One of the greatest challenges in outbreak response is getting healthcare workers and medicines to remote communities, setting up temporary hospital facilities, mobile labs and other high-tech necessities. If clinics and other fundamental healthcare infrastructure was more widespread, this would greatly boost outbreak response capabilities by providing facilities for effective monitoring and treatment. The American military maintains bases across the globe to monitor security concerns and aid operations should a conflict arise. National healthcare systems operate in an analogous capacity in the fight against pandemics. They provide monitoring capabilities to warn of potential outbreaks, and are invaluable bases from which to launch pandemic control and treatment campaigns.

Furthermore, one of the greatest hurdles to quickly and effectively responding to outbreaks is a sharp lack of trust between local communities and international response efforts.  Many communities, particularly in developing countries historically abused by colonialism and Western institutions, are inherently skeptical of international entities entering their communities with pills, needles and white coats. While this lack of trust is justified given their history, it is one of the most important obstacles to effective outbreak response. Proliferation of primary healthcare can strengthen this much-needed trust. An individual’s exposure to vaccines, checkups and the general medicalization of life from an early age (particularly when administered by local practitioners) fosters an atmosphere of trust and cooperation that has enormous potential to facilitate effective responses to outbreaks.

Outbreak preparedness and pandemic response is one of the most important areas in global health and international security. Pandemics are one of the most significant threats faced by the global community, so the topic of health security combines political salience with the ability to resonate across the political spectrum. As such, it provides an undervalued vehicle to further the global health cause. If the narrative and rhetoric of outbreak preparedness can be appropriately kindled in public discourse and channeled towards the appropriate responses, it has the potential to boost public awareness of international health, and be used to lift humanity toward a healthier future.

SAIS student starts GoFundMe to get into classes he already paid for

Following a meeting with the Academic Affairs, second-year SAIS student Barry Cade realized he had sacrificed most of his  bid points in his first semester to take Statistics with Professor Harrington and would be left with exactly zero points for the rest of the year. With his unpaid internship at the Brookings Institution and frustrations with upward mobility, Barry was struggling financially. In the midst of all that, he also realized that he needed to take International Trade Theory in his final semester to graduate. Being a required course, there is a high student demand met with a shockingly low supply; only three professors would teach Trade next semester. Fearing that it would go to bid for at least 600 points, Barry had to go all in to avoid the dreaded Thursday morning section. Now, he is only months away from graduating and has yet to fulfill his economics requirements. He recently overheard a conversation in the Nitze Cafe that a fellow student had all of their points left and were selling them for a dollar each. Armed with new resolve but not wanting to let go of his kidney just yet, Barry decided to set up a SAIS GoFundMe page in order to raise enough money from SAIS alumni to buy bid points from students on the SAIS black market. Since Barry needed at least 600 points to get into the class he wanted, he set his GoFundMe page goal to $15,000 to also contribute to his D.C. rent that month. It’s not everyday you get to purchase bid points, but this system would work out for him if he got the funds he wanted from friendly and wealthy alumni and donors. Ted, who has all of his bid points left, didn’t need a GoFundMe page because he only took classes with terrible professor evaluations. So every semester he sold his bid points to pay for his Triple Venti Soy No-Foam lattes at 120 degrees and organic Fig Bars at the Grab and Go. It’s worked well for both of them so far and the SAIS bid points black market has continued to thrive despite students’ current debt status which is higher than most, but still lower than Georgetown’s.

Appendix A:

Transcript of aforementioned conversation overheard at Nitze Cafe

Barry: I have to bid on ALL of my classes this semester. This is ridiculous.

Ted: Wait, do you have any bid points?

Barry: I think so…is 300 a lot?

Ted: Uh, not really. Isn’t this your second semester? What did you do with them!?

Barry: I needed to get into 8 a.m. Stats. Didn’t even get an A. Waste of time.

Ted: Wow…good luck man. Maybe try the SAIS bid point black market. I’ve heard good things.

Barry: Is it true someone actually had to sell their kidney to get enough bid points for their classes?

Ted: I can’t confirm that.

Barry: Thank god..

Ted: But I won’t deny it.
[Ted exits, leaving Barry looking visibly pale]

“Protecting” Who? Trump’s Syria policy in 2019

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

By Corey Ray

WASHINGTON — Of the many criticisms of President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria it was the abandonment of the U.S.’s Kurdish allies, namely the YPG (The People’s Protection Units), that provoked the loudest opposition. Indeed, senators from both parties are urging Trump to offer a plan to protect those that have led the ground campaign against ISIS. Despite the Trump administration’s erratic policy signals, allies are still slogging through the final steps of the formal ground campaign. This will likely evolve into a long-term, grueling counterinsurgency as the Islamic State shifts to tactics like suicide bombings and capitalizes on the disappointing reconstruction efforts in Syria and Iraq. Given the high stakes of a likely ISIS insurgency, a potential Turkish military offensive to clear the YPG from Turkey’s southern border and setbacks faced by Kurdish nationalists last year, the Kurdish issues in Syria is highly relevant to broader U.S. interests. ItsIts future also affects regional stability and efforts to contain a crisis like renewed mass immigration flows to neighboring states and Europe.

Popular American support for Kurdish aspirations is rooted in the widely-held perception that the Kurdish people are a tolerant, oppressed minority group that is pro-American — a direct contrast to our shared antagonists like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and even at times, the Iranian regime. Likewise, U.S. policy towards different Kurdish groups delivers the rare satisfaction of apparent success that has usually eluded  U.S. policy in the Middle East. The U.S.-led “no-fly zone” in Iraq helped foster the creation of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Moreover, the U.S. mission against the Islamic State has allowed the coalition to eliminate the group’s physical presence while substituting American troops for Kurdish fighters — something that appeals to an American public more supportive of leaders who oppose foreign military involvement. Unfortunately, perceived perpetual U.S. support has distorted the regional cost-benefit analysis amongst regional players by repeatedly inflating the hopes of various Kurdish groups. It then follows that there are inflated risks on the part of players like Turkey. They now see the menace of a battle-hardened sister organization of the PKK, the terror organization that has battled the Turkish state for decades, controlling much of Syria opposite Turkey’s southern border. Furthermore, for Turks, this menace is additionally supported by the world’s lone superpower. In the coming year, a more honest and realist U.S. policy would seek to avoid this distorting effect.

American romanticism surrounding Kurds in Iraq and Syria aside, the political realities in the emerging post-IS, post-Syrian Civil War era dictate and constrain the path forward for the U.S. and the “Kurdish Question.” Without an increased U.S. military presence and a mandated imposition of a no-fly zone in northeastern Syria, the YPG is likely to have little leverage in negotiations with the Assad regime unless the U.S. supplies heavy weaponry. The American public has no appetite for a ballooning presence in Syria, especially with no IS “Caliphate” to combat. Furthermore, it is unlikely the Turks would permit Incirlik Air Base, the center of the anti-IS air campaign, to serve as the source of air cover for YPG aspirations. Furthermore, geography constrains any Kurdish aspirations for independence —Kurdish populations are landlocked and surrounded by hostile neighbors. This leads to instances like the supposedly pro-Arab, anti-Kurdish Turkish government importing oil from the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq against Baghdad’s wishes. Just as the loss of Kirkuk oil and realities of a lack of outright American support effectively aborted the Kurdish independence referendum in Iraq in 2017, the YPG and its allies are likely to face similar disappointment in the face of tepid U.S. support, geographic constraint, and the perpetual menace of the Turkish Armed Forces to their north and west.

What then, should be expected of the Kurdish question and U.S. policy towards this part of the region in the coming year? First, inconsistency itself is a risk factor for conflict and needs to be addressed. Despite Trump’s clear aversion to growing involvement and endless “mission creep,” establishment officials and media continue to resist military withdrawal. This dissonance should be resolved in order to send clear signals to our partners and allies so that they can conduct a genuine cost-benefit analysis of the reality undistorted by American romanticism and inconsistency. Second, Trump’s decision to withdraw did not fundamentally alter the calculus on the ground. The YPG was never going to develop a partnership with the Turks and the Assad regime was never going to allow up to a third of Syrian territory to remain outside its control. Likewise, the YPG and its affiliates explicitly refrained from calling for independence and avoided conflict with the regime. Thus, independent of Trump’s withdrawal, our allies on the ground were positioned to make a deal with Assad.  Third, the primary risk is from a Turkish offensive to clear the YPG from hundreds of miles of territory. Buoyed by the success of Operation Olive Branch, fostered by rising dependence on the nationalist bloc of voters and incentivized by the need to rally the flag before the coming round of local elections, the Turkish government may decide to commence operations. U.S. policy should, therefore, be focused on deterring this operation. Turkey would likely get bogged down as the YPG fights for survival over a larger territory, refugee flows would increase and the risk of inter-state conflict would increase as the Kurds call on Assad or Putin for support, something that was signaled already in Manbij. Likewise, the PKK may institute a renewed campaign within Turkey itself.  Trump’s deterrence strategy so far has been to threaten economic devastation on a still-reeling Turkish economy, something only likely to cement rising anti-Americanism than to restrain President Erdoğan.

Instead, Trump should seek  to reset rocky relations through comprehensive agreements. This should be more likely than in 2018 since the major obstacles in U.S.-Turkey relations, such as support for the YPG, the detaining of Pastor Brunson and associated the Turkish currency crisis, will be ameliorated. A focus on deterring an all-out war between the Turkish military and the YPG offers the best hope for the civilians under YPG rule. It would allow the Turkish army to avoid being bogged down while still seeking to uphold the Idlib agreement which is vital to preventing a humanitarian crisis. Finally, this conforms to the goals and willingness of the American public to remain involved in Syria. For the sake of the civilians on the ground, whether Kurdish, Arab, or Turkish, let’s hope the Trump administration succeeds.

Corey Ray is an M.A. Candidate concentrating in Middle East Studies and International Economics at Johns Hopkins SAIS focused on Turkey’s regional energy and security issues.

Film is art, according to the Chinese government

By Jesse Adler

NANJING, China — China today is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing film markets. The industry is dominated by high-budget, unabashedly commercial films, whose chief function is to entertain China’s mainstream, white-collar youth market. Recently, however, the Chinese government has partnered with private film companies to promote “arthouse films,” which are non-commercial, serious artistic works marketed towards niche audiences.

Until the mid-1990s, a filmmaker was someone whose personal creative vision inspired them to produce a film for art’s sake. At that time, filmmakers did not regard their craft as something with mass commercial potential. But by the end of the decade, as China’s middle class found themselves with more disposable income than ever before, filmmakers largely dropped their artistic endeavors for decidedly commercial pursuits. Filmmaking in China, which used to be seen as an occupation within the realm of art, morphed into a weighty component of China’s lucrative burgeoning entertainment sector. The filmmaker’s charge was now to produce entertainment to meet the needs of China’s rapidly emerging middle-class market.

In response, a homegrown arthouse film revolution has taken root. Hopkins-Nanjing Center professor Yang Liu, who teaches a course titled Film, Culture and Society in Contemporary China, notes that at the beginning of this decade, individual theater owners, recognizing a growing demand for non-commercial films due to the younger generation’s increasing exposure to Western cinema, started to acquire distribution rights to both foreign and domestic arthouse films. Then, in 2016, the Beijing-based and state-owned China Film Archive (CFA) partnered with numerous private entities from across China’s nascent arthouse film community to create the National Arthouse Film Alliance. Through this public-private partnership, movie theaters throughout China have pledged their support to aggressively propagate arthouse films. The mission of the Alliance is to support the overall development of China’s film industry by way of improving the artistic quality of films that are screened in domestic cinemas.

The Alliance has already succeeded in securing the release of films that were inaccessible to the public as recently as two years ago.  Examples include American film Manchester by the Sea and Jia Zhangke’s latest film Ash Is Purest White, both of which performed respectably well in China’s competitive box office. The Alliance, with the help of local governments, has also been instrumental in launching the Pingyao International Film Festival in central China to support the new generation of filmmaking talent.

With strict censorship mechanisms in place, some may wonder why the Chinese government has recently come out in support of arthouse film. Professor Yang Liu theorizes, “First, we must distinguish ‘art films’ from ‘independent films,’ because whereas art films have always been permitted in Chinese cinemas, independent films typically have a very hard time passing the censorship tests. The government supports the development of an art film industry because there is an increased demand for such films, and they aim to increase the value of Chinese filmmaking across the industry.”

Unlike in the United States, where boutique arthouse cinemas tend to charge more per ticket than mainstream movie theaters, China’s venues tend to keep all tickets priced the same. Sometimes, arthouse film tickets are even less expensive than tickets for more popular blockbuster films. While in the United States, most arthouse cinemagoers tend to be older and wealthier than the average, in China the market is composed of mostly university students with less disposable income. As the market for arthouse film continues to mature and as a new generation of filmmakers emerges, China’s government may find that it can best lend its support to the arts through strengthening its commitments to the film industry.

Filmmaker Jia Zhangke, one of the leading figures in China’s arthouse film community.
(Photo credits: http://www.fred.fm/cn/jia-zhangke-shan-he-gu-ren-cannes2015/)

Jesse Adler is an HNC Certificate/SAIS M.A. student currently completing his Certificate at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center before starting at SAIS DC next fall.

Prospects for peace in Yemen following the Stockholm Agreement

Confidence-building measures have achieved varying degrees of progress, but momentum has slowed

Photo Source: Arab News

By Sam Reynolds

On January 30, 2019, Patrick Cammaert, the former Dutch general in charge of facilitating a ceasefire between warring parties in the Yemeni Civil War, stepped down from his post. He was quickly replaced, but accusations arose that he had resigned due to disagreements with the United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths; accusations which Griffiths adamantly denied.

The move was one of many recent setbacks that have hindered implementation of the ceasefire reached near Stockholm, Sweden last December. As the first meeting between the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government since failed peace talks in September 2016, the Stockholm round represented a significant push to initiate confidence-building measures toward an end to the world’s deadliest, man-made humanitarian crisis.

Leading the peace talks, Griffiths went to Stockholm with the aim of achieving four priority short-term goals: 1) determine the logistical details for a large-scale prisoner exchange, 2) de-escalate fighting in Hodeida and Taiz, flashpoints of conflict in the civil war, 3) reopen the Sanaa airport to commercial and humanitarian traffic and 4) restore civil service salaries through Yemen’s Central Bank.

The resultant Stockholm Agreement included official agreements to negotiate the prisoner swap, initiate a ceasefire in Hodeida and surrounding port cities and form a joint committee to assess the situation in Taiz. Although no official deals were made to reopen the Sanaa airport and restore civil service salaries, both sides expressed a desire in principle to do so. Parties also agreed to reconvene for subsequent negotiations at the end of January.

Griffiths’ four original goals have been met with varying degrees of progress, although none of them have been fully achieved and the early momentum after Stockholm has slowed. Talks planned for January have been postponed, and the Office of the Special Envoy to Yemen has not announced when it plans to hold future talks.

The prisoner exchange, the first deal struck between parties in Stockholm, seems to have made the most headway. Following the agreement, representatives from both parties exchanged lists totaling nearly 16,000 detainees and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) offered to oversee logistics.

The parties have yet to agree on full terms and are currently verifying the prisoner lists. On January 16, the supervisory follow-up committee met in Amman, Jordan, where representatives from both sides commented on detainee lists. In previous prisoner exchange talks, parties have disputed the existence of thousands of detainees, claiming that they are fake or duplicate names.

The prisoner exchange depends partly on the security of the Sanaa airport, as detainees will be flown by air from Sanaa to Seiyun, and vice versa. According to the ICRC, the exchange will require the Saudi-led coalition to guarantee that air space is secure for flights. However, on December 19, one week after the Stockholm round, the Saudi-led coalition launched an airstrike on the rebel-held airport. The coalition claimed that the strike destroyed a drone “in the process of being launched, thwarting an imminent terrorist attack.”

The Hodeida ceasefire was the most noteworthy achievement in the Stockholm Agreement. Parties agreed to an immediate ceasefire in the port cities of Hodeida, Ras Issa and Al Saqef, and to redeploy their forces from the cities within 21 days. However, fighting has not subsided. The Yemeni government has accused the Houthis of 573 violations of the ceasefire, killing 41 coalition troops and wounding 396. The Houthis have accused the government of reinforcing its positions in Hodeida by deploying more forces on its outskirts.

Saudi coalition frustration with the slow pace of Houthi disengagement in Hodeida is now causing an increase in coalition airstrikes near the city. On January 29, coalition warplanes hit 10 Houthi training camps outside Hodeida.

Both parties confirmed their commitment to reopen the Red Sea Mills in Hodeida, which are currently inaccessible due to violence and landmines surrounding them. The mills hold 51,000 tons of food that could feed 3.5 million people for a month, but on January 30, a demining team came under gunfire while trying to clear access. The Houthis claimed that the Saudi-led forces killed one member of its demining team, while the Yemeni government claimed that the Houthis attacked the UN-backed demining team en route to the mills.

There have been positive developments. On December 28, the Yemeni government agreed to pay the salaries of civil servants in rebel-held Hodeida, many of whom have not been paid in two years. After sending a small team to monitor redeployment from Hodeida, the UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 2452 to establish the UN Mission to Support the Hodeida Agreement (UNMHA), a 75-member observer team to support the ceasefire. On January 29, the Saudi-led coalition promised to release seven Houthi prisoners as part of a goodwill exchange after the Houthis freed Saudi prisoner Mousa Awaji.

However, while both parties have made rhetorical promises in support of humanitarian and ceasefire goals, neither has been willing to take responsibility for actions that undermine peace efforts. UN monitoring efforts are bogged down by logistical details regarding visa approvals, housing for UN personnel and equipment supply.

A subsequent round of peace talks is unlikely to occur in the near future until the parties can demonstrate sincere willingness to follow through on incremental commitments. Parties continue to say one thing but do another, indicating that trust and confidence-building will remain the primary impediment to progress on the goals of the Stockholm Agreement.

SGA – Spring Semester/The Semester Ahead

SAIS students and faculty,

Welcome back! We hope you had a great break and are looking forward to the semester ahead!

This year, SGA has incorporated student feedback from the many surveys we sent out last semester (we will be keeping the feedback surveys in the Blueser so feel free to send us more suggestions). We have focused on Academic Affairs, Career Services, and our “ONE SAIS” initiative (the goal to improve student life on campus across all programs and concentrations). Many of our projects are now launched and we expect to see successful outcomes in the near future.

In academic affairs, SGA has and will continue to organize focus groups for students to meet with Vice Dean Eliot Cohen. They allow him to incorporate student perspectives in the strategic plan for the future framework of a SAIS education and feature each degree program and concentration. If you are interested in being a part of these discussions, please sign up for a group here.

Furthermore, SGA has worked with career services to provide feedback and suggestions. We had a constructive meeting with the Global Careers – Professional Development Committee in November where we discussed new procedures to stop students from being locked out of their Handshake accounts and make career coaching more accessible. We know the former was an issue that frustrated many students (and SGA members too!) who missed meetings and were then unable to use Handshake. Thankfully, Career Services will no longer lock students out of their accounts and all students will be able to receive career coaching without the pre-required deliverables. You can provide more Career Services-related suggestions and feedback for improvement on our survey here.

We will also continue to organize events for students looking to work in China after graduation. Last semester, four recent SAIS alumni spoke to more than 30 students about how they used their SAIS education to prepare them for jobs in or related to China. Two alumni who worked in finance in China joined the panel via Skype to give an on-the-ground perspective. If you know any SAIS alumni who would like to join an upcoming panel on this topic (via Skype or in person), please reach out to us.

This semester, we will be starting new projects such as fundraising for the Class Gift and restarting and expanding the teaching prize. For the Class Gift, our aim is to reach 100% participation from the graduating class. We would love to hear your ideas  for the class gift and are still accepting suggestions here. A generous alum has offered to match up to $25,000 for a “Student Experiences Fund.” The fund would help students go on trips they would otherwise not be able to due to cost and we are strongly considering that option for class gift donations. We will present the teaching awards at commencement in May, which will allow the student body to show our appreciation to stellar faculty members, both full-time and adjunct. Look out for the teaching prize nomination email later in the semester!

Lastly, SGA will continue to plan and host events, such as the Cherry Blossom Ball in April. Equally important, we will continue to work diligently for the student body on smaller, more personal issues as they arise. We want students to remember that we are always available to assist them with their SAIS troubles and always welcome their feedback. We look forward to hearing more from you over the semester.


Your SGA

From the Editors

Danielle Thompson

Dear Reader,

Welcome back to SAIS! My name is Danielle Thompson, formerly the deputy editor-in-chief, and currently the editor-in-chief of The SAIS Observer for the spring semester.

I had the pleasure of working with T.J. Sjostrom for the past seven months and he taught me a lot about TSO, leadership and journalism. First, thank you T.J. for all your hardwork and dedication. I would also like to say that I am incredibly excited to take on this role within TSO. We have so many ideas, an incredible team and only four months to try to accomplish it all..

This next semester, my main goal is to grow TSO’s exposure and audience. It’s important that you, as readers, feel you can come to TSO to read your fellow student’s work and get a better understanding of campus events regularly. We will work hard to bring that to you, better than ever and with a lot more communication and posters.

Cheers to a new semester everyone!

Danielle Thompson

Srijoni Banerjee
Deputy editor-in-chief

Dear reader,

My name is Srijoni Banerjee, this semester’s deputy editor-in-chief, formerly the executive editor. Last semester was an extremely rewarding semester for us – both in terms of producing great content and spreading the TSO brand name – and although we’re sad to see T.J. leave us, we hope to learn from his leadership and vision.

For the next four months, I’m excited to be working with such a talented team (shoutout to all my editors!), Dani and Becca. We have some great ideas for strategizing TSO content by tackling complex issues on campus and beyond and strive to attain the highest journalistic standards while delivering them to our classmates. We wish to do this by developing a more inclusive, responsive leadership board and hope to collaborate with the SAIS student body to take our mission forward. Happy reading!


Srijoni Banerjee

SAIS Europe Professors Weigh In: What to Expect in 2019

Clockwise from top left: Professors Michael Leigh, Filippo Taddei, David Unger and Christopher Hill

BOLOGNA, Italy — The year ahead presents many challenges and opportunities, so TSO Bologna bureau asked four SAIS Europe faculty members what they foresee to be the most significant events in 2019.

Professor Michael Leigh: European Parliament Elections

The European Parliament elections in May will be a seminal event in 2019. The EP, which has been dominated by the conservative European People’s Party and the Party of European Socialists coalitions since the 1980s, will face disruption from all parts of the political spectrum. On the right, Eurosceptic populist parties that have risen at national levels may unify to become the second- or third-largest group. On the left, the Greens-European Free Alliance, and in the centre the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, President Macron’s “Europe en Marche,” and the Spanish “Ciudadanos” may earn enough seats to hold the balance of power.

The process for choosing the President of the European Commission will also face disruption. The Spitzenkandidaten system that was used in the 2014 elections is favoured by the establishment coalitions, but unpopular with Mr. Macron and Eurosceptic parties alike. The ongoing battle between old and new will certainly manifest in May.

Professor Filippo Taddei: Is a Recession Coming?

(Source: Frederik Ducrozet)

The amount of attention devoted to stock markets around the world has to do with their fundamental role in aggregating information in a credible way (by asking people to put their money where their mouth is). So what is the U.S. stock market (through the S&P 500) telling us regarding the general expectation of the U.S. economy? What is the total return in December signalling? A surge in political uncertainty or certainty regarding an upcoming U.S. recession?

Professor Christopher Hill: Brexit – the outcome?

While the impossibility of predicting events over the next few weeks has reduced many to hand-wringing, there are some things which can safely be said about the immediate future of Brexit:

(1)  Brexit will continue to be the obsessional concern of British political life, even if the majority of the public, of all strands of opinion, would like it to go away as soon as possible;

(2)  The sizeable groups of hard Brexiters and Remainers are not going to give up the struggle now;

(3)  A compromise of the Norway kind is significantly sub-optimal for both sides of the argument;

(4)  A second referendum has become more likely, if only because the other possible options are rapidly becoming infeasible as the clock runs down to March 29, but a ‘people’s vote’ can only happen if the government asks the EU to suspend the implementation of Article 50 – which the 27 are likely to grant if they perceive either that there is a chance of another referendum or that it is seen as the only way of avoiding a ‘no deal’ Brexit;

(5)  Theresa May will not last as Prime Minister once the withdrawal phase is complete – but until then, there is no-one else who is willing or likely to be asked to drink from its poisoned chalice

The most rational and legitimate way out of the current impasse is to ask for a suspension of Article 50 with a view to hold a second referendum in two stages, as suggested by Professor Vernon Bogdanor: first, ask people if they still wish to leave the EU. If they do, the matter is settled. If they do not, a second round would ask whether people prefer the prime minister’s deal or to stay in the EU.  But this whole affair has demonstrated that rationality in British politics is now at a premium. The unity of the U.K., peace in Northern Ireland and the prosperity and stability of the country are all seriously at risk.

Professor David Unger: Threats from All Parts

President Trump: Special Counsel Robert Mueller is not likely to deliver a bombshell this spring. A wall along the southern border will not be built, but similar spending on new border security will be procured. Any difference in principle? Depends on whether the deal also includes DACA dreamers and temporary protected status and what that deal includes.

Israel-Palestine: Netanyahu is likely to emerge on top again after Israeli elections on April 9, if he stays out of jail. The chances of a new Palestinian intifada will also increase later this year.

Venezuela: Washington now seems to hope for a military solution, with some of Maduro’s military defecting to Guaidó’s side. If the U.S.-endorsed rebels face defeat, will Trump send them military aid? If rebels soldiers prevail, will they hand power to Guaidó or keep it?

We Are Moving

By Danielle Thompson

WASHINGTON — On January 25, President Ron Daniels and Dean Vali Nasr announced that SAIS will be moving to the building currently occupied by the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue. In a $372.5 million deal, the University will consolidate all Johns Hopkins University Washington, D.C.-based academic facilities. This move is made financially possible through the sale of existing Hopkins D.C. facilities (Nitze, Rome, and B.O.B. included), university funds and philanthropic support.

This new 400,000 square feet  facility will bring all JHU academic operations  under one roof, advancing the “One Hopkins” agenda. This will include the Carey School of Business, the School of Nursing, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and SAIS.

The move will, of course, not occur immediately. The Newseum will remain in its current location until the end of this year. Renovations on the property to prepare for an abundance of graduate students will begin in 2020 and are expected to take several years. The new facility will be outfitted with state-of-the-art classrooms and technology and also includes views of the Capitol building, a spectacular rooftop similar to that of the SAIS Europe campus in Bologna, Italy and plenty of space and natural light.

This new facility should prove to provide more resources and be large enough for SAIS classes. Hopefully, it will also include more services for students like a gym, better eating facilities and a cafe. The downtown D.C. location is optimal for the study of international relations; it is a stone’s throw away from the Smithsonian museums, the National Mall, the Capitol Building, and U.S. government offices  as well.

While future students will be reaping the benefits of the new facilities, we will too — as alumni. I, for one, know I will be coming back to see the new building  and to catch up with classmates and professors.

The Kurds: Independence is Going to Have to Wait … Again Part 3

Originally published in 2018 as a larger piece in DEMOS Vol. 1, Article 6,“The Kurds: Independence is Going to Have to Wait … Again” explores the past, present, and future implications of the Kurdish independence movement. The piece in its entirety can be found here.  

This piece is also the 2018 Winning Recipient of the Annual First-Year Writing Contest at Lake Forest College.

The first and second installments of this series can be found on The SAIS Observer website here, covering the political positioning of a Kurdish referendum as well as potential international responses.

By Zach Klein

Then in 2003 the U.S. invaded Iraq once more and this time ousted Saddam Hussein. In the post-war theatre, the U.S. stayed and provided stability to Iraq and helped ensure the creation of a new democratic constitution recognizing the KRG. The U.S., along with rebuilding the nation, also acted as a mediator between the Arab majority country and the Kurds helping to ease tensions (Romano 1345). However, the U.S. withdrew and the rise of ISIS dramatically changed the U.S. foreign policy in the region. No longer was the U.S. focused on stabilizing the region in the wake of large power vacuum, now the focus was on holding Iraq together and defeating the Islamic State. This change in foreign policy is the reason why the U.S. will not acknowledge the referendum. The U.S. spent billions of dollars, thousands of lives, and political capital stabilizing Iraq and is not ready to let Iraq be divided without its approval. At first the goal was preventing the Islamic State from taking over Iraq, and then it evolved into the overall destruction of the Islamic State once their advance was halted and reversed. The U.S. then began providing airstrikes against the Islamic State while supplying arms and other supplies to the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria to help fight ISIS (Glenn). The U.S. still had the desire to preserve stability in the region, but stability now had a new context. Rather than managing ethnic conflicts and defusing tensions which had been the case in the post 2003 world, it was now about preventing the onslaught of anarchic jihad, being perpetrated by ISIS, against states weakened by recent wars. The U.S. seeks territorial integrity of current nations, until the Islamic state has no more ground under its control. After the defeat of ISIS, the U.S. will allow talk of the creation of new states but no sooner. Since, the Kurdish referendum is a step towards secession, current U.S. foreign policy does not support the timing of the referendum (Dubin).

Since neither the U.S., Turkey, Iran, Iraq, nor any other major regional or international power is willing to support or recognize the referendum, it carries no weight. International law regarding self-determination exists, and a plethora of treaties and international organizations recognize the right but almost exclusively for colonial holdings (Emerson 136-40). It has been used for groups not in colonial holdings, i.e. Kosovo, but the vast majority of cases have been colonial domains in the decades after World War Two (Emerson 140). However, in practice there is no set legal way for peoples to exercise their right to self-determination without the aid of an outside power. Currently, no designated international organizations exist to enforce the right, which means these struggles for self-determination by minority populations in countries are left to the mercy of the government. Aleksander Pavkovic and Peter Radan point out in their essay for the Macquarie Law Journal that “territorial sovereignty still remains the central source of political power and the main locus of international recognition,” which is to say that control of the land allotted to a nation is how a government maintains its legitimacy (Radan 5). Given the newness of the Iraqi government and the humiliation it has suffered at the hands of the Islamic State, Iraq is keener than most to strengthen its legitimacy and not tolerate any secessionist movement. Since there are currently no outside powers willing to protect the KRG from the repercussions of the referendum or even try to mediate between the Iraqi Arabs and Kurds, the referendum must fail. Pavkovic and Radan further explain that “in relation to the question of whether the liberty of a minority within a state prevails over the liberty of the majority, cases of attempts to secede from a liberal- democratic state suggest that it is the majority that prevails,” (Radan 9).

Zach Klein is a sophomore majoring in international relations and economics at Lake Forest College. Zach wants to continue to study Middle Eastern politics and hopes to work as an analyst for the State Department.

The Kurds: Independence is Going to Have to Wait … Again Part 2

Originally published in 2018 as a larger piece in DEMOS Vol. 1, Article 6,“The Kurds: Independence is Going to Have to Wait … Again” explores the past, present, and future implications of the Kurdish independence movement. The piece in its entirety can be found here.  This piece is also the 2018 Winning Recipient of the Annual First-Year Writing Contest at Lake Forest College.

The first installment of this series can be found on The SAIS Observer website here, which discussed the sensitive political positioning of Kirkuk as well as the social and economic factors that have played a role in Kurdish independence movements.

By Zach Klein

The next aspect to observe is the general lack of acceptance from the world regarding the referendum. Both Iran and Turkey have stated that there will be harsh repercussions should the vote be allowed to happen. The two nations fear that the referendum will embolden Kurdish insurgencies within their borders to renew their push for independence. Turkey plans on applying sanctions on the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) to eliminate the ability to sell oil through the one pipeline that goes through KRG territory, across the Turkish border, and to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan (Bektas). The Iraqi and Iranian foreign ministries have both stated they would work together to draft responses to the upcoming vote. More than likely, they will come up with economic sanctions of their own (El-Ghobashy). Normally when regions autonomously declare independence, there is an outside international power which offers its support and protection. When Kosovo declared independence in the 1990s, the U.S., Western Europe and NATO were able to shield Kosovo politically and militarily from the Serbian Government, which allowed it to remain independent. However, no regional power or any international power has voiced any support for the Kurdish referendum besides Israel, which is not capable of ensuring the independence of the would-be nation single-handedly. France has voiced lukewarm support by stating that they would neither oppose nor support the referendum. However, the real shock to the international community, and to the Kurds in particular, was when the U.S. stated the referendum needed to be postponed (Arraf). According to Stuart Jones, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, the United States was concerned that an independence referendum “…would be not good for Kurdistan, not good for Iraq, and would play into the hands of the hardliners and the hands of the Iranians.” KRG President Massud Barzani condemned the American response, and Kurds took to social media alleging that the United States was ungrateful for Kurdish support- and Peshmerga fighting force assistance- in combating Islamic State groups in the region. For the Kurds, an autonomous regional government with American support is insufficient when compared to the possibility of real independence. “If (independence is) not good for us, why is it good for you?” Barzani asked in an Erbil interview.

Some context for Kurdish frustration is necessary here- the idea of Kurdistan as an “autonomous region” is not new. The reason that the KRG exists in this political and strategic limbo is because of the U.S. In the aftermath of the first Gulf War in 1992, when U.S. forces established a Kurdish safe haven in northern Iraq, Saddam Hussein continued to push further north with his anti-Kurdish agenda and pursued a number of genocidal actions (Al-Khafaji 35). These measures included the Anfal Campaign, which forced the relocation of Kurds out of Kirkuk and several other cities, and resulted in the increase of the Arab population in the area, thereby making the area more responsive to Hussein’s rule at the time (Al-Khafaji 35). But, according to David Romano, Saddam Hussein was not satisfied and continued by “using internationally prohibited chemical weapons in such areas as the city of Halabja, Balisan and parts of the Duhok Province. They have razed some 4,500 towns and villages while driving tens of thousands of unarmed civilian Kurds, among them Faylis and Barzanis, into an unknown future” (Romano 1346).


Zach Klein is a sophomore majoring in international relations and economics at Lake Forest College. Zach wants to continue to study Middle Eastern politics and hopes to work as an analyst for the State Department.

America has a long history of shunning refugees

Source: David Ryder/Reuters (https://www.businessinsider.com/syrian-refugee-backlash-isis-2015-11)

By Olivia Magnanini

BOLOGNA, Italy —Deportation of Vietnam War era refugees. The death of a young girl in the custody of US Customs and Border Protection. A looming government shutdown over funding for the quixotic border wall. Have Americans reached the breaking point yet?  

The hellish events of recent weeks have shown the deep fractures in the US immigration process while also further demonstrating the Trump administration’s vehement rejection of humanitarian asylum seekers at our Southern border.

These actions have also demonstrated the worrying ease with which this President is willing to break honored commitments to refugees who have long since become Americans. According to The Atlantic, Trump is reversing his August decision to guarantee protection for Vietnamese refugees who arrived before 1995. This reversal would subject Vietnamese refugees, many of whom came immediately following the war, to deportation. It seems like cruel and unusual punishment for the forgotten victims of the war.

But, to be clear, “the land of opportunity” has a long history of selectiveness when admitting refugees. Cubans fleeing Communism were prioritized by the 1966 Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act, for instance. The acceptance or rejection of refugees always has a political motive as well, with potentially dire humanitarian consequences, such as when the MS St. Louis was turned away in 1939, carrying 900 Jewish refugees from Germany.

Subsequent administrations have looked at refugees and migrants differently depending on their foreign policy and strategic aims. For example, despite the 1966 Act, the US struggled to distinguish between refugee and migrant when Castro allowed in 1980 anyone in Cuba wanted to go to America to leave. When 125,000 Cubans landed in Florida as a result of the Mariel boatlift, many them were shunned by American officials. Many of these Cubans ended up in abandoned detention systems that were a relic of the 1924 Immigration Act quota system. Their detention while waiting for sponsorship eventually led to imprisonment, and created an unfortunate precedent for the policies we see being implemented today.

However, during the Obama administration, significant strides were made to expand the qualifications for asylum seeker claims. These included domestic violence, gang violence, or discrimination on the basis sexual orientation. But it took no time for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Trump to reverse on this progress. By stripping many pending asylum seekers’ claims to refugee status, they have left hundreds of thousands in uncertain situations.

Trump’s anti-migrant rhetoric hasn’t changed from the campaign trail, where he boasted that Mexico was “not sending their best.” He’s now called for border agents to use “lethal force” if necessary. By calling it an “invasion,” the President employs fear-mongering tactics to confuse and alarm the American people.

In 2018, the US has only admitted 22,000 refugees, the lowest number in forty years. Currently, 40,000 migrants are being detained across the country at the price tag of $80 million and rising. There must be a more humane solution than separating families and imprisoning asylum seekers in camps and detainment centers. The death of a child from dehydration and malnutrition in the custody of US immigration officials shouldn’t be what it takes to usher in change. We can and must do better.

The administration’s anti-immigrant bombast and archaic solutions aren’t steps forward. What’s required of our government is  bipartisan legislation to reform our immigration process for refugees and asylum-seekers.

Our country isn’t so morally bankrupt that we’re willing to tolerate the use of tear gas on women and children, the ejection of decades-long residents from an unpopular war, and the longest government shutdown in history. We must ask ourselves what kind of country we are and what kind of country we want to be.

From the Puritans fleeing religious persecution four hundred years ago, to the migrants on our border today, America has always been a country of refugees and asylum seekers. It is our duty to honor that tradition and history.

Olivia Magnanini is a SAIS MA ‘20 student from the U.S. studying Latin America and American Foreign Policy.

The Kurds: Independence is Going to Have to Wait … Again: Part 1

Originally published in 2018 as a larger piece in DEMOS Vol. 1, Article 6,“The Kurds: Independence is Going to Have to Wait … Again” explores the past, present, and future implications of the Kurdish independence movement. The piece in its entirety can be found here.  

This piece is also the 2018 Winning Recipient of the Annual First-Year Writing Contest at Lake Forest College.

By Zach Klein

Kirkuk is one of the larger cities in northern Iraq and boasts nine billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves (Time). This city is claimed by both the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) and the central Iraqi government, and ownership will have to be negotiated when the borders of an independent Kurdistan are drawn. Baghdad has stated that it will not accept any outcome in which Kirkuk is not under its authority. Meanwhile, the KRG claims Kirkuk as sovereign Kurdish territory. While the current territory that Baghdad has allotted to the KRG has four billion barrels of proven reserves, the difference of 4 to 13 billion barrels would be critical to a new microstate surrounded by hostile neighbors (Time). Currently, it is assumed that there is a Kurdish majority in Kirkuk. However, there has not been an effective census in the city since 2003, so there is no guarantee that it is still the case (Kirkuk). The current city council of 41 has an ethnic composition 26 Kurds, nine Turkmens, and six Arabs; a Kurdish majority is possible if these numbers are representative of the greater population, which would give reason for the city to be included in the new borders (Kirkuk). But, since the city has 4% of the total global oil reserves within its territory, it is highly likely that Baghdad will keep Kirkuk in its control (Time).  Already, the Kurds have tried to act economically independent of Baghdad to disastrous effect, as explained by Denise Natali in an article for the Brookings Institute:  

The KRG’s financial break from Baghdad has had direct consequences on the Kurdistan
Region’s internal stability and economic viability. In the absence of a financial buffer to replace Baghdad (by June 2014 the KRG had no savings in its central bank) the KRG’s oil gamble with Turkey has devastated and destabilized local populations and the economy. Civil servant salaries have gone unpaid for months, thousands of local businesses have closed, IOC payments remain in arrears, new investment has halted, and nearly 25,000 Kurds, mainly educated youth, have fled the Kurdistan Region over the past eight months. The KRG has also borrowed billions from Ankara and local businesses while front-loading its oil sales to 2016 in the attempt to meet operating costs and a U.S.$22 billion debt accumulated over the past year.

The KRG has made deals bypassing Baghdad and the Iraqi State Organization for Marketing of Oil (SOMO) to sell its oil reserves with Turkey in an attempt to gain further independence from the central government. But, in the process, they have attracted the ire of Baghdad, resulting in disaster for the Kurdish economy. Without Kirkuk, the KRG would control some oil, but not nearly enough to generate enough income for the government to function properly. Additionally, it is essential to consider the new cost of defense. Under the current system, the Kurdish defense forces known as Peshmerga are paid for by two sources, the KRG and Baghdad (Ahmed Rasheed). If the KRG secedes, it is left to defend all of its territory and maintain its armed forces of 115,000 fighters all on its own (Time). While the Islamic State is losing ground quickly, it is still far from being defeated, as it already has started to become an al-Qaeda-like organization and begun to to operate in cells to carry out attacks (Engle). While the KRG is largely independent of Afghan authority economically, it has not totally escaped Baghdad’s overall economic influence. Additionally, the two main parties—the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) and PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan)— have a heated rivalry that, with the emergence of the Islamic State, has subsided temporarily. With ISIS falling on all fronts, the reemergence of this rivalry is inevitable given their current social and economic standing. Problems such as exceedingly high foreign debt, large numbers of refugees and the inability to pay government salaries and provide services are what led to the 1998 civil war between the KDP and PUK that devastated the area (Natali). Ultimately, the independent state would be paralyzed with inefficiency from within, which would leave it open to attack from outside forces.

Zach Klein is a sophomore majoring in international relations and economics at Lake Forest College. Zach wants to continue to study Middle Eastern politics and hopes to work as an analyst for the State Department.

Cautious optimism: A current outlook for foreign investment in China

By Lindsay Thill

A Starbucks with “Chinese characteristics” in Nanjing, China
Photo source: pymnts.com

NANJING, China — With its growing middle class and population of 1.4 billion people, China has presented foreign companies with both an enticing market and an intimidating challenge for the last 40 years. While some companies such as Adidas, Starbucks and IKEA have found great success in the Chinese market, others have failed or decided to leave for a variety of reasons. Among these are extreme requirements imposed by the Chinese government, fierce competition from domestic Chinese competitors, lack of sufficient market understanding and concern regarding fair treatment and due process in the country.

At the China International Import Expo held this November, President Xi Jinping expressed his commitment to creating a “level playing field” for foreign companies in China, stressing that,  “All countries should be committed to opening up and oppose protectionism and unilateralism in a clear-cut stand.” While this sentiment echoes statements made by Xi in recent years, it also strategically renews this commitment in a show of goodwill despite growing friction between China and the U.S., as well as other trade partners.

Furthermore, there is support on paper for these commitments. The 2015 revision of China’s Catalogue of Industries for Guiding Foreign Investment, which categorizes foreign investment in China by industry as “encouraged,” “restricted” or “prohibited,” reduced the number of industries restricted to foreigners by more than half. Just two years later, the 2017 revision exhibits a further reduction in the restrictions placed on foreign companies with 30 fewer restrictive measures across both the “prohibited” and “restricted” categories than were present in the 2015 revision.

While this appears to suggest that the Chinese market is becoming a more open and hospitable environment for foreign companies, it does not account for the manner in which policies are implemented. Those familiar with the enigma created by foreign investment regulations in China realize that the de jure foreign investment regulation does not necessarily align with the de facto manifestation of these regulations. At times, the policies intended to encourage fair competition inhibit the ability of foreign companies (and even domestic private companies competing with state-owned enterprises) to compete because the policies target certain companies while giving others leeway.

One example of this can be seen in China’s implementation of its anti-monopoly laws. The U.S.-China Business Council cites “a growing list of cases to argue that foreign companies are unfairly targeted due to Chinese protectionist or industrial policy concerns.” This can, however, be difficult to define as anti-monopoly investigations have been opened against both domestic companies, such as China Unicom and China Telecom, and foreign companies, such as Qualcomm, Microsoft, and BMW. Foreign companies’ concerns, therefore, come from a belief that procedures throughout such investigations are not consistent and fair. In this case, anti-monopoly investigations could be used to turn the tables in favor of domestic companies, thus enforcing views of a hostile environment for foreign companies in China.

A vocal critic of China’s unwelcoming environment for foreign companies in recent years and Germany’s Ambassador to China since 2013, Michael Clauss, stated, “It doesn’t matter which trading partner you talk to…there’s growing protectionism here.” He also noted that many companies interested in beginning production in China are “forced into going into a joint venture” and even frequently “asked to transfer technology, which is against the rules of the WTO.”

Such sentiments have been common within the international community, reflecting Beijing’s difficulty in convincing the world of the veracity of its claims regarding the openness of the Chinese market. Most recently, however, Clauss expressed an optimistic view of the situation. “We appreciate that China seems to be willing to show more flexibility on market access issues,” he said. “We expect that this will be finally followed by concrete measures.”

Should these “concrete measures” allow for the fair implementation of regulations and fair competition in the Chinese market, foreign companies’ trepidation toward entry may be assuaged. However, with the U.S.-China trade war and recent history of perceived protectionism in the Chinese market, foreign companies are wise to proceed cautiously. Though it is unclear whether foreign companies will, in fact, have access to a more hospitable Chinese market, they are, nevertheless, expected to continue entering the Chinese market whenever possible. Of course, with regard to China, it is often more effective to interpret a change in policy based on actions taken rather than claims made.

Lindsay Thill is an HNC Certificate ’19/SAIS MA ’20 student concentrating in China Studies.

International vs. domestic streetwear brands: What’s worth the hype?

Shoppers wait for their turn to purchase items from the Supreme x Louis Vuitton Collaboration.
(Photo source: The Financial Times)

By Tiantian Shi

NANJING, China 一 Ask any hypebeast to name their favorite streetwear brands and they might rattle off a list that includes Supreme, Off-White, BAPE, Adidas and Yeezy. What they probably could not tell you is that the exorbitant price tags associated with these brands’ most sought-after items (such as a 45L suitcase originally retailed by Supreme in collaboration with Rimowa at $1,600 which is currently re-selling on eBay for $6,750) comes from the Veblen effect which can be observed in the increase in demand for a good with an increase in its price. This anomalous behavior is the result of a sociological phenomenon known as conspicuous consumption, referring to purchasing luxury goods to flaunt one’s wealth and social status.

While this phenomenon is common around the world, it is especially prevalent in China, where a significant portion of the population acquired great wealth in a short period of time. A visual survey of people on the streets of any Chinese city will offer an eye-watering array of Louis Vuitton handbags, Burberry scarves and Hermes belts. Chinese millennials prefer to mix their classic luxury labels with streetwear pieces 一 they pair Louis Vuitton with their Balenciaga, Burberry with their Undefeated, and Hermes with their Fear of God.

Part of the draw of designer streetwear labels in China is their limited availability. Many of these brands offer a small number of different items through time-sensitive raffles or weekly “drops” that usually sell out within seconds. Those not lucky enough to cop such items at retail prices are forced to look in the secondary market, where prices can more than quadruple depending on the hype surrounding an item.

This process is especially difficult for Chinese millennials who often lack access to the releases, which are restricted by region. To get around this, many will purchase bots 一 computer software programs that speed up the purchasing process by automatically filling out address and credit card information and thus moving the customer up in the checkout line 一 or will physically make a trip to Japan, the one country where Asia releases are usually made available. Here is where conspicuous consumption comes back into play. Streetwear brands require people to either have the know-how and luck to purchase at retail prices or to have the money to buy at resale. By getting their hands on these items, Chinese millennials can show that they’re on top of the latest streetwear trends and can afford to participate in them.

A suitcase from the Supreme x Rimowa collaboration (Photo source: GQ)

Domestic fashion retailers have taken note of this growing interest in streetwear fashion. A number of Chinese brands, such as Scissorism, Material Girl and AKOP have risen to meet consumer demand. The most notable development in this retail space, however, is that of Yoho!, a fashion-magazine-turned-e-commerce-store-turned streetwear empire that serves as one of the main authorities on streetwear trends in China.

To investigate this trend further, I visited Yoho!’s flagship store in Nanjing, just a few subway stops away from the HNC. The store not only offers a dizzying array of domestic and international streetwear labels, but also houses a small coffee shop and hosts regular pop-up stores to highlight different brands. The neutral-faced sales associates, dressed in dark-colored, oversized hoodies are stationed inconspicuously throughout the store and could easily be mistaken for customers. The tablets and phones in their hands nod to the fact that Yoho! is still primarily an e-commerce platform. Most items in the store have a QR code instead of a price tag and require customers to use the Yoho! app. While the online store carries over 1,000 different streetwear brands, the flagship store houses a select number of domestic brands on the first floor and more well-known and expensive international brands on the second floor.

Exterior of Nanjing’s Yoho! Store (Photo source: SEVENTIE TWO)

According to one Yoho! sales associate in Nanjing, “Streetwear is still a trend that is relatively new in China, so many millennials prefer to spend money on brands already recognized as trendy. They are beginning to explore some homegrown labels, but they aren’t willing to pay as much for them as they are for brands like Supreme and BAPE.”

While some high-end domestic brands like Sankuanz do well overseas where the streetwear scene is more mature, it hasn’t quite taken off in China. What is the point of paying $100 for a t-shirt if nobody knows how much you paid for it?

Chinese millennials might be trying to set themselves apart from older generations, but they are still trying to fit into the mainstream trends of their own generation.

Tiantian Shi is a HNC Certificate ’19/SAIS MA ’20 student hoping to concentrate in International Development or International Political Economy.

We’re still waiting for true democracy in Georgia

Bidzina Ivanishvili (left) and Salome Zurabishvili.  Photo credits: Radio Free Europe

By Evan Bird

BOLOGNA, Italy — It’s been fifteen years since the Rose Revolution set Georgia on its pro-Western reform path and ten years since a Russian invasion nearly brought it all down. But, the small, former-Soviet republic has once again conducted a free and competitive election.

In a second-round runoff on November 29, Salome Zurabishvili, an independent candidate supported by the ruling Georgian Dream, defeated opposition candidate Grigol Vashadze with nearly 60% of the vote. In addition to bringing extensive international experience to the position, President Zurabishvili has become Georgia’s first female president. Despite the achievement, Georgia’s transformation into a Western-style liberal democracy remains incomplete.

Georgia’s democratic transition and Euro-Atlantic orientation were never assured. In 2003, opposition politician Mikheil Saakashvili ascended to power following peaceful protests against the corrupt administration of President Eduard Shevardnadze. Welcomed in the West, Saakashvili forged an administration of energetic technocrats, opening the possibility of future NATO and European Union membership. But, this boldness made quick enemies in Moscow.

In August 2008, following a violent flare up in the separatist region of South Ossetia, Russian soldiers invaded Georgia under the guise of peacekeeping and crushed the Georgian army in just five days.

Russian soldiers still occupy the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (nearly 20% of Georgian territory) and over 250,000 Georgian citizens remain displaced from these regions. Despite the overwhelming setback to its Western ambitions, Georgia hasn’t strayed from its Euro-Atlantic course.

In 2012, the country underwent its first peaceful transfer of power after Saakashvili was defeated in parliamentary elections by Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream. Softer in both rhetoric and style, Ivanishvili and his successors in Georgian Dream have continued Georgia’s Western orientation. But, while Georgia continues to signal to the world the promise of a liberal democratic state in an otherwise illiberal region, fundamental challenges still remain.

The government’s democratization and economic modernization efforts have failed to bring widespread prosperity and Georgian voters understandably remain frustrated. With perennial unemployment, an unstable currency and an inefficient health care system, it’s not surprising that bread and butter issues dominate Georgian concerns rather than issues related to democracy, European integration or Russian aggression.

Moreover, governance in the country is characterized by weak institutions and informal power centers that limit transparency and government accountability. Despite stepping down as prime minister in 2013, billionaire oligarch Ivanishvili (his estimated $5 billion net worth makes up a third of Georgia’s nominal GDP) continues to cast a shadow over decision making in the country. Since leaving office, the oligarch has run through a carousel of prime ministers and uses the party and government structure to distribute patronage and bolster his personal power.

Furthermore, Georgia’s fractured opposition parties are personality-driven and offer few alternative visions to Georgian Dream. The lack of accountable government and serious political choices are likely impacting voter turnout. In a country where voting in free elections is a relatively new phenomenon, turnout has been in decline since 2004.

There is some hope, however. In 2024, Georgia’s switch to a fully proportional election system will empower the country’s diffuse political opposition and force the country’s democratic institutions to better represent voter concerns.

Furthermore, Ivanishvili appears to be increasing his public role. He has reinstated himself as chairman of Georgian Dream and actively campaigned in the presidential election. Both indicate that Georgia’s shy informal leader may be opening himself up to more accountability to Georgian voters.

But, where is president-elect Zurabishvili in all this? While the successful stewardship of another free election and the ascension of Georgia’s first female head of state are important achievements, the position today is mostly ceremonial. It’s also unlikely that Zurabashvili will be able to exercise any meaningful political independence as Ivanishvili continues to wield power from behind the scenes. Thus, it may be best to keep our excitement subdued until Georgia fully completes its democratic transition.


Evan Bird is a SAIS MA ‘20 student and a Returned Peace Corps Georgia Volunteer.

“Straight man cancer” in China

By Jing Xuanlin

NANJING, China — “You really have ‘straight man cancer’!” Burgeoning feminist movements in China have encouraged many, especially post-90s women, to identify and criticize sexism in modern Chinese society.  Here, ‘straight man cancer,’ a translation of 直男癌, is another term for male chauvinism, where “cancer” points to the toxicity of their treatment of women.

This internet slang was coined by Chinese feminists to express resistance against men who discriminate against women. Men who have ‘straight man cancer’ live in the past and hold outdated moral values that conform to the gender norms of ancient China, particularly on the topic of women’s ideal morality as defined by Confuscious.

Although the term ‘straight man cancer’ has only been trending in China since 2014, its origin is deeply rooted in Chinese history. In feudal society, the small-scale peasant economy that lasted for more than 2,000 years contributed significantly to the formation of male supremacy. Due to their advantages in physical strength, men occupied more important positions than their female counterparts in agricultural production. Thus, men became the backbone of the family while women became accessories.

Many Chinese families are still influenced by this patriarchal tradition, even though it has been characterized by many as cultural dross. According to some, a woman’s only role in life is to get married and have children, ideally sons, sacrificing her work in the process. This patriarchal tradition is still popular, particularly in rural families, which have a preference for boys over girls. This kind of bias affects their sons’ understanding of social identity and gender status. In this sense, unlike actual cancer, straight man cancer is contagious and might spread from parents to children or from friends to friends.

Straight man cancer doesn’t discriminate either — women and non-heterosexual men can contract it too. Women can become their own enemies. In modern China, there is no lack of female supporters of the popular philosophy that “marrying well is better than studying well.” They include many women with successful careers, like Yang Lan, known as the “Oprah of China,” who affirmed that marriage is an “absolute necessity” for women. Depressingly, female Ph.D.s are ridiculed as “the third gender” and among them, unmarried women with Ph.D.s are further discriminated against as the “least attractive” dating group. The lack of appreciation for women’s intellect is a typical characteristic of “straight man cancer.”

What are Chinese feminists up against? The gendercide starts at birth. Since the early 1980s, the one-child policy and the Chinese tradition of preference for a son have resulted in widespread abortion of female fetuses. There are an estimated 40 million “missing” Chinese girls, and even the Chinese Ministry of Health concedes that China is faced with among the most serious gender imbalance in the world. According to UNDP Gender Inequality Index, in 2018, China ranked 86th out of 189 countries in gender equality; by comparison, Iran was 60th on the list.

Gender discrimination does not fade as girls grow up. For example, some women face unfair disadvantages when it comes to competing with their male peers in college admissions and job recruitment. Sometimes women are not hired or promoted due to sexism, and many are even fired for marrying and having children.

“Straight man cancer” is not only a domestic Chinese problem; it is part of a larger global issue. Likewise, even feminism in China has global connections. For example, the “Me Too” movement — a movement against sexual harassment — first launched in the American entertainment industry before spreading around the world. China’s “Me Too” movement differs from that of other countries in that it started on college campuses.


Screenshot of a video published by SBS News

Photo credits: SBS News An accusation of sexual harassment made by former student Qianqian Luo against her Ph.D. supervisor Xiaowu Chen, a former professor at Beihang University and recipient of the Yangtze River Scholar award, ignited the first wave of China’s “Me Too” movement. This incident, which occurred 12 years ago, was brought to light through the individual WeChat official account ATSH(Anti-Sexual Harassment) created by Qianqian Luo and went viral on social media. Under the pressure of considerable internet outrage, Chen’s post as executive vice president of the graduate school and his postgraduate tutor qualification were recently rescinded by the university.

However, the internet serves as a double-edged sword for feminism in China. On the one hand, the discussion of feminist ideas has spread like wildfire across social media. In 2017, feminists critiqued cases of female discrimination in the CCTV Spring Festival Gala on social media platforms Weibo, Zhihu and WeChat. Some short sketches satirized unmarried women in their 30s, made digs at a relatively short and fat woman and even implied that infertile women should feel a debt to their husbands. In response, these feminists sent a written protest with about 10,000 signatures to the Bureau of Radio and Television.

Left: Weibo screenshot of official statement from Beihang University, which claims Professor Chen has been suspended and a team has been set up to investigate the accusation of sexual misconduct.

Right: former professor Xiaowu Chen from Baidu baike

On the other hand, Chinese feminism is limited to the cyber world, where news comes and goes rather quickly. A wave of feminism rises, a new internet slang term is coined, but it often subsides as news slips from people’s consciousness. While straight men cancer is perhaps the best example of the internet’s influence on feminism in China, this term, too, may soon be forgotten. Chinese feminism’s place in social media also makes it vulnerable to Chinese government censorship. The New York Times reported on January 23 that the Chinese Internet Censorship Service has slowed down Chinese “Me Too” posts and blocked the use of the term “anti-sexual-harassment” in mainland China. Similarly, the People’s Daily called for the use of law and public opinion to prevent the discourse of straight man cancer from becoming too widespread.

Although this term may soon be forgotten, the debates and sentiments surrounding “straight men cancer” will likely resurface in other forms of internet lingo and will continue to shape Chinese society in profound ways. As Mao Zedong famously declared, “Women hold up half the sky!”


“What are Gaymis?” 什么是“Gay蜜”: An investigation of Chinese subcultures

Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash

By Zhou Jie, translation by Mario Colella

2018年10月24日,南京大学人类学研究所邓国基(Chris Tan)副教授应邀来到中美中心,为师生们带来了一场新颖且精彩的讲座——“Gay蜜”:中国济南新兴的“女汉子”及“直女”与男同性恋者之间的亲密友谊。邓国基教授曾在2002年获得耶鲁大学东亚研究的硕士学位,并于2011年获得美国伊利诺伊大学香槟城分校的人类学博士学位。他的研究兴趣集中于社会性别与性,对新加坡、中国大陆及台湾的同性恋群体也颇有研究。

NANJING, China — On Oct. 24, Chris Tan, a Nanjing University professor of humanities, came to the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) to present students with a novel lecture titled “Gaymi” on the flourishing friendships between straight women and gay men in the city of Jinan, in China’s Shandong province. After earning a master’s degree from Yale University in 2002, Professor Tan received his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois-Champaign in 2011. Among his research interests are gender roles, sex and collective identity within homosexual communities in Singapore, mainland China and Taiwan.

“Gay蜜”一词,指的是成为女性亲密朋友的男同性恋者,是英文“gay”与汉语“闺蜜”两个词的有机结合。邓教授以“新兴男子气概”(Emergent  Masculinity)概念的阐释为基础,通过在中国济南长达一年的实证研究,对中国“Gay蜜”亚文化进行了深度探索。邓教授的研究聚焦于这种亲密关系中的女性,而非Gay蜜本身的特质。换言之,其研究的关键问题是为何当下中国会出现这样一批希望拥有男同性恋亲密朋友的女性群体。

The word “Gaymi,” referring to homosexual men who form close friendships with straight women, is a portmanteau of “gay” and the Chinese word guimi or “(female) best friend.” Employing the concept of “emergent masculinity” as his theoretical foundation, Tan carried out extensive research in Jinan on the country’s Gaymi culture. Tan’s research focused on women involved in these friendships rather than the Gaymis themselves. The true question of his research was this: Why is there a group identity among Chinese women that desire to be close friends with gay males?

邓教授认为,女性更愿意与其男同性恋朋友们讨论与时尚、爱情、性等话题,一方面是因为她们获益于独身子女政策而变得更加自信,另一方面是因为日本的BL (Boy’s Love)文化及韩国的花美男 (KKonminam)文化在中国日益盛行。最后,邓教授指出,目前来看,“Gay蜜”的出现源于中国都市女性的需求,而非男同性恋们的自我认同,这也并不代表男同性恋者不再属于社会边缘群体。

In Tan’s opinion, the women of the one-child policy generation have greater self-confidence than earlier generations of Chinese women and thus prefer to discuss fashion, love and sex with gay men. In addition to this generational difference, these women are partially influenced by the growing popularity of Japanese BL (Boy’s Love) cultural products, as well as Korean KKonminam cultural products, both of which are increasingly found in China. Moreover, as Professor Tan points out, the concept of Gaymi as it exists today is something that finds its origins in the desires of urban Chinese women; it is not a concept with which gay men tend to identify, nor is it representative of gay men in China, who are still among society’s most marginalized groups.


After the lecture, HNC students and faculty asked whether or not the concept of Gaymis will raise public awareness and acceptance of LGBT identities. Furthermore, a professor asked whether or not straight women and the “revolutionary women” of Chinese history will be considered in a similar light. One classmate stated that the existence of sexual minorities in China cannot be overlooked and that this unique lecture immediately deepened her understanding of sexual identity in China.

Zhou Jie is an HNC M.A. ’20 student concentrating in Energy, Resources, and Environment (ERE).

Mario Colella is an HNC Certificate ’19/SAIS M.A. ’20 student concentrating in Chinese Studies.

In Bologna, established refugees pay their gratitude forward

By Amber Murakami-Fester

BOLOGNA, Italy — Refugees entering the European Union fell from its peak of one million in 2015 to under 200,000 in 2017, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. With many of these refugees coming to Italy, refugee reception centers in Bologna work to process and accommodate newcomers. Their biggest challenge is to help assimilate new migrants into Italian life.

University of Bologna student Jalal Dahdal works part-time at Lai-momo and Arca di Noe, two of several cooperatives across Bologna integrating refugees into Italian society. In addition to linguistic translation, Dahdal’s job requires explaining cultural differences to the newly arrived and dispelling “superstitions” as Dahdal puts it, migrants have of Italy, to help them feel more comfortable in their new country. Having immigrated from Syria in 2009 himself, Dahdal considers Arabic to be his mother tongue, allowing him to connect with new arrivals, sometimes just by talking with them and listening to their stories.

“Many of these people have gone through a lot,” Dahdal says. “Talking, even about nothing in particular, can help.”

The immigration crisis peaked in 2015 as conflict escalated in Syria but refugee centers in Bologna continue to see a steady stream of refugees. However, Dahdal says, migrants now come mostly from other parts of the world — Nigeria, The Gambia, Mali, Pakistan and Bangladesh — fleeing war, poverty and political unrest.

A majority of immigrants are what Dahdal calls the “dublinanti” — “the Dubliners,” nicknamed after the Dublin III Regulation. The law, enacted in 2013, requires refugees to request asylum in the country of their point of entry into the European Union. As a result, migrants who have continued on to other EU countries are often sent back to the country where they first entered the continent. Italy, Greece, and Spain receive a disproportionate share of these migrants.

Assimilating refugees is a two-step process that can take years to complete. Refugees in Bologna first arrive at Centro Mattei, a temporary reception center to the east of the city that is also a former prison. Around 300 migrants are currently housed in the facility, where they are provided with basic needs like medical attention, food and shelter in this prima accoglienza, or first reception.

After a few months, refugees go through a seconda accoglienza and are transferred to more permanent housing, which can be a less-crowded center or an apartment of their own. Refugees wait for the processing of their residency permits and work with cooperatives to acquire skills that will help them integrate into Italian life, like learning the language or completing internships to gain work experience. The seconda accoglienza often takes one or two years, Dahdal says.

Though refugees face extreme challenges when they arrive, Bologna has an active and engaged community. According to Dahdal, the Emilia-Romagnan city lives up to its historic reputation of openness. In the nine years he’s lived here, he hasn’t once been made to feel unwelcome.

At UniBo, Dahdal is writing his thesis in anthropology. He hopes to work in forensics, but he plans to stay at the cooperatives for the foreseeable future.

“There’s always more work to be done,” he says.  

Students interested in getting involved in refugee aid efforts in Bologna are encouraged to visit Lai-momo and Arca di Noè websites for more information.

The price of perfection in China

By Li Xiaoyu

A screenshot of the Taobao homepage
Photo credits: Li Xiaoyu

NANJING, China — Another Singles’ Day, the Chinese version of Black Friday, has come and gone. Countless people participated in the annual online shopping spree — so many that just a minute past midnight on Nov. 11, sales on Alibaba had already reached $1 billion.

The one-day shopping frenzy reflects the broader growth of Chinese e-commerce and its place in the worldwide market. According to Statista, the gross merchandise volume of China’s e-commerce market will reach RMB 32.7 trillion or US$4.8 trillion in 2019, and the industry will continue to enjoy above-average development over the next few years.

China’s consumption model has gradually transformed from commodity-driven to bein experience-driven, especially among young people. Rather than focusing on the basic quality of goods, young consumers now demand other additional values such as brand name and fashionability. For young Chinese people, their consumption behavior represents a manifestation of their lifestyle and a display of their personality to society.

This scene is where “affordable fashion luxury” (AFL) made its debut. AFL satisfies young people’s desire to show off their fashionable taste without spending too much money. It encompasses sports brands like Nike and Adidas, makeup brands like Estée Lauder, Lancôme and Yves Saint Laurent, and clothing brands like VERO MODA, Zara and Levi Strauss.

AFL gained popularity in e-commerce, especially among young Chinese consumers. Nearly 80 percent of consumers choose AFL brands which have relatively high quality and low prices or look for high-end brands with a higher price-performance ratio. According to the 2017 China Luxury E-Commerce Development Report, Chinese e-commerce platforms have been collaborating with the global luxury goods industry —including AFL — to increasingly feature their products. In addition, large luxury brands like Louis Vuitton are building their own Chinese e-commerce platforms, setting up Chinese online storefronts.

As consumption of AFL surges in China, concerns arise about its growing popularity. Many fear AFL advertisements have imposed an exaggerated standard of “perfection” on the Chinese youth. Advertisements with pictures of “perfect” women in fancy clothes and makeup pop up when opening shopping apps like Taobao, Jingdong and Vipshop.

“It feels like what I am really buying is not this lipstick itself, rather I am buying [the] beauty represented behind this lipstick,” said one HNC student. Several female students interviewed at the HNC admitted they were influenced by advertisements to buy AFL products they do not need.

Interviewees reflected that advertisements convinced them that using certain brands of cosmetics will give them the  “perfect female image.” Though many clearly understand that this is an impossible mission, their buying choices still reflect their pursuit of “perfection.” For example, a facial treatment essence from SK-II has gained a Chinese nickname — “shen xian shui,” which literally means “water for the immortals,” the implication being this product will make you as beautiful as a goddess. When a product becomes a hot commodity, many young Chinese women feel as if using or owning it will guarantee beauty, youth and popularity.  

Worse, AFL is highly unafforable. On average, university students receive RMB 1000 to 1500, or US $146 to $219, per month from their parents as spending money. Meanwhile, the average price for just one tube of designer lipstick is around RMB 150 to 300, or US $22 to $44. Many cannot afford AFL, but there is strong pressure to purchase these products in order to fit in with their peers. To buy the products they want, many young Chinese spend less on food and books, take part-time jobs or borrow money through apps like Ant Check Later, a personal consumer credit service.

Some students even take out “nude loans,” a practice that has since been banned by the Chinese government. Nude loans were presented as a simple way to get quick money. As collateral, women were required to take a picture or video of themselves nude, holding their ID card and student card while reading aloud their name, the loan amount and any other information the creditor wanted. The nude videos would be released on the internet or sold to strangers if the women failed to pay the money back with full interest on time, with interest rates reaching as high as 30 percent. Some were asked for sexual favors to offset their debt. In most cases, poor young women were not capable of paying the money back. As a result, their naked photos and videos were leaked across the internet. Many female university students who took nude loans dropped out of school, some contracted HIV and some who felt broke and humiliated even committed suicide. Such was the price for “perfection.”

Arthur Miller said, “Today you’re unhappy? What is the salvation? Go shopping.” But can shopping satisfy the desire for perfection? E-commerce and affordable fashion luxury have created an impossible standard of beauty for many young Chinese women —as a result, many pay the price for the pursuit of perfection.

Li Xiaoyu is an HNC M.A. ’20 student concentrating in International Law


Moot court: Practicing international commercial arbitration in China

By Jesse Adler

image2 (1).jpg
Vis Moot Court team conducting legal research in the student lounge at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. (Photo credits: Sydney Tucker)

NANJING, China — If you had told me at the beginning of the semester that I would soon be pulling all-nighters analyzing the terms of a sales agreement regarding a delivery of horse semen, I might have questioned your sense of humor.

But when I joined the Vis Moot Court team at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC), I was handed a thick PDF printout full of information involving two imaginary countries embroiled in a trade war, and two fictitious horse-breeding companies fighting over the technicalities a contract for the aforementioned horse product. I was then responsible for conducting legal research to speak at the 16th International Commercial Arbitration Moot Competition of the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC) to be held in Beijing during the third week of November.

“The goal of the Vis Arbitral Moot,” as stated on the Vis Moot website, “is to foster the study of international commercial law and arbitration for resolution of international business disputes.” The HNC, which is not a law school, has supported its student Vis Moot Court teams for almost a decade. Why?

I caught up with Thomas Simon, a professor of international law at the HNC and director of the Vis Moot Court team, to get his perspective. “Oh, it’s very relevant!” Simon said. “Like in most law school programs, while the focus is mostly on public law, there isn’t enough attention paid to private law. And considering that the SAIS brand has a lot to do with international economics, we should really be doing more of this. [Vis Moot Court] is very key to the mission here, and in fact, it really took off because of student demand and student interest.”

This year’s team agrees. While not all of us aspire to become professional lawyers, the team recognizes that the negotiation and research skills gained through the Vis Moot Court program are invaluable to any career. One of the team members who is actually pursuing a legal career has even decided to focus her master’s thesis on the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG), which is the international sales treaty that forms the basis for all Vis Moot Court cases.

Vis Moot Court teams at the HNC have historically performed well. After last year’s team achieved a high score at the CIETAC competition in Beijing, it was sponsored by SAIS to attend the final rounds of the international Vis Moot competition in Vienna, Austria. Professor Simon explains, “There’s a ‘David and Goliath’ aspect to it. We’re not a law school, and yet we’re competing against schools that have had far more training than our students have, and we’re able to compete at the highest level. Crucially, SAIS has generously supported international competitions when HNC teams qualify.”

In preparing for the upcoming competition in Beijing, this year’s team has engaged in practice sessions, including one with the law school at Nanjing University. The experience has been equally challenging and rewarding, and there is reason to feel confident about the HNC team’s potential.

Jesse Adler is a HNC Certificate ‘19/SAIS M.A. ‘20 student currently completing his Certificate at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center before starting at SAIS DC next fall.


The soaring housing prices in Hong Kong

By Chu Chu

NANJING, China 一 On Oct. 10, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor presented her policy address to the Legislative Council, which outlined plans for developing Hong Kong’s healthcare, pensions, education and social welfare. One of the most pressing problems she addressed, however, was housing.

Since the return of the former British colony to China in 1997, Hong Kong has exercised autonomous rule under the “one country, two systems” principle as a Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR). The Hong Kong SAR is one of the world’s leading financial centers with an open economy and sound legal system. It is renowned for its expansive skyline and notorious for its expensive property prices.

Hong Kong’s expansive skyline
Photo credit: Chu Chu

In fact, Hong Kong’s housing market has been ranked the least affordable in the world over the past eight years. In Mercer’s 2017 Cost of Living Survey, Hong Kong was ranked as the world’s second-most expensive city for expatriates to live in. As one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Hong Kong’s property prices and housing shortage have become a severe social issue. Many Hongkongers live in so-called “cage homes” or “coffin cubicles” without sunlight, squeezed into small living spaces which severely affects the quality of life.

Furthermore, the pace of constructing private and public housing has proved too slow to meet the demand of increasing applicants. There are around 270,000 people on the waiting list every year for public housing, for which most people will have to wait at least ten years. Until then, tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents have to endure cramped living spaces in cage homes, cubicle apartments and subdivided flats.

At the same time, prices in the rental market have become increasingly high with no sign of a downward trend. Looking at recent statistics from Nov. 9, the average price of an apartment in Hong Kong Island is HK$223,200.50, or about $28,500 per square meter, while the average price in Kowloon is HK$160,421 and HK$115,032 in the New Territories. It is no surprise that these high prices create immense pressure on residents, especially young Hongkongers who struggle to get by.

For some of Hong Kong’s poorest, like Yeung Ying Biu (center), home is a metal cage measuring 6 by 2.5 feet. (Photo source: The Daily Mail)


Starting in 1997, there was a sharp decline in property prices due to the Asian financial crisis. First-term Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Tung Chee-hwa, pledged to build 85,000 flats a year in the public and private sectors. He also planned to reduce the average waiting time for public rental housing to three years. However, the government announced indefinite suspension of the project under pressure from the public and developers amid the financial crisis.

In subsequent years, property prices continued to drop and reached the lowest level in 2003 due to the SARS outbreak. After 2003, the government launched a policy to attract foreign investment, which contributed to economic recovery. Since then,  housing prices have continued to rise. In other words, Hong Kong’s property market is greatly influenced by changes in economic outlook and governmental policy.

Hongkongers regard land scarcity as the main reason for high housing prices. Demand exceeds supply when more and more people work and live in Hong Kong, driving up housing prices in a market where supply is already tight. But, government land-use data shows that 75 percent of Hong Kong’s land is not developed. The culprit of high housing prices is not a land shortage, but rather poor land management. The fact is that residential land in Hong Kong only accounts for 7 percent of the total land, and the region’s parks cover an area of six times the total area of residential land. Much land is left unused due to environmental conservation. While the importance of environmental protection should not be neglected, it is reasonable to say that some of these idle lands without high ecological value can be utilized to increase the housing supply.

A complex of five interconnected towers (center) in Quarry Bay known as the “Monster Building,” one of Hong Kong’s most Instagram-worthy sites. (Photo credit: Chu Chu)

In the short run, Hong Kong’s housing problem needs an urgent solution, such as provisional or transitional housing. Hong Kong can learn from Amsterdam’s shipping container homes, which are relatively spacious compared to Hong Kong’s cage homes. With short construction times and predictable pricing, cargo containers can be readily repurposed as housing, providing key environmental benefits, as well as safer, more convenient and more affordable housing in plentiful supply.

If the Hong Kong government is determined to mitigate the housing shortage and high prices, its policies should move towards freeing up more land. Additionally, they should develop the land surrounding residential areas to raise housing prices and motivate developers to build new housing complexes. A compromise policy might be to supply more land in districts with low land prices and for public housing.

Lam, insisting that Hong Kong still needs land reclamation, announced the “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” in her policy address. This vision centers on building a residential and business hub on 1,700 hectares of reclaimed land, which could house 1.1 million people and create a third core business district. The ultimate aim of her artificial island plan, together with the “Greater Bay Area” plan including Hong Kong high speed rail and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, is to bring economic and social improvements to both mainland China and Hong Kong SAR. However, this will likely attract more mainlanders to work and live in Hong Kong, posing further challenges to housing markets.

After the aforementioned policy changes and construction projects are completed, it will take several years or more to assess their impacts. As for how to address the current issue and actively cope with potential future problems, Hong Kong’s government still has a long way to go.

Chu Chu is an HNC M.A. ‘20 student concentrating in International Politics.

SAIS goes to the ballot box


By Keel Dietz

WASHINGTON The midterm elections may be over, but the horse-trading of election season continues in full swing in the smoke-filled Nitze basement. After returning from Thanksgiving break, students will vote on whether to join the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority  (WMATA) “UPass” program or not. The program gives students at participating universities unlimited access to Metrobus and Metrorail systems during school semesters, access that could dramatically change how students commute to school. Students who currently drive or bike would be able to take public transport for free, while those who already take the metro could see their monthly costs decrease significantly.

In exchange, students would see their tuition increase by $1 per day during the semester. For the Fall 2018 semester, students would have paid approximately $120 in additional tuition for free access to the Metro and bus systems from August 31 through December 26; the academic calendar plus five days before and after.

The referendum will begin on Monday, November 26 and continue through Friday, November 30. Students will be able to vote online once specific instructions and a link is emailed to everyone on November 26 when the referendum opens. If the referendum passes, the administration hopes to roll out the program by Spring 2019.

What do SAIS students think? The financial benefits of passing the measure are clear for some. First-year student and Arlington resident Jordan Lorenzen spends $100 per month on a metro pass currently, meaning the measure would “be useful mathematically.” In other words, someone like Jordan would save nearly $300 each semester with this plan. Fellow first-year Tyler Walker, who spends $7 per day taking the metro to school was also enthusiastic, wondering, “is it appropriate to say f*** yeah?” when asked his opinion.

For others, the benefits are less clear. Brittany Miller, an Adams Morgan resident who walks to school every day notes, “I don’t even know what bus lines go near my house,” while Matt Serrone says, “I much prefer biking around the city–it’s by far the easiest way to get around.”  

Still, as winter weather closes in, even students dedicated to walking or biking are wondering if an UPass could be useful. Aaron Dresslar, another student who walks roughly 20 minutes every day, plans to vote ‘yes’, as there is a bus that he could take that would save him 10 minutes each way–not enough to pay for, but enough to make a free bus worthwhile. The WMATA certainly hopes that students like Aaron will be moved to change their commuting habits and vote yes.

Others are more skeptical. Atif Ahmad, a probable ‘no’ voter who lives in Silver Spring, was quick to point out problems with the notoriously unreliable red line. “My issue with the Metro isn’t so much about not wanting to take a train–the wait times are just too unpredictable.” Further complicating the issue is that the referendum is all-or-nothing. Students will not be able to opt out, meaning that even students who never use the metro system will need to pay. Students will have to weigh this against the potential benefits of encouraging heavier use of public transportation.

Regardless of personal circumstances, students should take this opportunity to vote in a referendum that could drastically change the way SAIS students commute.

Not your average grad school band: Lekker at SAIS Europe

whatsapp_image_2018-11-19_at_9.55.35_am.jpegBy Nirit Hinkis

BOLOGNA, Italy — It’s 9:00 p.m. on a Friday and Bologna’s vibrant nightlife is beginning to buzz. SAIS Europe students, however, are still on campus. Packed tightly into Giulio’s coffee shop, cheers and applause erupt as Lekker opens their new cover song, Rihanna’s “Work.” Lekker (pronounced Lekka) is made up of five members: singers Dania Abdalla and Quentin Sauvage, drummer Michiel (Micky) Vriens, Tamur Yusifzai and Joon-Sup Kim, who alternate between bass and guitar.

In typical SAIS fashion, the band takes their hobby seriously. They come together twice a week to collaborate on new sets for upcoming performances. It is during these practice sessions that the personality of each band member shines through, revealing the group’s rare dynamic.

“We should look at this as if it’s a fifth or sixth class,” Tamur remarks during my dinner interview with the group. “We have homework. We have class time every week, which is practice.” Using the band management skills he gained working as a program director at a music academy, the role is natural for Tamur. However, he is pursuing a dual degree and will leave SAIS in January to continue his studies.  

The role of group leader will pass on to Joon, who accepts it hesitantly. Joon’s peers describe him as having a remarkable musician’s ear. Born in Arlington, Virginia to a classical pianist mother, Joon grudgingly began playing piano at a young age. He protested and was handed a violin, which he also declined. At age 13, he decided that guitar would be his instrument.

Micky, the band’s drummer, mentions that growing up, he didn’t think he was talented. It wasn’t until a classmate heard him practicing and encouraged him to try out for his school’s band that he began to take drumming seriously. At dinner, Micky is surprised when the other group members point out that good drummers, like him, are hard to come by.

Singers, too, are a rare breed. They’re more than just voices: “Both Quentin and Dania capture an audience, they draw them in,” says Tamur.

Quentin has been vocalizing informally since childhood. When asked to join the group, he agreed without hesitation despite having no previous band experience. On Friday nights, Quentin enjoys energizing the crowd with his gritty rock-band persona. “But, when the show’s over, I’ll be the first person to go hide somewhere,” he admits.

Dania, by contrast, is somewhat mysterious and describes singing as a very private activity (though you’d never guess based on her performance). She is also a key member in this team. The day she approached Micky to ask if the group could play Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie”, marked a turning point. Her presence and graceful voice transformed this jam-session group into a true band.

This extraordinary team of musicians has become more than just a fun feature of SAIS Europe – it serves as a backbone of our community, creating a space where students and professors interact in a familial atmosphere. “We walk in and out of the building all week studying, stressing.” Dania says. “Friday nights it transforms into a space where we can socialize and unwind and sing.” With no shortage of nightlife options, the fact that SAISers choose to kick off their weekends together on campus is a testament to the power of this band in uniting our  community.

The final word belongs to Beijing

Hong Kong: Independence and authority in Beijing’s “one country, two systems” policyBy Marco Saracco

WASHINGTON — Hong Kong is a thriving liberal economy. It is fifth in the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking and enjoys a vast array of human rights, delivering a consistent “rule of law” system with its own checks and balances. At the same time, as a special administered region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Hong Kong’s fate is linked to the Chinese Communist Party. Chinese influence is, therefore, deeply embedded in Hong Kong’s constitutional framework and political life.

The city became an SAR after the Hong Kong handover of 1997. Its electoral system reflects the oft-cited “one country, two systems” principle, which asserts Hong Kong’s independence alongside the Chinese government’s strong control. Hong Kong was given greater independence and certain privileges not available to citizens in mainland provinces, including the possibility of retaining a free market system and preserving Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s most important legal document. It guarantees individual freedoms such as freedom of expression and assembly.

However, elections for the Hong Kong’s chief executive demonstrate Beijing’s high-level political influence. Chief executive candidates are nominated by Beijing supporters and are selected by an election committee of 1,200 people, comprising citizens and interest groups, who are elected within 28 functional constituencies. That decision ultimately belongs to Beijing.

The second-most important actor in Hong Kong’s politics is the Legislative Council, the highest legislative body. The Council comprises 70 members. Among them, only 35 are elected under universal suffrage, while the remaining 35 are elected indirectly through trade-based electoral constituencies. The Council legislates and passes budgets and bills, which must be signed by the chief executive to become law.

Hong Kong’s constitutional system under Basic Law provides universal suffrage in choosing the chief executive. More precisely, Article 45 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law defines the two pillars of Hong Kong’s constitutional system. The first states that the chief executive must be appointed by the Central People’s Government, while the second states that  “the ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.” Basic Law essentially codifies the PRC government’s promise to expand Hong Kong’s civil and political liberties through a more democratic election process.

The road to adoption of universal suffrage is far from complete. The Chinese government’s reticence in providing universal suffrage has sparked a bitter sense of abandonment and subordination among local citizens, resulting in conflicts with police forces. These culminated in the famous “Umbrella Revolution” of 2014. The movement, which included students and peaceful activists, was the result of a mainland government decision that the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress would pre-screen chief executive candidates in the 2017 elections through a commission chaired by Beijing. Elections would no longer be free.

A Chinese State Council white paper published in 2014 defines the authority that the PRC exerts on Hong Kong. The “one country, two systems” principle is seen as a “holistic” one, which clearly states that the SAR is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Central People’s Government in Beijing. The power and the autonomy that Hong Kong enjoys are not inherent, but rather conceded by the central authority. Beijing argues Hong Kong does not possess any residual power stemming from the handover.

The paper also asserts the supremacy of the “one country” principle over “two systems.” Mainland China’s socialist government allows Hong Kong to maintain a free market, capitalist economy, while political freedoms exist but are dwindling. Hong Kong’s Basic Law was formed in accordance with the Chinese Constitution and Beijing will not allow contradictions. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress is the supreme authority in interpreting Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The National People’s Congress retains the power to amend Basic Law. In other words, the free market system enjoyed in Hong Kong and its framework of civil liberties are the limited concession of the central government that holds supreme constitutional authority over the region.

In terms of constitutional development for Hong Kong’s inhabitants, the main priority is the election of the chief executive by universal suffrage. However, that power belongs to a government led by President Xi Jinping. Given past civil disobedience and its acknowledgement  the “one country” supersedes the “two systems,” it is difficult to imagine a situation in which the PRC is willing to concede any more independence or authority to the region. Legally speaking, Beijing has the final word.

About the CCSDD

The CCSDD is a research partnership between the School of Law of the University of Bologna and the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy (SAIS Europe).

The CCSDD conducts research and training in the field of comparative constitutional law, focusing on countries undergoing a process of democratic transition. Through conferences, workshops, publications, summer schools, study trips, and speaker series, the CCSDD addresses issues of civil society development and legal reform.

Italian budget negotiations signal risk; sanctions a possibility

Source: Eurostat, AMECO European Commission

By Caroline Lupetini

BOLOGNA, Italy — Italy is playing a dangerous game. Government reforms by Italy’s populist government — the somewhat-shaky coalition between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the right-wing League — have drawn deep ire from Brussels for the “significant deviation” from previous commitments to lower Italy’s enormous public debt. Italy’s debt is currently more than 130 percent of the country’s GDP. The reforms promised by party leaders Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini include an universal income for unemployed Italians (which is nearly 20 percent in the south) and reinstating a more generous pension scheme.

Though Di Maio and Salvini claim their expansionary budget for 2019 would boost consumption, pushing economic growth and reducing the government debt, EU leaders are less optimistic.  The European Commission predicts that GDP growth will be just one percent this year. The European Commission called the spending plan an “unprecedented” breach of EU rules and norms for spending, which could trigger sanctions against Italy of about $4.5 billion. Furthermore, Salvini and Di Maio lack support from both Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, who have openly discussed their distaste for the Italy’s populist government.

As a result of this tension between Italy and the European Commission, the credit ratings agency Moody’s downgraded Italian sovereign bonds from Baa2 to Baa3 — just one level above junk status. The downgrade indicates that the market believes Italian bonds are highly risky due Italian financial entities’ potential inability to settle their debt and lending obligations. Moody’s shares the European Commission’s concern over Italian debt explaining, “Italy’s high debt level severely limits authorities’ ability to use fiscal policy to cushion any future economic downturn, which will inevitably come.” Additionally, Standard and Poor’s, another rating agency, revised its outlook on Italy to “negative,” though it left the bond rating at BBB (two levels above junk grade).

Andrea Carosi, professor of corporate finance at SAIS Europe, said in response to the debt downgrading that Italian bond rates will continue to rise. Higher interest rates on government bonds lower the price of those bonds, in hopes of enticing buyers despite the higher risk. The spread between Italian and German bonds’ interest rates – a proxy for the risk premium of buying Italian bonds – recently reached a high of several years and continues to hover at nearly 3 percent. Professor Carosi predicted that the spread will likely remain quite large. However, he said that the worst-case scenario would be that the Italian market becomes so risky that it becomes a risk for the entire European market, in which case German bond rates will increase as well. Despite this, Carosi feels that Italy will not be left to fail, despite the doom and gloom surrounding these budget negotiations.

Investors, meanwhile, are turning away from Italy: Goldman Sachs recently downgraded two major Italian banks to “sell” status, and said that major bank UniCredit “is now the only Italian bank we rate buy.” However, what is a financial nightmare for Italy may be a political boon for Di Maio and Salvini. Euroscepticism and fighting Brussels is popular at the polls, which will be important to watch ahead of European Parliament elections in 2019. Italians may continue to elect politicians that will put “Italy first,” turning Italy away from the European Union and towards the divisive rhetoric of the Five Star Movement and the League. Italian domestic politics have a penchant for being quite unstable; however, only time will tell if the coalition between these two parties – who have several disagreements over domestic policy – will last until the next elections.


Confessions of the unheard: A look into social media anonymity

social media pic

By Rebecca Rashid

WASHINGTON — In early September, a mysterious account emerged on Instagram titled SAIS Confessions. The first of its kind in the SAIS community, the open forum for public secrets, confessions and generally salacious thoughts sparked immediate attention amongst the student body.

SAIS Confessions quickly became a platform for juicy romantic confessions, subtle racism and emotional vomit as graduate students began confiding in an anonymous Google Form to express their thoughts. With the gravity of the confessions ranging from high-school hallway gossip to legitimate bureaucratic concerns, the page gained traction as a forum for daily entertainment.

The social media platform allows students to submit an unlimited number of comments, thoughts or “confessions” related to the SAIS community. Although explicitly stating “no bullying,” the page has posted sexually explicit comments about professors and racial comments directed at minority groups. Arguing the platform as a forum for honest student opinions, the administrator of SAIS Confessions has stood by their creation.

The Student Government Association (SGA) caught wind of the madness and a member even called out the page questionably, citing the creator as a “Russian troll farm” yet failing to specify any clear reasoning for their disdain.

Although denying culpability, the rumored creator of the page spoke with The SAIS Observer about the controversial platform. “I have an intense passion for social media and its transformative powers…and I think it’s a great platform in that regard. I think a lot of students here feel isolated because their peers put on a bravado and give off the appearance of having their lives together.”

“An anonymous platform allows people to voice their true struggles without worrying about their security clearances or networking opportunities. SAIS Confessions shows students they are not alone, and there is value to that. … I hope it continues and no ‘disciplinary action’ is taken since no one is really doing anything wrong.”

The rumored owner proceeded to deactivate their account and order was restored. That is, until SAIS Confessions II appeared just days later.

With a nearly identical format to the initial page, SAIS Confessions II resurfaced with a stronger presence and an established popularity on campus. Its caption reads “SAIS Confessions back from the dead.”

SAIS Confessions II sought to make a statement against the institutional authorities at SAIS. Arguing itself to be a platform for open discussion and enhanced trust, SAIS Confessions II has garnered infamy among students in a matter of weeks from all three SAIS campuses.  

Accounts like SAIS Confessions are popular social media platforms at institutions of higher education in the U.S. From NYU Secrets to Stanford Confessions, these pages follow a format similar to an institutionally specific gossip column. With pages like NYU Secrets from New York University boasting a following larger than its own student body, these seemingly insular social media platforms have the capacity to shape public opinion of their respective institutions.

This new cyber phenomenon even boasts its own Wikipedia page and first emerged as a Facebook page in 2012 as a restricted 18+ page called “OMG Confessions.” Sparking debates around cyberbullying and institutional image, these pages pose different threats depending on the demographic they represent. As a high school student told Buzzfeed in 2013, “Everyone posts so much about themselves. It is sort of disturbing, borderline creepy, but sickly entertaining.”

Students questioned around SAIS DC say, “I don’t know why it’s such a big deal, lots of schools have things like this and it doesn’t mean anything.”

“I follow it. I think it’s dumb, it’s just people complaining. It’s all very negative.”

Up until now, the administrator of SAIS Confessions II remains unverified.

The challenges confessions pages pose to existing institutional structures should not be ignored. Schools and universities remain the victim of potentially finite but irreversible damage to institutional norms and campus culture. These pages air out unwanted commentary otherwise deemed inappropriate by educational standards by evading all checks to authority through anonymity and free social platforms.

How can we respect and maintain institutional structures while remaining adaptable to all the technological innovations of modern life? Using social media as a platform for ‘open discussion’ only to mask identities and accountability proves the ability of technology to revolutionize human interaction but not innovate thought. These issues are expected in developmental stages of life like high school, but why are the degrading and mindless opinions of our peers and our respective institutions still of interest to graduate students?

The SAIS Confessions’ of the online world are microcosms of the socio-political environment today — rife with unanswered questions, the public desensitized to institutional indecency and a society blind to the necessity of accountability as emotions triumph reason, even for those who should know better.

Editor’s note: The suspected moderator of the page received threats which they alleged came from a member of the SGA. However, we did not find sufficient evidence to corroborate that claim or any threats of disciplinary action by the student government. 

Halloween at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center

By Hayden Paulsen

NANJING, China On Oct. 26, the Hopkins-Nanjing Center hosted its annual Halloween party. Festivities included performances by the HNC student band, a costume contest and attendance by local and international Nanjing University students, staff and their friends and family.

Student committee leader Shelby Tuseth coordinated the night’s festivities. “Our goal was to attract local Nanjing University students to enjoy a silly, spooky Western holiday and to enjoy themselves after a few months of hard work.”

The HNC community came together to celebrate the holiday. “We sold 150 tickets to outside attendees and had multiple committees and volunteers for security, food, decorating, music and recruiting; without the HNC community’s dedication, we couldn’t have pulled it off,” reported Tuseth.

The student band, The Leeches — named as an homage to a leech discovered inside the dormitories is composed of vocalists Jessica Dee and Max Bork, vocalists and guitarists Jesse Adler and Ryan Lucas, drummer Sam Smith, keyboardists Steven Rotchadl and Yicai Wang and bassist Alex Rosas. The Leeches played “Werewolves of London,” “Monster Mash,” “I Put a Spell On You” and “Zombie,” among a variety of other Halloween-themed songs.

Above (left): The Leeches play in front of the Halloween backdrop

Above (right): Drummer Sam Smith

Photo credits: Hopkins-Nanjing Center WeChat group

“We practiced for several weeks leading up to the party and were nervous how it would turn out, but it was a success,” Ryan Lucas said after the party. “We got everyone involved with Halloween classics that got both Chinese and international students to dance.”

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Vocalist Max Bork encourages the crowd to dance.

Photo credits: Hopkins-Nanjing Center WeChat group

Attendees sported a variety of costumes, including witches, vampires and characters from  popular television series including “Rick and Morty,” “King of the Hill” and “Star Trek.” One  group dressed up as a horse and tigers to represent “mama huhu,” a Chinese phrase meaning “not too bad” that is homonymous with the words for “horse” and “tiger.” Participants showed off their costumes as they strutted across the stage to various drag and club anthems by artists like RuPaul, Madonna and Britney Spears. A total of 24 contestants participated in the costume contest.

Left: Contestants dressed as “mama huhu”

Right: Partygoers show off their costumes in the lobby

Photo credits: Hopkins-Nanjing Center WeChat group

First place went to a group dressed as characters from The Princess Bride, second place to a drag-inspired dark angel and third place to a professor dressed as a blood-stained Saudi diplomat. Several children of faculty members also participated, demonstrating their superhero powers for an enthusiastic crowd.





Left: “Rick and Morty” attendees make their way to the party from their dormitory

Right: A drag-inspired dark angel struts to Beyoncé’s “Run the World”

Photo credits: Hopkins-Nanjing Center WeChat group


Fresh ideas needed in US immigration debate

Photo credits: AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

By Nicholas Cohn-Martin

BOLOGNA, Italy — It’s somewhat coincidental that only four days after Paul Romer was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics, the migrant caravan which dominated midterm debate over immigration in the U.S. began marching from Honduras. Romer, who was awarded the prize for exploring how new ideas contribute to economic growth is less well-known for his controversial ideas on charter cities and their application in Honduras.

The purpose of a charter city, which can be summarized as an economic region with external governance, is to provide stable institutions to encourage investment and economic growth. Romer popularized the concept in a 2009 TED Talk, which prompted Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to ask for Romer’s help in setting up one of the world’s first charter cities in Honduras.

Though Romer’s involvement in Honduras was quickly curtailed, the project continues to this day despite not producing any significant results, as reported by The Economist. But as problematic as some may find the idea of charter cities, his concept is emblematic of what’s missing in the political debate over immigration in the U.S. — new ideas.

The migrant caravan quickly became a focal point of the recent midterm elections. In a series of bombastic moves, President Trump threatened to suspend aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, sent 5,200 active duty troops to the Mexican border, claimed he would issue an executive order to end birthright citizenship, indicated that his administration is planning to build “tent cities” for migrants, and hammered his hardline focus on border security in every campaign appearance. Clearly, in Trump’s calculus, the migrant caravan, despite its distance from the U.S. border, was a defining issue on which he wanted to stake the midterm elections.

But nowhere in this rhetoric will you find a hint of actual analysis on the issue of migration. For a president so committed to stopping migration, policies such as ending aid to Central American countries may very well be the definition of shooting yourself in the foot.

None of this is surprising. Even outside the confines of the Trump administration, it’s difficult to find any politician providing innovative solutions to the migration debate. On all sides, it’s too easy to just fall back on the standard tropes.

Indeed, there is hardly any recognition given to the underlying factors that drive people to come to America and the real benefits and costs they bring with them. In a similar vein, there’s very little attention given to the different ways we can work with other countries in order to address these issues.

Both sides continue to beat the drum on immigration but rarely does one hear politicians provide a whisper of creativity or innovation to key questions. For example, how has  migration been exacerbated by climate change? What’s the effect of an “America First” trade policy, strong dollar and expanding economy on immigration? What are some new steps we could take outside the U.S. to help address migrant needs? These questions are rarely discussed in mainstream politics.

Regardless of how you feel about the notion of charter cities, it is hard to deny that new ideas like charter cities are important for ongoing issues like the migrant caravan. Obviously, Honduras’ experience with charter cities isn’t going well, but perhaps a charter city or special economic zone could exist within the U.S. or Mexico, serving to receive migrants and investments from companies who’d want to employ them.

Granted, this idea isn’t fully developed, but the point is that it’s a different way of thinking about the current debate over immigration. A debate which, regardless of your personal political feelings, could benefit from some fresh ideas.

Nicholas Cohn-Martin is a Master of Arts in Global Risk student at SAIS Bologna.

China’s royal obsession: How Chinese leaders utilize their royal connections

By Benjamin Miles

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President Xi Jinping and wife Peng Liyuan meeti King Sihamoni and Queen Mother Sihanouk in BeijingPhoto credits: news.cn

NANJING, China — On September 20, 2018, a rather unusual topic appeared in several publications in China. The China Daily English edition, People’s Daily Chinese edition and the local Nanjing Daily all reported on the same event with more or less the same wording, that Chinese leader Xi Jinping met with Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk in Beijing. Even more curious,  the meeting was not covered by any foreign press aside from Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Post, which essentially echoed the China Daily’s English edition of the article.

The articles outlined an intimate meeting in which Xi and the king wished each other a happy Mid-Autumn Festival and hailed their annual meetings since 2016 as “a gathering of family members.” These meetings harken back to dynastic China when surrounding kingdoms paid tribute to the Middle Kingdom and were generally considered as part of a “family” with China. Widespread media coverage in China of such visits suggests the Middle Kingdom has a soft spot for monarchs.

Hopkins-Nanjing Center alum Sophie Richardson outlines in her 2010 book “China, Cambodia and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence,” the origins of relations between the Cambodian monarchy and the People’s Republic of China. Richardson examines the meetings between King Sihamoni’s father, King Sihanouk, and Chinese leaders from as early as February 1956. In one such meeting, Mao Zedong “reassured Sihanouk that, although China was a communist state and Cambodia was a monarchy, their relationship was still ‘like that of family’.” The relationship did not stop there, as Sihanouk supported the “One China” policy as one of the most “tangible expressions of Five-Principles-based diplomacy” and fought for China to regain its seat in the UN in the 1960s.

While this relationship finds its origin in political ideology, contemporary Sino-Cambodian relations lean towards money and investment. In  2017, China’s trade with Cambodia jumped to $4.8 billion as Cambodia imported $3.9 billion worth of Chinese goods. Additionally, China urged Cambodia to begin using the Chinese yuan in bilateral trade and initiated several Belt and Road projects, including dam construction, in southern Cambodia. While many Cambodians profit from Chinese investment, some have become wary of the increasing Chinese presence in parts of the country.

It is important to consider how the king fits into all of this. Ascending to the throne in 1941, King Sihanouk was the first Cambodian king to establish direct contact with his subjects. From that point on, the Cambodian monarchy became intimately involved with the political affairs of the country, that is, until the rise in 1985 of a new political figure, Prime Minister Hun Sen. Today, King Sihamoni is considered little  more than a puppet king of Hun Sen’s and one who largely stays out of the spotlight. But as Cambodian relations grew cozier with China in recent years, the king has increasingly had nice things to say about the PRC. During a meeting with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi in 2017, he even referred to China and Cambodia as the most “intimate friends.”

But what about other monarchies? In nearby Thailand, relations between the Thai monarchy and the PRC seem very similar to those with Cambodia’s royal family. In fact, several members of the Thai royal family, including Princess Sirindhorn, share very intimate ties with China. Princess Sirindhorn not only has studied Chinese language and culture since childhood, but was also named “people’s friendship ambassador” during a visit in Beijing. Thailand’s recently deceased King Bhumibol Adulyadej met with several Chinese leaders after Thailand and the PRC re-established relations in the mid 1970s. As an article in the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia explains, “it is common to hear leaders from China and Thailand frequently express their close ties by stating that “the Chinese and the Thais are the same family.” The Sino-Thai relationship seems to be rooted from the monarchy down. Considering Thai military-monarchy relations, this may be an extension of the ruling Thai military junta’s wishes to attract Chinese investment.

However, another Southeast Asian country’s monarch, Brunei’s Sultan Haj Hassanal Bolkiah, seems to have a different approach to relations with the PRC. Rather than a familial relationship of “fraternity” with President Xi, Sultan Bolkiah is all business. In 2017, Sultan Bolkiah and President Xi met regarding Belt and Road construction in Brunei. Furthermore, Sultan Bolkiah commended China’s contributions in “maintaining global peace, prosperity and development,” and reaffirmed his belief in the One China policy. However, notably lacking are any expressions of “family relations” between Brunei and China, perhaps a consequence of cultural distance between the Islamic culture of Brunei and China’s Confucian values.

European monarchs, on the other hand, provide a stark contrast to Asian monarchy relations. Regardless of British attempts to woo China; the Queen has her own ideas on Chinese state visits. Queen Elizabeth commented that Chinese officials were “very rude” during a 2016 state visit, Prince Charles, in contradiction with British official policy on China, maintains friendship with the Dalai Lama. This tension remains, even after  President Xi and his wife’s visit to Buckingham Palace was hailed as a “milestone” visit. China seems to have a desire to meet with British royalty despite their clear hostility to Chinese officials, although it doesn’t seem to influence the robust economic relationship between the two countries.

Finally while we seldom hear from Belgium’s King Philippe, President Xi has met with him several times since 2014. The initial 2014 meeting was the first time the Belgian king received a foreign head of state, who awarded President Xi the Order of Leopold, a Belgian national honor of knighthood. In their most recent meeting, President Xi met with King Philippe to promote European integration, perhaps indicating a legitimacy-gaining measure to promote Xi’s agenda with the EU.

With all these royal meetings, what is China’s goal? They could be an attempt by the Chinese regime to equate President Xi with royalty. This could go along with President Xi’s cultivation of a paternalistic image in China in recent years, including references to him as “Xi Da Da” (Papa Xi) or  party propaganda describing him as the “core” of the party. Something to observe, however, is that the way in which President Xi and the Chinese state engages with different monarchs may change depending on the part of the world or the civilization they represent.

For the more traditionally “Sino-centric” states like Cambodia or Thailand, the relationship could mean a harkening back to the time of kings, regardless of ideological differences. But for other civilizations in the Muslim world, like Brunei, or Western civilization in Europe, such a relationship is strictly business, or even a show of legitimacy. Whatever the patterns, Chinese leaders utilizing these royal connections in their relations with other states is an interesting precedent in China’s developing role as a great power.

Benjamin Miles is an HNC MAIS ‘19 student focusing on International Politics.

A call to Congress: raise the cost of election interference, sanction Russian IT

Photo credits: Open Markets Institute

By Ashley Curtis

WASHINGTON — Russia’s disinformation campaign in the 2016 presidential election was a shock that forced Americans to grapple with the uncomfortable truth of their own vulnerability. Policymakers were caught by surprise. They understood that Russia had a penchant for interfering in its neighbors’ elections — Ukraine and Montenegro are examples — but no one expected the same provocation in Washington.

Congress responded by passing the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, but intelligence indicates Russia worked to influence the 2018 midterm election as well. On August 2, 2018, the heads of U.S. national security agencies made a joint statement confirming continued Russian attempts to infer in political elections. Clearly, the penalties imposed were not severe enough to deter foreign meddling in America’s democracy. Disinformation campaigns are increasingly employed by a broad range of state actors, including China and Saudi Arabia.

Current U.S. sanctions clearly do not apply sufficient pressure to alter states’ cost-benefit calculus for interference. Therefore, the United States should apply more specific sanctions to critical features of perpetrators’ economies. Targeted sanctions against Russia’s IT sector would effectively undermine the country’s thriving software exports, raise the cost for election meddling and send a strong symbolic statement against the Kremlin’s cyber operations.

Over the last decade, Russia’s software export revenues grew threefold from 2.7 billion USD per year to nearly 8 billion USD, due in part to the emphasis Vladimir Putin’s regime placed on promoting the growth of high-tech industries. The Kremlin capitalized on Russia’s technically-educated population by steering resources to the IT sector to diversify the economy and avoid becoming a “raw material appendage” to Europe and China. Putin’s government considers the IT industry to be intrinsic to economic growth and national security and so, unsurprisingly, Moscow consolidates the industry’s operations under state control. U.S. sanctions on Russian software exports would, therefore, not only strike a blow to state revenues, it would also threaten a vital component of Putin’s plans to restructure Russia’s lackluster economy.

Although Russia also meddled in French and German elections, a U.S.-led international coalition is doubtful because allies view election meddling as an American problem. Unilateral sanctions are the most realistic tool.

It is true that unilateral sanctions struggle to isolate a sector when the target country has markets around the globe, but Russia’s software industry is uniquely suited for them. The United States is the number one customer of Russian IT goods and services. Although Scandinavian and European markets remain easily accessible, if Russia’s penchant for nefarious cyber activity continues, foreign companies will begin to import less Russian software. This would compound the effectiveness of U.S. sanctions.

Moreover, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, American firms dominate the software industry. Due to the existing base of competitive software producers, American consumers would be unlikely to suffer without Russian exports and given time for market adjustment, the U.S. software market would compensate for reduced supply.

Opponents might argue that U.S. sanctions would further stoke anti-Western sentiment in Russia. This is a reasonable concern, but the damage was already done in the wake of America’s 2014 sanctions on Russia. In response to these sanctions, Putin has effectively propagated a narrative of Western culpability for Russia’s general economic downturn, and avoided blame for Russia’s economic mismanagement. Given the United States’s already lackluster reputation in Russia, a further deterioration of Russians’ esteem for America would pale in comparison to the damage caused by continued Russian cyber adventurism.

If the Kremlin and its army of internet trolls fool America once, shame on Moscow. If Putin fools America twice, shame on Washington. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill now understand the danger Russian meddling poses to the integrity of America’s electoral system. Congress and the White House must respond to the threat by sanctioning Russian software imports. Only by inflicting adequate pressure on Russia’s subversive IT sector will the United States send a strong signal to deter future interference from malign state actors.

Why the young Chinese generation is becoming “old”


By Wei Axiao

NANJING, China — Once known as the “lost generation,” the members of the post-90s generation in China have now been jokingly labeled “middle-aged,” or even “old people.” Why are these millennials being compared to the elderly?

One possible explanation is their lifestyle. If you observe young Chinese people, you will be surprised by the popularity of thermoses in offices or even classrooms. It is not uncommon to notice dates, goji berries, tea and dried monk fruit in them, all of which are reputed to bring health benefits. Only in rare cases do young people drink coffee. They tend to choose healthy snacks such as nuts and dates. For leisure time, massages, hot springs and beauty parlors are in great demand, and similarly, it is in fashion to hit the gym and exercise. The post-90s generation favors healthcare products such as hair tonics, face masks and health foods, accounting for over 50 percent of all health product consumption as documented in the 2017 AliHealth Report. All of the above paints a portrait of this generation of young people as living a health-obsessed lifestyle that is traditionally associated with the older population.

However, despite seeming to care about health so much, this generation is fond of going to bed late, which is far from healthy. Statistics from the 2017 Chinese Young People Sleep Report demonstrate that young people typically prioritize work over receiving enough sleep when they are confronted with this trade-off. The percentage of young people who go to sleep by a regular time is around 3.4 percent, far lower than the approximately 44.1 percent who work late into the night. Moreover, the data shows that those in the high-income group with a monthly salary of 5000 RMB or higher get better quality sleep than those with a salary lower than 5000 RMB. Many factors contribute to this unhealthy deviation from the circadian rhythm, but around 77.4 percent of Chinese young people attribute it to overwhelming pressure from studying or work. A white paper on the health of Chinese white-collar workers reveals that the proportion of white-collar workers in an overworked state is close to 60 percent.

This younger generation is forced to consider their health because of their exhausting lifestyles. But why? Perhaps demographics can give us some clues. China’s post-90s generation are now 20 to 29 years old. This is a generation that has gone through the one-child policy and China’s educational reform, the New Curriculum Standard for Compulsory Education and High School. A large population and limited occupational positions inevitably exacerbate competition between peers. Young people fall into a state of anxiety about not being good enough, not having a high degree of education or not earning a high salary, and consequently, they work increasingly hard to pursue higher degrees, more certificates and better internships.

There is a deeper cause behind the anxiety, especially for young men: rising prices, especially housing, which play a well-documented role in contemporary Chinese society. This phenomenon is important because owning a house is now tightly connected with one’s household registration, social status, access to elementary education, living environment and marriage. Meeting the threshold for marriage has been hard for young Chinese men, especially those who are not from rich families, given that purchasing a house is considered an expectation or even a responsibility for Chinese men as part of marriage. According to the 2017 China Housing Price Network the ratio of housing prices to income in China ranges from 6.2 to 1 to 46.6 to 1, much higher than the World Bank’s ratio recommendation of 5 to 1 or the United Nations’ 3 to 1. The pressure on young men due to the one-child policy and the “4+2+1” family structure it created also cannot be underestimated. By the end of 2016, the sex ratio in China was 104.98 men for every 100 women, which adds pressure on young men who are seeking spouses.

Nonetheless, pressure on males is not the whole story. No one is exempt from social stress, including young women. The reform of the Chinese Marriage Law, particularly the property distribution terms, put young Chinese women into an unprecedented situation in which they cannot rely on a husband. Chinese women are no longer entitled to half of their husband’s property when they get divorced. Thus, women of all ages must work hard to ensure that they have their own house or assets, especially if their parents cannot afford them. The development of feminism in China and the improvement of women’s educational opportunities has also encouraged Chinese women to earn their own income, and they are more willing to rely on themselves rather than a wealthy husband for financial security. There is a saying about aspirant young Chinese women “ao zui wan de ye, yong zui gui de yan shuang,” or “work overnight and earn more money to pay for the most expensive eye cream.” The decline of the national marriage registration rate — which shrunk by 7 percent in 2017 — reflects all of these changes.

Contemporary Chinese society is foisting immense competition and pressure on the post-90s generation. Exhausted by overwhelming study or work, young adults care more about their health and try to make up for their irregular lifestyles. We cannot just blame this generation for their lifestyle, as everyone in society is expected to embrace stressful social environments. However, society bears responsibility for its citizens. Dispelling the cloud of overwhelming social tensions and stresses — such as low average wages and excessively high housing prices — may be a good start.


China and the US: the new cold war?

Alexander Rosas is a certificate student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center with a focus on International Politics. Jesse Adler is a HNC Certificate/SAIS M.A. student currently completing his Certificate at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center before starting at SAIS DC next fall. We both offer our viewpoints on the state of US-China relations after Vice President Mike Pence’s speech to the Hudson Institute. Alexander Rosas argues that the current state of affairs does not look like the start of a new cold war, whereas Jesse Adler argues that the US.-China relationship the current state of affairs is already on that trajectory.

Are we jumping to cold war conclusions?

By Alexander Rosas

NANJING, China When Vice President Mike Pence gave his speech on China at the Hudson Institute, the question on the minds of many students  here at the HNC was, “What does this mean for U.S.-China relations?” While some feared that it indicated escalating tensions between the two countries, I would argue we are not, yet, witnessing the start of a new cold war.

To understand what a new cold war would look like, we must understand the structure of the U.S.-Soviet Union Cold War. At the heart was the ideological battle between the Soviet Union’s communist model and the West’s idea of freedom and democracy. From the U.S. perspective, the Soviet Union was a territorial expansionist and an ideologically backwards power that threatened the existence of the Western liberal world order.  The Soviet Union saw itself at war with capitalism and sought to create allies in Marxist movements around the world, as mentioned in George Kennan’s Long Telegram. It was a fight between the liberal West and the communist East. In essence, ideological competition fueled the start and existence of the Cold War.

With this in mind, it is hard to find similarities between the Cold War and the present-day conflict  between the U.S. and China. Current tensions are not ideological, and neither side desires to eliminate the other. The U.S. government has no interest in causing the collapse of China’s ideological system or its government despite U.S. insistence on democracy and human rights. It does, however, wish to compete with China, but as the 2017 National Security Strategy stated and Pence re-emphasized, “Competition does not always mean hostility.” In fact, the Trump administration still supports a mutually beneficial relationship based on reciprocity and fairness.

China, meanwhile, is protecting its own interests and acting reciprocally. It has repeatedly called for dialogue to resolve the current trade war issues. China also continues to emphasize its belief in win-win cooperation. Even during these tense times, both countries still signal their willingness to cooperate with each other.

Trade and education are still areas on which both countries continue to cooperate, despite increased scrutiny in recent years. According to an August 2018 report on trade from the U.S. Census Bureau, both countries oversaw an estimated $428 billion in trade with each other this year. Both countries still welcome international students into their countries according to the Institute of International Education’s 2017 Open Doors Report, 350,755 Chinese students studied abroad in the United States during the 2016-2017 academic year, and the United States sent 11,688 to China. Both countries are still maintaining dialogue, as evidenced by Donald Trump’s recent announcement of a meeting with President Xi Jinping at the upcoming G20 summit. This is far from the ideological standoff that existed during the Cold War.

Although the U.S. has adopted a more confrontational stance towards China, we have yet to reach Cold War levels of confrontation. The Cold War saw the world at the brink, where the threat of imminent nuclear annihilation was real and the world was split in half, all in the name of ideological supremacy. The current tensions between the U.S. and China hardly resemble anything like thatera. In contrast, the U.S. and China are economically interdependent powers who maintain high levels of cooperation.

Cloudy with a chance of cold war?

By Jesse Adler

The two superpowers have already entered the period of what future historians may call the Sino-American Cold War. In most ways, this cold war will not resemble the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Economically and politically, China’s ability to influence other countries does not match the capabilities of the Soviet Union during the 20th century. Nor does China appear willing to engage in military conflict, at least in the short term.

That said, China has already revealed its capacity to challenge the United States, perhaps with the intention of driving the Western superpower out of its position as the foremost Asia-Pacific hegemon. Through its state-run media, China has showcased its soft power to compete with U.S. influence. China has also been pitching its state capitalist model as superior to Western equivalents. Should China maintain social stability and economic growth over the next few decades, the United States may feel its liberal democratic system threatened.

The United States has become increasingly critical of China’s foreign and domestic policies. In a recent speech at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C., Vice President Mike Pence announced the Trump administration’s newfound determination to challenge China’s actions where it sees fit. The speech contained attacks on a multitude of Chinese activities, including Chinese relations with the government in Taiwan, China’s counterterrorism approach in the Xinjiang province and the country’s trade policies. Pence also blasted China for pursuing a “whole-of-government approach,” that is, using coercion and utilizing all available resources from a variety of coordinated governmental agencies to advance its interests in the U.S.

Walter Russell Mead of The Wall Street Journal calls the Hudson Institute speech “the biggest shift in U.S.-China relations since Henry Kissinger’s 1971 visit to Beijing.” Many other analysts have echoed this sentiment. Zhang Baohui, professor of international relations at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, said, “[The Hudson Institute speech] will look like the declaration of a new cold war, and what China may do is more important than what it will say about Pence’s speech.”

Other leading voices in the U.S. government followed up with their own sharp criticisms of China. FBI Director Christopher Wray testified on the Senate floor that China is a greater danger to U.S. national security than Russia, saying, “China in many ways represents the broadest, most complicated, most long-term counterintelligence threat we face.”Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who chairs the Congressional Executive Commission on China, unveiled a bill that would introduce sanctions on  the country for alleged human rights violations.

Furthermore, many Democrats in Washington have embraced the current administration’s tough rhetoric on China. It is a rare and unlikely feat for bipartisan support to coalesce around an issue in the era of Trump. That the administration’s position on China has garnered such wide support across the political spectrum implies that this current approach may be longer-term than Chinese leaders would like to admit.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will not risk appearing weak, especially against the United States. To do so would unsettle the Chinese public, who, in a 2015 survey conducted by Kai Quek and Alastair Johnston of the University of Hong Kong and Harvard University respectively, expressed the desire that China should not back down from a hypothetical military standoff with the United States if tensions were to escalate. If Chinese leadership were to back down from America’s saber-rattling rhetoric, they may feel that they have lost face. The perception of weakness is not acceptable to this ascendant superpower that relies heavily on nationalistic messaging. Therefore, should the antagonistic signaling from the American side continue, China can be expected to retaliate. A cold war seems to be in the forecast for these two superpowers.

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Vice President Mike Pence at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. where he delivered an accusational speech directed towards China.
Photo credits: Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press



Please send apology email

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

By Danielle Thompson

In August 2018, SAIS Career Services replaced SAISWorks, students’ previous online career services platform, with the Handshake system. Although the new service offers numerous jobs, schedule of events and seminars, students’ ability to access them depends on how much information they put into the system. To ensure that students engage with the online resource, Career Services grants or denies access and mandates that students update their profile to access opportunities or even schedule an appointment.

The new system has everything from event listings to resume drops. Simply clicking on the RSVP button ensures that you have a spot reserved, provided that you have signed into the system already. The overlooked aspect of this new system is that students must prove they attended the event by signing in at a table near the event’s entrance, or else they are blocked from their Handshake account without warning.

This is not a “three strikes and you’re out” or “mistakes can happen” type of system. If you don’t sign in at the entrance to an event that you RSVP’d for, your account will be blocked.

I RSVP’d for an event, attended but neglected to sign in at the appropriate kiosk. I was late to the event and also had to leave early for a class. As a late arrival, I wasn’t prompted to sign in and my consequently,so my account was blocked. I emailed Career Services explaining the situation, but was told the only way to re-activate my account was to submit an apology email to the speaker.

This policy of first blocking students access to their online career service platform and then demanding an apology email is insulting. SAIS is a graduate school. The students here are adults and do not need the added stress of having their accounts blocked should they, for any reason, fail to attend Career Services events. The policy ensures that students won’t RSVP, and will prefer to pencil the event into their calendar and show up. Handshake RSVPs are now not worth the risk. Ultimately, this new policy discourages students from taking advantage of the great opportunities that Career Services has to offer.

Professor Hintz releases new book ‘Identity Politics Inside Out: National Identity Contestation and Foreign Policy in Turkey’

liselhintzfacultyphoto.jpgThe SAIS Observer recently sat down with Professor Lisel Hintz to discuss her new book and her concept of identity politics “inside out” before its release on Friday, November 2. Professor Hintz’s regional focus is on Turkey and its relations with Europe and the Middle East. This semester at SAIS Professor Hintz is teaching Psychology and Decision Making in Foreign Affairs.

The SAIS Observer (TSO): Professor, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions.

Professor Hintz: Of course! I’m happy to.

TSO: Professor, your new book is titled Identity Politics Inside Out: National Identity Contestation and Foreign Policy in Turkey. It’s set to be released November 2, 2018. Why did you choose to take on this challenging topic?

Professor Hintz: This is what I do: I find political and societal puzzles and I try to solve them. I try to think about the unthinkable and then explain how it becomes possible. Turkey is a fascinating subject as it is an intersection of so many political, societal and regional differences. I have always been fascinated by identity politics, and Turkey is a microcosm of so many of the debates I am interested in – ethnic, sectarian, pious-secularist, gender – that it was a natural place of study.

TSO: The book is titled Identity Politics Inside Out, and we know your primary focus is Turkey, but what is the “inside out” in reference to?

Professor Hintz: The idea behind “inside out” is that actors take what we usually think of as domestic identity struggles outside to the foreign policy arena. In order to weaken domestic obstacles to its Ottoman Islamist understanding of Turkey’s national identity, for example, the ruling AKP used Turkey’s EU accession process. As part of the Copenhagen democratization criteria, the AKP undertook reforms to reduce the role of the military and reconfigure the judiciary – two previously secularist institutions that had unseated or closed the AKP’s Ottoman Islamist predecessors. In addition to institutional conditionality, domestic actors can also “take it outside” by using international normative pressure and the resources and mobilization capacity of diaspora groups to help reconfigure the domestic playing field back home.

TSO: Turkey’s political and regional politics are fascinating, but I’m curious, how did you go about collecting your research for Inside Out?

Professor Hintz: I spent a total of 18 months in many parts of Turkey doing fieldwork while in my PhD program at George Washington University. I was also lucky to receive two Critical Language Scholarships from the U.S. State Department that funded intensive language training in Ankara and Bursa.

TSO: You spent so much time in the Turkey developing your language skills and learning the culture. However, when writing this book, what is the one main takeaway you wanted your readers to understand after they had finished?

Professor Hintz: I would like readers to finish the book with a greater understanding of how identity politics is used within Turkey and how the “inside out” concept analyzes its spill over into foreign policy initiatives. Turkey hosts a multiplicity of identities that are organically linked to different and contested foreign policy prescriptions. Previous governments’ Republican Nationalist understanding of Turkish identity led them to distance Turkey from its Ottoman past and to craft a place for Turkey in the transatlantic security structure; the current government sees its role as disengaging with its former Western patrons and establishing Turkey as an independent Sunni powerhouse. Citizens of Turkey disagree about foreign policy as much as they disagree about politics at home. The question of “who we are” is as much about what we should do outside our borders as what we should do inside them.

TSO: Since we are talking about Turkey, we have to discuss the other regional powers in the Middle East. With the recent Khashoggi killing and the varied responses from both Turkey and Saudi Arabia, we have to ask: Is Turkey mobilizing to challenge Saudi Arabia for hegemony in the region?

Professor Hintz: Turkey is walking a fine line with Saudi Arabia in the sense that they are rivals for Sunni regional leader, with Istanbul as former home of the caliphate but Saudi as home to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina. Also, Turkey aligns with Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar, while Saudi aligns with actors like UAE and Egypt. This shaped Turkey’s measured response to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, which took the form of intelligence leaks rather than direct accusations by President Erdoğan. Particularly given Turkey’s precarious economic state, the Turkish government may be trying to extract financial concessions like payments, loans, or contracts from the Saudi government in exchange for keeping evidence of the murder under wraps.

TSO: You have dedicated years of your life to studying Turkey and developing a greater understanding of the language and culture. Now that this project is done and about to be published, have you charted out your next project?

Professor Hintz: Yes I have. My second book project is multi-level discussion about the intersection of pop culture and politics. I examine the ways in which regimes use pop culture as a tool of social engineering to mold their envisioned societies, how the opposition uses it as a forum of subversion, and how researchers can engage it as an empirical window onto debates we otherwise don’t have access to. In fact, I am teaching a European research seminar next semester subtitled “Reading European Politics through Pop Culture.” The first half of the term will be heavy in course content on Turkey, and then will build on other European cases. Students will have the opportunity to create their own research project on politics and pop culture on a European case of their choice. Turkey is a super interesting case to build on given that its soap operas are a hugely lucrative export in the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East. Further, the current government shapes and polices the content of TV shows and films to create an image of the ideal citizen – a pious Sunni Turk who respects patriarchal authority and sees Turkey’s role as a Sunni Muslim leader in its neighborhood. Watching a grandiose Ottoman-themed soap opera about Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent is what propelled my learning of Turkish, and the government’s attempts to censor the show’s depiction of women in the harem inspired my first Foreign Policy piece, so I guess I’ve been hooked by pop culture ever since.

We want to thank Professor Hintz for taking the time to speak to us about her new book. It’s always interesting to learn about the work of current SAIS Professors, especially on such a relevant topic given current news headlines. If you want to read more about Professor Hintz, you can go to her website – liselhintz.com. Her new book “Identity Politics Inside Out: National Identity Contestation and Foreign Policy in Turkey” was released this Friday, November 2, 2018. You can order online now and be sure to use code ASFLYQ6 for 30% off.


Acts against the press are an assault on our constitutional principles

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Photo credits: Pete Kreiner/Cartoon Movement

By Olivia Magnanini

BOLOGNA, Italy — According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) global data, in 2017, 18 journalists were murdered (motive confirmed) and another 262 were imprisoned. The imprisonment numbers are representative of a disturbing upward trend since 2000, with 2017 being the year with the highest number ever recorded for CPJ.

The ongoing crisis of journalistic freedom was thrown into the spotlight in recent weeks, with the notable disappearance and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This is indicative of the increasing boldness with which authoritarian governments are silencing journalists.

While public outcry from the global community has spawned an investigation into the Khashoggi killing, so far there have been few diplomatic consequences. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), a notable ally, puts the U.S. at a pivotal juncture in its historical dynamic with Saudi Arabia, giving the U.S. a chance to stand up to authoritarian bullies who choose to silence their critics.

The disturbing story of Jamal Khashoggi, a confidant-turned-critic of the Saudi royal family, who was living in Turkey as a reporter, shows the increasingly bold measures authoritarian governments are taking to silence their critics. The circumstances surrounding Khashoggi’s disappearance and death inside the embassy have grown murkier since he was first reported missing over two weeks ago.

The Saudi government has repeatedly rejected claims  of any involvement, only to issue a statement in the middle of the night this past weekend stating that Khashoggi died “in a brawl.” With more information linking Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to the murder, growing pressure from world leaders, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pulling out of a large investment conference in Riyadh last week, it seems that MBS needed to act decisively to change the narrative — arresting 18 men in connection with the killing and cleaning house of certain aides in his administration. Still, Washington should not see this as enough to let the Saudis off the hook.

In a testament to Riyadh’s power in the region, countries such as Egypt, UAE, Lebanon, Jordan and Bahrain have all issued statements in solidarity with MBS. But, while some voices remain silent, President Trump should forcefully and unequivocally condemn the regime’s involvement.

The United States, where core values of free speech and freedom of the press are enshrined in the constitution, needs to set an example by speaking out against censorship of the press. If Trump continues to support the Saudi prince - even tepidly - amidst more evidence surfacing regarding MBS’ direct involvement in ordering the killing, it will set a dangerous precedent and present another opportunity where the president acts out of personal allegiance to those who support him even when they commit crimes.

There is a sense of deep irony, of course, that this is happening in Erdoğan’s Turkey, where the highest number of journalists worldwide were imprisoned last year, and that it’s President Trump who needs to take a strong stand against the oppression of journalists. After all, this is a president who continuously disparages those who disagree with him, calling the press “the enemy of the people.” Trump’s previous comments have generated deep suspicion of the press and created an environment of distrust and tension in America. The murder of Khashoggi should give him a moment of reflection about the dangers of deriding journalists, and present an opportunity to insist on protection of free thought and speech.

Khashoggi’s murder represents the disturbing and widening gap between political discourse and free press in Saudi Arabia and around the world.

While countries like Saudi Arabia have recently attempted to appear more “liberal,” many seem to be reverting to authoritarian behavior — led by strongmen who would like to silence any dissenting views. If these governments are found to be culpable, it’s up to the international community to enforce diplomatic and economic sanctions to hold them accountable.

Ironically for Trump, the opportunity to defend a free press and condemn a state-sanctioned killing of a journalist could be one of the most pivotal moments for his presidency.

Olivia Magnanini is a SAIS MA ‘20 student from the U.S. studying Latin America and American Foreign Policy.


Three democracies walk into a bar… One leaves broken, another proud, and the last lingering by the door

Source: inforegion.com

By John Poor and Sarahann Yeh

Political pundits worldwide are mulling over the future of South American constitutional democracy. Years of corruption, nepotism and economic discrimination have led to unprecedented grassroots movements around the region, which, in some cases, have heralded expanded political and socioeconomic inclusion. In others, they have stirred populist tides to sweep away constitutional democracy, leaving dictatorships in their wake. Three nations undergoing democratic transition, in particular, receive close attention for their diverse outcomes and the potential lessons for other South American nations.

Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia have witnessed the peaceful and democratic overthrow of their entrenched political classes amidst popular calls for groundbreaking reforms. Each movement was led by a charismatic political outsider championing constitutional reform and social inclusion. For left-leaning democratization scholars, this signalled a new wave of national representation. Meanwhile, right-leaning academics cautioned against expanded executive powers and populist dictatorships resembling those of the early 20th century. Both are partially true, as we find below.

Venezuela: Democracy broken

In Venezuela, democratic consolidation has led to constitutional breakdown. Nineteen years ago, Hugo Chávez came to power promising to ameliorate a corrupt, elitist political structure. He argued that securing power for marginalized members required formal codification of human rights protection and expanded executive powers to protect them. He then convinced the people that a drastic reformulation of political institutions was necessary.

Upon securing a new constitution in 1999, Chávez moved to fulfill his promises. Whenever a problem arose, he rallied citizens and offered social benefits packages in exchange for expanded powers. Eventually, he established a system ripe for dictatorship through democratic methods. When he died of cancer in 2013, his powers were transferred to Nicolas Maduro, why systematically dismantled any democratic pretense. Now, protests break out regularly, the military controls markets and elections are appointments. Venezuela is nearly a failed state with an authoritarian dictator whose populist tendencies unintentionally destroyed constitutional democracy.

Ecuador: Democracy upheld

In Ecuador, democratic checks and balances have stopped unwanted power consolidation. In February 2018, 64 percent of Ecuadorians voted for a two-term presidential limit, effectively nullifying a 2015 constitutional amendment that paved the way for lifelong positions. The vote dealt a fatal blow to former President Rafael Correa’s hopes of returning to power. Correa, who governed Ecuador from 2007 to 2017, was a self-described supporter of “socialism for the 21st century” who favored liberal policies such as increased government spending and raising the minimum wage.

In 2015, Correa successfully eliminated re-election limits as part of a general policy reform. To win the favor of lawmakers, he promised not to run in 2017, yet left the door open for 2021. The recent popular referendum removed this option, which is largely recognized as a win for democracy, even by Correa’s hand-picked successor Lenin Moreno.

Bolivia: Only time will tell

The democratic future of Bolivia remains in question. Evo Morales, entering his twelfth year as president, is tightening his executive grasp. Morales came to power in early 2006, amidst a wave of pro-indigenous, anti-establishment sentiments that helped usher in a new constitution with equal representation three years later. These years proved crucial in improving the social fabric of the country.

Today many Bolivians express frustration with Morales’s unrelenting attempts to remain in power. The 2009 constitution allows single-term consecutive re-election, but  Morales is currently seeking a fourth consecutive term. He first skirted term limits in 2013, when the constitutional court granted his petition to run a third time. In 2016, Morales issued a public referendum asking permission to run for a fourth. Fifty-one percent voted “no.”

The results shook the country, but Morales refused to accept the decision and his Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party launched a legal battle against term limits in September 2017. The MAS-controlled constitutional court subsequently ruled term limits unconstitutional, paving the way for a life-long Morales presidency.

Citizens took to the streets led by 21F, a new movement named after the February 21, 2016 referendum. During the December 2017 national judicial elections, opposition voters protested by “nullifying” their ballot by marking outside voting boxes. On the referendum’s second anniversary, thousands protested in every major Bolivian city. 21F activists showed up on Bolivian National Day in August.

Meanwhile, the MAS-controlled government remains indignant, thoroughly supporting Morales as their presidential candidate for the 2019 elections. The government has begun to suppress major opposition candidates using questionable legal challenges.

Will Bolivian democracy — touted as an inclusive, pro-indigenous force — withstand the 2019 presidential elections? Will Morales allow free and fair elections? At this point, Bolivia stands to learn from its regional neighbors. They can take the path of Venezuela, teetering dangerously close to autocracy, or they can follow Ecuador by honoring the will of the people. Only time will tell how the cards fall.

About the CCSDD

The CCSDD is a research partnership between the School of Law of the University of Bologna and the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy (SAIS Europe).

The CCSDD conducts research and training in the field of comparative constitutional law, focusing on countries undergoing a process of democratic transition. Through conferences, workshops, publications, summer schools, study trips, and speaker series, the CCSDD addresses issues of civil society development and legal reform.

Faltering Brexit negotiations trouble Theresa May’s future

Photo credits: Southern China Morning Post (scmp.com)

By Mariah Franklin

BOLOGNA, Italy — Since Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in June 2016, its political situation has been highly fraught. Prime Minister Theresa May’s tenure in office has been consumed by Brexit, and the results of the 2017 snap elections left May in a considerably weakened position when Conservatives were forced to enter into a confidence and supply agreement with Northern Ireland’s far-right Democratic Union Party (DUP).

Challenges to May’s authority have appeared both in and outside the UK; earlier this year, U.S. President Donald Trump weighed in on former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s suitability for the job of prime minister. In recent days, a number of Conservative MPs have admitted to drafting letters of no confidence in May’s leadership. The current number of known letters appears to be below the threshold of 48 needed to trigger a leadership contest, but the fact that such a shake-up remains a distinct possibility has significantly constrained May’s political maneuverability.

Brexit negotiations have incited the current dispute over May’s leadership. The prime minister’s cabinet, as well as her ostensible DUP allies, have baulked at the terms of the negotiated exit from the EU put forward by May. The DUP strongly opposes May’s proposal of a regulatory border in the Irish Sea, claiming that the institution of such a border would fundamentally undermine Northern Ireland’s position in the UK. Arlene Foster, head of the DUP, has suggested that should such a border be instituted, the party will oppose the passage of the government’s monthly budget, which may trigger a new election. The prime minister’s cabinet has become progressively more suspicious of her handling of Brexit, which has also spurred recriminations from Conservative politicians such as Boris Johnson and David Davis, both of whom suggest that May conceded too much to EU negotiators.

Boris Johnson is widely considered to be May’s principal opponent in a potential leadership contest. The former cabinet minister is known for his outspoken pro-Brexit views and often inflammatory comments about a wide range of topics including nationality and migration. Though Johnson has vacillated on the issue of Brexit in the past, he is currently particularly critical of May’s proposal of an extended customs union between the UK and the EU, instead championing the adoption of a ‘Super Canada’ free trade deal that would eliminate most taxes on UK exports to Canada. As of early October, however, a majority of voters surveyed by Opinium evinced a preference for May’s leadership, leaving Johnson’s ability to secure public support in question.

Johnson’s bid for the prime ministership could be frustrated by more than just May. David Davis, former Brexit secretary, has also recently shown an interest in the position. Davis is generally regarded as more of a stable figure than Johnson, having remained staunchly anti-EU throughout his career. His call for May’s cabinet to openly revolt against her concessions to the EU attests to his hard-line stance on the terms of British exit. Davis’ name has been mentioned as a potential interim prime minister, in the event of May’s removal.

Compounding May’s current concerns, hard-line Brexiters in the cabinet have said that they intend to reach a decision regarding whether to resign over the terms of the government’s proposed exit plan at some point in the near future. May’s political situation remains deeply precarious and her ability to ensure both her own political survival and a negotiated exit from the EU remains questionable.


MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on modern media and millennials


By Rebecca Rashid

WASHINGTON On Friday, October 19, The SAIS Observer spoke with MSNBC host Chris Hayes, to get an insider opinion on the hysteria surrounding modern media. At a time when news outlets cover everything from the mysterious death of a Saudi journalist to Kanye West’s White House visit, cable news hosts are often at a crossroads between balancing journalistic integrity and the bureaucratic expectations of their institutions.

Through constant innovation and relentless hurdles in journalism, fellow students and civilians alike are increasingly weary of journalistic credibility and its ability to elicit substantive political change. Chris Hayes, former host of MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes and editor of The Nation, is navigating these ups and downs to improve public consciousness as best he can. As he sees it, the world was better off in some respects when everyone read the newspaper during their morning commute.

What’s something you struggle with day to day as a journalist in the current political climate? Do you feel like you’re fulfilling your civic duty as a journalist given the daily reporting expectations you must face at MSNBC?

Yeah, I mean, it’s hard. I mean, you’re cross-pressured. You’re trying to keep people’s attention while also giving them the information that’s important. A lot of times, the things that are the most important are not what grab people’s attention the most, and you never resolve that tension. You just try to navigate it as best you can.

Why are millennials so dejected when it comes to news consumption? A lot of us don’t read the news consistently and don’t watch cable news much.

[laughs] Is that true? You know the death of newspapers really had an effect, I mean they’re not dead, but the sort of defamation of them. And the habit and ritual of them. As a way of delivering the news, the newspaper is a pretty great technology in that once a day, here’s a curated package, it’s like the Blue Apron of journalism. Once a day you get this package, here it’s bounded, you open it up and you read through the stories and you get a pretty good sense of what’s going on in the country and in the world. And in the absence of that, it’s like this sort of constant overwhelming barrage, where you’re always encountering news but never focusing on it.

I think the idea of habituating to watching live TV at a certain time, to watching a live TV program, is out of the habit for people and that’s true for myself largely. There was a time in my life when I knew what shows were on when, and now if I want to watch something I watch it on the 90 different platforms that I can pull it up on.

Or scroll on Twitter aimlessly!

That’s a big part of it, and I think that’s a real problem actually: this complete, constant barrage of endless amounts of information some good, some bad uncrated that we’ve kind of asked people to curate themselves. And, I do think that makes it more intimidating and also more difficult. In some ways it’s easier, right? You can write about anything at any time. You can read an in-depth article about internment refugee camps in China, you can pull up five of them.

Or watch five VICE documentaries on that exact topic.

Right, but that’s if you have an interest. But in terms of having that ritual or habit of going to one place and being like, “Okay, here’s what’s happening, here’s the storytelling around it and why it matters.”

I think you as a cable news host or someone who is more of a news curator who decides what’s reported, if you see that as a problem, how would you encourage students or young people to navigate that? Is it a matter of self-control at this point?

It’s not the worst thing on your morning commute to just read the New York Times or The Washington Post.

Could you limit it to just that?

I mean, yes. I honestly think that if you want to listen to Morning Edition for 40 minutes while you get ready and read The Wash Po on your iPhone where the articles pull out pretty quickly, that’s a pretty good basic amount of civic knowledge to have. I mean obviously I want people to watch my show.

And they do! I’ve taken a poll at my school and multiple people said you’re their favorite cable news host.

I don’t believe that.

I promise, I asked multiple people the same day and didn’t even prompt them.

I mean, yeah, you can watch our show, or other shows. Part of the thing that I think is a little daunting is there’s people who are reading the news all day. You don’t have to spend the whole day reading the news, if you’re not working in the industry.

But I don’t think a lot of young people with a smartphone see it like that. And, now it’s more of a mindless activity, scrolling back and forth. So, do you think too much news consumption is a bad thing?

No, I don’t think so, but it depends what they’re reading. That’s the other issue. I mean, you could read Infowars all day.

So, I guess it depends what your echo chamber of choice is, which makes it harder to stay on top of the other side’s opinion. Is there a misconception of cable news and how it’s run? How do you respond to fake news accusations?

I think people are making stuff up, when there’s a lot of people working hard trying to get it right. Sometimes they fail and usually, hopefully, own up to that and make it correct. And again, the practice of reporting does matter. Calling people, checking on facts, vetting those facts and making sure they can stand behind what they report.

In the midst of all the liberal/conservative leaning networks there are now, do you think that could ever change?

It’s hard to imagine in the current political climate that coming into being. But, you know, I think NPR is a crucial national institution. PBS, CSPAN are all, sort of, in the public interest. I think those are the sorts of things that are important. I think media landscapes entirely dominated by commercial media interests are going to skew in certain ways.

Do you still think student journalism is important?

Yeah, I mean, it’s really important to learn. It’s a really great skill set to learn, what are the facts of the matter of a certain situation, where are people coming from on it, what happened, who did what, when. The basic parts of that are both incredible life skills for all sorts of things you might do, but also an elemental part of how civil society functions.


“Who is going to marry my daughter?” Generational anxieties on display in China’s “matchmaking corners”

By Zhou Jie

NANJING, China — On the second day of celebrations for the National Day, a peculiar crowd congregated at the corner of Xuanwumen along Nanjing’s city wall.  Middle-aged residents weaved through mazes of hanging pieces of paper, some dangling on strings tied along fences and others fixed onto umbrellas.

“Male, age 30,” one sign read. “Nanjing resident, civil engineer. Owns an apartment and a car, makes 300 thousand yuan annually. Seeking a single, well-educated female resident of Jiangsu province between the ages of 25 and 28.”

The gathering of eager parents seeking marriage partners for  their children, is known as a xiang qin jiao, or “matchmaking corner.” Seen throughout the country, this social phenomenon functions not only as a venue for matching up young Chinese singles, but also as a public space for parents to cope with a collective generational anxiety and insecurity over fending for a better life for their children.

The root of this social anxiety can be found in the severe gender imbalance resulting from China’s 1978 one-child policy, which aimed to balance  population growth and economic development. Despite the policy being scrapped in 2016, serious social problems remain. By the end of 2016, there were nearly 105 men per 100 women in China. At the end of 2017, men accounted for 60 percent of all Chinese singles, a percentage that is only rising.

In addition to demographic “credentials” such as gender, age and overall health, men who own a house and car are the most popular in the marriage market, while those without such prized possessions are considered “last resorts.” A young person’s hukou, or resident registration document, is also strongly emphasized in China’s marriage-seeking markets, especially in metropolitan areas like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, which have favorable property values, job opportunities, social insurance and educational resources.

Since the 1950s, China’s official household registration policy has separated urban and rural areas, putting a damper on rapid urban migration. The emphasis on hukou status reflects considerations of regional inequalities — finding “a door to fit the door frame,” or matching couples with similar socioeconomic backgrounds, is particularly important in Chinese society.

The underlying cause of the heavy, even oppressive emphasis on material wealth and status in xiang qin jiao comes from the unique life experiences and hardships among the parental generation. These parents are often identified as the zhiqing yidai, or “educated youth generation,” which lived in extreme poverty throughout childhood during the Cultural Revolution. When they reached marriageable age, the state implemented the one-child policy. In the following decades, they became known as the “club-sandwich generation,” which had to look after both their children and their own parents. As a result, many adhered to a “safety-first” principle, fixating on material wealth to remedy such strife.

Another characteristic shared by the “educated youth generation” is that institutions organize their marriage networks. Under central government control after the Cultural Revolution, every aspect of a person’s private life, from their residence to their employment to how much they ate, was planned. For example, the All-China Women’s Federation, founded in 1949, actively offered to help young party members find partners. Today, parents tend to turn to these collective organizations to deal with their children’s marriage issues, perhaps due to those shared historical memories.

Many adult children, with more liberal marriage values, disagree with their parents’ intervention in their private lives and believe they even impose outdated wills upon them. Children may refuse to date candidates selected by parents in the xiang qin jiao to silently resist. By contrast, parents believe that their son or daughter is too young or innocent to make sound decisions by themselves. Contradictions between parents and children become acute as blind date corners become more and more prevalent in China.

The xiang qin jiao in China function as a public space for parents who belong to the “educated youth generation” to collectively cope with their generational feelings of pressure and insecurity about China’s economically competitive society. In fact, these matchmaking markets almost never lead to marriages, suggesting this phenomenon is more for the parents than for their eligible offspring.  Mutual understanding and compromise are needed to prevent parents and children from experiencing severe generational dissonance. The improvement of social insurance and welfare will help to relieve parents’ anxiety in the long term.

Orientation week at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center 南京大学–霍普金斯大学中美文化研究中心的预备课

By Shen Hao, translation by Amy Bodner  

  Co-Director Davies welcomes all new students to the HNC (Photo credits: Amy Bodner)


NANJING, China — Autumn signals the beginning of a new semester here at the SAIS Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC). Now in its 33rd year, the HNC is a bilingual graduate center of Chinese and international students who study international relations in either English or Mandarin. Last month, jet-lagged international students poured in from the U.S., Canada, Denmark and Norway to join their Chinese classmates for orientation week. Student volunteers graciously greeted new students at the door, hauled their suitcases upstairs, showed them to their dorm rooms and offered tours of the HNC’s cozy campus.

Student volunteers helped arriving students familiarize themselves with campus.
(Photo credits: HNC WeChat group)


Many students are drawn to the HNC because it offers a highly specialized educational experience. Students experience both Western and Eastern teaching styles, as well as traditional Chinese culture. For the Chinese students, the best part of the HNC is that they can perfect their academic English, learn to debate and are encouraged to discuss critical issues — elements that are not found in most Chinese institutions. Through classes with Chinese professors, international students study the Chinese perspective on world issues, which is invaluable information for those who plan on pursuing careers in U.S.-China relations. Additionally, international students who want to immerse themselves in traditional Chinese culture can sign up for extracurricular activities like tai chi, erhu or calligraphy. The tai chi teacher is somewhat of an icon on campus — at 80 years old she can hold her leg straight over her head far longer than her students.

Students take a break from an orientation lecture. 学生在预备讲座结束后稍作休息。
(Photo credits: HNC WeChat group)

中美中心的课程设置很丰富,也很有挑战性。在开学初,中美中心通常都有一个orientation week,用来帮助学生对课程设置有个更全面的了解。课程大致分了4个方向,包括国际政治、国际经济、国际法律、国际能源与运用,除了4个主流方向,还有一些有趣课程,包括农村政治,电影欣赏等。其中农村政治这门课,是带有农村考察性质的,每个参与课程的同学都有机会到中国某个省份进行田野调查。而电影赏析这门课则鼓励学生观看经典影片,并且给学生很大空间进行人生思考,将电影融入人生,创造出无数种可能。

The Center has a vast range of challenging classes, so a large part of orientation week was allocated for professors to introduce their classes to the student body. Class topics cover international politics, international economics, international law and energy, resources and environment studies. Classes such as politics of rural development and Chinese film studies, which promised a hands-on approach to learning, were especially popular on registration day. The rural politics class will include a trip to a rural Chinese province to conduct fieldwork, while the film class challenges students to view classic Chinese films with a modern take.  

Students gather in the Kuang Yaming Auditorium.
(Photo credits: Amy Bodner)



Although the heavy course load ensures that students will spend the next few weeks confined to the library, the HNC wrapped up orientation week by hosting a celebratory barbeque. On the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, a traditional Chinese harvest holiday, HNC students and staff gathered in the courtyard to grill some American-style hamburgers, drink beer and listen to student music performances. Students also enjoyed quintessential Mid-Autumn Festival yuebing, or mooncakes, made of lotus root and duck egg yolk. All students look forward to the highly-rewarding upcoming school year.

Students enjoy the Mid-Autumn Festival barbeque. 学生们享受中秋节烧烤。
(Photo credits: Shen Hao)


The Briefing: Robert Mundell and Vitor Constancio

Source: European Central Bank

By Jonathan Wilkinson

BOLOGNA, Italy On Thursday, Oct. 25, Vitor Constancio will be coming to SAIS Europe to deliver the Robert A. Mundell Global Risk Annual Lecture on the optimum currency area (OCA) theory and the euro as part of the SAIS Global Risk Conference. The lecture will take place at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium.

Robert Mundell is one of the world’s foremost economists, winning the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1999 for his work on optimum currency areas, which paved the way for the introduction of the euro in 2002. He was a professor at SAIS, including at SAIS Europe, for four years between 1959 and 2001. Professor Mundell will be returning to Bologna for this special lecture.

Vitor Constancio was the vice president of the European Central Bank from 2010 to 2018 during the worst of the eurozone financial crisis. Prior to that, he held a series of prominent positions in the Portuguese financial sector. Notably, he was governor of the Banco de Portugal, the Portuguese central bank, from 1985 to 1986 and 2006 to 2010. He was also finance minister from 1977 to 1978.

Prof. Constancio is also a prodigious academic. He received his degree in economics from the Instituto Superior de Ciências Económicas e Financeiras (now called ISEG) at Universidade Técnica de Lisboa. He was an assistant professor at ISEG from 1968 to 1973, and later senior professor from 1989 to 2010. He is currently president of the school council at ISEG and a professor at the University of Navarra in Madrid.

As the eurozone emerges from crisis with many issues still unresolved, Prof. Constancio’s lecture is an opportunity to learn first-hand from one of the individuals most closely involved in the crisis.


Nicholas Hung: Taiwan

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Nicholas Hung (left) with Ms. Hung Hsiu-chu, a former deputy chairperson of Taiwan’s Nationalist Party.

Nicholas Hung is a first-year student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC), working towards a graduate certificate in Chinese and American Studies before completing his master’s degree at SAIS in Washington, D.C.

Nicholas spent his summer in Taipei, Taiwan as an intern for the Kuomintang (KMT), also known as the Nationalist Party, in the Republic of China. While interning in the KMT Central Committee’s foreign media and international affairs section, Nicholas completed Chinese-language courses at National Taiwan Normal University. Befo