Censor the Pooh was last modified: September 5th, 2018 by Landon Hsieh
Ever since North Korea began its missile development program in the 1970s, its threat as a potential nuclear power has fluctuated as attempts at negotiations were often postponed in the past. Since Kim Jong-Un came to power, the number of missile launches and nuclear tests by North Korea increased drastically, nearly tripling the total number of tests conducted under his father and grandfather combined. The United Nations Security Council has successively passed tighter economic sanctions, ranging from bans on military-related technology and seafood to caps on oil and refined petroleum. On top of tighter sanctions, threats exchanged between Kim Jong-Un and Trump only serves to exacerbate tensions between North Korea and the rest of the international community.
Will peaceful negotiations be able to resume and achieve their goals, or will direct conflict be unavoidable? In the past two years, North Korea has tested a total of forty-seven missiles, and in November, they have even successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that puts mainland U.S. within range. Unlike his father and grandfather who seemed more willing to negotiate the possibility of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Kim Jong-Un has put nuclear and missile development as a top priority since his ascension to power. North Korea is led by a unitary one-party government, essentially a totalitarian dictatorship. Further pressuring by the international community would only make North Korea feel more threatened and vulnerable, which would accelerate their weapons program. It is important for the U.S. and its allies to reassure North Korea that they would not infringe upon the sovereignty of a denuclearized North Korea.
In the past, negotiations have taken place such as the Agreed Framework which was signed in 1994 between the U.S. and North Korea, and the Six Party Talks, which began in August 2003 involving China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the U.S. The former broke down with North Korea stretching the limit to test its missiles and the U.S.’s policy changes. Thereafter, negotiations shifted to the Six Party Talks. It appeared quite successful at first when North Korea agreed to abandon its weapons program in 2005. However, the talks came to a halt when the U.S. sanctioned several North Korean entities believed to be involved in nuclear proliferation activities. Since then, these talks have continued intermittently but with little to no results. Obstacles that frequently stood between a successful negotiation include the unpredictability of the North Korean regime and the other countries’ divergent interests.
However, North Korea’s actions are not entirely illogical and radical. From their willingness to engage in dialogue, we see that they are not steadfast on a path towards complete isolationism. The formal talk between North and South in January further alleviates the concerns of war. But, on the more unpleasant side, this certainly does not indicate North Korea’s willingness to denuclearize, or even postpone their accelerated weapons program. It may be a sign that the sanctions imposed by the UN and other countries are hurting the North too much, and they hope to cut some of it through negotiations with South Korea.
During the meeting of countries that sided with South Korea during the Korean War in January, the U.S. Secretary of State warned that if North Korea did not come to the table, they would be choosing the military option themselves. The White House’s change of plan for the appointment of the U.S. ambassador to South Korea because of disagreements regarding policy towards North Korea further signals the U.S.’s serious consideration of war. Yet North Korea seems to believe that the only way to prevent a military strike by the U.S. is to secure nuclear weapons that target their mainland. Kim Jong-Un fears that the West will assimilate their ideology and overthrow the authoritarian dictatorship of the Kim family. Indeed, the choices are hard to make. Increasing sanctions may back them into a corner and cause retaliation through war, as predicted by Russia. But they are not about to abandon their weapons program anytime soon either.
Although the outlook for the prospect of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula seems grim, both sides should avoid direct confrontation in war at all costs. The formal meeting between the North and the South indicate a possible turning point. If negotiations could resume after the games, both sides should be willing to make some concessions. Sanctions could be slowly relaxed in exchange for halting the research in nuclear and missile technology. A complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula may seem an impossible task due to North Korea’s rapid progress in missile development. But ultimately, it should be pursued through peaceful negotiations, whereby each side takes a few steps back. Pressuring North Korea though various sanctions would most likely result to a harsher rebound.
With its sleek high-rises and spotless, chewing gum-free streets, Singapore is the crown jewel of Asian development. Somehow, an island lacking in natural resources has dominated the world rankings for education, GDP per capita, and internet speed. It’s a Cinderella story of globalization and development. While Singaporean citizens see the rise of this wealthy metropolis as a point of national pride, the lesser acknowledged truth is that much of the physical brickwork was laid by foreign hands.
Nearly half of Singapore’s foreign residents are Work Permit Holders, who predominantly work in the construction, marine, and domestic sectors. They account for 1 in 10 of Singapore’s population and the work they do keeps the nation’s infrastructure running smoothly everyday. However, the neoliberal policies that enabled Singapore’s rapid success have also resulted in barely existent legal protections for foreign laborers. With few structural provisions in place, many foreign workers are at risk of potential abuse at the hands of their employers.
The Migrant Worker’s Center (MWC) is a non-governmental organization aimed at improving the conditions of foreign workers, in the event that such abuses arise. Bernard Menon, MWC’s executive director, recounts a recent case of occupational abuse concerning Bangladeshi construction workers: “The place where [the employer] was housing them, the standards were, I mean, I would say downright illegal. And the food he was providing for his workers – bear in mind he charges them for the food they cater in – they were preparing the food at 11 PM for consumption the next day … Breakfast is consumed maybe seven hours after preparation, lunch is consumed more than 12 hours after preparation. The workers call us and say they regularly, frequently throw lunch away because it’s not consumable.”
Beyond labor conditions, the emotional toll of working as an immigrant is also tough. For example, Robina Navato is a Filipino domestic worker who has been working in Singapore for the last 22 years. For Navato, the hardest part about being a foreign worker is by far the separation from her family. She has three children, all of whom grew up in the Philippines while she was working in Singapore: “This was the only way I could provide for them. I left them when my eldest was three years old and my youngest was one. The first time I went home was after 6 years. The first question my daughter asked me was ‘are you my mother? I’ll never forget that.’”
Prospects of change look slim. Many of these workers are uneducated and illiterate, unaware of what their employment rights are. Those that are find themselves constrained by legal restrictions on strikes, prohibited by the Industrial Relations Act, which has been the cornerstone of Singapore’s labor policy since 1968. Furthermore, the foreign status of these workers gives them no electoral input into the political processes of their host state.
Unable to petition the government directly, many migrant workers seek the assistance of non-governmental organizations. Navato is a service recipient at the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics, a non-profit providing emotional support to and advocating on behalf of foreign domestic workers (FDWs). Menon’s Migrant Worker’s Center has investigated claims of employer abuse, including the recent food safety scandal and also runs a 24-hour helpline.
Still, Singapore’s paternalistic policies and hyper-emphasis on economic efficiency make legal reform difficult. Due to its affiliation with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), the MWC has significant financial and administrative capabilities. Dealing with nearly 4,000 cases a year, it has the largest scope of all the migrant welfare organizations. However, the NTUC’s close partnership with Parliament also blunts the MWC’s appeals with conservative caution. Clout comes at a price.
On the other hand, working within the system does lend much-needed prudence to a budding social movement. In 2012, 171 Chinese bus captains went on strike, causing the nation’s public transport system to experience massive delays. Menon credits the strike with raising awareness regarding the migrant workers’ cause and drawing attention to issues of social inequity. However, he laments at how the illegality of the protest led to 5 workers jailed and 29 deported. After the strike, the MWC realized it had to exert a greater effort in processing the workers’ frustrations before the latter undertook actions that could jeopardize their residence in the country.
The MWC’s careful approach is not for lack of heart. “Your understanding of the challenges and anxieties of migrant workers become almost second nature to you because of the work,” Menon admits. “In the course of everyday’s work, you naturally come into contact with areas where you start to question, ‘How come the law is structured like this? It doesn’t make sense.’” Ultimately, though, he concludes that it is a war of attrition.
Despite slow progress on the political front, the center has made headway in promoting social integration of foreign workers. The 2012 strike and the 2013 Little India riot have moved what Menon refers to as a “silent majority” of Singaporeans from apathy to speaking out against the conditions endured by migrant workers. The most fertile soil for activism? Students.
“Generally, every year, I used to speak to 100 to 200 students,” says Menon. “But in the years since the riot, annually, I easily do student engagements in the thousands, four, five, six thousands in a year.” He notes the increased number of teachers willing to engage their students with community issues, as well as the eagerness of the students. Students have started grassroots initiatives aimed at fostering understanding between migrant workers and the local population, such as It’s Raining Raincoats, a project that provides construction workers raincoats during the wet seasons. At least among the youth, public opinion of migrant workers has shifted towards the positive end of the spectrum.
It isn’t much, but it’s a start. After all, the first step to solving a human rights issue is to recognize the humanity and assert the dignity of those that are being abused. Navato echoes this sentiment: “If you’re having a problem with a bad employer, the first step is to talk to them … it’s not easy, but you have to do it. Otherwise, there’s no way out. You have to start with communicating.” Wholesale change starts with the individual.
So while there are few immediate political mechanisms to advance the rights of foreign workers, there is modest hope for the future. However, for a truly effective movement, NGOs and citizens alike cannot be merely satisfied with increased awareness. They must capitalize on this momentum and use it to tackle the roots of the issue. The current conditions may not be ripe for change and Singapore’s political structure may not necessarily allow it. Still, advocates must not lose sight of the end goal and keep pressing until there are legally codified guarantees for fairer contracts, firmer prosecution of abusive employers, safe living conditions, and decent wages. Persisting in this uphill fight is the only way to build a Singapore where everyone can benefit.
Though technically classified as a “developing country”, the People’s Republic of China holds an enviable place in the international arena as the world’s second largest nominal GDP and third largest global firepower. Governed by of the Communist Party of China (CPC) since 1949, China’s autocratic government presides over a population of almost 14 billion. Though these 14 billion people reside in one of the world’s most powerful countries, they are amongst the world’s most politically disempowered people; China as a country currently ranks eleventh worst in personal freedoms and fifth worst in freedom of press. Travellers to and from China are subject to a strict system of visa regulations, which, along with heavy government censorship, help insulate China from the rest of the world. Activism, from political reform to investigating fair trade practices in Chinese factories, is treated negatively by the government. In a country so large the people theoretically hold a tremendous amount of power. China’s vast population gives rise to the largest standing army in the world. Even if only the smallest fraction of people chose to participate, small insurgencies could escalate to a sizeable revolutionary force. As such, the CPC opts for the harshest of measures, from internet censorship to disappearances of dissenting individuals, to control its massive population under its dictatorial regime – it is a government that fears its own people.
The CPC has a history of using force against the civilian population to suppress their movements. Almost thirty years ago, military tanks opened fire and killed an unknown number of university students (estimates range between several hundred to over a thousand) who were advocating for political reform. This is what is now known as the Tiananmen Square incident of June 4th, 1989. This incident spawned the internationally famous “Tank Man” – the unidentified man who was removed by the authorities for standing in front of four tanks to slow their path towards the protesters. The identity and fate of this man remain speculative to this day. An iconic photo of his moment of defiance is widespread overseas, but Tank Man is not common knowledge within China. The entire incident at Tiananmen Square, including Tank Man, has been meticulously erased from history books, textbooks, films and television. News reports, documentation, statistics of casualties, or any mention of the event by news and entertainment are banned within mainland China. Censorship is meticulous; over 260 words, phrases, and dates categorised as “sensitive” are blocked, regulated, or filtered online. Some are as seemingly innocuous, random, or indirect as “63+1” (adding up to 64 – the date of the incident), “stock market” (referencing the Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index falling 64.89 on the 23rd anniversary of the massacre), or “gugudian” (a nonsensical phrase which has become a euphemism for tanks rolling over people). On the 24th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, an image which replaced the tanks in the iconic Tank Man photo with giant rubber ducks circumvented censorship and began circulating the internet. Following this, Chinese media began monitoring the words “big yellow duck”.
This entire incident and the government’s response enshrines how threatening activism is to the CPC’s autocratic rule. It relies on the inaction of its truly massive population, and censorship helps erase both the insurgency behind protests and the government’s brutality towards its own people. Statistics show that this censorship is working. Only 15 out of 100 students across four college campuses in China’s capital, Beijing, recognised the image of Tank Man in 2015. Even overseas in Chinese territories Hong Kong and Taiwan, sympathy for the protesters and their memory is dwindling while support for China’s actions is growing. In an Orwellian manner, the CPC has recrafted history to remove the offending incident from public memory. The population finds it harder and harder to hold onto an incident it cannot remember, much less prove.
China’s suppression of activism is not limited to the Tiananmen Square incident. Activism validates both the idea that it is legitimate for citizens to be dissatisfied with their government, and that individuals can be effective agents of change – allowing such momentum to build amongst such a large population would be hazardous for the CPC. Undercover investigators documenting poor worker conditions in a Chinese factory producing Ivanka Trump branded shoes disappeared in May 2017 after ignoring warnings by the Chinese police to desist. Five female activists planning a march for women’s rights on International Women’s Day in 2015 were arrested and detained for 37 days even as President Xi attended the UN’s Fourth Annual Conference on Women in Beijing. Activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for promoting democratic reform in the late 20th century. He was, however, unable to attend the ceremony as he had been incarcerated for “inciting subversion of state power”. He had been imprisoned in isolation without access to his family or his lawyer for eleven years when he passed away in July 2017 from liver cancer, for which he was denied treatment until it grew inoperable. News of his death was not broadcasted or announced in China.
While such incidents are often picked up by foreign reporters and journalists, the average Chinese citizen may never hear about them or only hear a biased account from state-approved sources. China’s attack on activism is inseparable from its meticulous regulation of media. Internally controlled social media sites, news, and entertainment create a filtered environment for communication which insulates China from ideas circulating in the international arena. State sponsored media is the most ubiquitous channel of mass communication in China. Chinese president Xi Jinping personally asked for continued loyalty to the CPC and their party line from the three largest state media organisations. They are the source of editorials informing the public of the dangers of western democracy, often incorporating current events outside China. Lately in particular, American politics are used as negative examples. From the healthcare bill estimated to eventually cause the loss of healthcare for 26 million Americans to the 2018 government shutdown, the US political system is framed as “chronically flawed” and democracy in general denounced as chaotic. This ensures that, since the Chinese people do not consider any alternative forms of governance more desirable, the political atmosphere of China remains stable and the majority of people continue their inaction. Overall, China has crafted a nationalistic narrative whereby the Chinese people currently live under the best system of governance offering optimal conditions to the people. This way of thought entrenches itself in the popular consciousness over time, as there is no free access to unregulated media which could contradict the state-sponsored narrative.
Yet even as media continues to deliver a carefully curated reality to Chinese citizens, a small number are able to view and use blocked sites through rerouting their IP addresses with VPNs The VPNs encrypt their location, which allows them to bypass the firewall and access the unregulated internet of the world outside China. This practice is not unknown to the government, which allows it on the premise that language barriers prevent this from being a significant threat. Not only this – this practice is most common in younger, millennial generations. Their parents tend to be of the generation who were activists in the 1980s, and were most immediately impacted by the consequences of student protests at Tiananmen Square. Given this precedent, they are typically more reluctant to engage in political activism, including raising their children to be politically aware or active. As a result, political apathy is widespread amongst those technologically savvy enough to overcome internet restrictions.
Freedom of speech is technically protected by the Chinese Constitution. However, it is superseded by regulations reserving the government’s right to exert its authority on matters deemed to endanger state secrets or the well being of the country – regulations which are evidently fairly flexible in their interpretation. Government suppression continues. The combination of reluctance from older generations, lack of overall political inclination, and inaccessibility of free information is causing the stagnation of mass political awareness. With no further upheavals to the regime since 1989, the Chinese government’s crackdown on activism continues to be successful.
Swept into office almost a year ago now, Donald Trump was elected in part because of his foreign policy promise to restore American dominance and leadership to the world. A key component of this proposal was his assurance that the U.S would no longer be manipulated by China, and would bring the budding world power down to size. Rally attendees shrieked in support at then- candidate Trump’s commitment to no longer “allow China to rape our country.” He promised that once elected, it would be the United States that “would start winning again” on the world stage.
And yet an illustration of China’s leader Xi Jinping graced the cover of the October 14, 2017 issue of The Economist with the caption “the world’s most powerful man.” The description was derived in part from Xi’s speech that week at China’s Communist Party Congress in which he called on China to the lead the world on issues political, economic, military, and environmental. Additionally, the Congress’s decision to enshrine Xi into the country’s constitution, the first Chinese leader gain this privilege since Mao Zedong, further demonstrates his dominance. The Economist’s description of Xi is one that over the past 60 years has been used almost exclusively to describe America’s chief executive. Moreover it is the opposite of what Trump ensured would follow under his tenure.
So what went wrong? Since taking office last January, President Trump’s actions on the world stage have featured an isolationist bent. He has pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, slashed funding for international aid and investment, and left the landmark Paris Climate Agreement. These moves have consistently undermined his promise to restore America as the dominant player in international affairs and on the contrary have left a power vacuum which Xi and China- both stronger now than ever before- are ready to fill.
On his third day in office, President Trump signed an executive order pulling the U.S out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement after asserting that it was bad American manufacturing. Trump claimed the deal would have continued the process of outsourcing to Asia and Latin America while reducing wages at home. The twelve-country pact- the largest in history- was signed with the goal of promoting economic growth, job creation, and innovation. While one can argue over the economic merits of the agreement, there is no question that the original deal would have put both economic and geopolitical pressure on China by projecting a message of American dominance in both East and South Asia. As Barry Naughton, an expert on Chinese international affairs at the University of California, San Diego says, the TPP has the potential to ensure that the “rules for the global economy will be written under predominant U.S. influence” and this makes China “extremely uncomfortable.” Moreover, by increasing trade with China’s neighbors such as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore, the TPP would have drawn those nations “economically closer” to- and made them more dependent on- the U.S, hence reducing what Naughton calls “Chinese economic preponderance.” This maneuver would have given America more leverage and power in its dealings within the Asian Theater, effectively containing Chinese influence. Such action was therefore antithetical to Trump’s campaign promise to stop China’s growth as an international player and restore America’s “winning” tradition.
In addition to pulling out of the TPP, President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal slashed aid and investment to developing countries by 29%. As the largest development donor in the world, cuts to American aid will adversely affect the economies and stability not only of just neighboring Latin American states but developing countries in East Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia as well. Likewise, cuts to foreign investment further signal an American retreat on the world stage and threaten Trump’s pledge to maintain the U.S’s role as the one indispensable nation. Even if aid fails to benefit the U.S economically, as the President claims, the cultivation of strategic partnerships that aid and investment can foster across the world are of the utmost importance to America if it wishes to maintain international authority. It should come as no surprise that states receiving American aid have an incentive to stay on good terms with the U.S. by voting alongside it at the UN and other international bodies or adopting American-oriented foreign policies. By cutting aid however, Trump is encouraging these allies to seek out other foreign powers- specifically China- for which to tailor their policies towards. For instance, after lashing out at Pakistan on Twitter earlier this month for not doing enough to crackdown on terrorism in its midst, the State Department announced a suspension of aid to the long-time strategic ally in the War in Afghanistan. Already China is pouncing on the opportunity to draw the nuclear-power closer into its orbit by praising Pakistani anti-terror efforts, reiterating Chinese commitment to Pakistan’s safety and security, and reminding the nation’s leaders of China’s pledge to invest $57 billion into rebuilding the country’s infrastructure over the next several years.
Furthermore, if developing nations, as a result of cuts to American foreign aid, feel they can no longer depend on the U.S. as a reliable partner in their quest for growth, they will seek out other economic benefactors that are. In the midst of President Trump’s cuts to such activities, over the next decade China intends to invest well over a trillion dollars in critical transportation and energy infrastructure across the developing world via its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. OBOR projects include the New Eurasian Land Bridge, a railway that seeks to link China to Central Europe, as well as the construction of a number of ports in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Djibouti, and numerous others throughout Southeast Asia and Oceania. However as Christopher Balding, an economics professor at Peking University tells it, the project’s purpose is not so much to bring economic benefits to recipients of Chinese aid but “more like a diplomatic effort for [Beijing] to win friends and influence people.” Yet again, by cutting foreign aid and investment, Trump is playing into the hands of Xi and the Chinese to the detriment of American interests.
Finally, Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the landmark Paris Climate Agreement is also incompatible with his assurances to rein Chinese influence. With climate change being the issue that leaders see as the biggest threat to our world today, the Paris agreement was a prime opportunity for the U.S. to demonstrate its commitment to, and leadership in, solving a global problem. By pulling the U.S out of the agreement, Trump is proving America’s unwillingness and inability to keep its promises as well as a reluctance to lead. By reneging on our commitments to the international community, an opportunity is again left for the Chinese and Xi, who just before Trump’s inauguration called on all signatories to the agreement to “stick to it instead of walking away…as [it] is a responsibility we must assume for future generations.” President Trump’s decision to pull out of the deal cast a pall over the prospect of American leadership on the most important of global issues.
If the President truly wanted to live up to his foreign policy promise to restore American authority in international affairs and stop China’s rise as a global superpower, he would strengthen the U.S.’s economic and diplomatic ties with East Asia by remaining in the TPP, demonstrate American commitment to its allies as well as the growth of the developing world by bolstering foreign aid and investment, and remain an active member of the Paris Climate Agreement as a way to prove America’s ability to lead on the defining issue of the 21st century. By backing away from these commitments however, Trump’s actions have consistently undermined his assurances as he leads the U.S further away from the international dominance he seeks to restore, and instead leaves a void for a nation he calls our “enemy” to fill.
On February 13 2017, Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, died in Malaysia. Kim was apparently poisoned with a toxic liquid while awaiting a flight to Macau. North Korea initially denied that the victim was Kim Jong-nam, and denounced the Malaysian investigation as an act of pandering to South Korea and the United States. A diplomatic spat soon ensued, where North Korea and Malaysia tussled over the victim’s body and the investigation into the murder suspects. On March 4, the North Korean ambassador was expelled from Malaysia, prompting Pyongyang to order the Malaysian ambassador out of North Korea. Days later, North Korea barred all Malaysians from leaving the country, an act which Malaysia responded to by blocking all North Koreans from exiting its territory. That was the height of the crisis, but for now, the dust seems to have settled. On March 16, Kim Jong-nam’s family gave permission to the Malaysian government to manage his remains. Two weeks later, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that Kim Jong-nam’s body will be sent to North Korea, and that Malaysians and North Koreans affected by the travel bans will be allowed to return home. Trials have been set for the two women charged with Kim Jong-nam’s assassination, Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong.
Arguably, the deterioration of Malaysian-North Korean relations was unexpected. Since June 1973, the two states have shared what might be considered a special relationship: Malaysia is one of fewer than 30 countries to have an embassy in Pyongyang, and was the only country whose citizens could enter North Korea without a visa. Not only did Malaysia boast of strong trade relations with North Korea, but North Koreans also could study in Malaysian universities, or work in mines there. That being said, Kim Jong-nam’s assassination and the resulting fallout are not likely to be detrimental for Malaysia and its leaders. Rather, the consequences are likely to be disproportionately negative for the North Koreans.
From an economic standpoint, there does not seem to be much to lose for Malaysia. Officially, two-way trade stands only at $4 million (in 2016). Malaysia has other trading partners it can rely on within and outside the region. 50.9% of its exports, amounting to $96.5 billion worth of shipments, goes to its top five partners: Singapore, China, the United States, Japan, and Thailand. Moreover, it is unlikely that Malaysia has reaped significant benefit from the North Korean front companies operating within its soil. The North Korean spy agency, for one, had been running an arms operation out of the Little India neighborhood of Kuala Lumpur. The contributions of such illicit companies to the Malaysian economy pale in comparison to the $300 billion foreign investment in Iskandar Malaysia, Sabah Development Corridor, East Coast Economic Region, Northern Corridor Economic Region and Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy. With a network of regional and bilateral free trade agreements (with ASEAN and the EU, for example) and four upcoming investment mega-projects, Malaysia does not have to rely on North Korean trade and investment.
On the other hand, the Kim Jong-nam incident could represent a greater economic loss for North Korea. While China’s trade with North Korea has increased, Pyongyang lost its third-largest trading partner on May 1, 2017, when India halted all trade (except food and medicine) with North Korea. Should the Trump administration exert more pressure on the international community, North Korea might lose other trading partners such as Pakistan ($43.1 million worth of exports) and Burkina Faso ($32.8 million worth of exports). While Malaysia was not particularly significant as an exporting or importing country to North Korea, when Pyongyang could hemorrhage further trade partners, Malaysia was an unneeded setback for North Korea.
The Kim Jong-nam episode might instead benefit the Malaysian government. Support for Prime Minister Najib Razak dipped during the height of the 1MDB scandal, where he was accused of pocketing $1 billion from the state investment fund. As David Han and Shawn Ho argue, the administration’s careful and transparent handling of the case might change that. The Malaysian government helped to defuse the crisis by allowing the North Korean suspects to leave after being questioned. It also demonstrating great sensitivity in allowing the Indonesian and Vietnamese governments access to the two women who had been arrested in connection with the case. Doubtlessly, the Prime Minister’s standing among Malaysians has improved, especially with the return of the nine Malaysians who had been unable to leave North Korea. It is entirely possible that Kim Jong-un enjoyed a similar revival in popularity in North Korea. However, in the absence of information, it would be speculative to assume that the North Korean propaganda machinery used this incident to promote the Dear Respected Comrade.
In the long run, Malaysia might improve its standing internationally by minimizing its links to North Korea. In its World Report 2016, the Human Rights Watch criticized Malaysia for its “increased harassment and persecution of human rights defenders, activists, political opposition figures, and journalists.” It would be helpful to Malaysia’s image if the country is not seen as a bedfellow to North Korea, which has often been singled out for its human rights record. On April 18, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley demanded that the Security Council act against North Korea’s abuses, citing how the North Korean government “forces many of its citizens, including political prisoners, to work in life threatening conditions in coal mines and other dangerous industries to finance the regime’s military.” More recently, Pyongyang has also come under fire for its nuclear and missile activities. Lu Kang, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, expressed Beijing’s “grave concern” a day after North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister said Pyongyang would test missiles weekly and use nuclear weapons if threatened. As a member of the UN Security Council from 2015 to 2016, Malaysia had urged the use of mediation to resolve conflicts peacefully. Thus, it might be more beneficial for Malaysia to disassociate itself from a state much of the world considers hostile, belligerent and unpredictable. Malaysia has already condemned North Korea’s missile tests, supported UN resolutions sanctioning Pyongyang, and worked against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction from states including North Korea.The crisis over Kim Jong-nam should be considered yet another step in this direction.
If anything, it is North Korea’s reputation that has suffered yet another hit from what has been called a “Cold War-style assassination.” North Korea, in this instance, has demonstrated an utter lack of regard for the sovereignty of other states. Pyongyang received much flak for its involvement in the Rangoon Bombing of 1983, where South Koreans and Burmese were killed in an assassination plot against then-President of South Korea Chun Doo Hwan. Three decades later, it appears that the North Korean government remains amenable to exercising violence in other countries to achieve domestic political aims. North Korea’s pariah status in the international community is unlikely to change if the regime continues to pursue such a policy.
The events following Kim Jong-nam’s assassination have revealed the unique ties, from diplomats to dollars, between Malaysia and North Korea. With nuclear tensions simmering in East Asia, it remains to be seen if Malaysia has ultimately benefited from this unexpected crisis.
As of December 2016, just six months after President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, the war on drugs in the Philippines claimed 5,882 lives–fewer than half of the victims were killed by police while 3,841 were murdered by unnamed “vigilantes.” These latter hitmen were inspired by the President’s policy against drugs. In 2012, there were an estimated 1.3 million drug users in the Philippines–which was significantly lower than in previous years. To put the number into perspective, one out of 100 people in the Philippines was a drug user. While there is clearly a drug use problem in the Philippines, the method adopted to remedy the addiction issue by President Duterte’s administration is a gross violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, set forth by the United Nations, as well as an inappropriate way of addressing drug addiction. Public displays of drug executions will merely make non-users fearful of drugs, but does not help those who suffer from addiction. The power of media in the 21st century spotlights the Philippine government’s formal barbaric methods, however, despite international efforts to criticize President Duterte, the brutality persists. A more effective method would be to increase funding for rehabilitation and to continue to destroy drug plantations and fields, a practice of the previous administration. The US can also influence Duterte’s actions by adding human rights clauses to current and future trade and bilateral economic agreements. Helping to address this issue is important for US-Filipino relations and the role of the US as a major world leader.
The reality is that the Duterte administration has forgone transparency in their approach to the problem. In fact, the Filipino Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) lacks any up-to-date information; the latest law and regulations were enacted by the previous president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. There is no information about the Duterte Administration or its stance on drug policies and procedures. However, the media has offered a plethora of information regarding the administration’s illegal actions. While the issue persisted in media coverage as President Duterte entered office, the reality is that the former president’s efforts were effective in reducing the severity of the problem, and did so legally. Although the results were not as immediate as the current administration may have wished for, it protected countless innocent people from untried executions. After all, the drug problem in the Philippines is not limited to drug dealers but extends to the fundamental reasons why citizens rely on drugs. In fact, according to the US Agency for International Development, 19.2% of Filipinos lived in poverty in 2012. This is predominately because the majority of the population remains reliant on agriculture and fishing for their income. A commonly abused drug by farmers and fishers in the Philippines and Southeast Asia is shabu–a low-cost methamphetamine used to maintain the “Asian” work ethic, where one’s financial well-being is intricately tied to his pride. By re-implementing the former president’s methods of destroying shabu plantations and fields, the Duterte administration will effectively decrease the availability of drugs. By decreasing the availability of drugs within the country, the DEA can also focus on increased monitoring of foreign drug imports.
President Duterte has boldly ignored civilian’s writ of habeas corpus and due process rights in his approach to the war on drugs. As such, this policy did not come as a surprise. In his first State of the Nation address, Duterte explicitly stated that the government “will not stop until the last drug lord…and the last pusher have surrendered or are put either behind bars or below the ground.” The latter part of the statement is inappropriate from a leader of a nation. It also fails to acknowledge the gravity of murder. Furthermore, during his campaign, President Duterte stated, “All of you who are into drugs, you sons of bitches, I will really kill you.” Putting aside the use of explicatives by a presidential candidate, the campaign showed a clear interest for such extreme policies in his pursuit to fight drugs. The fact that President Duterte won the election is even more troubling. This suggests the public’s deep concern about the issue with the drug problem in the country. However, considering that approximately 650,000 Americans visit the Philippines annually, such violent and grotesque behavior can be fatal for visiting Americans caught in the crossfire.
It is the duty of the United States to address this blatant disregard of human rights, as a world leader. However, instead of criticizing the Duterte administration’s behavior, then President-elect Trump applauded Duterte’s efforts over a phone conversation and stated that, as a sovereign nation, the war on drugs was legitimate. Considering the US and the Philippine’s long history, the US is in a unique position to influence the country’s policies and should take this opportunity to ensure the protection of human rights. Since 2013, when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, the US has given over $143 million in assistance and continues to give to this day. The US is also one of the largest foreign investors in the Philippines and is its third-largest trading partner. One easy way to pressure Duterte’s government to reform its policies is to leverage the Generalized System of Preferences program for developing countries–which gives preferential duty-free access to the US market; there can be an additional clause requiring participating countries to abide by specific human rights regulations, such as the right to due process. Furthermore, the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement can also be amended to include similar clauses. This approach of pressuring governments to reconsider their behavior can be found in preferential trade agreements (PTAs) that include human rights language. In fact, PTAs have been found to be more effective than softer human rights agreements. This is due to the added economic incentive for countries to abide by human rights laws. For example, the EU “enacted the suspension clause” of the Lome IV Convention when Togo was not reforming their human rights violations. After the suspension of this convention, Togo took significant steps towards compliance by installing new electoral codes and new elections.
In no way should drug dealers or abusers be encouraged, however, they should be granted a fair trial, a right established by the 1951 UN Convention on Human Rights. Furthermore, the problem with this “shoot first” method is that it ignores the personal stories of each individual and robs many innocent lives. Most people within the United States have the privilege of not having to fear their safety in such manner, and with such privilege comes responsibility. It is important for the US to use its powerful global position and relation with the Philippines to remind the Duterte administration that such gross violation of human rights is not tolerated by the international community. It is most appropriate for the Trump administration to step back in its relationship with the Duterte administration until the Filipino government reevaluates its methods. Most importantly, in order to address the people’s reliance on drugs, an effective drug rehabilitation program is necessary. More effective drug rehabilitation programs- similar to those in the United States- should be installed and PTAs with the Philippines should be revised and/or include human rights clauses. If the US establishes such a precedent, it is more likely that other countries will follow in their footsteps. It is outrageous to slaughter scores of people based on a few mistakes. Even more so, it is egregious to rob lives over preventable and treatable acts.
Less than two weeks after terrorist attacks in Brussels shook the world, the U.S. hosted the fourth Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. Representatives from over 50 nations met to continue a discussion started by President Obama in 2009 on the need to secure global nuclear material to prevent nuclear terrorism. While the summit addressed recent terrorist attacks and the threat of ISIL, it also focused on meetings between President Obama, Shinzo Abe (Japan), Geun-hye Park (South Korea), and Xi Jinping (China) to discuss recent advancements in North Korea’s nuclear program. Ironically, just hours after these meetings, North Korea, who was not present at the summit, tested a short-range, anti-aircraft missile off of it’s east coast.
This year, we’ve seen North Korea ramp-up development of its nuclear and weapons programs: it conducted an alleged hydrogen bomb test in January, a rocket launch to space in February, multiple missile launches in March, and weapons tests since early April. This recent activity reflects Kim Jong-un’s commitment to his father’s “Songun”, or “military first” policy by focusing on the expansion of weapons development to secure North Korea’s presence in the global community. He has also taken the policy to a new level through increased, targeted threats to the U.S. and South Korea.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is notorious for sending mixed signals regarding its position on nuclear and weapons development. For example, in 2009, North Korea withdrew from the Six Party Talks, a multilateral effort to denuclearize the country, but shortly after increased diplomatic engagement with the international community. In August 2015, North and South Korea engaged in marathon negotiations and reached what was perceived to be a landmark agreement, ending a military standoff between the two nations that occurred just weeks earlier. In December 2015, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon received “positive signs” from North Korea regarding a proposed visit to the country, signaling a possible end to its isolationist behavior. However, a month later in January 2016, DPRK undermined this progress by allegedly detonating its first hydrogen bomb, undoing any peaceful diplomatic efforts it had made until then.
In response to North Korea’s increased nuclear and military activity, the 15-member UN Security Council reached a unanimous vote in early March to toughen sanctions against the country. This agreement was negotiated for weeks between the U.S. and China, whose partnership in countering North Korea’s weapons advancements has strengthened in recent months. At the Nuclear Security Summit, President Obama and President Xi Jinping stated that they were committed to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and united in wanting to prevent North Korea from carrying out any more nuclear tests. China’s cooperation with the UN Security Council and international community to curb DPRK’s nuclear program adds to growing tensions between China and North Korea, and possibly signals a new era in relations between the two countries.
China has has been North Korea’s largest trading partner and greatest ally since the Korean War, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union. According to the Council of Foreign Relations, China accounts for more than 70% of North Korea’s trade volume and serves as its main source of food, arms and energy, showing just how heavily North Korea relies on its northern neighbor. Economic trade between the two countries do not show signs of slowing, as bulk cargo shipping and high speed bullet train routes were established between the two countries in late 2015. Politically, China has been North Korea’s most outspoken ally, historically opposing sanctions and actively speaking out against reports of human rights violations in the country. More recently, China began to use a mix of both soft and hard power with North Korea, urging North Korean leaders to rejoin the Six Party Talks, but also punishing North Korea’s military activity through sanctions. Militarily, China is obliged to defend North Korea against “unprovoked aggression” under a treaty signed in 1961, but experts believe that China’s commitment to the treaty is waning.
Strained relations between the two countries began a few years after North Korea withdrew from the Nonproliferation Treaty and test-fired several missiles in 2006, under then Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il. For the first time, China took a punitive approach to North Korea’s actions through its support of UN sanctions. Since then, China has also sent mixed messages to the international community regarding its relationship with North Korea. On the one hand, China has been active in publicly denouncing North Korea’s recent military activity. On the other hand, it showed support of Kim Jong-un’s regime by sending a high-level official to Pyongyang to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of North Korea’s ruling party in late 2015. These conflicting actions hint that there is perhaps a deeper and more stable connection between the two countries that is able to resist the day-to-day inconsistencies in behavior toward each other.
It is in China’s interest to maintain stability in the Korean peninsula. If North Korea were to initiate an act of war on either the U.S. or South Korea, China would have to take decisive action on whether or not to defend North Korea; upholding the 1961 security treaty would jeopardize China’s relations with many of its allies, but abandoning the treaty would likely end ties between the two countries. In addition, the collapse of the North Korea’s regime would not only result in an influx of North Korean refugees to China, but would also dismantle the buffer zone that North Korea provides to China. Since the end of the Korean War, U.S. and South Korean troops have been stationed along the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. The destabilization of North Korea would bring U.S. and South Korean military forces closer to China’s border, which China does not want. Likewise, North Korea depends on China for the majority of its livelihood: food, aid and energy. With rumors that North Korea is facing another famine, China will be North Korea’s main lifeline for assistance.
Cooperation between China and North Korea is essential to maintaining stability within each country and the region, but Kim Jong-un’s increasingly erratic behavior and unilateral decisionmaking will undoubtedly strain the relationship. Without China’s support, North Korea would become a true hermit kingdom in the global community, isolating its leaders and citizens from any connection to the outside world. While its rocky relationship with China may not be ideal, it is North Korea’s last chance at maintaining some sort of leverage within the international community and nonviolent interaction with the rest of the world, making it one of the most crucial partnerships in foreign relations today.
The world water crisis stands out as one of the most prominent international issues of the world today, affecting developed and developing countries alike. In developed countries, one of the larger impacts of lacking water is on agriculture, leading to a combination of increasing prices and decreasing employment. In developing nations, however, there is a significant lack of clean drinking water that not only leads to disease, but also to the death of a child every 21 seconds, which is over 4,000 children every day. According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation, around 1.8 billion people worldwide drink water that is contaminated, and based on a UN study, “even more drink water delivered through a system without adequate protection against sanitary hazards.” However, the world water crisis is not limited to health matters. Throughout Africa and parts of Southern Asia, lack of clean drinking water causes the continued disjuncture between male and female well-being.
To begin with, water—even when unsanitary—is not readily available to every community. In urban and suburban areas, like suburban Uganda, people depend on broken water pipes to access free, clean water. Their other option is, if geographically possible, to collect unsanitary water from a nearby stream because they cannot afford to pay for clean water (Water.org). In most rural throughout Africa, women and children must walk, on average, 6 kilometers every day to fetch water. They then carry around 20 liters back to their village, which wears on their necks and backs. In Malawi, women spend nine times as many hours as men do fetching water; girls spend three times as many (UN Women Watch). This time-consuming process often prevents those women and girls from working a paying job or attending school, whereas men and boys have more time to accomplish both tasks. As a result, the women in African rural communities end up, between gathering water and performing household tasks, working unpaid for twice the amount of time that the men work for a salary.
Furthermore, the need to fetch water for their family confines women in Central Africa to daily, unpaid labor and prevents them from receiving an education, making it so that there is little that women can do to escape their circumstances and lead a better life. It becomes extremely difficult for women to advance in the work force or in government, creating a cyclic effect that reinforces women’s role in society and furthering the divide between male and female well-being.
The most apparent solution to this situation is the implementation of water services like building a well for the community. Wells of Life, The Water Project, Water Wells for Africa, and The African Well Fund are a few of the international organizations that work to provide these services. Having access to a well in a rural community not only gives the people access to clean drinking water, but also significantly shortens the distance that women need to walk in order to fetch it. This would give them more time in their day to get an education and advance in the work force.
At the same time, the world water situation contributes to the political inequality, if not the near subjugation, of women in Central Africa and Southern Asia. According to the United Nations publication “Women and Water: 2000 and beyond,” women are the most involved in making decisions for their families regarding water sanitation. However, the organizations responsible for the planning and management of water and sanitation systems (whether they be governmental or privately owned) rarely allow women to be involved. This continues despite the fact that a United Nations-sponsored survey proved that water projects planned and managed by women are more likely to succeed than those conducted solely by men. This is exemplified in another UN study, which conducted research about the impact of water services on communities in east Nepal. In the study, women whose communities received improved water services experienced increased collection time when the services were placed near the roadsides. Women chose to walk to the wells, collect the water, return home, and repeat this process several times a day during menstruation, due to the shame of being seen cleaning their soiled clothes by males. This type of situation did not occur in areas where women were involved in planning: water services were instead placed in more private locations so women felt comfortable cleaning their laundry and gathering water at the same time. Thus, women should be involved when planning the implementation of water services for their communities.
Ultimately, the world water crisis significantly impacts the women throughout Africa and Southern Asia politically by causing a continued disjuncture between men and women’s well-being. The first step to alleviating the symptoms of the water crisis, allowing women to overcome the political issues that result from a lack of drinking water, is continuing to develop water services for countries in need. There are many organizations dedicated to building wells that give people access to clean groundwater below the surface, and supporting these organizations can hopefully have a real difference in the water crisis in the future. Until women and girls in impacted nations no longer spend most of their day fetching water, the cycle of women’s inferiority in the work force will continue.
Will the “pan-democrat” camp of Hong Kong (HK) settle for anything short of “democracy” and “political sovereignty” from mainland China? Can there be a fair compromise? What influence still remains of the slogan “one country, two systems,” in 2014?
These and other unsettling questions have been propagating within pan-democrat HK residents, setting fire to pro-democracy movements referred to as the “Umbrella Revolution,” organized by prominent activist groups like “Occupy Central with Love and Peace.” The Umbrella Revolution in HK started with its nonviolent civil disobedience demonstration against Chinese electoral interference in HK in 2002, and retained momentum to this day. In July 2014 demonstrators on the streets taking part in “Occupy Central” were able to convince 800,000 residents of HK to join an informal voting demonstration in efforts to publicly show their disapproval of the current non- democratic electoral system. Although their referendum was dismissed by Beijing as illegitimate and illegal, such movements were also seen as threatening and disrupting to the financial hub of HK, alarming big investors and the big four accounting firms.
Hong Kong was released from British colonial rule 17 years ago, and discontent has been boiling up among the HK residents ever since. They have been forced to waive their rights to fairly choose their own chief executives for the city, giving this power instead to the Politburo of the Communist Party of China. Many pro-democracy activists question the political significance of HK’s Basic Law which has served as the legitimate constitutional document for order in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) since it is supposed to guarantee “a high degree of autonomy,” “Hong Kong People administering Hong Kong,” and a “capitalist society.” Nonetheless, to this day, Beijing has completely denied the formation of a democratic electoral system in HK.
The release of the White Paper by Beijing in June 2014 symbolized a major turning point in the relationship between HK and the Chinese central government. This government proposal outlined several striking justifications for Beijing’s imposition on HK’s electoral and governmental affairs. Li Fei, the deputy secretary general of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, boldly stated that HK would become chaotic if HK were given the right to nominate 2 to 3 candidates for the Chief Executive (CE) position in 2017. Another justification from the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress read that “One country, two systems”is a holistic concept. As a unitary state, China’s central government has comprehensive jurisdictionover HKSAR. The high degree of autonomy of HKSAR is not an inherent power, but one that comes solely from the authorization by the central leadership.”
Unfortunately, in August this year HK lost its only chance at open nominations of CE candidates when The National People’s Congress Standing Committee in Beijing claimed authority over the case.This setback is inconsistent with the Sino-British Joint Declaration (1984), which clearly promised the citizens of Hong Kong a level of autonomy separate from mainland China as one of the conditions for China resuming the exercise of sovereignty in HK. The future of a fully democratic HK looks very bleak at this point.
Many pragmatic activists and businessmen have voiced their opinion that public demonstrations like “Occupy Central” do more harm than good. The city attracts many foreigners to do business; just last year, roughly 63 percent of all foreign direct investment that came into mainland China was through HK. The simple tax structure, liberal economic policies based on free trade, legal system that is geared toward supporting business owners, and reliable infrastructure make HK a very attractive place to invest in. However, keeping foreign investors and businesses in a country requires political stability and therule of law in the region, something that mainland Chinese and some Hong Kong residents believe is deteriorating.
Business leaders and investors alike know HK as one of Asia’s prime financial hubs of international business transactions. Due to rigorous economic competition around the world, as soon as word spread that HK was politically unstable, other major cities in the Asia-Pacific Region such as Tokyo tried to snatch up the opportunity to sell itself as a stable and free alternative place to do business. In addition, many investors see Singapore as a great alternative of HK. Political instability could have very real and devastating implications in HK, enough to demote it as one of Asia’s economic capitals and harm its international image.
Because of HK’s important role in the global economy, many key nations have taken action to condemn the way Beijing has been treating the peaceful protesters. Great Britain has held bilateral conversations with China to reach an agreement not to use force against protesters, to avoid stationing troops in the city, and to propose revisions to the Basic Law. The United States along with other Western allies have sent disapproving messages by refusing any military negotiations with China, although these Western countries are taking care to avoid economic sanctions. This shows that universal suffrage in HK is not only a domestic issue, but is a transnational issue that must be resolved. Many political scientists predict that political sovereignty in Taiwan will vanish next if China continues to fail to deliver its promises to the people of Hong Kong. China is most likely going to further tighten its grip on Tibet and Xinjiang to control its separatist movements as well.
Other wealthy democratic nations such as Japan and South Korea should mediate productive talks between Beijing and the pan-democrat camp in HK. The international community must address the growing fear in HK pro-democracy activists that they will never have “checks and balances” on the chief executive and the administration. Many left-wing groups in HK also fear that their right to freedom of speech and of association will be threatened, along with other crucial civil rights. The deterioration of the current flexible and independent judiciary system is a legitimate concern as well.
This year the symbol of this pro-democracy movement is an umbrella, which shields non-violent protestors from tear gas and pepper spray police crackdowns. Photography and videos of such violence in a supposedly peaceful protest in HK has been blowing up in the media, threatening the movement’s practicality and questioning the rationality behind it all. While democracy and autonomy in HK are solid reasons worth fighting for, it is difficult to ignore the negative effects of the protests on tourism, business, and everyday life.
It seems for now that the protestors on the streets should pause protesting on the streets and carefully map out their next big move. The people of HK must convince multilateral corporations and big foreign investors that HK’s political sovereignty is in their best interests to get their support. They must be bold enough to claim that an imposition by a country that supports state capitalism will eventually limit their horizons. They should take advantage of the 2017 Chief Executive Election as the next most politically significant event to get more citizens involved to effectively make a bold statement, that enough is enough.