Archive for the ‘International Relations’ Category

National Security After Bin Laden? Spend More on Education

May 4, 2011

Obama and members of his national security team receiving an update on the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. Source: New York Times

The headlines on May 1 were dominated by breathless announcements of the death of Bin Laden, while nearly every newspaper gave an entire section on May 2 over to an extended description of the harrowing Navy Seal raid, then coverage in the couple of days since has gradually shifted to the question of, “now what? What does this mean for American national security policy?”

Yesterday, Jim Dwyer in the New York Times offered one suggestion with his coverage of Capt. Wayne Porter and Col. Mark Mykleby, who are both special strategic assistants to Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Last month the two military advisors released a white paper through the Woodrow Wilson Center which, in the tradition of George Kennan’s 1947 “long telegram” about Soviet aggression, attempts to redefine a new “strategic narrative” for American defense policy. The document dramatically argues that national security in the age of globalization cannot end simply at the identification and pursuit of threats, but must more holistically encompass domestic prosperity as well:

The term ‘national security’ only entered the foreign policy lexicon after 1947 to reflect the merger of defense and foreign affairs…“national security” has become a trump card, justifying military spending even as the domestic foundations of our national strength are crumbling. “National prosperity and security” reminds us where our true security begins.

In particular, the paper calls for increased investment in three main “investment priorities,” as needed for maintaining American strength and influence:

1. Education: The document clearly and decisively defines education, and the preparation of globally competitive workers, scientists, and leaders, as a matter of national security:

“By investing energy, talent, and dollars now in the education and training of young Americans – the scientists, statesmen, industrialists, farmers, inventors, educators, clergy, artists, service members, and parents, of tomorrow – we are truly investing in our ability to successfully compete in, and influence, the strategic environment of the future.”

2. “Sustainable Security:” The authors link traditional military measures of national defense with other tools of foreign policy influence, like economic exchange and diplomacy, as equally vital in maintaining America’s position and influence abroad. In a sense, this priority is a summary of “smart power,” a doctrine first coined by foreign policy scholar Joseph Nye, which calls for the effective integration of both military “hard power” and “soft power,” such as cultural and economic influence.

3. Environmental Sustainability: Lastly, it ties environmental sustainability to national security by identifying the protection of natural resources with economic prosperity.

Anyone who has been following the budget debates over the last six months (as I, from my internship on Capitol Hill have) will recognize this rhetoric as very similar to the language which Democrats and their allies have begun to increasingly rely on to justify domestic spending. Increased spending on education and environmental protection have been core planks of the Democratic Party platform for decades; however, I would argue that there has been a major shift in the way that these programs are defended and justified.

The most prominent example, of course, was Obama’s “Win the Future” State of the Union address this year, in which he framed investments in education, infrastructure, and clean energy almost entirely in terms of America’s need to maintain parity with China and other rising powers:

“Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports.”

Even Obama’s push for more education funding is framed primarily in terms of international economic competition:

“Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future — if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas — then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.”

Extensive federal funding for and involvement in public education dates back to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, passed as part of  Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program. At the time, though, improvements in education were justified in a much different way. Johnson argued that the “Great Society” would allow “every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents.” Education, in his vision, was the path to individual achievement, not necessarily to national competitiveness.

Environmental protection in the Great Society was justified not in terms of natural resources and economic viability, but simply out of the need to protect natural beauty:

“We have always prided ourselves on being not only America the strong and America the free, but America the beautiful. Today that beauty is in danger. The water we drink, the food we eat, the very air that we breathe, are threatened with pollution. Our parks are overcrowded, our seashores overburdened. Green fields and dense forests are disappearing.”

Overall, Great Society programs unapologetically sought to reduce socioeconomic and racial inequality in the United States. Johnson called for programs to create “abundance and liberty for all” and to help all Americans “escape from the crushing weight of poverty.”

The confrontation of inequality has almost entirely vanished from the rhetoric that supporters of increased domestic spending, both in and outside of the Administration, use today. In fact, the words “poverty” and “inequality” don’t appear in the last State of the Union once. The partisan in me would argue that, in today’s political climate, where almost any mention of reducing inequality as a goal is branded as “class warfare” and “socialism,” liberals have abandoned the rhetoric entirely in favor of this new narrative focused entirely on national competitiveness.

This new rhetoric had been circulating the liberal community for a while before the Obama Administration picked up on it. Thomas Friedman is particularly fond of using China as a foil to argue for increased domestic spending, as he did in this article I criticized last fall. Fareed Zakariah used the specter of American decline to argue for increased education funding in an article a couple of months ago.  Porter and Mykleby’s white paper may indicate, however, that this new viewpoint is trickling into the military and national security committee as well. If education and sustainability could be successfully case as issues of national security, it would make it much harder for fiscal hawks to oppose them.

Can the Number of American Students Studying in China Ever Catch Up to Chinese Students in the US?

March 30, 2011

The front gate of Peking University. Chinese students studying in the US dwarf the number of American students studying in China

My work with the US-China Education Trust has sent me digging for statistics again, this time to prepare an acceptance speech for Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch, who is receiving an award this spring from NAFSA: The Association of International Educators. I spent part of this morning looking up statistics about the numbers of international students studying abroad in the US and China. Certainly it’s no surprise to anyone that the number of Chinese students studying in the US dwarfs the number of Americans going to China. I think it’s sobering (and, hopefully, somewhat inspiring), though, to be reminded just how wide the gap is:

In the 2009-2010 academic year nearly 128,000 Chinese students studied in the United States. Again, no surprise at how big this number is. It’s also probably not surprising to many people that Chinese students outnumbered international students from any other country, and together represented 19% of the international student population in the US last year.

What was somewhat more startling to me was to discover that the top three countries of origin for international students–China, India, and South Korea–together represent nearly half, 44%, of the total international student population in the United States.

While Asians make up the lion’s share of students studying in the United States, American students still overwhelmingly prefer to hang out in Europe. China ranked only fifth among international destinations for American students. American students studying in China last year, numbering some 13,600, were less than half as numerous as students studying in the United Kingdom. The other top three most popular destinations were Italy, Spain, and France.

To anyone who cares as much about US-China relations as I do, it’s certainly frustrating to see how many fewer American students are bothering to learn about China than Chinese students are learning about America. As with any cache of statistics, though, it is just as possible to find room for optimism:

China was by far the most popular destination for American students in Asia, and more than twice as many students went to China as went to the next most popular Asian destination, Japan. Also, China was the only one of the top-5 destination to see an increase in student travel from the previous year. American students studying in China last year were up 4% from the 2008-2009 academic year. Of course, a massive upswing in Chinese students to the US–who were up 30% from 2008-2009–dwarfs this figure.

Nonetheless, there is no doubt that student interest in China is measurably increasing.  In my own anecdotal experience, I feel as if I am becoming increasingly aware of a much greater number of programs that offer exposure to China and to Chinese language for students at even younger ages. On a recent trip to visit my parents, who both work at the University of Kentucky, I found out that some of the high schools there even offer Chinese language classes. With Confucius Centers and other similar programs increasing in number, this phenomenon is certainly becoming more common. I had never even heard of a person studying Chinese when I was in high school (and, honestly, I’m a little jealous of the kids who, by virtue of being born later, will have the advantage of being able to start tackling the language at an earlier age).

The Institute for International Education, which is based in Washington, D.C., publishes a comprehensive report each year on statistics relating to American study abroad and international students studying in the United States.

Some Stats for International Women’s Day

March 8, 2011

So I know it’s remarkably ambitious of me to post three times in one week, but with today being International Women’s Day (at least for 5 more minutes on the East Coast) and all, the timing was just too good.

Among the grab-bag of my work at the US-China Education Trust has been the opportunity to help the president, former Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch, prepare remarks for some of the variety of speeches/keynote addresses/bar mitzvahs that she is invited to give from time to time. Next week she’s speaking at a luncheon as part of a “Women in Politics” seminar series at Gettysburg College’s Eisenhower Institute. I’ve been doing research the past week about changes in the career conditions of women between when Ambassador Bloch started her career as a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid-60’s and today. Not surprising, women are doing a bit better now than they were then–but the statistics vary in some interesting ways.

My job has been made a lot easier by the release of the White House Council on Women and Girls’ Women in America report earlier this month. The report details the current state of women in the US in a variety of ways, focusing in particular on family dynamics, education, employment, and health. The education section highlights a trend which, while old news at this point, is still remarkable. Women are outpacing men almost across the board in the American higher education system. Women constituted 57% of enrolled undergraduates in the 2007-2008 year, and earned 57% of degrees conferred in that year. They’re earning more masters’ and doctoral degrees. The only fields in which men still significantly outnumber women are in the hard sciences, and they still dominate engineering and computer science fields. Women earned less than 20% of the engineering/comp sci degrees awarded in 2008.

The biggest  headline-grabber of this report, however, has been the data on earnings figures. Despite now roughly equaling male presence in the workplace, and despite notable gains in most career fields which had previously been male-dominated, women still continue to earn significantly less than men on overall.

At all levels of education, women earned about75 percent as much as their male counterpartsin 2009

Even more interesting, though, is the report’s breakdown of earning gaps by race:

Compared to the earnings of all men (of allrace and ethnic groups), Black women earned71 percent and Hispanic women earned 62 percent as much in 2009. White and Asian women earned 82 percent and 95 percent as much as all men, respectively.

Compared to their direct male counterparts,however, White women earned 79 percent as much as White men in 2009, while Asianwomen earned 82 percent as much as Asian men. For Blacks and Hispanics, the figures were 94 percent and 90 percent, respectively

So Asian women trail overall men’s earnings by the least, but remain equally outpaced by the disproportionately high earnings of Asian men. On the other hand, Black and Hispanic men have a much less significant earnings advantage over Black and Hispanic women.

What might be some possible explanations for this? Why don’t Blacks and Hispanics have the same employment gaps between genders that other ethnic groups seem to have?

I should note along with this, though, that earnings data for Asians is particularly problematic. In the course of doing research for another keynote address, this one for an Asian American advocacy group in DC, I’ve been doing some research on the demographics of Asian Americans.

  • According to the most recent community survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income for Asians nationwide was higher than that of non-Hispanic whites.
  • HOWEVER, the nationwide poverty rate for Asian-Americans, 12%, is also significantly higher than the 9% poverty level among whites. The poverty rate for Asian Americans is also higher than the rate across immigrant groups of all ethnicities in the United States.

So Asian Americans straddle both the top and the bottom of earnings groups in the United States. So the “model minority” image is much more complicated than often portrayed: the “Asian American” demographic includes both high-achieving middle class families and a significant percentage of working poor, mostly first-generation immigrants, who struggle at low-paying jobs in major cities.

What was I talking about? Women? Anyway, these numbers left me really curious, and I would love to hear some other responses. How should we reconcile these gender achievement gaps with ethnic achievement gaps?

My 2 Cents on the “China vs. Egypt” debate (part 1)

March 6, 2011

The new favorite pastime of the Chinese blogger community has become, in the last few weeks, to compare China to Egypt and Tunisia. It’s certainly a topic that’s been heavy in my mind the last couple of weeks, and it’s been fascinating to read just how widely the analysis seems to vary, and to defy easy summary.

I was lucky to attend a hearing hosted by the Congressional US-China Economic and Security Review Commission held a hearing a couple of weeks ago which highlighted to me, more than I had previously aware, of just how much domestic anger is bubbling under the surface in some parts of the country. Small, localized demonstrations or protests, or “mass incidents,” as the government calls them, have been ballooning in number over the past decade, and already number over 100,000 every year. Elizabeth Economy from the Council on Foreign Relations gave a vivid example:

“In one case in July 2010 for example, officials in Gangkou, Jiangxi Province, offered to relocate villagers away from a heavily polluted site that had sickened them but provided only minimal compensation. When police beat two female petitioners into a coma, thousands of angry citizens used bricks and stones to smash windows and overturn police cars”

Events often start as small personal grievances, inspired by public health hazards due to environmental pollution, by forced evictions, by unfair labor practices, by official corruption, or any of the other dozen serious complaints of China’s underprivileged. Ham-handed management by the police can easily turn one family’s protest into a village-wide riot. Without a doubt, then, public dissatisfaction is growing, and is leading a disenfranchised population, with no open or transparent way to redress grievances against the government, to act out violently.

However, many scholars and journalists point out that China differs from Egypt in one fundamental capacity: the Chinese government’s uncompromising pursuit of economic growth has raised the living standard of vast sectors of the population and garnered overall allegiance from the all-important growing middle class. Egypt’s economy has grown significantly over the last ten years as well. However, as Evan Osnos summarizes,

“Egypt and Tunisia were vulnerable to unrest not because their economies were ailing, but precisely because their economies had improved in recent years, which only accentuated how far the economic gains were outpacing political liberalization.”

Egypt and Tunisia’s middle class turned against the government because “rising expectations” outstripped the ability of a growing (though increasingly corrupt—not so different from China) economy to deliver on those expectations. Consider a series of public opinion surveys conducted in Egypt by Gallup in the years before the revolution, which found that levels of “life satisfaction and optimism” in Egypt were as low as those in the truly stagnating Palestine. Young people and the middle class, particularly those who expected to do well, were disappointed with their share of the economic growth.

Certainly the economic situation in China is quite different. Economic growth there has been not simply strong, but mind-blowingly fast, and without a doubt has raised the living standards of a vast percentage of the population in the last several decades. What is perhaps more important, though, is that the population as a whole perceives that increasing economic prosperity is widespread and is meeting an increasing number of their needs. Harvard Sociologist Martin Whyte, who testified at the same hearing, shared the results of a fascinating public opinion survey on perceptions of economic inequality in China. His research found that, while a majority of people in China recognize the widening income gap (now the largest of any low to middle-income country in the world), they tend to attribute prosperity differences to differences in talent and effort, and remain optimistic about their own chance to get ahead eventually. Even Chinese who have garnered only modest economic gains in recent years trust that their lives, too, will continue to get better under the current regime.

My understanding is that these factors—public satisfaction over domestic, particularly economic, conditions—make up one half of the debate over continued domestic stability in China. I’ve managed to fill up more space already than I intended to, so the other half—government success at maintaining domestic control—will have to wait for another post.

A New Gig, Michelle Kwan, and Awesome Videos of Cultural Revolution-era China

February 2, 2011

After two months of mailing cover letters, I’ve made my first, rather halting, steps toward actual employment. I’ve relocated to Washington, DC, where I’ve started two internships, one with California Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, and one with a small NGO called the US-China Education Trust. USCET sponsors sponsors scholarships for Chinese students, as well as a series of academic conferences and symposia, mostly in China, about politics, economics, and media.

I’m particularly excited about USCET, which I think will help me to gain more exposure to US-China partnerships and learn more about the different ways to be involved in US-China relations. Julia Chang Bloch, the former ambassador who runs it, seems to be really well connected within the DC diplomatic community–I got to attend a Chinese New Year party she threw last week, and met the second-in-command at the Chinese embassy, and Michelle Kwan!


Me and Michelle Kwan! pwned.



USCET held another cool event last week hosted by the chair of their advisory board, Nicholas Platt, a retired diplomat who went with Nixon on the first trip to China in 1972. He had the foresight to bring a video camera along with him, and took some amazing images of what China was like in the early 70’s. Luckily, some of these were posted online for a similar event he gave at the Asia Society in New York, and you can see them here.

It was all I could do to not completely nerd out while he was showing these; they of course visited all of the major tourist sights–Great Wall, Summer Palace, Hangzhou West Lake, Ming Tombs–but they’re all completely deserted. There’s a great image early on of a neighborhood in the center of Beijing, not far from the Forbidden City, but completely devoid of the massive buildings you’d see there today. It looks like any of the hutongs you’d see in the most run-down parts of Beijing today, complete with people brushing their teeth on the street. Unfortunately, the little clip that the Asia Society put online doesn’t include the most striking image, of Shanghai’s Pudong district. The area, now a massive forest of skyscrapers, was totally deserted when Platt visited, little more than a collection of little fishing huts.

I’m not quite sure how long I’m gonna be in DC. The “plan” (to avoid grad school and find something interesting to do instead) is still in its initial stages, and will depend a lot on how these internships go and how long it takes me to find something else from here. The first week has gone well though–look me up if you come to DC!


Lay off, Mr. Friedman

December 7, 2010

My recent entrance into the world of (f)unemployment has, naturally, left me with more time to read and get riled up by the news. Usually just complaining to my grandfather about the news is enough to blow off the resulting steam, but Friedman’s “From WikiChina” editorial last week was so emblematic of everything that’s wrong with the New York Times’ China reporting that I had to get something down on paper. The piece takes the form of an imagined diplomatic cable from Chinese diplomats operating in the US back to Beijing, and highlights supposed sources of Chinese relief at growing American political gridlock and decay in national infrastructure. He portrays  China’s leaders as quietly maneuvering in the shadows to overturn American supremacy and delighting at each sign of American weakness:

“Things are going well here for China. America remains a deeply politically polarized country, which is certainly helpful for our goal of overtaking the U.S. as the world’s most powerful economy and nation. But we’re particularly optimistic because the Americans are polarized over all the wrong things.”

Each passage is worse than the last. The piece quickly moves from general antagonism to outdated Cold-War style bipolarism:

“They are fighting — we are happy to report — over the latest nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. It seems as if the Republicans are so interested in weakening President Obama that they are going to scuttle a treaty that would have fostered closer U.S.-Russian cooperation on issues like Iran. And since anything that brings Russia and America closer could end up isolating us, we are grateful to Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona for putting our interests ahead of America’s and blocking Senate ratification of the treaty. The ambassador has invited Senator Kyl and his wife for dinner at Mr. Kao’s Chinese restaurant to praise him for his steadfastness in protecting America’s (read: our) interests.”

Even worse is his insinuation that Chinese “efforts to dominate the wind, solar, nuclear and electric car industries” represent some kind of nefarious secret plot. Green technology isn’t a zero-sum game, and some of the most promising sustainable development initiatives currently in their early stages are joint efforts between Chinese and American firms. The sort of exaggerated competitiveness that he alludes to in this piece will only serve to obscure that.

He saves the worst threat-mongering, though, for the very end:

“… record numbers of U.S. high school students are now studying Chinese, which should guarantee us a steady supply of cheap labor that speaks our language here, as we use our $2.3 trillion in reserves to quietly buy up U.S. factories.”

Certainly China’s political and economic ascent on the world stage will undoubtedly continue to present new challenges to the United States, and should, as is Mr. Friedman’s intention, serve as a much-needed wake-up call. However, it is simply an absurd oversimplification to assume that China’s leaders greet each sign of American political and economic instability as stepping stones toward their coming world domination. Their first priority preservation and consolidation of its existing power and, given the current level of economic and political interdependence, American instability can only hurt China. The 2008 credit crisis demonstrated this, and Beijing avoided a larger catastrophe only through a massive government response.

China is heavily invested in the current American-dominated political and economic status quo, too. After all, it was this status quo, in which the United States assumed the greatest responsibility for reinforcing economic stability, which allowed China to grow prosperous. China’s leaders are too worried about the growth of internal unrest to dare assume more global leadership right now.

I am certainly among the first to agree with many of Mr. Friedman’s complaints about American politics. Following news of the healthcare debate from Beijing last year was a constant source of frustration for me. Certainly my own frequent use of the Chinese rail system, which is amazingly efficient and quite affordable, was a constant reminder to me of what sufficient government investment in national infrastructure can accomplish. But to couch this critique within such an alarmist scenario does nothing but further obscure the already mangled debate in this country over the Sino-American relationship. Effective engagement of China will require a sober and objective appraisal of the potential areas for cooperation and conflict. Mr. Friedman’s depiction of China in his writing as a looming malevolent threat is misleading and irresponsible and only serves to take us further from an effective response to the inevitable challenges of a rising China.