Category: China

The Politics of Engagement

Stuart Thorson proposes scientific exchange as a practical way to avoid “demonization.”

Stuart Thorson proposes scientific exchange as a practical way to avoid “demonization.”

Last spring, several experts on Asian countries came together at IU to talk about “Engaging Enemies.”   The issue on the table was how to keep countries out of conflict now and in the future, and the test cases were North Korea, Iran, and Burma.

The word of the day was engagement.  Mel Gurtov laid the foundation of the discussion. Paraphrasing his definition:

Engagement is

  • reaching out
  • establishing cooperation and reciprocity
  • exercising persistence, patience, and ingenuity
  • maintaining credibility flexibility, and a tough skin
  • reducing tensions
  • resetting relationships
  • finding common ground
  • inculcating habit of dialog and mutual respect
  • achieving incremental agreements
  • creating honorable path to peaceable relations

Engagement is not

  • selling out national interests
  • tolerating genocide or other heinous crimes
  • exercising coercive diplomacy
  • postponing the inevitable
  • performing an act of charity

The positive aspects of engagement so apparently outweigh the negatives that it is hard to imagine that countries have not pursued it.  Miroslav Nincic explained some of the reasons why.  Most have to do with resistance of citizens to reaching out to an enemy.  US politics honors a “tough line” and “retributive justice.”  Efforts to engage are seen as “appeasement.” The popular perception is that “conciliatory gestures encourage bad behavior by rewarding offenders.”  Strategic matters related to unequal power relations and political instability can also disarm positive engagement.

The experts generally agreed that “sticks” have not worked.  Sanctions and coercive policies have not made North Korea or Iran back down from their determination to develop nuclear arms.  In place of sticks, Nincic proposes “catalytic carrots.”  Efforts to engage adversaries might be more successful if the objective were not to see a regime overthrown, but to see it alter its “more objectionable policies.”

Walter Clemens echoed this perspective.  He focuses on the hubris of both the U.S. and North Korea.  The politics of “tit-for-tat” and “an eye for an eye” have dominated.  “Arrogance and disdain” have nullified any hope of positive engagement.   He would like to see an abandonment of hubris for GRIT—“graduated reciprocity in tension-reduction”—which involves each side making a “limited series of unilateral concessions.”  But who will make the first step?  Will the initial gesture be trusted or gestures at any stage be betrayed?  Domestic hostility to concessions and bureaucratic inertia may make any GRIT momentum hard to sustain.

As difficult a problem as this may seem, there was some agreement on a solution.  Interactions should be driven less by the abstract—policies and principles—and more by the concrete.  “Getting to Know You” was the theme proposed by Andrei Lankov.  He proposes academic exchanges as a starting point and offered the example of two Russian individuals who came to the U.S. to study and then returned to the USSR to become spies or propagandists.  The suspicion that a country would use exchanges for nefarious purposes was thus affirmed until the beginning of perestroika—when both these individuals contributed to the collapse of the Soviet regime.  Exposure to a different world will promote change in the long run by building up internal pressures for reform and by preparing leaders to deal with a different future.

Stuart Thorson offered an example of successful exchange with North Korea in the area of scientific research.  Science abhors politics (even if it is involved politically), and the ever more global environment requires the relatively transparent movement of data over digital networks among scientific collaborators around the world.  His personal example was the successful collaboration and exchange between Syracuse University and the North Korea State Academy of Sciences.

Other experts echoed this focus on the concrete—people to people rather than policy to policy.  The U.S. needs to assert policies and principles less and to learn more about its enemies.  Humanitarian assistance, such as food aid, should be given for humanitarian, not political, reasons, Karin Lee asserted.  In Iran, the “Obama administration’s sanctions-only policy is both failing to achieve its objective on the nuclear front and adding to the regime’s repression,” said Trita Parsi.  Kun a. Namkung proposed that the U.S. needs to know more about Korean history—to understand that it might make more sense to see a West and East Korea than to see and North and South Korea, for example.  And while the U.S. may see changes in Myanmar as very positive, an understanding of the internal culture would prevent us from being surprised by setbacks there, observed Nicholas Farrelly.

The workshop was sponsored by the East Asia Foundation with assistance from several IU units, including the ANU-IU Pan Asia Institute, and the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs.  The proceedings have just been published in Global Asia: A Journal of the East Asia Foundation (Summer 2013).

 Mel Gurtov,  professor emeritus of political science, Portland State University;   editor in chief, Asian Perspective.
Miroslav Nincic, professor of political science, University of California-Davis.
Walter Clemens, professor of political science, Boston University.
Andrei Lankov, professor of history, Kookmin University, Seoul; adjunct research fellow, Australian National University.
Stuart Thorson, professor of political science and international relations, Syracuse University.
Karin Lee,  executive director of the National Committee on North Korea.
Kim A. Namkung, scholar and consultant on Asian affairs.
Trita Parsi, president, National Iranian American Council.
Nicholas Farrelly, research fellow of international, political and strategic studies, Australian National University.
Kate Gould, lead lobbyist for Middle East policy, Friends Committee on National Legislation.
Mark Valencia, maritime policy analyst and consultant on Asia issues.
Keith Luse, former East Asia foreign policy advisor to Senator Richard Lugar.
Gil Latz, associate vice president of IU International Affairs.
 
There is much we still need to learn about Korean culture, said Kun A. Namkung.

There is much we still need to learn about Korean culture, said Kun A. Namkung.

Gil Latz said that universities won’t be able to bring North Korea into their productive research until they escape the stereotypes associated with Communism.

Gil Latz said that universities won’t be able to bring North Korea into their productive research until they escape the stereotypes associated with Communism.

Andrei Lankov proposed social exchanges as an effective way for enemies to get to know each other.

Andrei Lankov proposed social exchanges as an effective way for enemies to get to know each other.

Keith Luse recognized the importance of domestic buy-in. “Congress has to be a partner” in any effort to engage.

Keith Luse recognized the importance of domestic buy-in. “Congress has to be a partner” in any effort to engage.

Charity, Trust, and Cultural Traditions

 

Abbie Jung speaks from Vienam about her experience with NGOs in Souteast Asia. Listening are Bloomington (upper left) and panelists and an overflow audience in the IUPUI Global Crossroads classroom (lower right).

 

          The Red Cross Society of China is one of that country’s oldest and largest charities; yet in a recent survey in China, 82% responded that they would not contribute to it.  In Communist or former Communist countries of Southeast Asia, the government looks suspiciously on nonprofit philanthropic organizations, suspecting that their very existence is a tacit criticism of the government’s failure to provide an important service, and so regulates nonprofits heavily.  As a consequence, some nonprofits prefer to register as for-profit companies, and face the tax implications instead.

             This year, the Center on Philanthropy celebrates a quarter century on the IUPUI campus.  The store of knowledge and expertise it has accumulated in that time has drawn international attention.  The center’s reports on the impact of new laws and regulations on philanthropic giving are watched closely and reported widely in the press.  But the laws of philanthropy are not quite the same as the laws of physics.  Habits of giving and expectation of the results of giving operate differently in China than they do in the U.S.

             The China Philanthropy Leadership Initiative, a group of IUPUI students interested in Chinese philanthropy, gave those differences center stage in a symposium at the Global Crossroads classroom of the IUPUI Office of International Affairs.  The event included participants from campus and from the Indianapolis community; the truly “wired” venue allowed Bloomington to participate and brought in a speaker currently working in Vietnam.   

             Leslie Lenkowsky, SPEA and Center on Philanthropy professor and one of a handful of top international philanthropy experts in the nation, opened the session with a challenge to the notion that the laws of philanthropy vary around the world.  He outlined five problems that all nonprofits must address—from the need to define their mission and expectations, to the difficulty of measuring outcomes and determining impact, to the lack of incentives to perform effectively. 

             Melynne Klaus, director of the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, outlined the work of that organization to make a positive impact on the arts scene in Central Indiana.  They have worked to simplify the application process (and reduce the grant application time that organizations must devote) by standardizing the application form with similar organizations in the city, and to establish rules of transparency and clarity of mission.  They ask organizations that apply for funding to establish their own measurable goals as part of the application process, and then the organization is evaluated for how well it meets its own goals.  Anthony Lorenz, CFO for WFYI, the nation’s 19th largest public broadcasting corporation,  provided a financial context for establishing transparency.  It tracks community needs through patterns of annual giving.

             Abbie Jung, based in Hong Kong and San Franciso, happened to be in Vietnam when she spoke to the group about her experiences with nonprofits in China and Southeast Asia.  Philanthropy is a long-standing tradition in Asia and giving is generous.  She noted differences from Western trends. Private giving is still more common than strategic support of civil entities and NGO’s.  Family interests and education are the traditional objects.   Patterns of  government regulation and enforcement are still evolving. 

            The IUPUI symposium was the signature event of semester-long program exploring philanthropy and its global implications.  The initiative was completely student driven and was developed both to expand cultural understanding of the workings and issues of philanthropic organizations and to train young professionals through resources that go beyond the campus.

Elite, Mass, Universal—What Is Education Doing to Us?

 

Anthropologist Susan Blum spent 30 years studying China, 10 years researching education, and is now trying to merge the two with an ambitious goal.  “Schooling helps create children.  All education is political.  At the same time, all education is cultural involving values, meaning, structure, and family.“  Blum wants to explain how this creation works; she is currently conducting research on the effect of higher education in six different societies.  China, with its staggeringly ambitious goals for education, is a challenging case in point and the subject of her lecture, specifically the “massification” of Chinese higher education. 

Educational theorists will understand that the horrible word massifcation has a specific meaning in higher education.  Martin Trow used it to refer to the twilight zone between two social goals–the higher education of the elite alone and universal higher education—exactly where China stands today.  Blum has the statistics:  In 1978, at the end of the Cultural Revolution, China had 400 colleges and 3% of youth attended them.  Today, there are 3,500 colleges with 23% of the college-aged population in attendance, a ramping up of tertiary education similar to, but even greater than, the effect in the U.S. of the GI Bill after World War II.

Blum traced the history of higher education in China from the meritocracy of Imperial China and the corrupt exam system it produced for entry into the higher ranks of the civil service; to the Cultural Revolution, begun at Peking University in 1966 with a specific goal of eradicating educational inequality; to the end of that revolution and the restoration of the exam system; to the current day when vast forests of students spend much of their childhood and youth with the single goal of getting the highest possible score on the Gaokao, the national exam that decides students’ access to the best universities. 

As Blum recounted the effect of this national exam, the situation began to sound more local than foreign.  Teaching to the test produces an empty curriculum relying on disembodied facts and a community of stressed-out students. Achieving the demanding educational goals no longer assures a job and with that comes disillusionment and increases in subtle forms of social inequality.  While the U.S. is further along the “massification” road than China, the impact of social and economic conditions on education began to have a familiar ring. 

Blum announced at the start that she was in the early stages of this research.  She did not finally offer an answer to the question of how these changes in the world of education changed the people themselves.  How will the contradictory educational goals of status vs. return on investment play out?  Can the national exam make society more equitable, or does it always lead to scandal and fraud?  Are we moving towards an international form of leadership with where class is more important than citizenship?  Questions abound both locally and globally, but answers are elusive.

Susan D. Blum is professor and chair of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame.  Her most recent book is My Word! Plagiarism and College Culture (2009).  Her presentation was sponsored by the IU Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business.