By Jake Lerner, BASC Research Assistant

On Friday, North Korea’s long anticipated, much criticized, and uncharacteristically open launch of its Unha-3 rocket ended in flames. Take-away lessons from its disintegration over the Yellow Sea:

1. Kim Jong Un’s leadership is stable enough to survive failures. Even very shortly before Kim Jong Il’s death, Japanese, South Korean, and American analysts worried that a North Korean power vacuum, however temporary, would create an internal power struggle between top generals and Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s heir. Further, many speculated that any new power in the country would be forced to take an extremely aggressive stance against South Korea and the West in order to garner military and popular support and not appear weak or incompetent. Although such fears have proved largely false, Kim Jong Un’s ability to shake off a substantial military-technological failure (he was appointed to head the new National Defense Commission during a meeting of the Supreme People’s Assembly just hours after the mishap) demonstrates his relatively stable grip on the country.

2. The United States is willing to stick to its guns on food aid negotiations. The US recently agreed to provide food aid to North Korea in exchange for slowing its nuclear program. Prior to the rocket test, US officials warned that a launch would void the agreement and preclude American aid shipments. Despite the test’s failure, the US suspended food aid to North Korea on Friday. Since the rocket’s failure means it provided no functional threat to the US, this shows that the US is more worried about North Korean belligerence than technical or military prowess.

3. North Korea is far from being a direct nuclear threat to the West. The obvious lesson from the Unha-3 failure is that the DPRK still lacks the technological prowess to consistently launch satellites. The technology required to launch satellites into orbit (very large and accurate rockets) is similar to that required for Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles, so North Korean missiles capable of hitting the US are hardly a near-term threat. In an interview, President Barack Obama said that the test is consistent with a pattern of North Korean technological failures, but that the country’s willingness to carry out the test was still cause for alarm. That said, North Korea’s rare willingness to admit the launch’s failure to its own public means advanced rocket capabilities aren’t currently a centerpiece of the DPRK’s internal policy portrayal. However, North Korea’s ability to carry out a nuclear attack on American troops and the huge population center of allied Seoul makes an ability to actually strike the west a more symbolic than practical concern.

Jake Lerner

About Jake Lerner

Jake Lerner is in his third year at UC Berkeley, and his fourth semester at the Berkeley APEC Study Center. His double major in Computer Science and Political Science tends to keep him occupied, but he still finds time to play strategy games, read leftist literature, dance, take a leadership role in his living co-operative, and climb the occasional tree. He is from Grass Valley, California.
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By Adam Motiwala, BASC Research Assistant

Ever since the group of disgruntled students first immortalized their message of revolution onto the worn-down walls of the city of Deraa, there has been much discussion about what the West should do about Syria. An increasingly vocal chorus of people is now calling for a reenergized and bellicose Western response, with some, including former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, insisting on arming the opposition. At the same time, convincing arguments about the logistical complexity and dubious legality of, and lack of domestic appetite for, full-scale intervention have taken this option off the table. What seems to have been lost in this discussion are three widely-ignored realities about the situation in Syria that suggest that even a more limited Western intervention may not be the best option.

First, many are quick to conflate the events in Syria with those that occurred in Egypt and Libya. Yet it is important to remember that the number of vested interests in Syria is far greater than that elsewhere in the Middle East. Although Hosni Mubarak was in many ways a U.S. strongman, there was little chance of a foreign country intervening to prop up the regime against a democratic opposition. Unfortunately, this simply is not the case in Syria. The last Russian naval base outside of the ex-Soviet Union is in the Syrian city of Tartus; a stop in Syria is thus the only way for the Russians to refuel when going through the Mediterranean. Similarly, Iran uses Syria a means of extending support to Hamas and Hezbollah.

Both countries have shown the ability and willingness to support Assad in squashing the opposition. If the United States were to increasingly supply the Free Syrian Army (FSA), it is easy to imagine that the Kremlin would respond by intensifying its support for the regime. The prospect of Syria slipping into such a Cold War-style proxy war between the United States and Russia is worrisome, and would likely be profoundly bloody for Syrian society and detrimental to the global economy.

The second point of concern is what would replace a defeated Assad regime. It is important to remember that Bashar al-Assad still retains considerable support among minority groups in Syria and that the opposition remains fractured and has had little success in attracting non-Sunni leaders. Alawites, Christians, Druze and the merchant class have expressed legitimate fear of retaliation were a Sunni government to take hold in Damascus. This means that a new regime lead by the Syrian National Council (SNC) risks the chance of being just as divisive as the current one, solving few of the ongoing problems. Furthermore, the fact that the opposition has now received the endorsement of both Hamas and al-Qaeda (putting the terrorist organization and the United States on the same side of an issue for the first time in living memory) is troubling, and may serve as an indication of the nature of the SNC. The only thing that would be worse than a Syrian civil war would be a brutally repressive Islamist regime that came to power via U.S. action.

Finally, Syria’s large stockpile of chemical weapons has almost entirely escaped media attention. Syria has not yet joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, and is one of the few countries thought to possess considerable amounts of VX, the most vicious nerve-agent known to man (an unfathomably small dose of 10mg touching the skin is sufficient to kill). A more weaponized and aggressive opposition might provide the Assad regime with a justification for actually deploying these weapons. This could in turn lead to a spiral escalation wherein NATO responds to the use of WMDs with bombs and Assad, in desperation, reacts with even more chemical weapons.

As unattractive as it may sound, then, the best course of the action is to allow current trends to continue. As the rate of defections from within the Assad regime hastens, and as renewed sanctions continue to send the Syrian economy into free-fall, many predict that the business class will stop supporting the regime in droves. Once this happens, Russia may realize the need to hedge its bets and give up its unconditional support of the regime, thus opening doors for political compromises. In short, patience may be the least bad solution to what promises to be a rough revolution in Syria.

Adam Motiwala

About Adam Motiwala

Adam Motiwala is a third-year political science student, focusing in international relations. His primary regions of focus are the Middle East and South Asia, and he is interested in improving U.S. relations with countries in the region. As a member of Delta Phi Epsilon, a national Foreign Service fraternity, Adam hopes to one day join the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer. In his spare time, Adam loves learning about mixology, dining with friends or reading about the world around him.
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By Daniel Chen, BASC Research Assistant

On March 9, 2012, the eleventh round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations came to a close. TPP, a “21st century trade agreement” that spans three continents and covers a multitude of issues from trade in goods and services to regulatory coherence, encompasses nine members and hopes to be a centerpiece of increased interaction in the Asia-Pacific region. TPP has become a priority of the Obama Administration in its “pivot” back to Asia, and one need only look at the TPP webpage at the USTR website to understand that the United States is investing considerable diplomatic energy in ensuring its creation.

TPP makes strategic sense to the United States for three paramount reasons. First, the Asia-Pacific is currently witnessing a rapid proliferation of FTAs with varying trade standards and rules that are diverse in scope, architecture, and objectives, hindering trade and investment and preventing deeper integration. However, by “multilateralizing regionalism,” TPP rationalizes these webs of bilateral agreements into a coherent whole that lessens transaction costs. Second, TPP promises long-term economic benefits as more and more countries join the agreement through its open accessions clause. While the United States currently has FTAs with four out of the other eight negotiating members and the remaining countries have relatively small and liberalized economies, TPP’s enlarging capabilities bode well for future liberalization in the Asia-Pacific. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, the United States has emphasized TPP for political reasons. As Hillary Clinton noted, “In Asia, they ask whether we are really there to stay, whether we are likely to be distracted again by events elsewhere, whether we can make — and keep — credible economic and strategic commitments, and whether we can back those commitments with action. The answer is: We can, and we will.” TPP is then a signal that the United States will remain an engaged player in the Asia-Pacific.

It is this last aspect that is the most controversial. Given the latest Sino-American trade disputes, such as the Senate passing a bill condemning China’s currency manipulation and the recent imposition of tariffs on Chinese solar panels, many people reasonably suspect that any American moves in the Asia-Pacific are meant to contain China’s Rise. American involvement in TPP is then viewed with intense scrutiny. Moves such as Senator Hatch’s attempt to include currency provisions in TPP exacerbate these tensions. Similarly, cries concerning China’s rise and our relative decline compound fears on both sides of the Pacific.

Since 2009, China has acted more aggressively toward its neighbors. Episodes like the Senkaku Island dispute with Japan and its continued support of repressive regimes like that of North Korea presage China’s increasingly assertive role in Asia. Nonetheless, China cannot be thought of as an American enemy. The two countries are increasingly dependent on one another; for example, China needs the United States as a consumer and the United States relies on China as an investor. While critics often worry about China’s rise, the truth is that Americans have directly benefitted from China’s economic miracle. Furthermore, tackling many important global problems, such as North Korean proliferation and global imbalances in trade, requires dialogue and agreement between both powers. Without the involvement of either China or the United States, constructive solutions cannot be reached. In this way, TPP should also not be thought of as an American attempt to stymie China’s increasing dominance; TPP is more of a way to keep counteract diminishing American relevance rather than a means to contain Chinese ascendancy. As Fred Bergsten and Jeffrey Schott of the Peterson Institute of International Economics assert, “‘Hedging’ strategies are not the same as ‘containment’ strategies. For most countries in Asia, the TPP is about keeping the US in, rather than keeping China out.”

Overall, TPP and active U.S. engagement with the Asia-Pacific should both serve as signals that the United States will remain relevant in the region while reassuring China that TPP is not an effort at containment. In this way, countries like Japan, South Korea, and members of APEC can pursue “hedging” strategies while simultaneously ensuring the Asia-Pacific remains an area conducive to commerce and trade.

Daniel Chen

About Daniel Chen

Daniel Chen is a third year Political Science major with an emphasis on Comparative Politics. His academic interests include China’s rise and its implications, the creation and sustainability of market systems, and the politics and policies of economic development. After graduating from Berkeley, he plans on attending law school and entering into public service. Outside of BASC, Daniel serves and leads small group at Living Water Church, enjoys playing sports, and is a connoisseur of cheap, greasy food from Asian Ghetto.
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By Cindy Li, BASC Research Assistant

The New York Knicks’ turnaround winning streak in early February put a spotlight on the newly signed Jeremy Lin and began the global Linsanity sensation.

Lin’s Cinderella story and Asian descent have allowed him to capture the attention of Chinese viewers. The effects of his overwhelming fame, however, may not be entirely positive. While one longtime NBA executive believes that Linsanity could be the catalyst that launches China on its way to becoming the next basketball power, The Economist argues that Lin’s American upbringing actually emphasizes the weaknesses in the Chinese athletic and education system.

On February 20th, 2012, just after the New York Knicks defeated the Dallas Mavericks (104-97), The Economist posted a blog entry, “Stop the Linsanity?”, which explores the detrimental effects of Jeremy Lin’s newfound stardom on China’s soft power. The article pits Jeremy Lin, the 6’3’’ American-born, Knicks player against Yi Jianliang, the 7 foot-tall Mavericks player drafted from China, effectively calling into question the Chinese sports system. Although China’s expanding economy and interest in basketball could more than support the development of a strong talent pool, it lacks an effective infrastructure that would facilitate professional success for talented athletes. The article provides an interesting analysis of Lin’s fame from the perspectives of Chinese viewers and leaders.

The unexpected success of Jeremy Lin should encourage China to reevaluate its athletic system, but the Economist’s claim that “Mr. Lin is, put plainly, precisely everything that China’s state sport system cannot possibly produce” is somewhat misleading. While Lin is the first American-born Chinese NBA player, the NBA has, in the past, drafted several players directly from the Chinese system, including Yao Ming, Sun Yue, Wang Zhizhi, Mengke Bateer, and Yi Jianlian. Admittedly, none of them were 6’3” and devoutly Christian, but how often does the US system produce a wildly successful 6’3’’ Asian basketball star? The truth of the matter is that even under a well-developed athletic system, the odds were stacked against him. The unlikelihood of the situation, however, has amplified his fame. As Yao Ming noted in an interview, “Lin is 6-3, more like a normal-sized person. He is the size that the average person can relate to. They like watching him play against many taller, bigger players and succeed.”

This appeal has undoubtedly taken effect on the Chinese audience, as businesses seem keen on leveraging Lin’s Chinese heritage. According to the Washington Post, with China as the NBA’s second biggest market after North America, Linsanity could be a key instrument in boosting its ratings in China. Coca Cola has already revealed plans to take advantage of Lin’s popularity among Chinese fans as it prepares to display Chinese ads courtside and possibly in the concourse at Madison Square Garden. Lin has also signed a two-year contract with Chinese-owned Volvo to promote its cars around the world.

Although Lin’s success can be used to highlight weaknesses in China’s sports system, the inspirational value of his story will certainly have a positive effect in China, both in increasing the popularity of basketball and in giving hope to aspiring Chinese basketball players. With continued enthusiasm and financial support, China could very well be on its way to becoming athletically competitive with the US.

Cindy Li

About Cindy Li

Cindy Li is a fourth year student majoring in Economics and Chinese language. She is interested in the value of political connections for firms in developing countries as well as the perception of China in Western media, particularly with regards to human rights violations. She enjoys skiing and hiking, and loves to cook whenever she has free time.
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By Jake Lerner, BASC Research Assistant

The Arab Spring came at an unfortunate time for Vladimir Putin. Though they began more than a year ago, the aftershocks of those democratic uprisings are still being felt around the world, most recently in Russia. On March 6th, Putin won the Russian presidential election with 64% of the vote, far more than the 50% needed to avoid a runoff. The win places him in office for another six years. However, the vote was marred by widespread allegations (and, in several cases, YouTube videos) of fraud.

Over the past week, tens of thousands of enraged Russians have taken to the streets in protest. Despite Russian media assertions that the protests were fading in the week after the election, as early as last Friday protesters rallied to challenge a pro-Putin documentary (which claimed protesters were paid to attend both the rallies this month and the similarly democratic protests in Russia last December). Nonetheless, the protests in Russia seem to be following more the pattern of other Arab Spring offshoot movements (such as the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US) than the Arab Spring movements themselves. Putin isn’t planning to flee the country any time soon: huge rallies in Moscow and other major cities have been met with mass arrests and pro-Putin counter-protesters (many allegedly bussed in from government workplaces).

The Arab spring has certainly lowered the threshold for mass democratic protest and made it more dangerous for rulers to rely on election day shenanigans. Russia’s people want free and fair elections, but whether their protests will result in real, lasting openness or merely be another hiccup in Putin’s (soon to be) eighteen-year tenure is anyone’s guess.

Jake Lerner

About Jake Lerner

Jake Lerner is in his third year at UC Berkeley, and his fourth semester at the Berkeley APEC Study Center. His double major in Computer Science and Political Science tends to keep him occupied, but he still finds time to play strategy games, read leftist literature, dance, take a leadership role in his living co-operative, and climb the occasional tree. He is from Grass Valley, California.
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By Patricia Sun, BASC Research Assistant

(Youtube video made by villagers of Wukan: 乌坎!乌坎!)

February 2, 2012 was a day worth remembering for villagers in Wukan (乌坎), Guangdong Province, China: after 5 months of protests, they cast ballots to elect a committee that would supervise future election of the village’s leaders. The influential protest burst out in late September as villagers failed to get sufficient compensation when CCP leaders sold the village’s farmland to real estate developers. The land dispute brought to the surface villagers’ long-lasting discontent towards CCP leaders of the village, Xue Chang (薛昌) and Chen Shunyi (陈舜意) and large-scale protest quickly became pervasive. As conflicts escalated, protesters elected thirteen representatives to negotiate with local government and requested a comprehensive investigation of the village’s land transactions, accounts and officials’ corruption. However, despite the efforts made by the municipal government to defuse the situation, conflicts between the local government and villagers escalated. In December, police abducted five of the representatives and put them in custody. The protest strengthened significantly after Xue Jinbo (薛锦波), one of the arrested protesters, died suspiciously three days after his imprisonment. The confrontation was eventually resolved in late December after the provincial government intervened by sending a working group to solve Wukan’s disputes, naming one of the leaders, Lin Zuluan (林祖銮) the party secretary of the village, and disbanding the original party branch and committee of the village.

The incident in Wukan and its eventual, seemingly peaceful, solution evoked mixed responses. As some celebrate the victory of the Wukan protesters and look forward to a democratic future in village-level governance, others cast doubts on the wider effects of Wukan’s protest. Given that direct election at the village level was officially implemented across rural China in the 1980s but still remains as a superficial procedure with limited substance, Wukan’s influence over other villages could be limited. More importantly, the victory in Wukan came at a high cost: a protester died and the ordinary life of the whole village was interrupted because of the protest for four months. The high costs of Wukan’s success signal that for other villages facing similar problems, the disputes are hard to solve without certain costs. That is to say, though Wukan’s villagers found their solutions, other villages should not expect the same offers will be provided. However, one cannot claim that the Wukan protests will have no effect. Even though direct effects of the incident on political reform might be limited, villagers in Wukan nevertheless set an example for other villagers seeking to resolve similar disputes over land rights and corruption. Moreover, considering the overwhelming responses of domestic and overseas media, the protests in Wukan will force provincial governments and central leaders to pay closer attention to similar problems elsewhere and hopefully to construct general solutions. At this point, maintaining stability (维稳), is still one of the most important tasks for governments at all levels, especially at the village and county levels. Amid a likely economic slowdown and annual outbreaks of thousands of protests, it is time for the central government to consider political reform. At very least they must consider making direct election at the village level become a reality so that villagers no longer need to fight for basic rights that are protected by the constitution.

Patricia Sun

About Patricia Sun

Patricia Sun is a second year student majoring in Economics and Geography. As an international student from China, she is interested in China's increasing global economic connections and its geographic implications, the country's sustainable development as well as protection of its cultural heritages. After graduating from Berkeley, she plans on attending graduate school in Economics in order to promote under-appreciated geographical presence in economic studies. She has burning love for traveling, classical Chinese literature and ancient history, but her current wish is to uncover secrets in post-1921 Chinese history.
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By A. M. Newhall, BASC Research Assistant

On October 21st President Obama signed free trade agreements with Panama and Colombia while ignoring the impact such agreements have had on human rights and the environment in other countries in Latin America. For example, mounting evidence suggests multinational corporations frequently choose profit over social responsibility in developing countries with devastating consequences. Those most negatively impacted are indigenous people residing on or near resource deposits who have little hope for redress of grievance in their local courts. However, an October 25th ruling in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Sarei v. Rio Tinto may help pave the way for successful litigation in U.S. courts by foreign nationals against multinational corporations that violate international humanitarian laws abroad.

Filed in 2000 under the U.S. Alien Tort Statute of 1789 as a class action suit brought by the Nasioi people of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands against British-Australian owned Rio Tinto mining, the plaintiffs seek redress for the environmental devastation of their island by Rio Tinto and the deaths of 10,000 Nasioi by the Papua New Guinea government in collusion with Rio Tinto. The decision by the Ninth Court that Rio Tinto can be held liable for human rights violations under the Alien Tort Statute joins earlier decisions made by the Seventh and Eleventh and D.C. Circuits in Sarei v. Rio Tinto.

The progress of the case is being watched by legal experts such as Paul Hoffman who view the Alien Tort Statute as a possible mechanism for strengthening corporate accountability for violations of human rights and environmental provisions such as those found in U.S. free trade agreements.

A. M. Newhall

About A. M. Newhall

A. M. Newhall is a fourth year Political Science major with a focus on International Relations at UC Berkeley. He is a staff writer for The Diplomacist, the publication of the Cornell International Affairs Review. Before attending Berkeley, Newhall lived in Europe during the high tide of anti-American sentiment caused by the US invasion of Iraq; the experience kindled his interest in politics. He is an avid cinephile who worships at the altars of Zhang Yimou and Akira Kurosawa.
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By Daniel Chen, BASC Research Assistant

Over the past month, trade disputes have created heightened political tension between the world’s two largest economies. In October, the Senate took action against the China’s undervaluing of the renminbi, arguing that it unfairly supports Chinese production at the cost of American manufacturing. Now, the Commerce Department is investigating allegations that Chinese “dumping” of solar panels is pushing American producers out of business.

Over the summer, Solyndra, a company that made solar panels and received more than five hundred million dollars in federal loan guarantees, collapsed, making the issue particularly salient in America. Not only that, but China’s continued economic success amid slow growth in the United States has led to resentment and anger among many unemployed Americans. The perception that China has been unfairly subsidizing its exports through currency manipulation will be a particularly powerful issue as elections near.

For many people, the overarching question involves how these issues will affect Sino-American trade relations. On the one hand, the Senate bill regarding currency manipulation is misplaced and nonsensical. Even if China revalued its currency, why would manufacturing jobs return to America instead of Vietnam or Bangladesh? In addition, a revaluing of the renminbi is actually a necessity to sustain China’s remarkable economic growth. As The New York Times reported, a weak renminbi actually hurts Chinese domestic consumers. As China’s consumer spending is only about thirty-five percent of its GDP, its domestic market remains a largely untapped resource that can help fuel future growth. Instead of pushing draconian bills that have no hope of passage, American leaders should be seeking more constructive ways to partner with China to ensure continued economic cooperation.
On the other hand, the solar industry may be different. Under WTO rules, many Chinese subsidies, especially if they target exports, could be illegal. The growing market power of Chinese solar companies also raises the political stakes of inaction, which could realistically lead to U.S. lawsuits under the WTO. This could possibly lead to a harsh Chinese response, perhaps raising the possibilities for a trade war. Yet if American companies are facing unfair competitive pressures, what choice do they really have?

The next few months have huge implications for the future trajectory of Sino-American trade relations. While the Senate bill may make little sense, the allegations of Chinese dumping are far more serious. Will seeking action under WTO rules facilitate fairer Chinese trade practices or will it precipitate larger economic disputes? The Commerce Department and American officials must conduct an extensive cost-benefit calculus, weigh every possible option, and remember that with the possibility of trade retaliation and its commensurate implications, we must tread with the utmost caution.

Daniel Chen

About Daniel Chen

Daniel Chen is a third year Political Science major with an emphasis on Comparative Politics. His academic interests include China’s rise and its implications, the creation and sustainability of market systems, and the politics and policies of economic development. After graduating from Berkeley, he plans on attending law school and entering into public service. Outside of BASC, Daniel serves and leads small group at Living Water Church, enjoys playing sports, and is a connoisseur of cheap, greasy food from Asian Ghetto.
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By Viola Tang, BASC Research Assistant

After the U.S. Congress’s ratification of the KORUS FTA, the agreement has met staunch opposition in the South Korean National Assembly. While the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) is pushing for ratification, the Democratic Party (DP) has colluded with four smaller, liberal parties to oppose the bill. Despite four years of negotiations, last week’s developments highlight two key issues that remain unresolved: the lack of interest aggregation for the trade agreement domestically in South Korea, and the foreign policy costs of delayed trade negotiations.

Discussion on the bill coincided with a Seoul mayoral bi-election won by independent opposition candidate Park Won-soon over ruling party candidate Na Kyung. The election is the key political factor that puts to question whether South Korea’s parliament will be able to successfully ratify the agreement. Such an election result introduces political incentives for the opposition parties to prevent KORUS from passing by forcing the ruling party into ratifying the agreement with unilateral legislation, which would lower their popularity with the masses. This conflict is a byproduct of the GNP’s failure to aggregate interests among constituents and political parties, which would minimize domestic tension over KORUS.

The long delay in ratification has resulted in the foreign policy costs of mistrust and reduced enthusiasm for engaging in trade agreements with the U.S. On KORUS, the main point of contention in South Korea’s National Assembly is the investor dispute settlement (ISD) clause, which the DP argues would give large American firms undue room to bully small and medium-sized Korean enterprises. A similar issue caused tension during the ratification of NAFTA, under Chapter 11, which allowed companies making foreign investments that have lost money in a domestic court to sue that country’s government through an international body. This debate highlights a foundational element of distrust in U.S.-South Korea relations.

Outside, police fired water cannon on 2,300 demonstrators who attempted to physically break into parliament on November 3rd. Opposition lawmakers took to the streets and organized sit-ins in Seoul. While parliament was in session, South Korean authorities detained at least 15 people after a clash between police and protestors. Demonstrators claimed that the pact would endanger their country’s agriculture industry by flooding the market with cheaper imported goods from the U.S. This public pressure forced the GNP to delay voting on the bill until at least November 10th. For the GNP, forcing a vote could lead to voter backlash before next year’s general and presidential elections – a situation that epitomizes the dynamics that remain to be resolved with the KORUS FTA.

Viola Tang

About Viola Tang

Viola Tang is a fourth year Political Science and Business Administration double major. As an overseas Chinese who grew up in Germany, England, Hong Kong and now the Bay Area, Viola is interested in the effect of the rise of China on the international system and international political economy. She is also particularly interested in the development of financial markets in East and Southeast Asia. Viola is an avid fan of netball, basketball, traveling, and student empowerment.
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By Do-Hee Jeong

The Occupy Oakland protest on the front page of the New York Times website immediately caught my attention because of its close proximity to home and got me thinking about the potential direction of the greater Occupy movement. The Occupy movement has swept across America and the world like wildfire, mobilizing angry protestors in cities including New York, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, London, Phoenix and San Francisco, and 78 other countries. The movement undoubtedly launches a powerful message against Wall Street and policymakers, representing the anger of the 99% over the government’s weak regulation and bailout of Wall Street and its business interests. The mere scale and strength of the movement are truly inspiring, giving a glimpse of hope for timely reform in America.

However, while protestors hold picket signs and chant about the strength of the 99% against the minority 1% elites of America, I cannot stop coming back to Mancur Olson’s theory of the collective action dilemma. The strength of the 99% lies in numbers – you basically have more people on your side than the 1%. This argument, however, rests on the assumption that the movement will be able to mobilize and maintain the continuous support of this majority towards a common end. Without a common agenda or manifesto that can sustain the movement beyond the initial emotional outcry, being the 99% may be a weakness that quickly dismantles the movement from within because of the idiosyncratic interests and goals that arise from the heterogeneity of the 99%. The 1% simply has a more homogenous front and resources to counteract the efforts of the movement.

While having an elusively general, open-ended agenda held together by the common threat of anger against Wall Street brought together a diverse group of protestors, it is questionable how long this shared outrage alone will be able to fuel the movement. While the Pew Research Center’s findings reveal that the majority of Americans believe the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and that the government does too much for the wealthy in America, the stark reality is that the majority of the 99% are still behind their television and computer screens as passive bystanders to the demonstrations. Different socioeconomic groups within the 99% will have contrasting interests and incentives to join and continue supporting the movement. How much reform are we looking for? How much are we willing to sacrifice for the cause? What direction should the movement take? The point is, the list of questions that can potentially divide the protestors can go on forever. Even if the leaders come out with a clearer list of goals, it is crucial that this new agenda penetrates through the differing interests and provides strong incentives to sustain the existing broad coalition of protesters.

The voices of the protest are being heard. The forces unleashed are truly powerful. However, where this movement goes and how it channels the strong current of discontent will heavily depend on how the leaders can respond to the needs of its supporters. While as part of this 99%, I would like to see the demands of the movement materialize into meaningful reforms, obstacles born out of the same strength of the movement jeopardize the movement’s coalition. Hence, the movement vulnerably stands in front of a critical junction: will the 99% turn out to be an elixir of numerical strength, or a self-perpetuated debilitation that disintegrates the movement from within?

Do-Hee Jeong

About Do-Hee Jeong

Do-Hee Jeong is a fourth year undergraduate student majoring in Political Science, with a focus on international relations. His current interest and undergraduate thesis is on the influence the spread of Korean popular culture has on Korea’s soft power. In addition to Berkeley, he has also attended Beijing Normal University and Sciences Po, Paris as an exchange student. He was also a research assistant at the Berkeley War Crimes Study Center and intern at the East Asia Institute. Do-Hee is a member of Amnesty International and enjoys experiencing new cultures and food, photography and exercising.
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