Monthly Archives: March 2015

Asia’s Unsung Female Leaders

I attended an event on March 2, 2015 at the New America office in Washington D.C. called Asia’s Unsung Female Leaders. This event was conducted under New America’s Breadwinning-Caregiving program. This event was scheduled with the release of the e-book, “It’s Not Ok”, that the panelists helped in creating. This book discusses first hand stories of the oppression that women face in these Asian countries. The panelists were Zin Mar Aung (Co-founder, RAINFALL, Winner of International Women of Courage Award in 2012, and Co-founder, Yangon School of Political Science), Catherine Antoine (Director and Managing Editor, Radio Free Asia Online, and Executive Producer, “It’s Not Ok”), Binh T. Nguyen, MD (Director, Human Rights For Vietnam PAC, Former chair, Virginia Asian Advisory Board, and Director, Virginia Foundation for the Humanity and Public Policies), and the Moderator: Elizabeth Weingarten Associate Director, Global Gender Parity Initiative.

The discussion started after a brief video describing what the book is about. The focus of the panelists was to engage the audience in telling the truth about how women are treated in the Asian countries and how we can help. Women are not seen as natural leaders in many of these cultures and therefore are tossed aside. Many times education stops at the end of high school for girls, and they are not given the opportunity of higher education like their male counterparts. More times than not women are burdened as the sole caregiver for the family and therefore this limits their ability to get and maintain jobs. Ads in newspapers for jobs that women can apply for have the age, height, and look the woman must have in order to apply. Women are often hired in mid-management to make it seem like there is equality. This is not the case because these women have no authority to make decisions and are used as tools by men to manipulate policies or to ensure that corruption will not be exploited because women are docile in the workforce and have no power to speak up in these communist regimes.

Women in these countries are now realizing that it is up to them to change their destiny. They have more resources than their parents such as, phones and Internet access which in turn has the ability to encourage these young activists. The support of the United States with pressure on certain governments or helping individual activists has given strength to women activists because they know that the international community is not abandoning them, which in turn gives them courage to keep going.

This event was eye-opening and showed me how there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that women have equal rights throughout the world. I think this was a great talk and the video of the discussion is on their website and I highly recommend checking it out.

Jang Jin-sung

On February 4, 2015, I visited the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC to listen to a lecture and Q&A with Jang Jin-sung.  A former propaganda poet for Kim Jong-il, he defected from North Korea to the South in 2004. It is widely known that Jin-sung was a particular favorite of the late dictator. The lecture consisted of Jin-sung describing the mechanisms through which the North Korean leadership (specifically, the omnipotent Kim dynasty) exact power and inspire fear, all of which was translated by Oxford graduate Shirley Lee. The discussion commenced with particular emphasis on how North Korea has managed to stay intact despite its wildly oppressive ruling ideology. Strategically, they use “theoretical restrictive and agitation” as primary strategies of preventing rebellion and uprising. They prevent revolution in exacting guilt by association, imposing the fear of not only individual punishment, but inflictions upon multiple generations of family members.

Jin-sung described the Workers’ Party as the central power of control – the supreme leader’s dogmatic authority is the only reality that the citizens of North Korea know. This mindset is reflected everywhere; the three leaders (the Kim family) are considered the sole protagonists in a world they are taught is full of evil and endless plots against the state, thrusting them into a Godlike savior status of sorts. Citizens are highly brainwashed and restricted from searching for the truth. Most alarmingly, Jin-sung described his memory of meeting the supreme leader in person. He truly believed him to be a divine being, and described the process of meeting him as being particularly drawn out and security-laden. He was told not to make eye contact, but instead to stare just below the leader’s face – anything higher would be considered far too presumptuous and warrant certain punishment.

Later, the audience was given a chance to ask questions. Among them were proposed comparisons of Joseph Stalin (of the USSR) to the leadership style of the Kim family. In fact, Jin-sung did not hesitate to make a distinction between the two: Kim Jong-il and his accompanying personality cult were notably worse than any associated with Stalin. Also, much of history in North Korea is fabricated by the regime. Textbooks begin in 1912 with the birth of Kim Il-sung, and teach students exactly what the leader had accomplished by the same age. Although, Jin-sung pointed out that many of the authorities in North Korea assigned to regulate incoming media from the South remain interested in infiltrating the very materials they are working to void. The event ended after about an hour and a half of talk. Jin-sung was available to sign copies of his book, Dear Leader, afterward.

Japan’s Northeast Asia Policy under Shinzo Abe

I attended an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Wednesday February 11th, 2015. During this event, a professor on the Faculty of Policy Studies at Chuo University, Yasuhiro Izumikawa, lectured about the framework of Abe’s Security Policy. The main problem is that the gradual status decline of Japan in the world. The policies under Abe enhanced the alliance between the United States and Japan, as well as deepen the cooperation with other states like Australia, ASEAN, India, and NATO. His policies have been largely successful but not as much in the Northeast Asia.
Professor Izumikawa mainly focused his lecture about Japan’s relation with three countries: Russia, Korea and China. In 2013, Russia wanted to move forward and resolve territorial issues with Japan; the four islands still in dispute are the Habomais, Shikotan, Kunashiri, and Etorofu. Russia promised in 1956 to return Habomasi and Shikotan when a peace treaty is signed, but Japan wanted all four islands back. Still today, no treaty has been signed to return those islands back to Japan. The longer Japan waits to sign the peace treaty and accept those two islands,  the weaker their position will become. Other countries are increasing their business development in these disputer territories.
Japan also faces problems with maintaining a diplomatic relationship with Korea; the problem lies in North Korea’s BCN weapons, missile threats, and the so-called “Abductees’ Issues.” Security cooperation is necessary with the Republic of Korea in order to resolve these issues. Japan is also reluctant to move forward to resolve history with Korea because of the public opinion of South Korea from Japanese citizens. The policy of the current president of Korea is very anti-Japan, so Japanese views of Korea has declined.
Professor Izumikawa also states Japan is in no hurry to improve relations with China because of possible change in China’s Japan policy as well as the lack of domestic pressure to improve relations with China. There is also little pressure from business lobbies and heightened anti-Chinese sentiments. While the U.S. and Japan share common goals with their relations with China, there is a disconnect in priorities which may cause some difficulties that should be managed properly.
After Professor Izumikawa’s 30 minute lecture, Joseph Ferguson and James L. Schoff spoke about Japan and its relations with the U.S. and Korea. I was able to use my knowledge from class to further understand this lecture on Japan’s foreign policies.
This event was helpful for my understanding because it was outside of the regular classroom setting and because it slightly touched on upon the history of Japan.