Australia: The Land of Tumbleweeds and Surface to Air Missiles

What comes to mind when you think Australia?

If you thought Australia was just filled with Steve Irwin look-a-likes, Fosters, and the rugged outback you’re mistaken. Well, for the most part. Australia has modernized and become a huge global economy, 12th in the world based on GDP. But as I said, Australia is still a relatively wild place. In the past weeks there has been a huge growth in the number of tumbleweeds affecting Australians. Yes, you heard that right, tumbleweeds are actually a real thing and they’re ravaging Australia. These tumbleweeds definitely are not the fun ones from cartoons but are huge and overtaking people’s homes. The growing tumbleweeds, called hairy panic, are impeding windows and doors to people’s homes causing safety hazards. This rise in tumbleweeds was caused by a drought currently affecting Australia, related to an El Nino pattern earlier in the year. The drastic El Nino was probably amplified by climate change; the effects of which were seen around the rest of the world this year.

“Overtaking homes” is no exaggeration 

Speaking of environmental disasters, in Australia news of the Chinese government’s creation of a ring of man made islands extending from China has sparked the concern of many, including environmental activists. These man made islands have been constructed by destroying natural coral reefs, then piling up layers of sand on top to actually build the islands. The islands are meant to increase China’s territory because their territorial rights would extend a certain amount of miles from the island instead of from the mainland. This encroachment on international waters has frightened many of its neighbors, including Australia. Recently, China was reported to have put surface to air missiles (SAMS) on an island in the South China Sea. The island in question with SAMS is not a man made island but is one that has been in contention between China, Vietnam, Philippines, and Taiwan. The Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said the Chinese have challenged these reports. The Australian government has reason to be concerned about Chinese expansion because of its relative closeness to these islands. Australia, as an island nation, depends on those waters heavily for trading. The Australian government has said the issue is a “matter of concern.” Hopefully, the Australians can work out a peaceful solution to the problem that limits the amount of future environmental destruction and creates peaceful stability within the region.

A Chinese-held reef becoming an island

If you’re wondering where the US is on this issue, it has been blatantly disregarding Chinese declarations of its new territory, sailing military destroyers through the disputed areas. While this might seem like a rash plan on the United States’ part is seems to be showing the Chinese government it doesn’t recognize these new islands as Chinese territories and thus invalidates China’s goal. It’s a subject that’s bound to keep popping up so keep your eye on it. Also, it might be prudent to keep an eye out for rogue tumbleweeds.

This post would be incomplete without me

Will Smith is a first-year in the College. He is from St. Louis, MO.


Sources & Additional Info:



Japan: America & the Marginalization of Okinawa


Okinawa is a small island chain off the southern tip of Japan. Its population of 1.3 million comprises less than 2% of Japan’s total, while its area is .6 per cent of the nation’s. So why is it home to 62% of American military bases in Japan?

This is what it looks like to be 0.6% of the area

Known as the ‘keystone of the Pacific,’ Okinawa boasts easy access to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and much of Southeast Asia. The bases are in part a remnant of the Cold War; US bases on the islands were used for troop-stationing and re-fueling during Vietnam.

Vietnam-era Okinawa was US-Occupied: while the US occupation of mainland Japan was officially dissolved in 1952, Okinawa remained under US control until 1972 when the US-Japan ‘reversion’ agreement returned it to Japan.

What’s left of America’s Okinawan occupation is the US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which has kept the majority of US bases in Japan on the island. Crimes committed by US servicemen against Okinawans, noise-pollution from the bases, environmental issues, and a myriad of other complaints have led 80% of Okinawans to oppose the bases (as of 2013), yet little has been done to change the island’s situation.

The problem is three-fold: Okinawans bear the burden of being seen as irrelevant to the US military and second-class citizens to their own government. Meanwhile, the Japanese government is subordinate to that of the US, and therefore cannot even protect Okinawans when it might like to.

The US government prioritizes the military defense of an entire region over the frustrations of the people of a small island, and Okinawa remains the most strategic location for this defense. The US military therefore accepts the marginalization of Okinawa in the US-Japan Security Treaty through the disproportional number of bases on the island compared with the rest of Japan. Its disregard of the hardships of Okinawans is pragmatic: while Okinawa citizens stress what they have deemed the ‘human security’ of local residents over regional security, the US military insists that the security of Japan and Asia through these strategically located bases must trump the comfort of relatively few local residents.

The last King of Okinawa, Sho Tai

From a Japanese standpoint, Okinawans have long been perceived differently from other Japanese citizens: Okinawa was in fact a separate kingdom until Japan annexed it in 1879 and its people continue to speak a different dialect, eat different food, and practice different traditions. It is widely understood that the Japanese government allows US bases to impose on Okinawans far more than on mainland Japanese, in part because of their prejudices toward what retired University of Chicago professor Norma Field calls Okinawans’ “incomplete Japanese-ness.”

Finally, Okinawa suffers from the fact that the Japanese government is not on equal footing with the US. Japan Scholar Gavin McCormack has deemed Japan a “Client state” of the US, “structurally designed to attach priority to US over Japanese interests” such as the inclusion of extraterritoriality in SOFA, a policy that dates back to 19th century imperialism. In 2009, when Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama attempted to remove a US marine base from Okinawa, President Obama rebuffed Hatoyama, insisting that the US relocate the base rather than move it. Obama won out and Hatoyama resigned later that year. To many, the incident demonstrated that even when the Japanese government takes Okinawa struggles into its consideration its relationship with the US stands in its way. For both Japanese and American politicians, Okinawan sacrifices are regarded as a small price to pay.

Yukio and Miyuki Hatoyama meeting with Barack and Michelle at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2009


Sonia Schlesinger is a second-year in the College. She is from Washington, DC.

Scotland: Not Your Ordinary Secessionists

Separatist and nationalist movements are gaining steam across Europe these days, and Scotland is listed among those nations seeking secession. Despite voting down secession in 2014, the Scottish National Party (currently headed by Nicola Sturgeon, the first woman to lead the SNP) won 50 seats in the 2015 parliamentary elections, leaving one Scottish parliamentary seat to the Labour party. Separation is increasing as powers devolve, with some votes in parliament only being voted on by the MPs from the country affected by that law (“English Votes for English Laws”). Something is up indeed in Scotland.
Once a Labour stronghold, now Scotland is just one big block o’ SNP.
But political sentiment in Scotland is rather different than the typical zealous patriotism and xenophobia often characteristic in nationalist movements. While the UK (particularly many English) are threatening to leave the EU, the Scottish staunchly want to stay. Muslims in Scotland are very likely to identify as Scottish, while those in England are much more likely to identify as British (rather than English). Scotland has taken in 1/3 of the refugees David Cameron pledged the UK would take, even though Scotland has less than 10% of the UK’s population. Indeed, the Scottish have set up many support systems in order to welcome the refugees and make the transition as smooth as one could hope, given the circumstances. Of course, I don’t want to claim all Scots have been welcoming and open-minded (there are certainly exceptions), but though attention is around secession in Scotland, Scotland has been cultivating a much broader European identity than increasingly jingoistic England.
The Scottish Parliament viewed from the Radical Road (that’s the name, I kid you not)
Other recent developments in Scotland are interesting in light of the America 2016 presidential campaigns. Much like Bernie Sanders’ proposition, Scotland has had free college for years. It’s a cornerstone to the Scots’ deep dedication to equality, but economically it seems to help the opposite people you’d think it would — it resulted in a net transfer in wealth from the poor to the wealthy. This doesn’t mean “free” college doesn’t work, but the way the policy is done matters. America would be wise to learn from the unintended consequences of policies in places like Scotland, so that we can make a truly equal opportunity higher education system.
Imagine going here…for FREE. The perks of being Scottish.

On the other side of the spectrum, the antics of one familiar (half-)Scot have not been confined to the US: Donald Trump (whose mother is Scottish) built a huge development in Scotland, but, according to one Scotsman, “He promises the earth, delivers nothing. As far as that goes, he’s in a good position to be a politician. But as far as the real world goes, no, do not trust this man with anything.” Trump also sued to stop the building of off-shore wind in Scotland because it would disrupt the view from his golf courses. Apparently, Trump just runs around insulting and threatening his neighbors. In fact, the petition to ban Trump from Britain originated in Aberdeen, Scotland.  Alex Salmond, former head of the SNP, has Trump about figured out: “I wish somebody had said no to him when he was a wee boy, because I think he would’ve turned out better.”


If this Scot could see her son now…

Victoria Mooers is a fourth-year in the College. She is from Edmond, OK.

A Primer on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


Timeline of land transfers between Israel and Palestine

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is characterized by its deeply rooted polarizing nature. The themes of nations, homelands, and ownership are all enveloped in the conflict. The background of the conflict resides in the United Nations Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on the 14th of May, 1948. Many Jewish Zionists had been moving into the territory of Palestine in an effort to live in the land of the “Chosen People” and in 1948 the wishes of the Zionists were granted. On that same day the Arab League declared war on Israel and invaded the new country from all sides. The result of the war was 15,000 dead, the West Bank annexed by Jordan, and the Gaza Strip taken by Egypt. These areas were not under Israeli control until the 6 Day War occurred in 1967. After another Israeli victory, control over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, populated almost entirely with Palestinians, was handed to Israel.

Consequently, in 1987 the first Palestinian Intifada (uprising) occurred as a response to Israeli occupation of lands that Palestinians primarily lived in. The result of the uprising was the Oslo Accords peace deal in 1993 which granted a Palestinian governing body in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip called the Palestinian National Authority. This deal was opposed by both radical Palestinian groups like Hamas and radical Israelis alike (one of whom assassinated the Israeli Prime Minister Rabin). In 2000 tensions boiled over and the Second Intifada occurred. Around 130 people were killed and in 2005 Israel agreed to pull all soldiers out of the Gaza Strip. Immediately following the disengagement of Israeli soldiers in Gaza, Hamas took control by winning 44% of the Palestinian parliament in 2006. Hamas refused to acknowledge the right of the State of Israel to exist, prompting Israeli sanctions and blockades of resources to the Gaza Strip. Rockets are still launched from Hamas controlled territory in Gaza into Israeli lands.


The areas in most dispute

            One of the many prominent issues regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today is the creation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and whether or not they are legally allowed to be there. After the Six Day War and in the 1990s, Israel began to reestablish communities that had been destroyed in the 1948 invasion of Israel. These settlements and communities exist within the West Bank territory that has been delegated to the Palestinians. In 2009 around 300,000 people lived in the West Bank settlements. Many countries and transnational organizations like the EU have called out Israel for allowing the settlements exist. The argument is that the settlements damage any prospect for a peace talk between Israelis and Palestinians to occur. Israel backs up its own settlements by citing various Geneva Convention articles and resolutions from the UN Security Council. In 2009 Obama declared that the US would not accept the legitimacy of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Almost eight years later and the fundamentals of the conflict haven’t changed. While attention has turned towards Syria, Iraq and the advent of ISIS, the longstanding conflict is still a formidable problem.


The West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel

The West Bank Settlements in 2013


Simon Cohen is a second-year in the college. He is from El Cerrito, California (Bay Area).

Taiwan’s New Liberal Regime: But Don’t Worry, A Cross-Strait War Will Not Happen


Taiwanese President-elect Tsai Ing-Wen

On January 19, 2016, Taiwan, one of East Asia’s strongest democracies, made history by electing its first female president in its sixth-ever presidential election. Tsai Ing-wen (pinyin: Cai Ying-Wen; 蔡英文), 59, is the president-elect of the Republic of China (ROC), is the chairwoman of the Democratic Progress Party (DPP), a traditionally pro-independence group that also won a landslide in the Taiwanese Parliament elections, capturing a majority 68 seats (out of 113) compared to the current 35 for the current Kuomintang ruling party. Tsai Ing-wen won with 56.1% of the more than 8 million votes cast, good for a 66% turnout – which was less than the 77% recorded in 2012 and 76.33% in 2008. Taiwan is a country of 23 million people and is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with pop density of 648 people per km2 (July 2015).

If you haven’t heard the name “Tsai Ing-wen” before, you’re definitely not alone (this writer hadn’t heard of her!). But Dr. Tsai, as she is known, has been involved in high-level politics in Taiwan since 2000, when she served in the first DPP President Chen Shui-bian’s (2000-2008) Cabinet as Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council during his first term, and as Vice Premier in his second term. She was also the DPP’s presidential candidate in 2012, and served as Party Chair from 2008-2012 in addition to her current stint starting in 2014. Tsai graduated from the College of Law, National Taiwan University in 1978 and moved to the United States to pursue a Master of Laws (law degree for those holding an undergraduate law degree) at Cornell University, graduating in 1980. In 1984 she finished a Ph.D. in law at the London School of Economics. Upon her return to Taiwan, she taught law at several universities in Taipei. In other words, she really knows her law.

Arguably the most powerful woman in the Chinese-speaking world, Tsai is a seemingly quirky and refreshingly liberal, new-age candidate. She is unmarried, has never held an elected office, and campaigns with cats. In fact, before this January, she had lost almost every general election she’d been nominated for in her 16-year political career. In November, she came out in support of gay marriage: “In the face of love, everyone is equal. Let everyone have the freedom to love and to pursue their happiness. I am Tsai Ing-wen, and I support marriage equality.” [Note: Contrary to name analysis, her name, 英文 “ying-wen” does not actually mean “English (Language)” anymore than the surname “Smith” means “one who works with hammers” today. Her name is a combination of the “” meaning “hero/flower/handsome” and meaning “literature/gentle”]


Potential Cabinet post for the Cat?

So the big question for those of us in the West appears to be: What does this mean for China-Taiwan Cross-Straight Relations? Tsai’s ascendancy comes amidst widespread discontent with the Kuomintang, a party that has ruled the island for all but 8 years (2000-2008) since 1949. In fact, the past eight years in Taiwan have been under Kuomintang President Ma Ying-Jeou. During the KMT’s latest reign, the island’s economy flat-lined despite deeper economic integration with the mainland People’s Republic of China. Resentment towards the KMT further mounted in March 2014, when the Legislative Yuan passed a trade pact with China. The student-driven Sunflower Movement blossomed in response, and grassroots protests swept the island.

The history of China-Taiwan relations is an entire blog post in itself (or Robert Caro-length tome) – which I may end up writing in the future. The political, economic, and legal relations are fascinating. If there was momentum for unification, there is no more. The PRC continues to claim the ROC government is illegitimate, and refuses to hold diplomatic relations with countries that recognize Taiwan as an independent state, commonly known as the “One-China Policy”. The ROC, however, has its own constitution, independently elected president and legislative branch, and a military supported by American firepower (Taiwan Relations Act of 1979).

Tsai’s victory may make leaders in Beijing a bit nervous, with her party’s sympathetic views towards independence. However, fears of war or armed conflict are overblown, as Tsai herself has not publicly advocated for independence. It will be incredibly interesting. Taiwan’s economy contracted in the last quarter for the first time in 6 years, meaning Tsai’s first priority will be promoting economic growth – something that war or PRC-antagonization could not solve.


Taiwan probably doesn’t want to wage war with China…

Robin Ye is a fourth-year in the college. He is from Portland, Oregon.