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Commentary: McDonnell Scholars speak out on international issues

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: October 2, 2008 - North Korea: An Evil Country or Just a TroubleMaker?

By Hong Min Park

Since North Korea established its regime in 1948, it has been recognized as a threat by the United States. In addition to the Korean War, several episodes in an ongoing nuclear weapons crisis provide examples of this. However, the North Korea issue should be considered a problem for Koreans, not Americans, to solve. This is all the more so because such an approach would be also beneficial to the United States.

Let's start with the U.S. side of the story. When dealing with North Korea, the Unites States government has two basic options: a hard-line policy and a soft-line policy. An example of the hard-line approach is treating North Korea as a member of the "axis of evil." Such an approach focuses more on sanctions and presupposes a bilateral relationship between the U.S. and North Korea. On the other hand, a soft-line policy considers North Korea as a potential negotiating partner and focuses more on incentives such as money and food. This second option also uses the involvement of other countries such as China, Japan and Russia.

While these two policies are the main options that present themselves to the American government, the most important policy objective for South Korea is unification with North Korea. South Korea is not naive about threats from its northern neighbor, but these are not viewed as life threatening. South Koreans look at unification while keeping in mind the lesson from Germany, namely, "Unexpected consequences might ruin us." Obviously, unification without a big cost is the most preferable option for South Koreans.

So, how should North Korea be understood? The most important thing to keep in mind is that North Korea is primarily concerned with its survival, not destroying others. Consider the economic and the military power of North Korea. It is the most closed society in the world and one of the poorest as well. To be sure, it does have dangerous weaponry, but the U.S. obviously has much more. From North Korea's perspective the problem is that it is threatened by the U.S. in such a manner that it must think about how to survive.

Given this, what might be an appropriate solution for the Koreans? In my view, the general goal should be to promote unification without threatening North Korea. Unification with a sudden collapse of North Korea is not good for either of the two Koreas. One way to achieve peaceful unification is to be proactive in the systematic installation of social infrastructure in North Korea that would reduce the economic shock that will come with change. The two Koreas should be meeting, talking, and working as often as possible, so that they can make North Korea feel free from threat and encourage it to reach out and cooperate with other countries.

The question, then, is, "How might this be valuable to the U.S.?" The U.S. could pursue a soft-line policy that would give North Korea something to lose if it did not respond. If it responds to this, it is forgoing the use of extreme options. Then the U.S. could use the negotiation leverage to gain even more. In pursuing a hard-line policy, the U.S. could encourage North Korea to use extreme options such as developing a nuclear weapon. This in turn would lead the U.S. to feel more threatened and in a position for both sides to lose more.

Choosing a soft-line policy would actually help the U.S., along with North and South Koreans. South Koreans want to deal with North Korea by pursuing unification without threatening North Korea. Why does the U.S. come in suddenly, make statements that startle North Korea, and force South Korea to pay an unnecessary price? Why is the U.S. continuously threatened by something they themselves have created? How about engaging North Korea through less threatening dialogue and action!

Hong Min Park is the Fila Korea Corporate Fellow in the McDonnell International Scholars Academy and a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science at Washington University. He received a BA degree in Economics (2001) and a MA degree in Political Science (2004) from Seoul National University.

U.s. Energy Policy Doesn't Really Turn Away from Oil

By Yanjiao Xie 

U.S. politicians sometimes approach the energy problem politically, rather than through technological innovation and public education. In the presidential primaries Hillary Clinton lined up with John McCain to propose suspending the federal excise tax on gasoline, implying that the dream of a future with sustainable energy was forgotten, or at least postponed once again.

At first glance, it might appear that a gas tax holiday would be a great benefit to people in the U.S. However, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the proposal would have saved the average person only $30 over the summer. That is just 33 cents a day! What's worse, the 33 cents could go into oil companies' pockets if they responded by pushing up their prices. In addition, there would be some unfortunate side effects from the gas holiday proposal: less money for the federal budget and fewer job opportunities created by this budget.

In the view of Barack Obama, "This isn't an idea designed to get you through the summer. It is an idea designed to get them through an election." From this perspective, politicians were using the energy issue as a political tool to gain the crown, rather than truly caring about the future of energy and the environment.

Consider what has been proposed and what has actually been accomplished. Some presidential candidates have claimed that they wish to discourage gasoline consumption and gas-guzzling cars by raising taxes and at the same time to encourage alternative energy by reducing taxes on new, renewable energy technologies. However, they sometimes seem to be doing the exact opposite. The gas holiday proposal suggests that at least some energy plans are just fragile air bubbles.

In contrast to gas holiday proposals, the energy independence and security act outlined by President George Bush in 2007 appears serious. However, when we take a closer look, the so-called "energy independence" is just another political solution that is far from a real solution for a sustainable world. Instead of investing in renewable energy, the plan calls for increasing oil storage to attain energy independence and staying longer in Iraq.

Germany has a 20-year incentive program for solar energy, and Japan has a 12-year program, but the U.S. allows only two years at most. Mr. Bush's plan would continue to rely on oil but just try to use less of it, rather than implement alternative energy strategies like biofuel, an approach that has allowed Brazil to achieve "sustainable energy."

Climate change associated with energy use is the issue that Mr. Bush is least willing to touch. It is as if he takes the attitude: "Oil is our blood, and it comes first. Why should we care about our lungs or skin?" This all misses the common sense point that sustainable energy could lead to a win-win solution for both the economy and environment!

What is really needed is investment in technology for alternative energy and a strategy for commercializing it. There are two ways to approach this. The first is through government subsidies and tax incentives for the alternative energy industry. Brazil has followed this path by supporting the biofuel industry thereby lowering cost and enabling biofuel to be cheaper than gasoline, and China has built the largest hydropower plant in the world with the help of huge government investments, including support for the relocation of affected people.

A second energy strategy is through investing in research at universities and other institutions. For instance, Washington University has recently initiated two international research programs on energy and environment, the McDonnell Academy Global Energy and Environment Partnership and the International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability. Both call on students, faculty members and administrators from Washington University and from universities in other countries to join in the effort.

Finally, we need massive public education efforts to help people understand the importance of sustainable energy and environment. More people must become involved in saving energy and the environment. All of these steps are required if we are to develop a renewable energy industry and ultimately achieve a sustainable society.

Yanjiao Xie is in the McDonnell International Scholars Academy at Washington University, where he is pursuing a doctorate in energy, environmental and chemical engineering. He received a bachelor degree in environmental science from Peking University in Beijing, China.

China has no reason to trust Western media

By Qing Nian

This summer, a China-related headline on CNN concerned boycotting the Beijing Olympics. The reporter told the TV viewers that while President Bush had publicly announced that he would attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, some European leaders had decided not to do so due to China's human rights record.

Later CNN reported on the Beijing Olympic torch relay in other countries. Hundreds of thousands of overseas Chinese stood on the street to welcome and protect the torch, but the Western media chose to cast their lights on the anti-China protestors. It might have appeared to TV viewers that the anti-China protestors dominated the torch relay, but the fact was that China's national flags were flying everywhere along the relay.

Then in March 2008, the Western media told readers that a picture showed Chinese police beating Tibetan monks, whereas the police in the picture were Nepalese, something that is apparent from their uniforms and race to any careful reader. Western reporters might try to excuse themselves in accurate reporting on the ground that to some extent Asians generally look alike. OK, let's be tolerant and accept this explanation. But how can the Western media explain away the fact that they intentionally edited the picture to accuse Chinese police of attacking the Tibetan monks when the fact was just the opposite? How could they explain that well-educated Western reporters and editors ignored the obvious red cross on the ambulance and report that it was a military car?

The Chinese, especially the young generations, have responded to these misleading reports with an outburst of anger. They have stood up to protest against the Western media for the first time in several years. Large numbers of Chinese have gone into the street to express their anger. Others have used the Internet to present their disagreement by launching the "Anti-CNN Forum" and by collecting on-line signatures. The Western media were taken aback by this anger and responded by explaining away the outrage by China's young generations as being nationalists.

Yes, we are patriotic because we were proud of China's development over the past few decades. But that is not all. When we saw how the Western media reported recent events, we were also angry because we felt betrayed by media that in the past we had come to trust.

I can still recall my first class in the School of Journalism and Communication back to my college days in China. My professor used the Western media as a model to teach us the basic principles of news reporting: truth, fairness, and balance. I, as many young Chinese, for many years, had believed that the Western media were where we could find the truth. At that time, many of us might even have criticized our country based on the information provided by the Western media.

Ironically, the Western media have now taught us another lesson, namely that they are not to be equated with sources of the truth. We have discovered that our assumptions might have been misguided for a long time. As a result we have lost faith in the Western media, we have come to doubt our understanding of the world, and we now wonder if the Western media hate us just because we are Chinese, regardless of what we do. We have come to be confused about where to find the truth.

Qing Nian is a McDonnell International Scholars Academy scholar at Washington University, where she is studying for a JD in the School of Law. She received a master of laws from the University of Hong Kong in 2006.

Freedom and Democracy Are New Concepts in China

By Ming Zu

Once when I was a little girl, my friend Lin and I started learning piano together. We both dreamed about having our own pianos some day. But later, Lin's mom got sick, so sick that she couldn't even recognize Lin. The family was almost broke because of that. The day my dream came true, I told Lin, "I'm sorry that you can't get the piano you dreamed. You can play mine." Lin shook head, "Ming, you're wrong. I love piano, but that's not important any more. All I want is for my mom to get well and to have a happy family again. I would give up everything to get our peaceful life back."

The Chinese government has tightened controls over newspapers, television, the Internet and other media over the past decade. Many websites have been filtered or even blocked by Chinese authorities. Countless articles in other countries have been published attacking Chinese authorities and calling for freedom of expression in the country. Perhaps surprisingly, the Chinese people I've discussed this with, both in China and in the U.S., rarely express such concerns. Most support and believe in the necessity for this kind of governmental restraint.

Culture and history are powerful forces that we should never overlook. China has a unique culture that is deeply rooted in Confucianism, and this has led to strong beliefs about loyalty and obedience over countless generations. Even contemporary Chinese education reflects this conservative culture: Beginning in early childhood, students are rarely given the chance to speak up and experience freedom.

History plays an important role in this perspective. The past 5,000 years in Chinese history have not been a period of peace and freedom, but of invasion, war and social conflict. The Chinese people have constantly witnessed - and hence remember - killing, humiliation and poor living conditions during long periods of volatile social conditions. After the establishment of People's Republic of China in 1949, peace was restored and living conditions improved, and people have felt grateful.

Unfortunately, the Cultural Revolution taught everyone another bitter lesson about freedom of expression. During this decade - from 1966 to Mao's death in 1976 - a chance mistake such as sitting on a piece of newspaper with Chairman Mao's picture on it could lead to imprisonment. And any language that was slightly against the party could result in charges as severe as being a "traitor." During this time, the notion of freedom was translated into "guilt" and "disaster." The country learned to become more cautious and obedient.

What's going on now in China? On the positive side, we see fast economic growth, great technology advancement and vastly improved living standards and infrastructure in most areas. On the negative side, the gap between the rich and the poor widens, there are major problems in the medical and education systems, and the country faces severe environment challenges.

As a country of 1.3 billion people, 56 nationalities and hundreds of native languages, the priority of the leadership in China is to build a harmonious society. Without social harmony and political stability, a country as vast and complex as China could easily devolve into chaos. Who would then be willing to invest in China? Who will then have energy and resources to build the education and medical systems?

Freedom and democracy are still new terminologies in Chinese vocabulary, and they are new for reasons that are grounded deeply in the history and culture of this ancient but thriving land.

Here in the U.S., I see another point of view from people of varying backgrounds, expertise, objectives, personalities and understanding of China. All I'm hoping and asking of you is to be open-minded and curious about the reasons behind the facts. For my friend Lin, the dream of a piano could not possibly surpass her desire for the well-being of her mother. As much as freedom of expression matters to the Chinese people, they cherish the harmony of the economy and social environment in which they live and thrive even more.

Ming Zu was the Cabot Corporate Fellow in the McDonnell International Scholars Academy at Washington University from 2006-08 while studying for her masters in business administration in the Olin School of Business. She received a bachelor degree in Electronic Engineering from Tsinghua University in 2000. In the summer of 2008 she accepted a position at Emerson as a logistics business analyst.

Even as lifetime employment lessens in Japan, 90 percent support universal health insurance

By Ryotaro Kato

According to a World Health Organization report in 2000, Japan's health-care system ranked in the top in the world in terms of overall goal attainment. Japanese people live the longest in the world at one of the lowest costs among the developed countries. Many think the reason is the excellent access to health care provided by Japan's universal health insurance.

In Japan, people can visit any hospital anywhere in the country (often even outside the country) at any time, and be billed the same amount. All they have to do is to present their insurance card to the provider. Everyone in Japan has an insurance card from an employer or -- if one is unemployed, self-employed, or a pensioner -- from a municipality.

Both employers and municipalities are legally required to provide health insurance. Of course, employees must chip in toward insurance premiums, which are usually automatically deducted from their salaries. Residents are also required to make monthly payments to their municipalities. Furthermore, they are all required to pay a 30 percent co-payment at the hospital, an amount that can be substantial despite catastrophic caps based on age and income.

Many Americans wonder why people in Japan accept universal health insurance that forces them to pay for the health care of others, especially when the costs can be substantial. One factor that may facilitate the Japanese system is the culture of life-time employment prevalent in Japanese society.

Traditionally, Japanese employees do not change jobs. At least 40 percent of the employees will stay at their companies until mandatory retirement at age 65, and more than 50 percent will work for the same company for more than 25 years. This is true regardless of the size of the employer, though numbers tend to be higher for government employees.

A high rate of lifetime employment is important because it creates a unique work environment in which one's company becomes almost like a family. In fact, it is not uncommon for Japanese employees to eat dinner at work and to go out for drinks afterward to strengthen bonding among colleagues. This is believed to facilitate their work.

Some view life-time employment as a remnant of Japan's feudal system that dates back to 12th century and say the emphasis on loyalty is carried on by today's companies. Others explain it in terms of economic incentives. For employers, it makes sense to keep the same employees to minimize training costs, and employees prefer job stability. Whatever the reason, the Japanese workplace is a close-knit environment, and the existence of strong camaraderie makes it very difficult for employers not to offer health insurance.

During the early 1990s, however, when the economy of Japan plummeted and the ability of Japanese companies to compete internationally was called into question, many criticized the culture of lifetime employment. There seemed to be less economical sense in paying high salaries for older employees with mediocre performance. Yet, many companies could not fire their long-time employees, choosing instead to reduce new hiring and to rely on part-timers. This has resulted in large segment of young college graduates working on an ad hoc basis as part-time employees, which pays them at least as much as other full-time jobs. The trend continued until the early 2000s as many young graduates chose not to work full-time. Furthermore, many men had confided in the past that they preferred life-time employment because the stability made it easier for them to find wives. This has also changed as women become more independent with their improved status in Japanese society.

Today, there is substantial sentiment in Japan for deregulating the health care market even at the risk of a collapse of universal health insurance. There are myriad reasons for this, and the evolution of employment culture may be one. The demise of life-long camaraderie makes it difficult for the younger generation to see why they should pay for health care for older generations, especially in light of soaring medical costs.

Yet the vast majority of the population continues to support universal health insurance, and a recent poll showed that nearly 90 percent of the population agreed to life-time employment as a good culture, up from 76.1 percent in 2001. It will be interesting to follow the evolution of employment culture as it further affects the universal health insurance system in Japan.

Ryotaro Kato was in the McDonnell International Scholars Academy at Washington University and received his J.D. in 2007. He graduated with an M.D. from the University of Tokyo in 1999 and trained as an internist at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. He is a staff physician at St. Louis VA Medical Center and Washington University School of Medicine.

Can social liberalization follow the economic liberalization of India?

By Vikram Govindan

India's economic liberalization has led to explosive economic growth and unprecedented wealth creation. But we're still a socially conservative nation. Marriages are forcibly "arranged," public displays of affection are taboo and often punished, careers aren't chosen but imposed, and teachers, parents and "elders" decide what's good and what's right. We -- young India -- need to break free. Free! I tell you...

Why do Indians struggle with so little success to win medals at the Olympics? Why does real innovation in science, technology and business escape us? Why do we accept the decrepit state of our public, civic institutions? Why do Indians hesitate to talk about sex when our country is reeling from an AIDS epidemic? Because these activities are risky, and risk is a matter of choice.

Most Indians are taught from an early age, that they must tread the safe and proven path of being a doctor or engineer, and not risk going into business for themselves or become a musician, athlete or artist to make a living. India doesn't produce risk takers because most Indian institutions, from the family unit to school and the university are socially conservative. At each stage, conformity is emphasized.

I've known students who were driven insane and even to suicide by an unforgiving system that mercilessly punishes failure -- students who could have made a valuable contribution to the world, but were denied the opportunity because they didn't have the right grades. Grades! You're only as good as your grades in class, that's what they teach you, right from kindergarten.

Did you know that South India is the suicide capital of the world? That's right, so much pent up emotion and ambition and no way to let it out. Studies have shown that two out of three children in India are physically abused. Why? Kids don't report the abuse because they don't know that they can ... they live in a society so used to following orders.

India needs social liberalization. This is a call for a privately funded grass-roots organization that promotes liberal ideals, that places choice at the center of existence. An organization that funds students' groups around the country, one that could go into schools and colleges and oppose the imposition of uniforms, oppose censorship on women's attire, oppose censorship on internet use, oppose forced recitation of "national" songs. This would be an organization that promotes bold career choices and policies that celebrate personal choice. An organization that instills in Indians the idea that their choice matters most, even if those choices run counter to so-called "Indian traditions and values." An organization that encourages you to talk back!

Millions of Indians are oppressed, depressed and abused because they're locked into a system that places religion, tradition, social acceptance and appearance over the interests and aspirations of the individual. Many don't know what they're missing.

In a society where politicians increasingly move to the right to garner votes and the left is dominated by communists, a liberal capitalist alternative must be provided forthwith.

Economic liberalization is bound to bring social change, but we must accelerate that change. Movements like moveOn.org supported by billionaires like George Soros are what India needs.

So, are they any donors out there?

Vikram Govindan was the Monsanto Co./ Dr. Norman Borlaug Corporate Fellow in the McDonnell International Scholars Academy at Washington University from 2006-08 while studying for his masters in business administration in the Olin School of Business. He received a bachelor and masters degrees in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, graduating in 2006. In the summer of 2008, he began work at the Monsanto Co. as a strategy analyst.

Can modern technology alleviate poverty in rural India?

By Manoranjan Sahu

According to the International Energy Agency, "Without access to modern, commercial energy, poor countries can be trapped in a vicious circle of poverty, social instability and underdevelopment." India is one of the major countries that will face the challenge of providing energy to a rapidly growing population and economy.

India's power sector is an important ingredient in the country's development, but as it now exists, this sector serves only a small portion of the country's population. The government's emphasis has been on powering industrial, commercial and urban growth, with little talk about how to bring modern power to the villages that still contain 70 percent of India's population. There is a clear disconnect between energy policy and some truly pressing energy problems.

One important way to meet the energy needs of poor rural areas is through practical, small-scale efforts involving improved cook stoves, mini and micro hydropower projects, and other small renewable energy sources such as wind-powered pumps for groundwater. Massive hydropower projects that feed transmission lines headed to mines, industries and big cities all too seldom provide benefits to rural people.

In India, around 7 million urban households do not have access to these innovative, yet practical small-scale technologies and around 16 million people rely on traditional forms of fuel for cooking. Today, there are few programs to address their needs. Programs that focus only on rural electrification and energy supply in rural areas neglect rapidly expanding urban populations that lack access to electricity and clean energy. These populations will only grow more quickly, and ignoring them can be a source of major problems.

A major issue for both urban and rural settings in India is the widespread use of environmentally unfriendly cook stoves. In reality, the burning of biomass (e.g., wood gathered from the countryside) will continue throughout the developing world for some time. Hence, there is a great need to find ways to consume wood fuels in more efficient and sustainable ways. Over the long run, this should not preclude the use of wind power, solar thermal power (sunlight used to heat air or water), photovoltaic cells that produce electricity directly from sunlight and small-scale hydropower. However, in the short term, the problem of how to increase the efficiency and reduce the very harmful environmental effects of widely used cook stoves remains.

Burning biomass in traditional stoves emits a large amount of fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide and many organic compounds. Exposure to the smoke from these ancient stoves causes a decrease in lung function, increases the severity of lung diseases, and aggravates heart conditions, asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis. The carbon monoxide emitted also causes heart pain. Long-term exposure may lead to chronic bronchitis, nasal, throat, lung, blood and lymph system cancer.

An ongoing field sampling project that I and others are conducting in rural India indicates average emissions from traditional stoves that are much higher than the National Ambient Air Quality Standard. This problem appears daunting, but practical and financially sustainable solutions exist. In addition to raising awareness of cooking practices, health impact, clean fuel and the importance of kitchen location and ventilation, it is possible to greatly reduce exposure to harmful smoke by developing improved cook stoves and solar cooking devices. Concerted efforts by governments, policymakers, the private sector and NGOs, coupled with significant local participation, have already produced some impressive results, but much more can be done.

What are the World Bank and governments doing about energy access in developing countries? In recent years, the Bank's work in energy has largely focused on making existing energy supply and consuming industries more efficient, opening them to competition, and encouraging private-sector participation. Addressing energy and environmental issues associated with cook stoves in India must be part of the effort to address this very large and complex problem. While it may be hoped that biomass based cook stoves will be replaced by cleaner, more efficient means in the long run, there is clearly a pressing need to deal with today's massive problems now.

Manoranjan Sahu is the Energy and Environment Research Group Fellow in the McDonnell International Scholars Academy and a doctoral student in the Department of Energy, Environmental, and Chemical Engineering at, Washington University. He received master of technology degree in environmental science and engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay in 2001.

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