Brown Bag Lecture Series - Archive



The Real Story Behind the International Human Rights Campaign for Burma: A Conversation with Burma Advocates from Asia and Europe

Tuesday,  24 March 2009
Co-sponsor: Southeast Asia Student Initiative (SEASI)
The following human rights advocates presented: Khin Ohmar of the Burma Partnership, Roshan Jason from the ASEAN Inter Parliamentary Caucus, Lwe Aye Nang and Thin Thin Aung of the Women’s League of Burma, Debbie Stothard from the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma and Mark Farmener of Burma Rights Campaign UK.  The discussion was moderated by Michael Buehler, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Modern Southeast Asian Studies at WEAI.
Khin Ohmar reviewed the rights-based activities undertaken by local women activists, many of whom are now in jail.  Roshan Jason admitted that ASEAN does not press Burma for change in the human rights sphere, and that it is up to foreign governments to pressure ASEAN to develop stronger incentives to protect human rights among its member countries.  Lwe Aye Nang spoke of her organization’s role in advocacy with the United Nations, and its covert grassroots community mobilization efforts.  Thin Thin Aung traced the history of the military regime and the negative effect that the junta has had on the country’s development.  Debbie Stothard explained how the political system is skewed in favor of the military.  Mark Farmener closed by discussing the government’s persecution of minorities in eastern Burma, and how there is little information disseminated and no sense of urgency from the international community.

Democracy without Accountability: Party Cartels & Presidential Power in Indonesia

Tuesday,  24 March 2009
Dan Slater, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, presented his research on the development of political parties and resulting cartel system in Indonesia.  The panel was moderated by Professor Michael Buehler of WEAI.
Professor Slater argued that political elites in Indonesia share power instead of competing for it.  He discussed some theories that characterize political systems, such as robust competition, where a plausible opposition party exists to monitor the government in power, and vertical and horizontal accountability, where officials are checked by the ballot box and by independent institutions.
Professor Slater gave several examples demonstrating the cartel in practice.  One was the cohesion of an ideologically divided parliament that orchestrated the overthrow of Suharto and his former vice president and successor Rudi Habibie.  This was further demonstrated by the expulsion of Abdurrahman Wahid from the presidency and the placement of Megawati as vice president.
Professor Slater then probed into some possible reasons for the emergence of a political cartel in Indonesia, concluding that the allure of serving in the government, especially in a cabinet position, kept all parties except for one in a coalition.  Slater believes that populism and oligarchy tend to cycle back and forth, one backlash leading to the ascension of the contrasting system.  Thus, “new democracies are not so much consolidating or collapsing as careening.”

Environmental Activism in China

Wednesday,  18 March 2009
Co-sponsor: Asia Pacific Affairs Council, WEAI
Wu Fengshi, Assistant Professor of Government at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, gave a presentation describing environmental activism in China.
Environmental activism first began in the 1990s, and is currently much more widely accepted by both the government and broader society than other issue groups, such as HIV/AIDS, religious or democracy movements.  This is partly due to the leeway, and sometimes support, that the Chinese government gives to environmental NGOs and public officials that deal with environmental issues.  This is in spite of the fact the environmental activism has its roots based in the democratic movements that shocked the country in the 1980s.
China boasts some of the world’s most reputable environmental scientists, which give the Chinese more credibility in dealing with this issue.  Environmental activism could become more successful, Wu argues, if the movement could become more cohesive, both domestically and more in line with the broader international environmental movement.
The event was hosted by WEAI and moderated by Elizabeth Wishnick, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Law at Montclair State University, and Research Associate at WEAI.


Book Talk and Reception: Legacy of Engagement in Southeast Asia

Thursday,  29 January 2009
Co-sponsor: WEAI
Authors and editors of this new book presented their chapters and insights on the development of Southeast Asia, including Frederick Brown, Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University; Hugh Patrick, Robert D. Calkins Professor Emeritus of International Business, Columbia University; Donald Weatherbee, Donald S. Russell Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of South Carolina and Bridget Welsh, Associate Professor in the Southeast Asia Studies Program, Johns Hopkins University. 
Professor Brown spoke on Vietnam, where an entrenched Communist Party is struggling to redefine itself in an increasingly sophisticated society facing new challenges.  Professor Patrick explained how Japanese development assistance over the past four decades has been successful in stimulating growth and repairing damage to past historical blights.  Professor Weatherbee was critical of ASEAN, where nationalistic tendencies are threatening regional integration.  Professor Welsh outlined the challenges facing the region, such as corruption, the retrenchment of democracy and a growing income inequality.
The panel was moderated by Ann Marie Murphy, an Assistant Professor at the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy at Seton Hall University, and an editor of the book.  Professor Murphy opened with complimentary remarks about Jack Bresnan, a former Columbia University professor and mentor to many of the panelists.

Is China As Strong As It Seems?

Wednesday,  12 November 2008
Co-sponsors: WEAI and the International Media and Communication Concentration, SIPA 
Robert Gifford, London Bureau Chief of U.S. National Public Radio, spoke about the “hope and despair” that essentially sums up politics and economics in China today.  China has achieved unprecedented economic growth over the last three decades, and lifted 400 million people out of poverty.  Residents have more freedom and are able to make individual choices, from spouse to occupation.  China’s premier cities, Shanghai and Beijing, mirror the advances and infrastructure of major cities in the west.
But the country is much more fragile than perceived.  During a tour across China in 2005, Gifford saw many remote villages where most residents had seen few, if any, benefits from China’s economic growth.  Quality health care and education is out of reach for many, which explains their excessive private savings.  It also partly explains why China’s growth has continued to rely on capital accumulation and energy-intensive industries, rather than consumption and service-oriented models.
Shanghai has made efforts to transition from a manufacturing to service-oriented economy, but factories still dominate the city’s business landscape.  China’s pattern of growth poses several problems globally.  Its mounting demands for resources means it is likely to continue supporting controversial regimes such as Sudan and Burma.  The global economic slowdown is presenting major hurdles for the country’s continued growth and stability, with many factories closing down.  Gifford said it remains to be seen how effective China’s recently approved stimulus package will be on the economy.
Professor Gifford said while economic modernity has improved the lives of many, it has also introduced unique contradictions to Chinese society.  He pointed to a photo of monks surfing the Internet after prayer and questioned whether this technology has made the country stronger or weaker.  It has given the Chinese access to information, but this access has come at the expense of individual privacy, as the Chinese government monitors internet users.

How East Asians View Democracy: Findings from the Asian Barometer Surveys

Monday,  10 November 2008
Co-sponsor: WEAI
Yun-han Chu, distinguished research fellow at the Institute of Political Science of Academia Sinica and professor of political science at National Taiwan University, and Andrew J. Nathan, Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, discussed the findings from a large-scale survey-research project which were compiled in their new book, How East Asians View Democracy.  The project, called the East Asian Barometer, consisted of eight research teams conducting national-sample surveys in five new democracies (Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Mongolia), one established democracy (Japan), and two nondemocracies (China and Hong Kong) in order to assess the prospects for democratic consolidation.
“The provocative finding is that of the eight countries we surveyed, public satisfaction with the regime is highest in authoritarian China, lowest in democratic Japan and Taiwan, and very rocky in the other newly emerged democracies that we surveyed (Korea, Thailand, Philippines, Mongolia),” said Nathan.  East Asian democracies are in trouble, their legitimacy threatened by poor policy performance and undermined by nostalgia for the pro-growth, soft-authoritarian regimes of the past. Yet citizens throughout the region value freedom, reject authoritarian alternatives, and believe in democracy.
Professors Chu and Nathan don’t believe democratic governance is incompatible with East Asian cultures, but counseled against complacency toward the fate of democracy in the region. While many forces affect democratic consolidation, popular attitudes are a crucial factor.

Factory Towns: Portraits of Modern China

Wednesday,  5 November 2008
Co-sponsors: WEAI and the International Media and Communication Concentration, SIPA
Peter Hessler, Staff Writer for the New Yorker and a contributing writer to National Geographic, described his recent experience traveling to factory towns in the Wen Jo province of China.
Many of China’s provinces specialize in manufacturing specific items in bulk.  For instance, Chao To has 370 button factories, and manufactures one-third of the world’s socks.  Wen Jo manufactures a good percentage of the world’s shoes, and about 70% of the world’s cigarette lighters. 90% of Wen Jo’s economy is private, and foreign direct investment is not a big factor.  Though not a special economic development zone, the economic pressure to develop was so great that he witnessed a business owner design an entire factory floor on a piece of paper in 27 minutes.  He also saw several buildings go up within five weeks.
During the Q&A session, Mr. Hessler noted that governmental institutions like the Labor Board have some influence, but are not very integrated into the system yet; most negotiations take place within the factory.  Much of the regulatory regime is actually tied to profit, and some corruption; for instance, the tax bureau came into one factory and “recommended” a particular accountant in order for it to avoid problems.  Relatedly, he said that China’s social networks are also more profit-oriented; there are more private businesses, and less non-governmental organizations.  Finally, he said that, because of China’s status as a supplier country, he is very concerned about the potential for financial collapse during a weak economy since it is so dependent on constant growth. 

Chinese Lessons: Roadblocks on the Way to China's Superpower Status

Monday,  27 October 2008
Co-sponsor: WEAI
John Pomfret, Outlook Editor and former China Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, gave a presentation describing the challenges that China faces in its development toward superpower status.  One of the first American students to enter the country in 1980, Pomfret used the personal narratives of many of his classmates to personify the rapid change China has experienced throughout the past generation. 
Pomfret also identified potential barriers to China’s continuing emergence.  Among them are the inflexibility of a one-party state, the patronage system by which party leaders distribute capital, demographic challenges, environmental degradation and a lack of a national belief system that could unite the Chinese for a common good.
Pomfret sees cause for optimism regarding the future relationship between America and China.  Irrespective of the “visceral fear” that many Americans have of China, there are in fact several areas in which the two nations enjoy positive bilateral cooperation.
The event was moderated by Howard French, Shanghai Bureau Chief of the New York Times.