Speaker Q&A | The Life and Ideas of Liu Xiaobo

perry link discusses liu xiaobo
China expert Perry Link speaks at the SMU
Tower Center-Asian Studies program Feb. 8.

The SMU Tower Center and Asian Studies hosted Perry Link, author and translator of many influential works on Chinese language, literature, human rights and cultural history, at SMU Feb. 8 for the program “The Life and Ideas of Liu Xiaobo.” Liu Xiaobo was China’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate before he died in July while still serving a prison sentence for inciting subversion of the state. He was an outspoken critic of both the West and China, a poet, and a scholar. HCM Tower Scholar Destiny Rose Murphy interviewed Link about his research into Xiaobo’s life before the program.

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Symposium Recap | Japan-Mexico-Texas: Exploring Politics and Economics

Japan Mexico Texas Tower Center
The First panel discusses the politics of Japan, Mexico and Texas Jan. 30.

The SMU Tower Center Sun & Star Program on Japan and East Asia partnered with the SMU Mission Foods Texas-Mexico Center for an all-day discussion of the Japan-Mexico-Texas economic and political relationship Jan. 30.

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Student Blog | Gente-fication: The Changing Face of Urban Development

genteficationThe SMU Tower Center and Latino Center for Leadership and Development co-hosted a policy forum discussing “gente-fication” and various policy solutions that could reduce the impact of the rising costs of housing and amenities for low-income locals. HCM Tower Scholar Destiny Rose Murphy wrote about what she learned.


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Event Recap | An Economist’s Case for Free Migration

economic case for free migration
Benjamin Powell presents at the SMU Tower Center Jan. 31.

Benjamin Powell, director of the Free Market Institute and professor of economics at Texas Tech University, visited the SMU Tower Center to give a lecture on why free migration makes economic sense.

The economic case for migration is simple: the more freely the factors of production, such as goods and services, natural resources, and labor, can move, the more efficient and productive the economy will be. Obviously, natural resources cannot be moved, which means the movement of labor is important in order to harness as much creative and productive potential as possible.

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Student Experience | Japan-U.S. Relations in the Changing World

The SMU Tower Center Sun & Star Japan-East Asia Program hosted the discussion “Japan-U.S. Relations in the Changing World” featuring Naoyuki Agawa, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, Jan. 30. SMU Junior and HCM Tower Scholar Destiny Rose Murphy wrote about her experience at the event.

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Event Recap | Russia 2018: Preparing for a Post-Putin Era

Russia 2018 John Beyrle
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle
gives a lecture at the Tower Center Jan. 23.

Spoiler alert: Vladimir Putin will win the 2018 Russian presidential election (if it can even be called an election), but is his support really at an all-time high? Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle, the final guest of the Russia Series, visited the SMU Tower Center to discuss Putin’s standing in Russia and world politics. He started his lecture with three reasons why Russia is still, and always will be, a crucial component of global politics:

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Recap | The Rohingya Crisis: Racism, Politics and a Fragile Transition

More than 650,000 Rohingya people have fled the Rakhine State of Myanmar across the border to Bangladesh since a security crackdown began in August 2017. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to the actions of the Myanmar armed forces as ethnic cleansing. This is the fourth wave of forced migration of the Rohingya population since the country began its democratization process in 2011. Dr. Jacques Bertrand, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, discussed the roots of this crisis and what might happen next at the SMU Tower Center Jan. 10.

Roots of Racism

To understand the resentment and hatred the Burmese feel toward the Rohingya, Bertrand argues we first need to understand colonial Burma. The British Empire began to colonize Burma in 1824.

Rohingya Crisis
Dr. Jacques Bertrand gives a lecture at
the SMU Tower Center Jan. 10.

The Rakhine state was the first land to be annexed into the empire, and therefore experienced the highest levels of immigration of people from British India. These Indians became landowners and then continued to hire more Indians to work their land. The Burmese responded to the influx of Indian immigrants with a growing sense of nationalism and xenophobic sentiments.

Burma gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, and according to Bertrand, it was during this period that the Muslim Indian population in the Rakhine State identified themselves as Rohingya. The Rohingya enjoyed credibility in the democracy of the 1950s, but lost all their rights under the military regime of Ne Win in 1962. Ne Win attempted to remove all Indians from Burma in 1963-1964, claiming that they were foreigners and remnants of colonial rule. The Rohingya were then excluded from citizenship with the adoption of the 1982 citizenship law. By this law, residents had to prove they were living in Burma before colonial rule (1824) to gain citizenship. The law only recognized 135 ethnicities as national races, excluding several other minority groups from citizenship as well.

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Recap | Asia’s Nuclear Challenge: North Korea, China, & the Role of Extended Deterrence

North Korea has developed nuclear capabilities that the United States assumed was out of reach for the isolated country in such a short period of time. Its advancement has changed the dialogue of policy toward the country for both the United States and China. Ken Jimbo, associate professor at Keio University, visited the SMU Tower Center to discuss Asia’s nuclear challenge in the first event of the semester Jan. 8.

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Event Recap | The Impact of the U.S. Leaving the Paris Agreement

US leaving Paris Agreement
Jonah Busch, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, gives a lecture at the SMU Tower Center Dec. 8.

Jonah Busch, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, gave a lecture at the SMU Tower Center on the impact of the U.S. leaving the Paris Climate Agreement Dec. 8.

The Paris Agreement is a universal global climate deal that allows each country to determine its own pledge to reduce carbon emissions, with the goal to limit climate change to below 2 degrees Celsius. The agreement, first established at the Paris climate conference in 2015 and ratified in 2016, is now signed by every country (except for the United States) and has been ratified by 170 countries. President Trump announced the United States withdrawl from the agreement in June.

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Event Recap | Explaining Russia’s Contradictory Policies Toward the U.S.

Russia's contradictory policies toward the U.S.
Kimberly Marten speaks at the Tower Center Nov. 28.

Russia proved it understands American politics through its successful election interference campaign in 2016. Russia also proved it has a sophisticated knowledge of U.S. public opinion through its carefully disguised, yet effective, social media posts that have both Facebook and Google scrambling for solutions to fake news. However, Russia has also made moves suggesting it’s clueless to American interests and motives. Kimberly Marten, director of the Program on U.S.-Russia Relations at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute, visited the SMU Tower Center Nov. 28 to explain why Russia is so inconsistent. She has four theories.

To help understand the theories, Marten laid out Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two goals. To maintain power for as long as possible, and to go down in history for making Russia great again.

Theory one: Putin has psychological biases and makes all of the decisions.

Marten argues that Putin’s background in the KGB enforces his view of the U.S. as an adversary, and fuels his fear of internal revolt. As a judo black belt and hockey player his style of fighting is tactical rather than strategic. This means he wants immediate success and doesn’t necessarily consider the long view. In this theory, Putin’s spontaneity is what leads to some of Russia’s spot-on decisions, as well as to others, as Marten said, that appear utterly “bone-headed.”

Theory two: Nobody dares contradict Putin.

For this theory, Marten referenced Saddam Hussein’s leadership in Iraq leading up to the U.S. invasion in 2003. It is now clear that Hussein’s advisers warned him to give up the rouse of possessing weapons of mass destruction. They told him the U.S. would invade, but he refused to listen. She argues the same situation could now be true of Putin and his advisers. While Putin isn’t known to murder dissidents as Hussein was, he does have the ability to exclude them from the patron-client system he controls. This power could leader to a culture of non-dissent.

Theory three: There are internal rivalries in Putin’s network.

This theory suggests Putin is influenced by those in his inner circle. Groups such as those responsible for arms sales, like Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov, stand to benefit from foreign conflict. Chemezov has financial interest in supplying weapons to Syria, Iran and Turkey. These arms deals have increased tensions between the U.S. and Russia. Conflict also gives the siloviki (high-ranking politicians who were KGB men or military officers) an expanded mission and keeps the Russian military distracted from domestic politics. However, on the other side, the finance and commerce sectors benefit from international cooperation. These conflicting interests result in a push-pull effect that could be causing Russia’s fluctuating actions.

Theory four: Russian intelligence officers have gone rogue.

There is a blurred line between Russia’s intelligence and politics, unlike in the United States. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, money was in short supply from the government. Russia’s intelligence merged with private commerce in order to make up the difference, and the merging never went away. This suggests, Russian intelligence officers could be working to please the highest bidder rather than serving the nation’s interest.

An upsetting conclusion

Marten left the audience with an upsetting conclusion: U.S. policies have no effect on Russia’s actions. She argued everything in Russia happens internally, behind closed doors, without consideration of research or expert analysis.

For further reading, take a look at Marten’s latest article in New Republic.