Nuclear Tempers

North Korea is in the news more often nowadays. Since I’ve discussed North Korea before, I thought it would be interesting to approach the subject again, in light of the recent political activity.

Pyongyang continues to threaten the US and its allies with its nuclear testing, having dropped missiles into the Pacific Ocean not far from Guam.

I often feel sorry for Guam. It’s an American territory not treated by the rest of the United States, and also the island often considered the target of North Korean threats, in an attempt to piss off the American government. Without diving too much into the current political landscape in Washington, I’ll just say that right now it seems to be working.

CNN reported on Wednesday that North Korea now threatens Trump specifically, over tweets and comments made about Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un. A newspaper commentary declared Trump a “slave to money” who should “be forced to pay for his blasphemy at any moment.”

So the question I am left with is one of uncertainty: how worried should we be about all of this?

North Korean threats to the US aren’t exactly new, but their capacity for nuclear arms has never been as advanced as it is now. In the past many of us have shrugged off statements from Pyongyang as empty threats, but now we’re all a little more apprehensive.

I wrote about North Korea back in 2014 as a part of my “Global News” class project in university. Since I now want to continue this blog, I’ll need to update a few things about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Politically or socially, not much has changed in the secluded country in the past three years, but the government makes it clear that their nuclear technology has significantly improved.

People continue to defect in various ways, described elegantly in books like Nothing to Envy and Without You, There is No Us. The infrastructure and economy of the country continue to crumble. This, to me, is why I cannot support the actions Trump wants to take.

Although I agree with him when he tells Kim that “North Korea is not the paradise that [Kim’s] grandfather envisioned,” I do not think his delivery is strategic or graceful.

If North Korea is at all like other East Asian cultures, then the concept of “face” is very important. Even where I currently live in the Arab world, there is a significant emphasis on honor and shame. This is still hard for me to completely wrap my head around, but I’m slowly understanding it more.

Essentially, “face” or “honor/shame” means certain actions done or words said towards another person can either elevate or degrade their reputation as perceived by others in their social circles. Oftentimes this is accompanied by the role an individual plays in relation to his or her family.

This is why traditionally, Western cultures tend to be more individualistic, and Eastern cultures tend to place more importance on the reputation of the family as a whole.

I would argue that Trump, although objectively speaking truth about the status or North Korea as “a hell that no person deserves,” shamed Kim in his criticism. And since he mentioned his grandfather in the same breath, the loss of face is amplified. According to the Guardian, his insult to the supreme leader is considered blasphemy.

Most would agree that North Korea has violated a myriad of human rights and is run by a family dictatorship with no desire to consider democratic amendments. Knowing this, however, does not nor should imply that diplomacy with the East Asian nation be hostile.

It would be one thing if Trump just critiqued the situation of North Korea and its citizens, but he also dug the hole deeper with his comments on Twitter. His passive aggressive “I would never call [Kim] ‘short and fat’” tweet wasn’t just salt in the wound, it was opening up new wounds.

Scientific studies show that it’s hard enough to change someone else’s opinion in a calm and respectful manner, much less in a state of aggression. As showed amusingly in a clip from the witty TBS show Adam Ruins Everything, trying to change someone’s mind can trigger the same reactions in the brain as “fight or flight” mode. Even with solid evidence, one could simply put up even more defenses and refuse to budge on their beliefs.

UK News Website Sunday Express writes that Trumps harsh words could make Kim go with the “fight” option, toughening his position on the US. Because ego is also involved in the loss of face, both leaders are stubbornly holding their ground, and worrying the rest of the world:

North Korea and the United States have been exchanging increasingly worrying jabs that have sparked the fear of World War 3 throughout the international community.

So all of this is to say I don’t have any good answers. This is a complicated issue, as most diplomacy is. I do think that American actions need to be more graceful from here on out, because the other party is not one to loosen their grip.


Laos: Cautionary Tales

Hey! So it’s been a while since I’ve added anything to this blog, but I thought I would take another crack at it since I’m already writing another blog.

I miss being a part of the conversation of China, and other socialist-minded countries. I would like to continue looking at how they deal with social media. I wanna take a look at Laos this time.

For those who may not know, Laos or the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a Southeast Asian country sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam. It is another Asian nation with a communist government. They have elections for a president and vice president every five years, but no limit on how many terms a president or vice president can serve.

Like China, social media in Laos is often restricted and those critical of the government’s decisions can face harsh repercussions. Facebook is allowed like in Vietnam, but Laotian Facebook users must be careful about what they say in regards to their own government.

A June, 2016 article by Al Jazeera reports individuals being publicly shamed for their comments on Facebook, and forced to apologize for their actions on live TV: “From now on I will behave well, change my attitude and stop all activities that betray the nation.”

This was the statement from one of the men forced to apologize. This must be really hard on an individual in a country where honor and shame are important factors to the culture. Not only has he been publicly shamed, but it will probably make his family look bad too.

According to the Laotian Times, the growing popularity of social media in the country is giving the Laotian government more leverage in how it interacts with its citizens. As is common with other Marxist-Leninist governments, there were accusations of media control to bend the truth in their favor.

This article states that the government is using social media, and Facebook specifically to prove those allegations wrong, and that they are working on transparency:

“…newspapers, television, radio, magazines, and other media outlets scurried to get the news out about the new leadership’s sincere attempt to solve some of the longstanding social ills that had plagued the country.”

Despite this attempt, public use of Facebook still comes with a catch. A 2013 piece by Radio Free Asia states that the government instituting a policy that punishes users for publishing “inaccurate or inappropriate content.” This mirrors the country’s already strict mainstream media control, reported by the BBC as strictly controlled:

“Slandering the state, distorting party policies and spreading false rumors are all criminal offenses.”

This could explain the negative reactions to the country’s attempt to the government’s attempt at online transparency in the Times article. Many people see the action as late, and halfhearted:

“This skepticism was testament to the fact that despite copious positive news coverage of the government’s activities, there has always been some disconnect between the people of Laos and its leaders.”

According to Freedom House, a website sharing statistics of press freedom around the world, Laotian press is very restricted. Because the penalties of writing negatively about the government are so high, journalists within the country often practice self-censorship to save themselves from future headaches.

The forced apology is apparently a rare incident, according to Freedom House. At least when it comes to mainstream media, censorship by both the state and writers themselves is so prevalent that “physical attacks and extralegal intimidation aimed at journalists are rare.” It was because the men were so openly critical on Facebook that they received such a public reaction.

According to a 2012 report by We Are Social, a website sharing all of the ways social media affects people on an international level, Facebook is still used more than any other  medium in Laos, with “581 signing up to the network everyday.” Those numbers have probably changed since then, but it’s a good indicator of Facebook’s impact and the government’s concern about it.

Twitter is also available in Laos for “those with web access,” but there isn’t nearly as much information about Twitter users as Facebook users. Those who tweet content that the government would disapprove of would face similar reprimanding by the government that Radio Free Asia mentioned about Facebook users.

Laos is a secretive country. We still have a lot to learn about it, and how it’s people want to reach out to the world. They are trying, but the government place a lot of roadblocks in the way.

“Red Star”

This week’s post is a little tricky. I figured that since I’ve written about other socialist states, it is only fair that I mention the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, more commonly known as North Korea. The difficulty in this is that there is so little internet saturation in North Korea, so it is almost easier to discuss what all they do not do on the internet. It’s worth a try, though, right? Here goes:

Many describe North Korea as a “closed-off” country. This, for the most part, is true, and has been for quite some time. There is growth, however, of internet users and internet activity, but this growth is still significantly behind other East Asian countries. For instance, the majority of web usage, with the use of the intranet “Red Star,” can only be found in the capital, Pyongyang.

According to the Tortonto Star, students at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung University, the most successful and prestigious college in the country, frequently use computers, but their ability to search is limited to strictly academic websites and sources. Reporter Eric Talmadge explains: “North Korea knows it must enter the information age to survive in the global economy. Hence, the creation of a self-contained, tightly controlled Intranet called Kwangmyong, or ‘Bright.’ It is North Korea’s authoritarian answer to the freewheeling web.” It is interesting to me that this intranet is known as both “Bright,” and “Red Star,” implying that these students in Pyongyang are beginning to see the light, but that light has quite the communist “red” tint. 

This the first of three segments by Vice, discussing life in North Korea, and all the bizarre and frightening happenings of the country. Vice is a multi-faceted media system, providing viewers with current events, news, extreme sports, tech advice, and travel tips, all in photo and documentary form. Most of their films can be found on Youtube, in addition to their website. They have several other videos and discussions about North Korea, since the country tends to be a popular subject in Western media. This may be simply because it is considered the antithesis of Western society.

Although this particular video gives a general overview of how confusing North Korea is, the important factor to remember is that information does not travel easily there. That is why the rest of the world wants to know how North Koreans access information, and how freely they do so. According to the blogger of “Wait But Why,” an occasional contributor to the Huffington Post, the freedom of information is few and far between. Although, at times, a tasteless post, “20 Things I Learned while I was in North Korea” still gives reader a good idea that the establishment does not want foreign visitors to know what really goes on within the country, nor do they want citizens to know what goes on in the outside world.

North Korea is always a complicated, and rarely positive subject: poverty, famine, authoritarianism, “brainwashing” and conspiracy flood the Western/American perception of this considerably small Asian nation. It is difficult to find the good of such a nation, when its closest neighbor, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) stands out as the most democratic nation in East Asia, which the most potential for growth. Although Japan has been on the U.S.’s radar for a longer period, many Americans still get a negative connotation from the island nation that they don’t get from South Korea. Even this negativity pales in comparison to the most “red” of red nations of that region. Despite all the gloom and doom, I see a glimmer of light at the end of this propaganda infested tunnel.

If anyone is interested in learning more about North Korea, and what the tour guides mentioned above won’t tell you, I recommend reading Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick. Demick, a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, has been living in Seoul, South Korea for 12 years, where she interviewed North Korean defectors, to find out what really goes on. Tragic, intriguing, humorous, and at times brutal, the accounts from these people will capture your attention, if not break your heart.

Return to China: Baidu, Searching For a New Asia

大家好!I felt like going back to China with this one, in a vicarious attempt to feel like I’m actually back in China…*sighs*

This time I’ll talk about Baidu, a popular Chinese search engine. According to Forbes, Baidu “provides Chinese-language Internet search services to enable users to find relevant information online, including Web pages, news, images, documents and multimedia files.” During my last stay in China, I frequently used this search engine, because although completely in Chinese, it was still easier to navigate through than Google,  which was slower and more heavily regulated. 

Let me just say, first of all, that Kaiser Kuo (last name pronounced Gwo, not Cue Oh), the “tour guide” of the video, is one of my heroes. I can actually write an entire post (and probably will) about the rock star, marketing analyst, and freelance journalist that is Mr. Kuo, but I’ll save it for another day. For the purposes of this particular post, just know that he works for Baidu, and he is very smart.

I cannot help but be a little frustrated by how ignorant Sarah Lacy sounded on this particular Youtube episode of Tech Crunch by repeatedly labeling Baidu as “evil.” I know that she was quoting other critics, and much of the video is strictly meant for humor, but calling the site evil right in the face of one of the top guys seems uncalled for. She clearly doesn’t know about the Chinese quality of “saving face,” or keeping her opinions to herself, out of a sign of respect, but I digress…

According to CrunchBase, Baidu got started in Beijing, and quickly expanded to include video, maps, and toolbar options to the website. It is also featured on Nasdaq, and was the first Chinese company to make such a feature. Ever since its first trading day, it has experienced extraordinary growth.

This is my opinion of having a search engine specifically for China: why not? I view it as nothing more than a cultural difference. Baidu is a great example of China’s fast-growing economic power, ever since it opened up its economy in the 90’s. In terms of governmental control, Baidu doesn’t seem to allow content that would be interpreted as controversial to the Chinese public. This may be a good or bad thing. I’m not really sure. I do think having a search engine unique to China is a good thing to show off. It shows that China still has a lot of potential. Maybe I’m just biased.

¡Viva El Internet! A Change Of Pace

I decided I wanted to drift away from Asia for a bit. Let’s go to Cuba! I had a clip of Yoani Sanchez, a Cuban expat who blames the Cuban government, and its use of the media, for portraying her as a villain, or enemy of the state. Unfortunately, the clip has been removed from Youtube.

Like other Marxist-Leninist republics, Cuba is often heavily criticized for its heavy regulation of the internet. Sanchez, as well as other “dissidents” have been making their voices known about the various injustices brought upon the average Cuban man and woman, as mentioned in the above PBS article. Reporter Curt Devine explains that these dissidents, usually leaving the country for safety reasons, challenge the Cuban government, who “condemns all anti-communist speech as ‘enemy propaganda.'”

So overall, Cuban media is to be taken with a grain of salt, but social media specifically appears to be giving the Cuban government quite a headache. “Social Times” reporter Bilal Hameed writes of the frustration Cuba has with its citizens’ use of various forms of social networks, especially Facebook and Twitter. Hameed states that Cuban officials “believe that United States is encouraging and organizing the voices of dissent through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.” This comes after a crucial video went viral, showing the Cuban government’s efforts to regulate usage. There is a link to this Vimeo video, entitled “La Ciber Policia En Cuba,” on the “Social Times” page, but I will also leave a link to it at the bottom.

So what does this mean for Cuba. Surely, we cynical American “young people” cannot simply think of Cuba as being full of nothing but baseball, cigars, and classic Cadillacs. We may not consider Cuba to be “evil commies,” but we also need to know that they still have, at times, an authoritarian frame of mind. The beauty of the internet is that it more easily connects people from all over the world. Ironically, in the case with Cuba, it connects us to those who struggle to have their voices heard in a place where it is not so easy to connect on a global scale. At times, Cuban dissidents need to not feel like they’re fighting a power as big as this guy.


Sources: ; ; ;

Vietnam: A Difference of Opinion?

I discovered something very interesting while my girlfriend went on a business trip to Vietnam over spring break: it was REALLY easy to keep in touch with her, and we were actually able to message each other several times throughout the week via Facebook.


This has been a slight stab of humility to me. I realized that I was comparing Vietnam to China, which would irk me to no end if I saw or heard someone else doing it. I was surprised that she could use Facebook so easily because it was near impossible for me to use it when I spent time in China. I had assumed all East and Southeast Asian Socialist nations blocked all forms of Western social media.

Again, an unfair assessment.

Facebook is not blocked in Vietnam. Or at least, not completely. In fact, according to TechinAsia, it’s amount of users is one of the fastest growing in the world. They also explain, at least to me, why one should not compare Vietnam to China simply because they are both socialist republics: on a global scale, Vietnam is SO much smaller than China. Everyone knows that China has the highest population in the world, but what people might not know is that because it is such a large nation, its presence in the global business world makes it feel a lot more pressure to, in a sense, “match up” with other big markets. In other words, China feels like they have something to prove.

Vietnam on the other hand, is well aware that it is small, and would prefer to reap the benefits of all the tech giants out there, at least for now. Most Vietnamese feel as if they have a few more years to go until they can feel caught up with other internet users. That’s why TechinAsia also mentions their slow start to using microblog sites like Twitter or Weibo.

Renren: Making Friends in China.

你們好!Hope everyone has had a marvelous weekend. My next social media site is also found in the People’s Republic of China. Renren, or in Chinese, 人人, is considered by many to be “China’s Facebook.” Literally meaning People People, the term is often used for everybody, in an all-inclusive sense, which I find amusing, because it was started after Facebook was blocked in China:

(May I just say, thank God he pronounces the titles correctly)

According to Renren’s English Website, this social network “enables users to connect and communicate with each other, share information, create user generated content, play online games, watch videos and enjoy a wide range of other features and services.” The site was founded by Joseph Chen, now the Chief Executive Officer, a Stanford grad who began his career by starting, a student society with a similar search engine to Renren. To me, this is amusing because it’s similar to the storyline for Social Network, with Mark Zuckerberg making his presence known by first starting a website specifically for Harvard students and alumni.  

This CNN interview with Chen is an attempt to grasp just why the website has grown so quickly, as well as its plan for the future. It is pretty clear that although it is open to the public worldwide, Renren has little desire to expand outside of the People’s Republic for its market base, but it has grown in demand in the U.S. This could be due to the amount of Chinese Americans or Chinese immigrants who want to stay connected to Mainland Chinese current events, but it could also be due in part to the amount of Americans who plan on living and working in China. The demand for American workers, teachers, businessman, etc., has grown rapidly since the country opened up its market to the capitalist world.

Finally, despite recent stock growth, some believe that Renren’s popularity as a whole is on the decline. TeachinAsia is a popular expat multimedia website and blog site that discusses all current social events in the major leading nations of the continent of Asia. In this piece, writer Ken Chester conveys his frustrations with Renren’s constant badgering marketing scheme. Chester makes it sound like this form of advertisement makes Renren look desperate. Perhaps Renren really is losing its popularity, and its immediate success really was just riding the Facebook wave, but maybe the Sinofied version of social networking will expand its thinking, and come up with new, creative methods of putting itself out there. Who knows?


Thanks for reading! (谢谢!)

A Discussion of Modern Socialism and Social Media