by Jasmine Moheb
Staff Writer

As two of the largest powerhouses in the world, the United States and China have a vital relationship that proves necessary for economic, military, and scientific advances. However, with recent geopolitical strife, it is more important now than ever to understand the magnitude of this relationship and how to facilitate an environment that promotes its sustainability.

As part of the Sokwanlok lecture series, where distinguished speakers are provided a forum to discuss U.S.-Chinese relations, Joe Tsai, a co-founder and the Executive Vice Chairman of the Alibaba Group, discussed “U.S.-China Symbiosis” in its eighth annual distinguished lecture. The conversation was directed by Professor Susan Shirk, chair of the 21st Century China Center through UCSD’s School of Global Policy and Strategy.

Having a major role in one of the largest and most successful commerce and technology corporations in the world based in China, Tsai was able to voice his unique first-hand experiences in the dialogue regarding the rise of China and its implications for U.S.-Chinese relations.

Professor Shirk prefaced the discussion with the definition of “symbiosis” as two dissimilar organizations in a mutually beneficial relationship, and asked Tsai how he believed the relationship between China and the United States was a symbiotic one. Tsai explained that the mutual benefits in this interdependent relationship included the significant gains through trade that benefit both the United States and China. These include billions of dollars of exchange, widespread corporate activity since 65,000 U.S. companies have bases in China, and development at an intellectual level as people from China frequently contribute to U.S. life and business. The conclusion that can be drawn from these major dependencies for the success of both countries and economies is that a faltering relationship would take away from the benefits of cooperation.

Tsai went on to address the claim that the United States and China are in a competitive relationship by acknowledging that China is becoming more affluent in the sectors of technology, military, and overall global influence. However, he brought to light the idea that it is still a choice whether the two countries choose to approach this with conflict rather than cooperation. Additionally, he presented the alternate view that China does not see the relationship as a competitive one, stating that the Chinese Communist Party merely seeks to improve their economy, life of citizens, and therefore legitimize their one-party system.

Specifically, Tsai claimed China’s revitalization efforts–perceived as aggressive competition by the American public–are actually misinterpreted intentions of the Chinese Communist Party. The national rejuvenation was meant to be a renaissance of Chinese culture and tradition to counteract what the Chinese government believes has been an era of shame inflicted by foreign powers. He exemplified this negative global image by explaining how Japan refers to China as the “sick man of the east,” a sentiment with which the Chinese no longer want to be associated.

Within the technological niche the Alibaba group specializes in, Tsai disputed other misrepresentations of China in the Western perspective. Although many believe China has severe problems with intellectual property protection, he mentioned that China has improved their safeguards against copyright dilemmas and pays the second largest royalty payment for intellectual property in the world. Beyond this, Tsai explained that while the United States sees China’s promotion of socialism as paralleling the extent of Marxist values, it is not comparable due to their government’s characteristics of being entrepreneurial-focused, similar to the free market values of the United States.

Finally, the symbiotic relationship was further emphasized as Tsai explained that with greater divergence among U.S.-Chinese cooperation, two parallel and antagonistic universes could not work together, and business would be harmed for both major powers if they try to expand beyond their intended sphere and into the other’s. However, he described solutions as not only being possible, but fairly easy to access.

First, in the technological domain–while we may not immediately return to integration between the two countries–there is still great room for cooperation. In applications of Artificial Intelligence, for example, the sharing of data between the two countries can be promoted through encryption of valuable information that one country does not wish to release to the other. With certain privacy trade-offs, it would still be possible to reap the gains of an advancing technological sector that can only be fully attained through global cooperation.

Second, in a nongovernmental domain, we can reduce the increasing hostility between the two countries. Nongovernmental groups provide forums for exchanging views, enabling Chinese nationals and representatives to discuss their perspective of controversial matters, in an effort to promote a more holistic understanding of the motivations behind the actions of the Chinese government.  He encouraged people from China to talk about their country and culture with others as another source of information for Americans to gain true insight into a world that can only be fully encapsulated through knowledge of first-hand experiences.

Although China and the United States have seen a more conflict-ridden relationship in the past few months, keeping an open mind and finding ways to cooperate are a step in the right direction. Conversations such as the one facilitated by GPS prove that there is still much to be learned and benefits to be gained from the rising power–and not necessarily the rising threat–that is China.

Image by UCSD School of Global Policy & Strategy


by Madi Ro
Staff Writer

One of the international community’s persistent concerns regards the protection of citizens’ social and economic rights. Since the adoption of the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, there has been global commitment to fulfill the rights that each individual is recognized to be born with. While these rights originally pertained to basic freedoms such as life, liberty, and equality, they have now also expanded to include social and economic rights.

But what are social and economic rights, exactly? And how do we measure society’s performance in its protection of those rights? How do we compare different countries’ performances?

Dr. Terra Lawson-Remer provides answers to these questions in her new book, Fulfilling Social and Economic Rights. She is a founding member and managing partner for the Catalyst Project and a faculty fellow at UCSD’s School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS). In her special talk at UCSD, she outlined her and her team’s major solutions and findings regarding these questions.

The Social and Economic Rights Fulfillment Index (SERF) is an index that her team created to measure a country’s provision and protection of social and economic rights, which include the right to food, health care, education, work, and social security. The index measures how well a country is doing given the resources that they have, making it easier to compare a country like the United States with a country like Ghana, for instance.

The distinguishing aspect of Dr. Lawson-Remer and her team’s work is the inclusion of national resources in the calculations, and they do not solely use a country’s nominal wealth to measure its ability and performance. This adds a whole new dimension to keeping countries accountable. Other rankings that do not include a country’s given resources rank Jordan and Turkey similarly as “medium performers”. However, in the SERF Index, Jordan ranks 6th overall, while Turkey comes in 87th.

Her book further details how each resource is measured and why it was selected as a part of the index. She explains that some basic rights can actually be achieved during a country’s development process, requiring fewer resources than other countries. However, many countries–both rich and poor–are not meeting their expected levels of rights fulfillment. The worst-performing country is Equatorial Guinea, meeting only 16% of its overall obligations.

Through further analysis of the SERF index results and ratings for each country, her book also explores performance comparisons between democracies and autocracies. While it is possible for an autocratic state to achieve a high score on the index, there is far more fluctuation in scores among autocracies than among democracies.

Dr. Lawson-Remer described her work as “policy agnostic,” stating that her work is not meant to provide a list of one-size-fits-all policy packages for all countries. Although she also explores the limitations of the impact of international human rights treaties on social and economic rights fulfillment, she hopes that her work serves as an impetus for improvement in the areas of food accessibility, health care, education, work conditions, and social security. She urges states to fully employ all their means and resources ─ legal, administrative, judicial, economic, social, and educational ─ in order to further protect and provide these rights for their citizens.

Her work is not so much about evaluating how well countries are doing as it is about providing a more equitable system of evaluation. It has the potential to better guide countries in fulfilling these rights, encouraging those with fewer resources to not compare themselves to the same standards as rich countries, and alerting those with more resources to use them wisely.

Dr. Lawson-Remer ultimately hopes that the SERF index will push countries to keep one another accountable by paving a way for them to do so. Despite obvious drawbacks to encouraging international action and treaties, the index serves as a vital research tool to better understand the relationship between governments and their citizens, and how our leaders can better serve their people.

Image by UCSD School of Global Policy & Strategy


Patricia Isasa: Human Rights Activist and Survivor of Argentina’s “Dirty War”

by Cristina Hernandez
Staff Writer

Trigger Warning: Rape/Torture

On the 24th of March Argentina celebrates the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice, a public holiday to honor the lives of the victims of Argentina’s military dictatorship, also known as the “Dirty War,” which spanned from 1976 to 1983. It is a day met with collective solemnity, as Argentina—much like many other Latin American countries that experienced similar dictatorships—recalls this chapter in its history as having induced a heavy trauma to its national identity. Thirty thousand people were “kidnapped” (the term in Spanish for one of these individuals being “desaparecido”) for their alleged dissidence to the right-wing regime during a penetrating epoch of repression, fear, and unchecked human rights abuses. There’s no better way to understand this time period than to look at the story of one notable survivor: Patricia Isasa.

Kidnapped from her school in the Santa Fe province as a teenager, Isasa spent almost three years being held and tortured in different concentration camps. Unlike other less fortunate victims, she lived to tell the tale. On January 28 of this year, Isasa was invited to the Global School of Policy and Strategy in UC San Diego to discuss the life-altering events of her youth, as well as the many legal pathways she took after the end of the dictatorship to bring her perpetrators to justice.

Isasa began her talk with an explanation of what it meant to be a “desaparecido.” Being a “desaparecido” most often included being taken by the government, sent to a clandestine place, tortured, moved to another concentration camp, killed, and then secretly disposed of (either through a common grave or through the dumping of your body off of a plane into a lake or river, which Isasa described as the “Argentine” way). As a young girl of sixteen, Isasa’s student activism and early political inclinations had been sufficient grounds for her to be taken into military custody and forced to spend the next two and a half years imprisoned in three different concentration camps.

Isasa had no shortage of dehumanizing experiences from the time she spent illegally detained. She described different unidentified men hitting her against walls and leaving her in dark rooms with her hands and feet tied for weeks on end. She also chronicled the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of officers who reserved a “special treatment” for women that included raping them and ejaculating on their naked bodies as they tortured them with electric shocks. Detainees were forced to eat rotten food and bathe in freezing temperatures; the conditions of all of the camps being abysmal. Isasa and other victims of torture and abuse described their experiences as comparable to the infamous stories and pictures that came out of Abu Ghraib in 2003, as they recalled officers forcing detainees to rape one another while they themselves took torture-breaks to play soccer. This nightmarish chapter of Isasa’s life finally came to an end in 1978 when she was abruptly released after being held for two years without a trial or formal charges.

One member of the audience asked Isasa the question on everyone’s mind: “What was it that got you through this time?” Isasa’s reply left nothing to the imagination. 1975, the year before the formal start of the dictatorship in Argentina, was the year that Spain’s military dictator Francisco Franco passed away. With his passing came the death of his dictatorship and the unlikely emergence of democracy in the country. After 36 years of unceasing repression, Spain had at last broken from its fascist history, something which gave Isasa, all the way in Argentina, some degree of reassurance. It proved to her that someday her own troubles—the dictatorship, the kidnappings, the fear and repression—would come to an end. Like many before her, it was the act of looking forward, realizing that what she was going through wouldn’t last forever, and the belief that history would right all wrongs that effectively forged her psychological resistance.

While surviving the torture and abuse had been morally exacting, arriving at justice was similarly strenuous as Isasa had to battle a rigid wall of impunity. Even after Argentina’s return to democracy, all three of her main perpetrators were still protected by it. The chief exterminator of the camp she had been detained in was mayor. Her torturer, who had subjected her to horrific sexual abuse, was Santa Fe’s Ministry of Culture. Her interrogator, who had forged documents to prolong and authenticate her torture, remained a federal judge in the province. To Isasa, nothing was worse than knowing that all the people who had conspired in her dehumanization would not bear the consequences of their actions.

Having failed to attain justice domestically, Isasa turned to international law. It was at this juncture that she traveled to Spain, found a lawyer willing to represent her, and filed a lawsuit from abroad. While her lawyer tried to issue a warrant asking for the extradition of her perpetrators, it ultimately proved unsuccessful as the Argentine president at the time, De La Rua, rejected the extradition and the accused were never called to testify. To Isasa, this was a blatant admission of Argentina’s refusal to make amends for its past — most likely out of a fear that it would point to much more inculpating complicity. The events of the past in Argentina were not isolated to the actions of one military general but rather enabled by the many (kidnappers, torturers, judicial henchmen) who abetted and assisted the regime in its systemic acts of repression. Isasa considered this to be a truth so incriminating that she could see why many Argentines wanted to shun it altogether.

March for the Day of Remembrance of Truth and Justice

Ultimately, Isasa persevered and her efforts, along with the pressure of many grassroots organizations within Argentina (one being the highly influential “Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo” that tirelessly campaigned for the return of kidnapped children and stolen babies), proved fruitful. It was not until Nestor Kirchner’s administration in the early 2000s that this curtain of impunity was finally lifted with the repeal of various laws that had previously protected government officials. What followed was a historic wave of criminal trials where approximately 259 of the accused received sentences for “crimes against humanity” and “genocide.” In the end, Isasa was able to testify in trial, which resulted in her three primary abusers being convicted. They received three life sentences each, which they are currently serving at a maximum security prison.

In the midst of an ongoing debate within nation-states and Human Rights institutions about what measures of transitional justice should be pursued in post-conflict societies (whether it should be retributive justice or reconciliatory measures), Isasa’s stance could not be more clear: the law should act as the ultimate mediator. Isasa firmly believes that trials offer the necessary means to engage in a debate, deliver proof of crimes, commence a national discussion, and — most importantly— follow the truth. She stated how her own trial hadn’t been centered around the demand to be compensated for her individual suffering, but more so on the setting of a precedent and the encouragement of others to further this legacy of accountability. There should be no pardons, no amnesty, and no impunity. To Isasa, retributive justice is the ultimate vehicle for both the healing of individual victims and the repair of a damaged national body.

With an opera based on her life having premiered in Canada in 2016 and talks of a movie in the works, Isasa’s story has captured the attention of many. More so, her past experiences and prolonged work for the Argentine Human Rights and Justice Ministry have only given more weight and passion to her number-one belief: the guilty must always pay for their crimes.

Images by
UCSD School of Global Policy and Strategy
Monk fotografia