Discussion with Rasheed Griffith on China’s Influence in the Caribbean

One of the most overlooked regional relationships in the study of international relations is the one between China and the Caribbean. And this gap in the scholarship is further widened as the relationship is rising in international significance. To address this gap, on March 2nd, 2021, Tufts SURGE invited Rasheed Griffith to talk more about his research on the future social and economic consequences of this growing multilateral relationship between China and the Caribbean.

Mr. Griffith is the Head of Operations at Tokamak AI, the Director of the Caribbean-ASEAN Council, the host of the ‘China in the Caribbean’ Podcast, and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Future Forum.

Mr. Griffith reported that China has begun expanding its influence into areas outside of the Sinosphere. China has not only started to invest more in Caribbean companies, but it has also begun donating security equipment to their militaries. For example, in the past fifteen years, China has lent Jamaica alone around $2.1 billion to help improve its infrastructure and production of exported goods like sugar.

Furthermore, because of the recent onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, China has had the opportunity to deepen these relationships. For instance, China has gifted large quantities of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to Caribbean countries, and it has also promised to loan money to Latin American and Caribbean countries so that they have the ability to purchase and distribute large amounts of Covid-19 vaccine once it is more readily available for purchase.

This is significant to Washington because it represents how Beijing is beginning to challenge America’s hegemony in global influence. Similar to the way in which the United States sought allyship with countries inside of the Sinosphere after World War II—including Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan—this new interest in Caribbean politics could also signify that Beijing considers engaging in military conflict with the United States to be an event worthy of preparation due to the Caribbean’s close proximity to America.

Ultimately, China’s newfound interest in the Caribbean symbolizes how it is trying to redefine its relationships with other countries and expand its influence. It remains to be seen how the potential political realignment would impact American interests, most of the countries in the Caribbean would prefer to strive toward a path of political neutrality. As such, Mr. Griffith believes the United States should not worry too much about how China is choosing to become more politically involved in the Caribbean at the moment, but he advocates closer monitoring of the situations, specifically any future relationships they form.

Nicholas Szechenyi Presentation

By: Edbert Jao

In August of 2020, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo suddenly announced his resignation due to health concerns. Especially given Abe having successfully pushed for a reinterpretation of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Japanese conclusion, his yet-standing proposal to directly revise it, and an ambitious economic reform agenda colloquially called “Abenomics,” Abe’s resignation may have significant geopolitical implications. Following his announcement, pundits across the world debated what would happen to Japan’s foreign policy after Abe’s unexpected departure.

To allow Tufts University students to hear an expert perspective on this issue, on Tuesday, November 17, Sino-US Relations Group Engagement hosted Nicholas Szechenyi from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to share his insights on the direction of Japanese foreign policy. Deputy Director of the Japan Chair and Senior Fellow at the CSIS and with extensive previous international relations experience relevant to Japanese policy, Szechenyi delivered his lecture and answered questions from the audience.

According to Szechenyi, interim Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has indicated an intent to continue Abe’s foreign policy. The three key arrows of Abenomics – monetary easing, fiscal stimulus via government spending, and structural reform – and Japan’s increasingly active security operations will not change. Japan will continue engagement with other countries where interests align. With Taiwan, the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the United States, Australia, and others, Japan will cooperate on maritime freedom and trade. To thisend, Prime Minister Suga embarked to Vietnam and Indonesia for his first official travel in October 2020.

Critically, Szechenyi noted that Prime Minister Suga holds office until September 2021, when the next elections are due. Until then, the interim government under Prime Minister Suga will provide continuity. Whether or not Japanese foreign policy undergoes substantial shifts may very well be decided by the elections of September 2021.

For Nicholas Szechenyi’s time and knowledge, Sino-US Relations Group Engagement and the audience are grateful.

Mr. Nicholas Szechenyi is Deputy Director of the Japan Chair and Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), one of the most prestigious foreign policy think tanks in the US. His research focuses on U.S.-Japan relations and U.S.-East Asia relations. In 2009, he was selected as an inaugural fellow of the U.S.-Japan Network for the Future program established by the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation. Prior to joining CSIS in 2005, he was a news producer for Fuji Television in Washington, D.C., where he covered U.S. policy in Asia and domestic politics

Book Talk with Professor Rana Mitter: “China’s Good War”

By: Megan Starses

Since the turn of the century, China has grown increasingly more interested in redefining its post-World War II role to reshape both its domestic and international policy. On October 27th, Tufts SURGE had the honor of inviting Rana Mitter, a University of Oxford professor, for a discussion about his new book, China’s Good War, at our annual Book Talk. According to Professor Mitter, even though almost 100 million Chinese citizens became refugees in their own country and an estimated 15-20 million Chinese were killed either through combat or starvation during World War II, China’s participation in the war is not very well known around the world.

The reason for this is because when Mao Zedong assumed the position of chairman of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, he was hesitant to admit that the Nationalist Party (KMT), led by Chiang Kai-shek, contributed in any way to fighting off their common enemy—the Japanese regime. However, after Chiang and Mao died in the mid-1970s, the Chinese government was more inclined to reexamine the KMT’s role and accomplishments during World War II in accordance with the combined efforts of both the Nationalist and the Communist Party. Among these achievements were the augmentation of the Chinese role in the Allied Powers, China’s pride in being one of the founding members of the UN, and its current role as one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. As such, these sentiments have allowed Communist China to bolster itself and assert its place as a key player in the realm of international relations.

However, it is essential to note that this reassessment of World War II is not only central to redefining China’s role in the international sphere, as it has also significantly affected the domestic sphere as well. Even though many Chinese netizens have often mocked the Communist Party’s attempt to portray its role in World War II as more significant than it truly was, a portion of the Chinese general public is actually beginning to buy into this narrative told by the Communist Party to an extent, as seen by a few newly produced, popular movies set during World War II. Thus, this newfound focus on World War II has allowed the Chinese government not only to foster a new sense of nationalism among the Chinese general public, but also strengthen its own popular support.

In fact, in the age of COVID-19, Professor Mitter even stated that the Chinese Communist Party is using the same rhetoric of claiming victory over Japan in World War II and applying it to their desire to “defeat” the coronavirus. As such, this demonstrates the scale at which the Communist Party has utilized World War II to unify the Chinese people and forge a new sense of nationalism among the citizens. To put it simply, in the words of Professor Mitter, “World War II is not just history for China, but an aspect of incredibly current affairs.”

Paul Huang, Taiwanese Defense Journalist Presentation

On September 17, Tufts SURGE held their second GIM via Zoom and invited Paul Huang, a Taiwanese defense journalist who conducts research on China’s military and global influence operations, to speak about Taiwan’s unpreparedness for war with China. For the first half of the meeting, Huang gave a presentation about his article “Taiwan’s Military Has Flashy American Weapons but No Ammo,” which was promptly followed by a thirty-minute Q & A session.

He claimed that in the event China and Taiwan do go to war, Taiwan would be grossly underprepared due to its severe shortage of soldiers and lack of a functional reserve system. In fact, he even asserted that the addition of American weapons would only exacerbate, rather than quell, the problems Taiwan’s military is already facing.

To read his article in its entirety, click the link below! Also, be sure to follow our facebook page to stay up to date on our future events and guest speakers!


Professor Emma Teng Book Talk

On Saturday November 2, from 12:00 – 13:15 at the Crane Room in Paige Hall,
SURGE has the honor of hosting MIT Professor Emma J. Teng’s for our Fall book talk. She will present on and about the topics within her book titled “Eurasian: Mixed Identities in the United States, China, and Hong Kong,” after which a discussion will be held.

A link to the event on Facebook can be found here:

In the context of the Gold Rush, the Transcontinental Railroad, and the Asian Exclusion Acts, come join us in learning about and discussing the experiences of those identifying as Asian American in the United States in comparison with the experiences of those of more mainstream identities and the experiences of those who live on the other side of the Pacific in mainland China and Hong Kong.

2019 China-US Symposium: New Frontiers

This year, the China-US Symposium will take place from April 12th to 13th. The theme of this year’s symposium is “New Frontiers”, dealing with how the US and China can navigate uncertain futures of the world.

Check out the descriptions of the panels and lectures.

Follow our Facebook page for more timely updates.

The China­-US Symposium is an annual event held at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, MA, organized by Tufts undergraduates. Its goal is to foster positive relations between China and the United States, cultivating cooperation and understanding between students and experts from different backgrounds and cultures. Last year alone, we hosted eighteen experts and scholars from around the world.

Friday, April 12 Crane Room (Room 113), Paige Hall, 12 Upper Campus Road, Medford, Mass.

Saturday, April 13 Fletcher School, Mugar Hall Room 200, 160 Packard Avenue, Medford, Mass.

Full map available at http://campusmaps.tufts.edu/medford/

Professor Michael Beckley Book Talk

“The United States has been the world’s dominant power for more than a century. Now many analysts believe that other countries are rising and the United States is in decline. Is the unipolar moment over? Is America finished as a superpower?”

(Excerpt drawn from: http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?gcoi=80140107107650)

SURGE is pleased to co-host its faculty advisor, Prof. Michael Beckley with the Tufts International Relations Program, for its second fall speaker event of the semester. Prof. Beckley will be speaking about major themes in his new book, “Unrivaled” that was recently published in September 2018. Come join us for an unrivaled night of learning!

Richard Samuels on Sino-Japanese Relations: SURGE Fall Speaker

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Sino-Japanese Peace and Friendship. On this special occasion, Tufts Sino-U.S. Relations Group Engagement (SURGE) cordially invite you and your organization to our Fall Speaker series to review the Sino-Japanese relationship and its profound implications on the international order.

We are honored to have Professor Richard Samuels as our speaker this fall. Professor Samuels is a Ford International Professor of Political Science and director of the Center for International Studies at MIT. He has been head of the MIT Political Science Department, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Japan of the National Research Council, and chair of the Japan-US Friendship Commission. He has also been elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and was awarded an Imperial decoration by the Emperor of Japan and the Japanese Prime Minister. His articles and studies have been published in a wide range of academic journals. His books on Japanese foreign policy, the 2011 Tohoku catastrophe, and Machiavelli have won him a wide range of prestigious awards.

The event will be held at 8:00 p.m. on October 18th at Mugar 200. There will be snacks and refreshments provided before the event. Feel free to email us at yuan.chee@tufts.edu or yicheng.zhang@tufts.edu for any questions about this event.

Tufts SURGE is a student-run organization at Tufts University. Our goal is to foster positive relations between China and the United States, cultivating cooperation and understanding between students and experts from different backgrounds and cultures. We organize a speaker event every fall semester and a symposium each spring. In the past years, we’ve had a variety of speakers including the Ambassador of Singapore to the U.S. Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, former President Trump’s nominee for Ambassador to South Korea Victor Cha, as well as former Chief Secretary of Hong Kong, Anson Chan.

For those interested, following are the full text of the treaty and a Chinese newspaper article (in English) on its background: https://www.mofa.go.jp/region/asia-paci/china/treaty78.html


The Fake Farmer

terracottaby Duncan Allen

Since its opening-up to the West in 1978, China’s tourism industry has witnessed a massive surge in popularity. Foreigners flock to China’s numerous ancient landmarks, from the Great Wall to the Shaolin Temple to the Summer Palace. Many Chinese citizens’ livelihoods depend on the fifty million or so laowai’s (foreigners) who come to the country each year. In China, like in any country, tourists’ lack of caution, unfamiliarity with local customs, or inability to understand the Chinese language make them easy targets for overcharging and scams.

I had the pleasure of experiencing the Chinese tourism industry firsthand during my study abroad orientation this summer, where our host university treated my fellow Tufts students and I to three days in the ancient city of Xi’an. While there, we were accompanied by a local tour guide who took us from landmark to museum to restaurant everyday, all the while informing us on each location’s rich history.

One particular story that stood out from the trip was about the farmer who discovered the legendary terracotta army in 1974. Our tour guide told us the farmer and his entire village were rewarded handsomely by the Chinese government for their discovery, and the lucky farmer even had the honor of meeting U.S. President Bill Clinton during one of his visits to China. According to the story, the farmer could barely speak any English, and when meeting Clinton, mistakenly asked “who are you” instead of “how are you”. Clinton chuckled and said “I’m Hillary’s husband” to which the farmer replied “me too”.

Our tour guide then informed us that the farmer still lives in the village where the army was discovered, and on occasion signs books and shakes hands with tourists who pass through. If we were lucky, we might be able to meet this man, she told us.

And lucky we were. Inside the very first village gift shop sat a weathered old man who looked to be about seventy. A banner strung up behind him proudly declared he was Yang Zhifa, the first farmer to discover the terracotta warriors. All around the shop were photos of the man shaking hands with various people, including Bill Clinton. A few of my classmates actually bought books about the terracotta army, which he graciously signed. He even gave them a “generous student discount”.

As it turns out, the man inside the gift shop was not Yang Zhifa. The story of the discoverers of the terracotta army is much less pleasant than our tour guide led us to believe. Yang, who discovered the first terracotta warriors while digging a well with his brothers and a family friend, is now well into his eighties and lives about a kilometer away from the village. Though he and his family were given a stipend by the government as a reward, it is reportedly rather small, and Yang still lives in relative poverty. Within months of the discovery, Yang’s village was seized by the government and transformed into a museum and tourist attraction. Though the villagers were compensated, many remained angry at Yang for causing their displacement from their ancestral home. Two of Yangs brothers died penniless in the 90s, and the family friend who witnessed the original discovery hanged himself rather than burden his family with medical bills.

Their eviction from their land by the government has transformed the lifestyles of the remaining villagers. What was once a farming commune is now a completely commercialized tourist hotspot. Restaurants, food stands, and gift shops line the streets. McDonalds and Starbucks are here to stay. And on almost every corner is another Yang Zhifa.

David Rawson Memorial Lecture by Dr. William Overholt

by Peter de Guzman

Earlier this month, we held our annual China-U.S. Symposium on April 13th-14th. This symposium was composed of four panels, a lecture, and a keynote speech by Singaporean Ambassador to the United States Dr. Ashok Kumar Mirpuri.

Following a riveting panel entitled “A Nuclear North: What Korea Means to Sino-US Relations,” SURGE presented the David Rawson Memorial Lecture by Dr. William Overholt. The David Rawson Memorial Lecture honors the life of Tufts Class of 2007 alum David Rawson whose life was tragically cut short the summer after his graduation. Previous David Rawson Memorial Lecturers include Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy and Dr. Victor Cha.

Dr. William H. Overholt is the ​President of Fung Global Institute, a Senior Research Fellow at John F. Kennedy School of Government, and the Principal of AsiaStat LLC. Prior to his current endeavors, Dr. Overholt has also worked in the private sector, having worked in investment banking for 21 years. Dr. Overholt has also published numerous books, with his most recent work titled “China’s Crisis of Success” (Cambridge University Press, 2017). This recent publication inspired Dr. Overholt’s lecture at the China-U.S. Symposium in which he shed light on China’s economic condition and the challenges China and the U.S. may face in the future.

Dr. Overholt opened the lecture recounting his process of writing “The Rise of China” (W.W. Norton, 1993) which was the first book to predict China’s success in the realm of economics and geopolitics. Dr. Overholt drew upon his knowledge of Asian economic development when comparing present China to South Korea and Taiwan’s miracle economic rises before inevitably facing difficulties including massive debt and powerful political interest groups asserting their will. Following this comparison, Dr. Overholt detailed how former Premier Zhu Rongji’s political and economic reforms were initially disliked, but later appeared to be prescient in the era of former General Secretary Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao.

Sharing his insight into the significance of current General Secretary Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption, Dr. Overholt expressed his view that these are not the actions taken by a confident leader, but instead that they display the instability in China that could create conditions for negative outcomes such as potential capital flight.

Following his lecture, Dr. Overholt drew upon his wealth of private sector and academic experience when answering undergraduate and visitors’ questions. When asked by a student his views on Chinese investment in African nations and concerns of neocolonialism, Dr. Overholt spoke on his views of Beijing’s One Belt One Road initiative as a net positive for nations partnering with China, while also drawing attention to the potential threat of large debt accumulation by partner nations.

SURGE would like to once again thank the Institute of Global Leadership and the rest of the Tufts community for its invaluable support.