Why China Hasn't Done More to Rein in North Korea

On April 6, 2017, China’s President Xi Jinping and President Trump met for the first time to discuss trade tensions, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, and other issues. After the two-day presidential summit at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, the two leaders announced a 100-day plan to improve strained trade relations and boost cooperation between the rival nations. However, it appears that Trump and Xi were unable to agree on a clear plan of action for North Korea.

The Trump administration’s unexpected military strike in Syria—launched on the summit’s first day—highlighted a significant difference between U.S. and Chinese foreign policy. Trump entered the first meeting with the Chinese leader convinced that China could simply rein in North Korea and the threat posed by the country’s nuclear program. Of course, North Korea’s relationship with China, its main international backer, is not so simple. While Trump has threatened to take military action against North Korea, China urges the U.S. to refrain from making a preemptive strike. China’s goal is to maintain a Korean peninsula that is simultaneously split yet stable, which has become increasingly difficult as U.S. and North Korean relations continue to be tense. U.S. or North Korean aggression will inevitably lead to conflict in China’s backyard. “If a war occurs, the result is a situation in which everybody loses and there can be no winner,” Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said, according to Xinhua, China’s official news agency. “It is not the one who espouses harsher rhetoric or raises a bigger fist that will win.”

One day before the U.S.-China summit, Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, ordered another ballistic-missile test, displaying his capacity and willingness to cause trouble in the region while ensuring North Korea’s importance on the summit agenda. Although China wants the Korean peninsula to be free of nuclear weapons, the North has significantly expanded its weapons program. The medium-range missile test on April 5 marked the seventh missile test of the year. China could not possibly benefit from having an aggressive, nuclear-armed, and dangerously unpredictable neighbor, which begs the question: Why doesn’t China do more to discourage this behavior?

In reality, China has already responded to the rise in North Korean aggression. It agreed to abide by the most recent round of United Nations economic sanctions on North Korea and, in February, suspended its purchases of North Korean coal—the largest source of foreign exchange for the isolated country—for the remainder of the year. Xi also blames Kim for the February assassination of his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, who had close ties to China and lived in Macau under Chinese protection. However, in spite of its efforts, China still appears to be taking a passive stance because Chinese policy changes have been slight in comparison to the dramatic shifts in American policy toward North Korea.

 

“If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will,” Trump recently stated in an interview with the Financial Times. For the U.S., the threat of a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting California is proving to be a game-changer. As North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programs make more significant and noticeable developments, the Trump administration may be pressured to take an even greater hawkish stance toward the North. Increased U.S. presence in East Asia will be a nuisance to the Chinese government.

 

Even though China continues to discourage unilateral U.S. action, it seems unlikely to make radical policy changes to prevent it. This decision is also not without reason. China has backed, and will back, the North Korean regime because it does not want a unified Korean peninsula, especially if it becomes a single, stable, larger American ally on its border. The collapse of the North may also lead to a massive North Korean exodus into China’s northeastern provinces, subjecting those economically weaker regions to increased instability.

 

While these reasons have justified China’s support of North Korea since the 1950s, recent developments have contributed to China’s resolve:

1.     While the North’s weapons program has ramped up, North Korean missiles are not—for the moment—pointed at China. If China breaks tradition and adopts a more aggressive stance against North Korea, China’s protégé could become an unpredictable enemy.

2.     China does not perceive a North Korean ICBM as a serious threat, at least not to the extent that the U.S. does. Currently, there is no evidence that North Korea can place a nuclear warhead on an ICBM and reliably hit any part of the U.S.

3.     China is concerned about South Korea’s plans to deploy a U.S. anti-missile system, known as the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). While the U.S. and South Korea have officially assured that the missiles are to protect against a North Korean strike, China worries that it is really aimed at its own missiles.

Consequently, China continues to align itself with the North against the South. Perhaps China is more concerned with other countries’ reaction to North Korean hostility than the hostility itself.

Policy toward North Korea continues to test diplomatic relations between China and the U.S. The threat of unilateral American action is a grave concern to the Chinese government. Perhaps the Trump administration’s airstrike in Syria was meant to kill two birds with one stone: project strength and send a message to China. The U.S. is still entertaining a military option to deal with North Korea, which would undoubtedly lead to war on the Korean peninsula. A lack of coordination could also result in a decision by South Korea and Japan to develop their own nuclear weapons. Suddenly, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula can quickly become proliferation, instability, or war.

- Patrick Lin

Comment

Patrick Lin

Patrick Lin is a senior in CAS studying Economics, with minors in Computer Science, Mathematics, and Politics. He is particularly interested in financial crises, multinational corporations, technology, and law. He has had the opportunity to write and research for the Rockefeller Foundation, conduct legal research and software development for the Legal Aid Society, and interned with Ernst & Young as a Technology Strategy Consultant. When he is not running between classes and working on the Journal, he enjoys writing and performing spoken word poetry, painting, reading (The Prince, Art of War, Leviathan, really anything political philosophy), and cooking. He is also most likely studying for the LSAT. You can reach Patrick at patrickklin@nyu.edu.

Why H-1B Visa Workers Aren't Stealing U.S. Jobs

On April 3, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) started accepting H-1B petitions for Fiscal Year 2018. Each year, 85,000 highly coveted H-1B visas are processed (20,000 of which are reserved for master’s or doctoral degree holders). Last year, 236,000 foreign workers applied for the H-1B. It is likely that, just as it has in the past five consecutive years, USCIS will receive more than the 85,000 available H-1B visas in the first few days of April.

Historically, H-1B applicants could opt for “premium processing” of their visa, which allowed skilled workers to pay extra to expedite the visa approval process. On March 3, USCIS announced that it will remove this option on the same day it started accepting petitions.

In addition to the suspension of premium processing for H-1B visas, legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives calling for a new $130,000 minimum salary for H-1B visa holders, a dramatic increase from the current $60,000 minimum salary. This new salary cap effectively doubles the cost of hiring foreign skilled workers.

These waves of changes are being introduced to a visa program that has not changed substantively since the early 2000s. The H-1B was created in 1990 under section 101(a)(15)(H) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The non-immigrant visa allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in “specialty occupations,” which the regulation defines as requiring a “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge” as well as attainment of a bachelor’s degree, or equivalent, in the specific specialty as a minimum. For all intents and purposes, the H-1B was (and is) partial to foreign workers in STEM fields (though there is a curious exception for fashion models “of distinguished merit and ability”). In fact, roughly 99% of all H-1B visa workers have at least a Bachelor’s degree, while over half have advanced degrees.

These changes to the H-1B visa come at a time when protectionist and anti-globalization rhetoric has a strong foothold in American politics. Perhaps the most common criticism of the H-1B is that it is robbing Americans of their jobs. Critics assert that foreign workers are paid less than American workers, making foreign workers more desirable to U.S. companies. However, this critique is a mischaracterization of the U.S. labor market.

H-1B workers are not occupying the positions many of its critics are concerned with. While outsourcing certainly affects U.S. jobs, the jobs “taken” by traditional outsourcing tend to require less specialization, often called “unskilled” labor. It may be valid to accuse globalization for the decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs (even though automation and artificial intelligence may be the real culprits), but H-1B workers are not filling these positions. H-1B visa holders typically end up at Silicon Valley tech firms or consulting firms, often filling computer programming and engineering positions.

Many H-1B critics also lament the job security of individuals at tech firms and consultancies. Some worry that these U.S. companies are taking advantage of the H-1B program, using it to hire cheap labor at the expense of equally qualified Americans. While this is a well-intentioned concern, it is misguided. The Bush administration introduced the H-1B in 1990 in an attempt to address the alarming STEM labor shortage. A 2015 study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals a significant heterogeneity in the STEM labor market: although the academic sector is generally oversupplied, the government sector and private industry have a shortage of qualified talent in key areas. The fields experiencing the most severe shortages are engineering fields, particularly nuclear, aeronautical, software, and electrical engineering. These specialized STEM fields are the very areas many H-1B workers are filling. For instance, on average, the U.S. labor market demands approximately 120,000 new computer engineers per year. U.S. universities only produce one-third of that number, while the remaining two-thirds is satisfied by H-1B workers. The H-1B visa program is not hurting the U.S. economy or stealing U.S. jobs; in fact, H-1B workers are remedying labor shortages in fields that are at the frontier of U.S. innovation, allowing U.S. businesses to maintain their position as some of the most significant players in the global economy.

H-1B visa holders pay the same taxes on income as U.S. workers as well as the same social security, unemployment, and state taxes. These workers neither harm nor exploit the U.S. economy. In reality, these individuals are contributing to the American economy while addressing the labor shortages in important and specialized U.S. industries.

More can be done to address some of the shortcomings of the U.S. labor market. Many groups have been neglected as the country shifts its priorities toward service industries and technology-enabled production processes. However, placing the blame for these frictions on the H-1B visa program is not only problematic, but also dangerous and irresponsible, which, in turn, willharm the U.S. and jeopardize the nation’s reputation for innovation.

- Patrick Lin 

Comment

Patrick Lin

Patrick Lin is a senior in CAS studying Economics, with minors in Computer Science, Mathematics, and Politics. He is particularly interested in financial crises, multinational corporations, technology, and law. He has had the opportunity to write and research for the Rockefeller Foundation, conduct legal research and software development for the Legal Aid Society, and interned with Ernst & Young as a Technology Strategy Consultant. When he is not running between classes and working on the Journal, he enjoys writing and performing spoken word poetry, painting, reading (The Prince, Art of War, Leviathan, really anything political philosophy), and cooking. He is also most likely studying for the LSAT. You can reach Patrick at patrickklin@nyu.edu.

Teaching An Old Bill New Tricks

As a result of a combination of legislative gridlock and election-year rhetoric about rising crime rates, no major changes to the criminal justice system have made their way out of Congress. Yet, on September 22, the House of Representatives quietly—and overwhelmingly—passed an impactful justice system reform measure with a vote of 382 – 29.

The bipartisan Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act (H.R. 5963) was introduced by Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) on September 8. The legislation strives to retool the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has been expired since 2007. After receiving unanimous approval by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on September 14, the bill now awaits a floor vote.

When the JJDPA was first passed in 1974, it withheld federal funding from states that hold minors in adult prisons. Unlike previous incarnations of the law, however, the newly approved Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act would extend that same protection to juveniles who have been charged with adults crimes but are still awaiting trial.

This updated legislation would also prevent states from locking up minors for status offenses, crimes that are only considered crimes because of the age of the offender, such as truancy or breaking curfew. In addition, the law would extend to cases in which minors are charged with only a status offense but jailed for violating a court order connected to the case. Previously, those cases were considered an exception, known as the “Valid Court Order (VCO).”

The Senate version of the bill has made it out of committee and has received virtually unanimous support. Despite its initial success, it still faces an obstacle in Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), who singlehandedly blocked the measure from being put to a quick voice vote. Cotton objected to phasing out the provision in the Act that allows status offenders to be locked up under certain circumstances. Cotton’s home state, Arkansas, also incarcerates minors for status offenses at a disproportionately high rate.

Still, the bill’s passage through at least one chamber comes at an unexpected time: weeks before the highly-anticipated general election. From the intense Republican primary race to Donald Trump’s doomsday speech at the Republican National Convention in July, the specter of rising crime across the country has become a prominent issue on the campaign trail. Accordingly, the chances of passing substantive criminal justice reform at the federal level have faltered.

However, despite the status of many earlier attempts to reform the adult prison system, the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act currently enjoys broad bipartisan support.

Since its conception in 1974, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act has provided federal grants to states that adhered to a number of core principles, such as not detaining juveniles in adult facilities; not detaining juveniles for status offenses; and not detaining juveniles in ways that would differ on the basis of race. Over time, however, loopholes were added to the legislation. The reauthorized bill aims to close these loopholes.

If the updated bill passes, states that do not comply with the new law could choose to forgo a portion of their federal funding. The bill would also mandate states to collect data on racial disparities at all stages of the juvenile system, then present a strategy for addressing those shortcomings. Another important component of the bill requires states to ensure that academic credits and transcripts are transferred between schools and juvenile detention facilities in a timely manner. Furthermore, children will receive full credit toward graduation for any schoolwork completed while incarcerated.

As reforms go, the changes being proposed are far from radical. “This is the floor, the minimum of how we should treat children,” said Marcy Mistrett, the CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice, which has been lobbying Congress to pass the bill since 2007.

This updated legislation takes steps to ensure a smoother transition out of juvenile-justice programs and into education programs. By providing funding for delinquency prevention and gang-intervention programs, while also requiring states to report data on juvenile recidivism rates, states might be in a better position to address some longstanding issues in their justice system and their communities.

- Patrick Lin

Comment

Patrick Lin

Patrick Lin is a senior in CAS studying Economics, with minors in Computer Science, Mathematics, and Politics. He is particularly interested in financial crises, multinational corporations, technology, and law. He has had the opportunity to write and research for the Rockefeller Foundation, conduct legal research and software development for the Legal Aid Society, and interned with Ernst & Young as a Technology Strategy Consultant. When he is not running between classes and working on the Journal, he enjoys writing and performing spoken word poetry, painting, reading (The Prince, Art of War, Leviathan, really anything political philosophy), and cooking. He is also most likely studying for the LSAT. You can reach Patrick at patrickklin@nyu.edu.

The Rise of Artificial Intelligence: Welcoming Productivity or Accepting Economic Inequality?

This piece was originally published on LinkedIn
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"Homo sapiens will be split into a handful of 'gods,' and then the rest of us."

"Back to the Future" Day was roughly three weeks ago. As fans around the globe donned Marty McFly and Doc Brown costumes, many compared the 2015 technology imagined in the sci-fi classic to where our technology stands today. From the Lexus Hoverboard to Microsoft's HoloLens, we can see that our reality isn't too far off from the future predicted in the 1980s trilogy. However, not all sci-fi films were so optimistic. The first "Terminator" film was released in 1984, just one year before the first "Back to the Future." The film paints a grim picture: malicious artificial intelligence systematically attacking and destroying the human race.

Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk have all warned us about artificial intelligence. "Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history," wrote English theoretical physicist Hawking in an op-ed, which appeared in a 2014 issue of The Independent. "Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks. In the near term, world militaries are considering autonomous-weapon systems that can choose and eliminate targets." Then, in a 2014 BBC interview, Hawking added, "Humans, limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete and would be superseded by AI."

In spite of these warnings, the technology sector speeds forward, creating fantastical machines that could easily be mistaken for Hollywood movie props (The robot in the photo above is not from an upcoming action sci-fi movie -- it's Japan's Kurata mech). While robots and artificial intelligence lead to discussions of morality and the human pursuit of power and immortality, such developments present economic concerns as well. In a new report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, it forecasts a catastrophic number of jobs being eliminated by AI: up to 35% of all workers in the UK and 47% of those in the US, including white-collar jobs. 

Source: Suidobashi Heavy INdustry

Source: Suidobashi Heavy INdustry

 

Are these numbers a cause for panic? Is this the advent of a mechanized takeover? Perhaps; but history has a different tale to tell. From the Industrial Revolution in 19th-century England to the print unions protesting in the 1980s about computers, there have always been people fearful about technological advancements. An even more fascinating trends is that the economy continues to produce new jobs in the wake of these developments. 

"The poster child for automation is agriculture," said Calum Chace, author of Surviving AI as well as the novel Pandora's Brain. "In 1900, 40% of the US labor force worked in agriculture. By 1960, the figure was a few percent. And yet people had jobs; the nature of the jobs had changed.

"But then again, there were 21 million horses in the US in 1900. By 1960, there were just three million. The difference was that humans have cognitive skills -- we could learn to do new things. But that might not always be the case as machines get smarter and smarter."

"Humans, limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete and would be superseded by AI." 

What if we're the horses to AI's humans? The combination of robotics and artificial intelligence is advancing at incredible speeds. MIT recently released a video of an autonomous drone flying at 30 miles per hour, avoiding obstacles -- all without a pilot, using only its onboard processors, essentially learning its environment throughout the course of its flight. MIT also built bipedal robots designed to soften their impact when falling over as well as a "robot cheetah," which can jump over obstacles of up to 40 centimeters without help.

Earlier this year, Toshiba released Aiko Chihira, an android, on the floor of a Tokyo department store. She was so lifelike that many shoppers confused her for a human being. "She's 165 centimeters [5 feet 5 inches] tall ... and she's supposed to be 32 years old," designer Hitoshi Tokuda said. "Her movement is done by 30-times-per-second data [transfers]," and she is powered by 43 motors, making her movements so subtle that she appears "90 percent" human-like.

Add to that Moore's Law, an observation made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965, which  states that the power of microprocessor technology doubles and its costs of production halve every 18 months, and you can see why fear of a robot revolution isn't so far-fetched. 

sourcE: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

sourcE: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

However, the invasion of AI in our daily lives started well before autonomous drones and lifelike androids. From cooking systems with vision processors that can determine how cooked a burger is to robo-advisors that provide automated, algorithm-based portfolio management advice without the use of human financial planners, artificial intelligence has been an active component of human life for a long time.

The Associated Press has sports and business news stories written automatically by a system developed by Automated Insights. Even doctors and lawyers may be under threat. About 570,000 "robo-surgery" operations were performed last year. Oncologists at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York have used IBM's Watson supercomputer, which can read one million textbooks in three seconds, to help them with diagnosis. On the other hand, advanced databases can sort through giant files faster than any lawyer. The fact of the matter is computers and mechanization are continuously displacing work. 

So how will robotics and AI impact our jobs, our economy, and our society? In a 2013 paper The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerization?, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne point out that even while some jobs are replaced, new ones are quick to spring up, often times re-allocating labor to focus more on service and interaction with and between people. In an interview with the Observer, Frey said, "The fastest-growing occupations in the past five years are all related to services." 

However, Frey finds that technology is leading to a scarcity of leading-edge employment. Fewer and fewer people have the skills needed to work in the front line of its advances. "In the 1980s, 8.2% of the US workforce were employed in new technologies introduced in that decade," he writes. "By the 1990s, it was 4.2%. For the 2000s, our estimate is that it's just 0.5%. That tells me that, on the one hand, the potential for automation is expanding -- but also that technology doesn't create that many new jobs now compared to the past."

This trend worries people like Chace. "There will be people who own the AI, and therefore own everything else," he says. "Which means homo sapiens will be split into a handful of 'gods,' and then the rest of us.

"I think our best hope going forward is figuring out how to live in an economy of radical abundance, where machines do all the work, and we basically play."

Might we already be part of the way there? As automation and AI become more accessible, wouldn't productivity lead to increased leisure time? Chace warns that a work-less lifestyle also means "you have to think about a universal income" -- a basic, unconditional level of state support. 

Source: ibm

Source: ibm

Perhaps it is still too early to properly assess the social effects of AI. Technology moves fast; figuring out what happened in the past is difficult enough, let alone what the future will bring. 

In business and academic circles, productivity is often hailed as the driver of economic growth. 18th century scholar Thomas Malthus notoriously predicted that a rapidly rising human population would result in war, plague, and famine. But Malthus failed to take into account the drastic technological changes -- from steam-powered transportation to enhancements in agricultural technology -- that would allow the production of food and other staples to expand even more rapidly than the number of hungry mouths. The puzzle and answer to economic progress is the ability to do more with the same investment of capital and labor. 

The introduction of robots has reduced the amount of time and resources needed in the production process. Yet as workers are laid off from production lines, new jobs are created elsewhere. To date, fears of mass unemployment as a result of a machine takeover are as unfounded as those that have always accompanied other great technological revolutions. 

This may sound hunky-dory and all, but there is an important caveat. The relatively low-skilled factory workers who have been displaced by robots are rarely the same people who miraculously become app developers or analysts. Technological progress is already a suspect for exacerbating inequality, a trend Bank of America Merrill Lynch maintains may continue in the future. 

Massive economic benefits may be reaped from the rise of machines and AI; but unless it is carefully managed, those very benefits may be monopolized by wealthier, upper-class members of our society, exacerbating inequality and perpetuating class-based issues. 

- Patrick Lin

Comment

Patrick Lin

Patrick Lin is a senior in CAS studying Economics, with minors in Computer Science, Mathematics, and Politics. He is particularly interested in financial crises, multinational corporations, technology, and law. He has had the opportunity to write and research for the Rockefeller Foundation, conduct legal research and software development for the Legal Aid Society, and interned with Ernst & Young as a Technology Strategy Consultant. When he is not running between classes and working on the Journal, he enjoys writing and performing spoken word poetry, painting, reading (The Prince, Art of War, Leviathan, really anything political philosophy), and cooking. He is also most likely studying for the LSAT. You can reach Patrick at patrickklin@nyu.edu.