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Selling “American-ness”: Japan’s Uniqlo

There’s a recent slang term has grown in popularity in Japan: unibare. This word is a combination of the two words, Uniqlo, the company, and bareru, which is the Japanese word equivalent to the phrase “letting the cat out of the bag.” This term is used when someone is caught wearing Uniqlo clothing, what is now the equivalent of social suicide among Japanese youth.

But despite a seemingly negative image held against the clothing brand, Uniqlo has grown to be Asia’s biggest clothing retailer, and the president, Tadashi Yanai, is the richest man in Japan. Clearly they’re doing something right. But with such an image, how are they maintaining sales domestically, and how are they effectively projecting their image abroad? The answer lies in the brilliant globalization strategy of this company, as well as the core truth of how an affordable retail company can succeed on the global scale: you have to sell American-ness. Before elaborating on the latter, let’s look at how and why Uniqlo has grown to be the retail giant it is today.

It’s rare to see Asian fashion companies making the same mark in Western markets that Uniqlo has—rather, many either fail to break into Western markets, or only enter through another pre-established Western company. Fashion trends are dominated by both European and American brands, and thus tend to disseminate throughout the world from fashion capitals such as New York, London and Paris. When Uniqlo first began spreading West, it sought to maintain it’s emphasis on the “basics” of fashion—clothing that was simple and did not go out of style. It marketed itself as a Japan-led-fashion brand, and hoped to project the image of simple fashion to the global market.

However, it failed. In 2001, Uniqlo opened 21 stores in London, all but eight of which closed within five years. Why? Because Uniqlo’s simple, no-brand clothing did not catch on in the London fashion scene. So like most companies in their globalization stage, Uniqlo decided to localize and cater to the audience to whom they were selling. In London, they worked with local celebrities and organizations to pick up on fashion trends and develop lines that consumers would wear. Uniqlo’s globalization strategy was then centered around research and development, and in accordance with it’s motto, “Made for All,” it truly (and successfully) sought to make it’s clothing affordable, available, and desirable to all. For example, in China, it was one of the first international companies to market via Chinese social media, rather than the conventional social media platforms that tend to be the norm. When entering the US, this localization was taken a step further, as Uniqlo sought to develop special lines and products not only for the American public, but also for the entire Uniqlo consumer base.

But why did Uniqlo need the distinctly American clothing lines (SPRZ NYC, a line in collaboration with New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Pharell Williams “Other” line, etc.) to finally spread a global trend? Why were they not able to do it with the original, distinctly Japanese styles and lines they sell within Asia? There is no clear answer to this, but it does bring us to the second important reason why Uniqlo is incredibly successful: it learned quickly that America is the gateway to disseminate affordable clothing styles across the world. When looking at distinctly American fashion brands that are marketed around the world, it becomes clear that the actual clothing design is not significantly altered depending on the audience—rather, the “American style” is what sells.

While Uniqlo does take artistic license in each of its regional lines, it’s important to note that the only regional clothing lines that Uniqlo markets around the world (disregarding the original styles marketed domestically) are the American ones. And, not only that, but these American lines are incredibly popular. It seems to be a strategy used not only to appeal on a global scale, but to also re-spark the novelty of Uniqlo products back home, in Japan.

Unibare, no more? While looking at trends in global fashion trends and marketing may seem trite in the larger scheme of international relations and politics, it actually serves as an important point when looking at globalization strategies of companies in different regions. This selling of “American-ness” is something that is not strictly related to the fashion world, but can be applied to different sectors, such as technology. To what extent does a country’s reputation, in any sector, lend to the market value of products? Uniqlo certainly figured out that the American stamp, even on a “Japan-led-fashion” brand, was key for effective global expansion.

Neena Kapur is a junior majoring in International Relations

Towards an Understanding of the Macro and Micro Implications of the Sino-Tibet Conflict

The Sino-Tibetan conflict continues to affect hundreds of lives and the Tibetan people have continued with their peaceful movements in response. China and Tibet have tried to win the west over for support, which may have a significant impact on future ties between the western countries and the opposing side. In light of all of China’s oppression, several Tibetans have fled to India through the Himalayas and to seek refuge in Dharamsala, India.

After I produced a documentary on the Sino-Tibet conflict, I traveled to the Tibetan government, interviewed the Prime Minister (where I learned about the Central Tibetan Administration’s direct action to resolve the conflict with China, the subsidies that the Indian government is providingfor Tibetan education in India, and Tibetan progress towards establishing a democratic charter), visited the parliament, and got the opportunity to explore rooms full of preserved Buddhist scriptures. The trip helped me crystallize several ideas regarding Tibet that had come up during my research.

Perhaps the most eye-opening experience of the trip was when I visited a Tibetan refugee camp and stupas (Tibetan temples). As residents in the US, so far away from the situation, we are unable to fully grasp the impact these events have on the Tibetan people. Like I mentioned earlier, the media informs us of the global implications: how ties may be affected and what particular events insinuate about China and Tibet’s future – a macro perspective. However, only through my journey did I start to understand the micro perspective – the trajectory of so many Tibetans’ lives has drastically changed in the recent past.

In the Tibetan Children’s Village, where 15,000 Tibetan refugee children are housed and educated, I got the chance to talk to young adults and children, understand their living conditions and see their progress. The diversity of backgrounds was incredible: I met children who had just arrived at the organization a few weeks back after traveling from Tibet through the Himalayas on their own, and I also met graduates of the organization who completed coursework and had jobs in the nearby city. Despite the great odds against these people, they have demonstrated their strength and perseverance. I feel so fortunate to have received that opportunity, as it has helped me broaden my perspective when reading about Sino-Tibet affairs and consider the implications on the people as well as the consequences on the country as a whole.

Anoushka Shahane is a junior majoring in Cognitive and Brain Sciences and Biopyschology

Two Useful Resources for Handling the Information Overload

As a student of International Affairs in the media age, I find the greatest obstacle to expanding one’s understanding of particular regions, conflicts, or histories is not a lack of information but an overwhelming abundance of perspectives, arguments, and theories. Given the multitude of choices available, debates within classes or personal conversations appear shockingly void of shared, basic information, and finding textured histories of issues as opposed to newswire updates is consistently difficult.

As a result, I wanted to share two resources I find extremely helpful in not only giving me updated information about complex issues but also appropriate context. The first is a host of resources created by the Council on Foreign Relations for high school and university students. CFR’s resources are both detailed and general with specific issue guides on topics ranging from the American and Iran nuclear deal to the relative voting power of Germany to more general interactive resources on more complex issues such as Chinese Martine Disputes or the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Although advanced students may find these guides simplistic, individuals interested in not just CNN updates but historical and political context will find it much more helpful than haphazard Wikipedia searches.

For students no longer needing context and instead are searching for varied perspective, I recommend the University of Toronto’s Munk Debates. These debate’s occur semi-annually and center around an overall field of study such as the future of gender relations or the role of religion in modern society. Do not assume, however, that the forum’s broad resolutions signify simplistic analysis because the Munk debates access can impressive list of global leaders and leading scholars. For example the debate regarding the China’s rise, features Niall Ferguson paired with David Daokui Li matched against Henry Kissinger and Fareed Zakaria. Not only is it incredibly fun to watch Niall Ferguson say, “Excuse me Mr. Kissinger, but I think you have your history wrong” but the debates are also a useful way to explore the varied perspectives on critically important topics.

I hope you find these resources helpful in combating information fatigue while still accessing varied perspective and needed context.

Jacob Clark is a junior majoring in International Relations

Historical Narratives and Uyghur Marginalization in China’s Development of Xinjiang

In the aftermath of the 2009 ethnic riots in Urumqi, the capital of the far western Chinese province of Xinjiang, journalist John Pomfret made a striking comment on National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm Show, “In the early years of this century they [China] launched a program called the Great Western Development Scheme, and in justifying a need for such a program which involved the massive influx of investment into Xinjiang and other provinces in the west, they’ve used direct quotes from Manifest Destiny texts from the 19th century in the United States.” The implication here is that the central government’s effort to develop Xinjiang is not only a part of its economic growth policy, but also a nation-building process that draws upon the American model. Applying this logic, the exclusion of the Uyghur people native to Xinjiang in modern development is treated as a naturally occurring symptom of progress rather than a barrier to it.

The idea that ethnic marginalization plays a role in consolidating the nation state is well grounded in history. Influenced by Social Darwinian thought that promulgated race-specific characteristics, nationalist intellectuals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries equated Chinese identity to Han ethnicity as a way to counter the weakness of the ruling Manchu elite in face of Western encroachment. This was reflected in the progressive movements of early Republican China that bundled racial purity with national strength. For example, a poster (see page 89) distributed in 1928 by the National Anti-Opium Association depicted, young, strong Han citizens wielding patriotic slogans and beating a “white” morphine demon and a “black” opium demon.

During the same era, “Uyghur” was constructed as a distinct ethnicity and was granted official recognition in the 1930s. Previously, Uyghurs identified themselves according to their locality rather than any overarching racial or cultural category. The assertion of a unified Uyghur ethnicity was necessary for achieving Xinjiang’s political autonomy in the nationalist context.

Today, Xinjiang’s autonomy is in name only. Although the appointment of Uyghurs to top provincial government positions is enforced, Hans are still given positions within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that grant the most decision making power regarding Beijing’s interests for the province as a whole. This has allowed the government to carry out a major development program in Xinjiang with little say from the Uyghurs affected by it.

China’s investment in Xinjiang over the last twenty years has created the most dramatic transformation for the province in its entire 250 year history of being under Chinese rule. The movement of people and capital has been heavily subsidized in order to tap into Xinjiang’s abundance of oil, natural gas and cotton. Xinjiang also serves as a strategically important buffer zone to Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. The CCP does not want to weaken its position in the region by loosening political control, making the economic anchoring of Xinjiang to the rest of China a top priority.

The upside of this development has been felt by the local population in the form of raised living standards and access to broader markets. A number of specialized farmers have prospered by selling their produce both within Xinjiang and to the rest of China. The downside, however, is reflected in the deep inequalities between Han immigrants and Uyghur locals. The majority of the benefits from emerging industries in Xinjiang have gone to Han consumers in eastern China. Because traditional farming activities have become less lucrative, there is increased pressure on Uyghurs to find work in Xinjiang’s rapidly developing cities, where hiring is discriminatory because of the education and language barriers faced by Uyghurs. As a result, the Uyghur population has experienced significant underemployment.

The bleak outlook for Uyghurs hoping to succeed in this Han dominated system has led to increased tension drawn upon ethnic lines. Protests against the Han influx became increasingly violent during the 1990s in response to the CCP’s tightening grip on Xinjiang’s administration. Although protests decreased in the early 2000s, the riots of 2009 were a bloody wake-up call to the worsening state of Uyghur-Han relations. The Chinese government, however, blamed these acts of violence not on state policy but on the encouragement of international agitators such as Rabiya Qadir, the leader of the World Uyghur Congress. The government labels all Uyghur violence as “terrorist acts” as a way to associate Uyghur separatism with global Islamic extremism and point the blame to causes external to Xinjiang’s domestic situation.

Violent incidents have continued since 2009. Widespread media coverage was given to the car crash in Tiananmen Square this October that killed five, allegedly carried out by Uyghur separatists. More recently, 16 people died in a clash on the western edge of Xinjiang.

Given the government’s unwillingness to acknowledge its own role in creating ethnic tensions, incidents like these are expected to continue. A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington D.C. appeared on the Diane Rehm Show and referred to Uyghur “grievances” with a quote and unquote. This is telling of the impact of an antiquated nationalist narrative on China’s approach to development. When China sees itself as having a “civilizing mission”, as indicated by the comparison of investment in Xinjiang to the Manifest Destiny, it disregards the full legitimacy of ethnic identities counter to the Han construction of Chinese nationality. As long as China’s western policy is informed by this historical analogy, Uyghur exclusion will remain a systemic part of Xinjiang’s development.

Further Reading: Bovingdon, Gardener. “Xinjiang.” Politics in China. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010): 336-355.

Shehryar Nabi is a senior majoring in history

President Obama’s Pivot Policy

The Pivot Policy of President Obama’s administration is a significant foreign policy initiative that sets a firm tone for the future of Obama’s presidential term. Enacted in 2010, the Pivot Policy seeks to rebalance the United States towards Asia, through increased diplomatic, economic, and strategic investment. In a Foreign Policy piece from November 2011, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton writes that pivoting towards Asia will be “one of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade”.

The Pivot Policy calls for “forward-deployed” diplomacy, or, the continued efforts to dispatch all units of US diplomatic force. These include highest-ranking officials, development experts, interagency teams, and permanent assets placed in all corners of the Asia- Pacific region in an effort to keep up with the ever-shifting power dynamics present in Asia. The Obama administration will implement this plan for intensified diplomatic presence through six lines of action: strengthening bilateral security alliances, deepening working relationships with emerging powers, including China, engaging with regional multilateral institutions, expanding trade and investment, forging a broad-based military presence, and advancing democracy and human rights.

US treaty alliances with Japan, South Korea, Austria, the Philippines, and Thailand all have gained increased importance in the age of the Pivot Policy. The Obama administration hopes to sustain these long-held alliances, while making them strong enough to withstand the pressures of a changing geopolitical climate. In addition, former secretary Clinton’s “pivot” article explicitly references China and US-Chinese relations. She writes that China represents “one of the most challenging and consequential bilateral relationships the United States has ever had to manage”. Nevertheless, Clinton explains that the US hopes to ameliorate and strengthen its partnership with China through increased involvement in the region. For example, the two countries now conduct a Strategic and Economic dialogue, talks bringing together dozens of agencies from both sides to discuss our most pressing bilateral issues, from security to energy to human rights. A main priority has been to identify and expand areas of common interest. The Obama administration hopes the talks will allow the US to work with China to build mutual trust, and to encourage China’s active efforts in global problem-solving.

In addition to strengthening diplomatic relations, the Pivot Policy exists on the rationale that “harnessing Asia’s growth and dynamism is central to American economic interests”. The Obama administration hopes to capitalize on Asian markets for trade, investment, and technology development. The US has embarked on multiple new trade agreements with Asian countries to secure its place in the economic framework in the region. A main pillar of the new economic initiatives in Asia is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed free-trade agreement among over various countries on both sides of the Pacific, such, Brazil, Peru, Chile, the US, New Zealand, and Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia. The TPP would effectively remove all trade tariffs and barriers among its member states. The Obama administration hopes this new trade deal would mark the beginning of an era of free trade with Asia-Pacific.

Finally, the Pivot Policy calls for an increased US military presence in Asia to hold a greater influence on security issues in the region. Former Secretary Clinton cites that “Asia’s remarkable economic growth…and growth in the future depending on the security and stability that has long been guaranteed by the U.S. military, including more than 50,000 American servicemen and women serving in Japan and South Korea. To adjust to the rapidly changing times, Obama calls for a new military strategy that is more geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable force posture.

Looking beyond this rhetoric, however, the true success of the Pivot Policy still remains in question. Three years since its inception, it is difficult to pinpoint substantial progress made towards the objectives of the Pivot Policy. One recent event that supports the Obama administration’s claim of rebalancing towards Asia is its humanitarian response to the catastrophic Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines earlier this month on November 8th. A recent article from TIME Magazine reports that the US has pledged a total of 37 million in disaster relief funds to the island nation, and adds that the US military has mobilized 50 U.S. ships and aircraft carries in the region along with 14 helicopters air-dropping food and supplies to survivors. However, a more recent article from Reuters Press explains how the US has already begun scaling back its aid efforts in the Philippines, withdrawing its aircraft carrier the USS George Washington, a main supplier of food aid. Therefore, the longevity of this increased commitment to military and humanitarian presence is still uncertain. It remains to be seen whether the US will apply the same force and intensity in its humanitarian efforts in vulnerable areas such as the Philippines in the months and years to come.

Adrienne Larson is a Sophomore studying International Relations

The United States and European Union Trade Talks

United States and European Union Trade Parternship

United States and European Union Trade Partnership

The United States and the European Union met this week for the second round of talks towards creating the world’s biggest free-trade agreement despite protests in Europe over NSA spying and threats to cancel the talks.  With economies on both side of the Atlantic struggling and falling behind fast rising countries like China and India, the United States and the European Union believe this partnership will create thousands of jobs and boost growth. The U.S. and Europe account for nearly half of the world’s total economic output and a third of its trade. As David Cameron, U.K. Prime Minister said, “We’re talking about what could be the biggest bilateral trade deal in history, which would have an impact bigger than all the other trade deals put together.” The E.U. and the U.S. are aiming for a free-trade deal by the end of 2014 – a relatively fast timetable, considering the complexity of these international trade talks and the variances in regulation standards of food, drugs, and financial services between the two parties.

There are many positives that could result from this trade deal. For example, both U.S. and European companies hope that this partnership would lead to the implementation of easier product licensing procedures for both sides of the Atlantic. For example, U.S. agricultural companies have been pushing to export more genetically modified crops to Europe, and European companies have been seeking better data protection for consumers involved in business deals with U.S. companies. One area that could lead to a significant gain for both sides is the natural gas sector. With the recent and continually increasing boom of natural gas production in the United States, this free-trade agreement could provide Europe with increased access to cheaper gas from the United States, decreasing European dependence on Russia and the Middle East. On the American side, increased gas exports to Europe could help rebalance the $107 billion trade deficit with the European Union.

While there are many benefits to this partnership, there are concerns from groups on both sides. With the possible elimination of some conflicting regulations between the U.S. and the E.U., consumer groups and non-governmental organizations have expressed worry that removing these regulatory frameworks could allow businesses to sell products that are untested or unsafe. Furthermore, while the possible economic benefits of the trade of natural gas is enticing, several environmental lobby groups have noted their fears that an agreement could lead to an expansion of hydraulic fracturing in Europe. France, which banned this extraction process in 2011, has been one European country that has expressed the most concern over this possible agreement. France’s cultural concerns also have been highly vocalized during the talks. France has asked that movies, television, and developing online media be made a “cultural exception” to the free-trade agreement. This exception would take media off the negotiating table with the goal of protecting Europe’s movie, television and online entertainment sector from the U.S. dominance. There is also fear on the European side, that the trade agreement would leave European governments vulnerable to direct legal attack by American companies regarding environmental and social laws.

It is apparent that there are many complex issues at work in terms of this free-trade partnership. The question is will the benefits outweigh the possible sacrifices? With talks underway for such a large and highly publicized agreement, is this free trade agreement too big to fail? The next round of talks takes place in Washington, D.C. in mid-December.

- Maxine Jacobson is a Senior studying International Relations

Commercial Space Industry Blasts Off

The federal government’s decision to cut NASA’s funding by over 20% was no doubt one that received much critical response. But that’s old news. What’s new, though, is the resulting stimulation and advancement in the US commercial space industry. In light of their decreased budget, last year NASA discontinued its space shuttle program. However, in order to continue innovative design and advancement in space shuttle development, NASA invested $1.1 billion in three privates space exploration companies: Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Sierra Nevada Corporation, and The Boeing Company.

NASA’s has two primary goals for distributing these funds. First, it seeks to continue its program for developing US human spaceflight capabilities. Second, because of the budget cuts, NASA is currently relying on Russian spaceships for travel to the International Space Station, where seats per US astronaut are priced at $63 million. With that in mind, funding private shuttle development will hopefully result in commercialized spaceships with cheaper seats for astronauts.

            This privatization of the space industry provides an opportunity to look at how technologies develop differently under state-sponsorship versus private companies. During the Cold War, under state-sponsorship, space technologies were developed at a rapid pace and amazing innovations were made. The government kept pouring money in, and artificial satellites, Apollo missions, and images of the earth resulted. However, today, with the lack of international political competition the urgency to develop new technologies has significantly dropped off. That is not to say that NASA hasn’t been doing great things since then, but the governmental emphasis on space exploration has certainly decreased. And, as a result, when the government found no practical and immediate use for NASA, space innovation suffered.

With commercial space companies now in the spotlight, though, rapid developments are being made with far less funding than what NASA received. Just recently, SpaceX made headlines with its Grasshopper rocket, a vertical take off and land launch vehicle that they aim to develop into shuttle that can launch humans into space, and return to earth full intact. This is an example of the benefits of technological development under the wing of private companies. Commercializing technologies results in products that are cheaper to produce. The Chief of NASA, Charles Bolden, stated, “By investing in American companies and American ingenuity we are spurring commercial companies to deliver more bang for the buck.” This is exactly right. Internal competition among space exploration companies fosters efficient and relatively inexpensive production.

Though it is true that a government-sponsored industry often flourishes at a faster rate than a privatized one (look at supercomputers in China, for example), it is also true that if there isn’t external international competition motivating some sort of technology “race” then that industry will suffer. Commercialization of the space industry in this day and age may actually be more beneficial than a government-funded NASA, as there will always be internal competition motivating further innovation. Watch out world, we may be closer to vacationing on the moon than we think.


Neena Kapur is a Sophomore at Tufts University.Image


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