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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nepal: Political Developments and Bilateral Relations with the United States


Bruce Vaughn
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Nepal has undergone a radical political transformation since 2006, when a 10-year armed struggle by Maoist insurgents, which claimed at least 13,000 lives, officially came to an end. The country’s king stepped down in 2006, and two years later Nepal declared itself a republic, electing a Constituent Assembly in 2008 to write a new constitution, which is currently being drafted. Though the process of democratization has had setbacks and been marked by violence at times, Nepal has conducted reasonably peaceful elections, brought former insurgents into the political system, and in a broad sense, taken several large steps towards entrenching a functioning democracy.

This still-unfolding democratization process makes Nepal of interest to Congress and to U.S. foreign policymakers. A Congressional Nepal caucus has been newly formed, which should help further strengthen relations between the two countries, which have traditionally been friendly. U.S. policy objectives toward Nepal include supporting democratic institutions and economic liberalization, promoting peace and stability in South Asia, supporting Nepalese territorial integrity, and alleviating poverty and promoting development.

Nepal’s status as a small, landlocked state situated between India and China also makes it important to foreign policymakers. Nepal’s reliance on these two giant neighbors leads it to seek amicable relations with both, though ties with India have historically been closer. Some believe India is concerned a Maoist regime in Nepal could lend support to Maoist rebels in India. China, meanwhile, has taken several steps to pressure Nepal to repatriate, or at least constrain the activities of, refugees crossing the border from Tibet.

The place of Nepal’s Maoists remains a delicate question that will do much to determine the fate of the nation’s democracy. The group surprised many by peacefully challenging, and winning, the April 10, 2008, Constituent Assembly elections. During the civil war, the Maoists’ stated aim had been to establish a peasant-led revolutionary communist regime, but once part of the political process, their objectives appear to have moderated. They have since lost control over government, and then returned as part of a coalition led by the Communist Party of Nepal United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML).

Two key challenges presently face Nepal. The first is to complete the peace process, which would require a resolution of the difficult issue of how to integrate former Maoist fighters into the army, or into society. The second key challenge is completing the drafting of a constitution. This raises the question of establishing a new federal structure that would address grievances of groups that feel they have been underrepresented in the key institutions of the state, particularly in the Terai region bordering India.



Date of Report: April 7, 2011
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: RL34731
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

U.S.-Vietnam Economic and Trade Relations: Issues for the 112th Congress


Michael F. Martin
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Since the resumption of trade relations in the 1990s, Vietnam has rapidly risen to become a significant trading partner for the United States. Along with the growth of bilateral trade, a number of issues of common concerns, and sometimes disagreement, have emerged between the two nations. Congress may play a direct role in the U.S. policy on some of these issues.

Bilateral trade has grown from about $220 million in 1994 to $18.6 billion in 2010. Vietnam is the second-largest source of U.S. clothing imports, and a major source for footwear, furniture, and electrical machinery. Much of this rapid growth in bilateral trade can be attributed to U.S. extension of normal trade relations (NTR) status to Vietnam. Another major contributing factor is over 20 years of rapid economic growth in Vietnam, ushered in by a 1986 shift to a more marketoriented economic system.

Bilateral trade may increase if both nations become members of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP). The United States and Vietnam are among the nine countries negotiating the terms of expansion of the trade association. The Obama Administration envisions an expanded TPP as a “21
st Century free trade agreement” that will become the cornerstone for a trans-Pacific regional trade association. Vietnam is also a party to negotiations to form a larger pan-Asian regional trade association based on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that could exclude the United States and prove to be an alternative to the TPP.

The growth in bilateral trade has not been without its accompanying issues and problems. Vietnam has applied for acceptance into the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program and is participating in negotiations of a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States. Vietnam also would like to be officially recognized as a market economy.

There have also been problems with U.S. imports of specific products from Vietnam, particularly catfish-like fish known as basa or tra. In 2002, Congress passed legislation that prohibited the labeling of basa and tra as “catfish.” In 2008, the 110
th Congress passed legislation that transferred the regulation of catfish from the Food and Drug Administration to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Vietnamese government strongly protested these actions as largely protectionist measures. On February 24, 2011, the USDA released proposed new catfish regulations, which did not resolve the status of Vietnam’s basa and tra exports.

An examination of recent trends in bilateral trade reveals that other product categories—such as footwear, furniture, and electrical machinery—could generate future tension between the United States and Vietnam. Observers of Vietnam’s economic development have also been critical of Vietnam’s protection of workers’ rights, its enforcement of intellectual property rights laws and regulations, and the country’s exchange rate policies.

The 112
th Congress may play an important role in one or more of these issues, as have past Congresses. The 112th Congress would have to consider implementing legislation if a TPP agreement is concluded. If the 112th Congress should take up GSP renewal, it may also consider Vietnam’s pending application. The 112th Congress may also weigh in on its designation as a market or non-market economy. Finally, if current growth trends continue, Congress may be asked to act on the rising amount of footwear, furniture, and/or electrical machinery being imported from Vietnam. This report will be updated as circumstances require.


Date of Report: April 5, 2011
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: R41550
Price: $29.95

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Japan 2011 Disaster: CRS Experts


Ben Dolven
Section Research Manager

The following table provides access to names and contact information for CRS experts on  policy concerns relating to the nuclear and humanitarian disaster unfolding in Japan.

Policy areas identified include  
  • Nuclear power, nuclear safety, and radioactive heath concerns;  
  • Geology, earthquakes, and tsunamis;  
  • U.S. relations with Japan;  
  • U.S. government response to the disaster; and
  • Economic impacts of the crisis.

Date of Report: April 7, 2011
Number of Pages: 3
Order Number: R41692
Price: $19.95

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Japanese Nuclear Incident: Technical Aspects


Jonathan Medalia
Specialist in Nuclear Weapons Policy

Japan’s nuclear incident has engendered much public and congressional concern about the possible impact of radiation on the Japanese public, as well as possible fallout on U.S. citizens. This report provides information on technical aspects of the nuclear incident, with reference to human health.

While some radioactive material from the Japanese incident may reach the United States, it appears most unlikely that this material will result in harmful levels of radiation. In traveling thousands of miles between the two countries, some radioactive material will decay, rain will wash some out of the air, and its concentration will diminish as it disperses.

Many atoms are stable; they remain in their current form indefinitely. Other atoms are unstable, or radioactive. They “decay” or “disintegrate,” emitting energy through various forms of radiation. Each form has its own characteristics and potential for human health effects.

Nuclear reactors use uranium or mixed oxides (uranium oxide and plutonium oxide, or MOX) for fuel. Uranium and plutonium atoms fission, or split, releasing neutrons that cause additional fissions in a chain reaction, and also releasing energy. A nuclear reactor’s core consists of fuel rods made of uranium or MOX encased in zirconium, and neutron-absorbing control rods that are removed or inserted to start or stop the chain reaction. This assembly is placed underwater to carry off excess heat. The incident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant prevented water from circulating in the core of several reactors, causing water to evaporate and temperature to rise. High heat could melt the fuel rods and lead to a release of radioactive material into the air.

When uranium and plutonium fission, they split into smaller atoms that are highly radioactive and generate much heat; indeed, fuel rods that have just been removed from a reactor are much more radioactive, and hotter, than fuel rods before they have been inserted into a reactor. After fuel rods can no longer efficiently produce energy, they are considered “spent” and are placed in cooling pools of water for several years to keep them from overheating while the most radioactive materials decay. A concern about the spent fuel pool at reactor 4 is that it may have lost most or all of its water, yet it has more fuel rods than pools at the other five reactors, as it contains all the active fuel rods that were temporarily removed from the reactor core in November 2010 to permit plant maintenance in addition to spent fuel rods.

A nuclear reactor cannot explode like an atomic bomb because the concentration of the type of uranium or plutonium that fissions easily is too low to support a runaway chain reaction, and a nuclear weapon requires one of two configurations, neither of which is present in a reactor.

Some types of radiation have enough energy to knock electrons off atoms, creating “ions” that are electrically charged and highly reactive. Ionizing radiation is thus harmful to living cells. It strikes people constantly, but in doses low enough to have negligible effect. A concern about the reactor incident is that it will release radioactive materials that pose a danger to human health. For example, cesium-137 emits gamma rays powerful enough to penetrate the body and damage cells. Ingesting iodine-131 increases the risk of thyroid cancer. Potassium iodide tablets protect the thyroid, but there is no need to take them absent an expectation of ingesting iodine-131.



Date of Report: April 5, 2011
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R41728
Price: $29.95

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Non-Governmental Organizations’ Activities in North Korea


Mi Ae Taylor
Research Associate in Asian Affairs

Mark E. Manyin
Specialist in Asian Affairs


A number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—non-profit, charitable institutions—have been active in North Korea since the mid-1990s. Although their work is relatively limited in scope, it is of interest to U.S. policy-makers because of the deep isolation of the regime in Pyongyang. Several American and international NGOs have provided assistance to North Korea in humanitarian relief, development, health, informal diplomacy, science, communication and education. A relatively recent trend is that a growing number of NGOs, particularly in South Korea, are run by or have North Korean defectors on staff.

Non-governmental organizations’ activities in North Korea have stirred some controversy. Some observers believe that NGOs’ projects represent one of the few ways to improve the lives of ordinary North Koreans, and that their work provides first-hand accounts about social conditions in North Korea. Some NGOs have a comparative advantage in dealing with North Korea, with over a decade’s experience working with North Korean officials and institutions. However, others argue that NGOs’ programs aid North Korea’s regime, and that given the lack of transparency and tight restrictions imposed on them by the regime, their funds are vulnerable to diversion by North Korean officials.

Two issues bear consideration: Have NGOs contributed to improving the lives of ordinary North Korean citizens in sustainable ways? Can NGOs evaluate the impact of their operations and take steps to minimize diversion of the resources they deliver to North Koreans? In short, are they effective, and should the United States welcome their work in spite of the North Korean regime’s treatment of its citizens? This paper will address some of the publicly disclosed activities that NGOs have undertaken in North Korea.

The role of NGOs in North Korea may re-emerge as a congressional interest, as the Obama Administration has expressed interest in restarting humanitarian assistance to North Korea. During the Bush Administration, five large U.S. NGOs were part of a food delivery program that enjoyed some success. Some believed they were more effective than international organizations at navigating the North Korean system to get aid where it was needed. But some organizations opted to cease their operations when North Korean restrictions became too onerous.



Date of Report: March 25, 2011
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: R41749
Price: $29.95

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