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Friday, September 28, 2012

Prospects for Democracy in Hong Kong: Results of the 2012 Elections



Michael F. Martin
Acting Section Research Manager/Specialist in Asian Affairs

Hong Kong selected a new Chief Executive and Legislative Council (Legco) in March and September of 2012, respectively. Both elections delivered surprising results for different reasons. The eventual selection of Leung Chu-ying (CY Leung) as Chief Executive came after presumed front-runner Henry Tang Ying-yen ran into a series of personal scandals. The Legco election results surprised many as several of the traditional parties fared poorly while several new parties emerged victorious.

The 2012 elections in Hong Kong are important for the city’s future prospect for democratic reforms because, under the territory’s Basic Law, any changes in the election process for Chief Executive and Legco must be approved by two-thirds of the Legco members and receive the consent of the Chief Executive. Under the provision of a decision by China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued in December 2007, the soonest that the Chief Executive and all the Legco members can be elected by universal suffrage are the elections of 2017 and 2020, respectively. As such, the newly elected Legco and CY Leung will have the opportunity to propose and adopt election reforms that fulfill the “ultimate aim” of the election of Hong Kong’s leaders by universal suffrage.

The outcome of Hong Kong’s 2012 elections matter to Congress for three key reasons. First, the Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 states that it is U.S. policy to support democracy in Hong Kong. Second, the conduct of the 2012 elections and the possibility of additional political reforms may be indicators of the Chinese government’s commitment to the Basic Law and its support for the democratic reforms in areas where it exercises sovereignty. Third, some scholars speculate that Hong Kong may serve as a testing ground for possible democratic reforms in Mainland China.

Congress has appropriated funds in the past to foster the development of civil society and democratic practices in Hong Kong. The 2012 election results and the upcoming discussion of future election reforms—including the involvement of the Chinese government—are factors that Congress may consider when deciding whether to allocate more assistance for the democratic practices in Hong Kong. In addition, Congress may conduct hearings or organize other events to examine and bring attention to the prospects for democracy in Hong Kong.



Date of Report: September 14, 2012
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: R42746
Price: $29.95

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange and U.S.-Vietnam Relations


Michael F. Martin
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, there has been a gradual warming of bilateral relations between the United States and Vietnam, culminating in the appointment of the first U.S. ambassador to Vietnam in 1996 and the granting of permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to Vietnam in 2007. Over the last three decades, many—but not all—of the major issues causing tension between the two nations have been resolved.

One major legacy of the Vietnam War that remains unresolved is the damage that Agent Orange, and its accompanying dioxin, have done to the people and the environment of Vietnam. For the last 35 years, this issue has generally been pushed to the background of bilateral discussions by other issues considered more important by the United States and/or Vietnam. With most of those issues presently resolved, the issue of Agent Orange/dioxin has emerged as a regular topic in bilateral discussions.

According to various estimates, the U.S. military sprayed approximately 11 million-12 million gallons of Agent Orange over nearly 10% of then-South Vietnam between 1961 and 1971. One scientific study estimated that between 2.1 million and 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange. Vietnamese advocacy groups claim that there are over 3 million Vietnamese suffering from health problems caused by exposure to the dioxin in Agent Orange.

The people of Vietnam have become increasingly concerned about the issue of Agent Orange. Various non-government organizations are placing more pressure on the Vietnamese government to remove the dioxin from the environment and provide better care to the people exposed to Agent Orange. Some government ministries are comparatively sympathetic to the public concern about Agent Orange, but other ministries are apprehensive that highlighting the dangers of dioxin could have undesired consequences for bilateral relations or for Vietnam’s economy.

The Vietnamese government has long sought U.S. assistance. Although the United States provided scientific and technical support in the past, it repeatedly denied any legal liability to provide assistance. It also questioned Vietnam’s assertions about the extent of the environmental and health problems attributed to Agent Orange and dioxin. As a result, there was a growing possibility of friction between the two governments over the issue of Agent Orange.

In the last few years, the United States has shown a greater willingness to fund remediation activities in Vietnam. Since 2007, Congress has appropriated $59.5 million for dioxin removal and related health care activities in Vietnam. However, the Vietnamese government and people would like to see the United States do more to provide help for victims of Agent Orange, as well as assist with the clean-up of other Agent Orange “hot spots.”

This report examines various estimates of the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam’s people and environment, the history of U.S. policy on the issue, the current cleanup efforts in Vietnam, the various forms of assistance—including U.S. assistance—provided to people with medical conditions associated with dioxin exposure, and the implications for bilateral relations. It concludes with a brief discussion of possible congressional responses to the issue.



Date of Report: August 29, 2012
Number of Pages: 43
Order Number: RL34761
Price: $29.95


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