CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of October 31, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, October 31, 2014
A member of a military rescue team pauses during search operations at the site of a landslide at the Koslanda tea plantation near Haldummulla on October 30, 2014. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Courtesy Reuters) A member of a military rescue team pauses during search operations at the site of a landslide at the Koslanda tea plantation near Haldummulla on October 30, 2014. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Courtesy Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Andrew Hill, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Vietnam and India strengthen defense and energy ties amid territorial disputes with China. The two nations signed a number of agreements following a meeting this week between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. Most notably, Vietnam agreed to further open its oil and gas sector to India, while India agreed to provide Vietnam with four off-shore patrol vessels. Prior to his two-day state visit, Dung called for a larger Indian role in the South China Sea, in spite of criticism from China. Both Hanoi and New Delhi are embroiled in territorial disputes with Beijing: Vietnam in the South China Sea and India along the Himalayas. Read more »

Hun Sen’s Cambodia: A Review

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, October 31, 2014
hun sen Cambodia's prime minister Hun Sen arrives at the Royal Palace during commemorations for the second anniversary of late king Norodom Sihanouk's death in Phnom Penh on October 15, 2014 (Samrang Pring/Courtesy: Reuters).

Although the Vietnam War, including the “sideshow” war in Cambodia, has been the subject of thousands of books, post-war Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos have gotten relatively little treatment from Western writers. This despite the fact that Cambodia suffered one of the worst genocides in history, Vietnam fought another war in 1979 against China and then remade itself into a strategic and economic power, and Laos remains one of the most authoritarian states in the world. Read more »

What Beijing Wants From APEC

by Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, October 31, 2014
A man (bottom) takes pictures of workers installing lighting on an APEC sign post at the financial district in Beijing, October 28, 2014. Countries at an Asia-Pacific summit in Beijing pledged to pursue "flexible" fiscal policies to support the world economy and job creation, their finance ministers said in a joint statement on Wednesday. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic (CHINA - Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS SOCIETY) Workers install lighting on an APEC sign post at the financial district in Beijing on October 28, 2014. (Petar Kujundzic/Courtesy Reuters)

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum is just around the corner, and Beijing is pulling out all the stops. Elegant Chinese limousines will ferry the region’s leaders to and fro. The Gods—or maybe just the Communist Party, in this case—have preordained clear skies (since all factories within polluting distance will be shut down and each day half of all cars will be banned from the road). And Beijing is working hard to patch up political rifts with neighbors such as Vietnam and Japan to ensure that a spirit of collaboration rather than confrontation prevails. Read more »

Not U.S. Isolationism, But a Rebalancing of Priorities and Means

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, October 29, 2014
shangri la sideline U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (center) join hands with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera (left) and South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin during a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 12th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Asia Security Summit: The Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore on June 1, 2013 (Edgar Su/Courtesy: Reuters).

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs 2014 survey released last month entitled “Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment” reports that over 40 percent of Americans believe that the United States should “stay out” rather than take an active part in global affairs. But the survey also shows that over four-fifths of Americans believe that the United States should continue to show strong leadership in world affairs. Possibly the strongest counter-arguments for smart American leadership versus isolationism and retrenchment are expressed in poll results regarding American attitudes toward its alliances in Asia. This is an important finding because it shows growing American understanding of the importance of Asia and growing support for the strategic value of the U.S. rebalance to Asia. Read more »

Obama Prepares to Travel to Myanmar at a Critical Time

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, October 29, 2014
obama-in-myanmar Crowds hold U.S. flags as President Barack Obama's motorcade drives through Yangon on November 19, 2012. Obama became the first serving U.S. president to visit Myanmar (Jason Reed/Courtesy: Reuters).

In November, President Obama will travel to Myanmar to attend the East Asia Summit, which brings together a broad range of nations from across the Pacific Rim. It will be the president’s second trip to Myanmar, following his landmark 2012 trip, which was the first by a sitting U.S. president to Myanmar since the country gained independence six decades ago. During the East Asia Summit, Obama almost surely will hold bilateral meetings with Myanmar President Thein Sein and other senior Myanmar leaders, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Read more »

Bangladesh: Capitalist Haven

by Alyssa Ayres Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Dhaka, April 2014. Photo by Sharada Prasad CS licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original. Dhaka, April 2014. Photo by Sharada Prasad CS licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.

Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center released the second of two major reports detailing findings from a global public opinion survey on economic issues conducted last spring in forty-four countries. Read together, the two reports reveal something you might not have guessed: Bangladesh is among the countries most supportive of the free market, and certainly the most free-market, trade-oriented country surveyed in South Asia. At least as far as public opinion is concerned, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh is a capitalist haven. Read more »

Malaysia’s Growing Climate of Repression Gets Ignored

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, October 24, 2014
malaysia lawyer protest march Malaysian lawyers march during a protest calling for the repeal of the Sedition Act in Kuala Lumpur on October 16, 2014. The Sedition Act has been used to arrest at least 30 people since last March, local media reported (Olivia Harris/Courtesy: Reuters).

Amidst the gushing over the inauguration of new Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the first outsider, non-elite president in Indonesia’s democratic era, there is a significant void of international interest in neighboring Malaysia, where the climate for freedom of expression and assembly has deteriorated badly in the past year. Over the past year, the government of Prime Minister Najib tun Razak, which in Najib’s first term had promised to improve the climate for civil liberties and abolish long-hated laws that allowed detention without trial, has shifted course. The government has pursued a sodomy case against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim that, next week, almost surely will end with Anwar being sentenced to jail, though the case was a comedy of ridiculous “evidence” and coached witnesses. (To be clear—I don’t think sodomy should be a crime, but it is in Malaysia; even so, there was no verifiable evidence Anwar actually engaged in this “crime.”) Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of October 24, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, October 24, 2014
Jeffrey Fowle (C) and his wife (R) are greeted by U.S. Air Force 88 Air Base Wing Commander Col. John Devillier upon arrival at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio early on October 22, 2014 (Courtesy: Reuters). Jeffrey Fowle (C) and his wife (R) are greeted by U.S. Air Force 88 Air Base Wing Commander Col. John Devillier upon arrival at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio early on October 22, 2014 (Courtesy: Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Andrew Hill, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. North Korea releases U.S. prisoner. On Tuesday, Pyongyang released Jeffrey Fowle, one of three Americans currently detained in North Korea. Fowle, a fifty-six-year-old road maintenance worker from Ohio, was detained after he was found to have left a Bible in his hotel during a tour of North Korea; ownership of Bibles and missionary-related activities are illegal in North Korea. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was no deal made for Fowle’s release and urged Pyongyang to release the two other detainees, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller. Read more »

Maxine Builder: South Korea’s Response to Ebola—From Panic to Pledges

by Guest Blogger for Yanzhong Huang Thursday, October 23, 2014
South Korea's Second Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Tae-yul (1st L) presides over a meeting regarding sending medics to Africa in response to Ebola, at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul October 20, 2014. (Kim Hong-JI/Courtesy Reuters) South Korea's Second Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Tae-yul (1st L) presides over a meeting regarding sending medics to Africa in response to Ebola, at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul October 20, 2014. (Kim Hong-JI/Courtesy Reuters)

Maxine Builder is a research associate for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

When the Ebola outbreak in West Africa began receiving international attention in August, South Korea panicked.

Read more »

Why Is the Obama Administration Planning Cobra Gold 2015 with Thailand?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, October 21, 2014
prayuth sept 30 Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha waves after a handover ceremony for the new Royal Thai Army Chief at the Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok on September 30, 2014 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

Despite the fact that Thai junta leader–turned prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha recently let slip that the current Thai regime might not hold elections until 2016 or later, U.S. policy toward the kingdom remains largely the same as before the coup. Some in the State Department and other parts of the administration have urged the U.S. government to take a tougher line against Thailand, noting that there should be a clear U.S. response to the overthrow of an elected government. But recent reports suggest that the Obama administration is not going to cancel the 2015 Cobra Gold military exercises with Thailand next year or move it to another country, which would be a serious blow to the prestige of the Thai armed forces. Moving Cobra Gold, in fact, would be a much tougher response to the coup than the mild sanctions put in place by the Obama administration thus far. The administration plans merely to scale Cobra Gold down. Read more »