CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Red Shirt Talks Signal Military’s Influence

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, March 29, 2010
Red Shirt Protesters in Bangkok

Photo Courtesy of Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Over the weekend, Thailand’s Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjavija, besieged by street protests of the red-shirted supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, suddenly reversed his position and declared that he was open to direct talks with the reds’ leaders. (Abhisit previously had said he would not listen to any ultimatums for talks.) The red shirts immediately asked for the dissolution of Parliament, which presumably would lead to a new election that their party would have a strong chance of winning. Some media coverage suggested that these talks signified a breakthrough, a compromise that created the possibility of ending Thailand’s standoff, which in recent days has included bombings and grenade attacks.

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Bangkok Protests: Reading Beyond the Red

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Can Thailand get out of its seemingly intractable political crisis, now going on five years and counting? Thousands of red-clad protestors remain camped out on the streets of Bangkok, railing against the elites who deposed Thaksin Shinawatra and the subsequent government. They’ve enjoyed significant support from working class men and women in Bangkok. The elites – the army, elite business and politicians, the monarchy, the bureaucracy – have tried everything to stop them. As the knowledgeable Thailand blogger Bangkok Pundit notes, the elites tried to keep the protestors from coming to Bangkok by banning their cars, lavishing money on entertainment in the provinces to keep them in town, and other tools – though it didn’t work. Elite Bangkok media, like The Nation newspaper, portray the mostly nonviolent red protestors as rural hordes planning to pillage the capital. Read more »

Where’s the Tipping Point in U.S.-China Relations?

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Monday, March 22, 2010

Photo Courtesy of REUTERS/Jason Lee

Some of my old State Department colleagues tell me that the current downturn in U.S.-China relations is nothing new.  It’s just countercyclical, they say.  “Remember the EP-3 incident?  A Chinese pilot was killed and an American aircrew held prisoner.”

True enough.  That was pretty bad.

“Or what about when we accidentally bombed China’s embassy in Belgrade and demonstrators trapped ambassador Jim Sasser inside the embassy while also attacking U.S. consulates?”

“Or how about when China bracketed Taiwan with missile tests in 1995 and the U.S. sailed the U.S.S. Nimitz up the Taiwan Strait in response?”

For that matter, what about Tiananmen Square?

My friends’ punch line seems to be this:  If you’ve been around long enough, you’ve seen worse in U.S.-China relations.  Much worse.  Maybe even catastrophically worse.  And by their logic, this, too, shall pass.

Maybe they have a point.  But I think they’re missing three very significant changes that could make this a tipping point in the up-and-down cycles that have characterized U.S.-China relations in the past.

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Thailand’s Poor Rise Up

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, March 15, 2010

This past weekend, over 100,000 protestors from rural Thailand descended on Bangkok in a push to oust the government and, possibly, return to power their hero, populist former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who spoke to the crowds, dressed in red (Thaksin’s color), from an undisclosed location overseas. Demanding that the government resign, the red shirts have massed along major arteries in Bangkok and marched on the army base where leaders of the government are holed up. Read more »

More From the (Cyber) Road: Korea

by Adam Segal Saturday, March 13, 2010

For the last two days, I’ve been filling my plate with bulgogi instead of sashimi. Korea has more of an Internet culture than Japan—people, with more than a little trace of pride, noted that almost everyone in Korea has at least some hacking skills—but the themes from my discussions in Seoul resonated with what I heard in Japan. Read more »

Why is U.S.-China Strategic Coordination So Hard?

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Friday, March 12, 2010

Photo Courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Young

Richard Holbrooke, the president’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, says that Washington and Beijing are “talking about common strategic symmetry.” “We’re consulting them. We’re sharing information,” Holbrooke told POLITICO. And the administration has intensified U.S. outreach to China as its level of concern about stability and extremism in Pakistan has increased.

So, does China share Washington’s concerns? Not really.

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The NPC…Not Entirely a Snoozefest

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, March 11, 2010

With the National People’s Congress (NPC) meeting in Beijing winding down, I thought it might be interesting to take stock of what happened and what didn’t…

What didn’t happen: Any really new policy initiatives. Most of what we heard, we’ve heard before, and we’ve heard it many times. Despite the country’s stellar economic performance, after eight years, there has been virtually no traction on growing income inequality, the deficient pension and health care systems, growing environmental degradation and pollution, reform in the educational system, and the biggest issue of all (because it underpins so many other social challenges China faces), corruption. Yes, there is some new money being poured into health care, but what difference will it really make without policy reform along side it? It remains to be seen whether the fresh faces of the fifth generation leaders—scheduled to be announced in 2012—will fare any better than the fourth in tackling the pressing social issues of China today. Until then, it seems that Hu’s and Wen’s promise of a “harmonious society” will remain as elusive as ever. Read more »

Rajin-Sonbong: North Korea’s (New?) Strategy to Attract Foreign Investment

by Scott A. Snyder Thursday, March 11, 2010

I’ve been watching North Korea ramp up efforts to attract foreign investment since Jack Pritchard and I heard last November in Pyongyang from the chairman of Pyongyang’s Foreign Investment Advisory Board a presentation of new laws that provide for repatriation of investments, tax benefits, and wages of 30 Euros/month that undercut the $57/month wage rate at the Kaesong Industrial Zone. Read more »