CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

What Now for Thailand?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Anti-government "red shirt" protester sits in the main shopping district in Bangkok

Photo courtesy of Reuters/Eric Gaillard

The standoff in Bangkok looks like it will come to a head dangerously soon. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has tasked the commander in chief of the armed forces to take control of the situation, probably because he wants to prod the commander, now essentially the fall guy, to move faster. Neither side seems ready to budge: The red shirt protestors remain camped out in the center of the financial/shopping district, and the security forces are moving closer to them. King Bhumibhol has not made any move to intervene.

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South Korea’s Moment to Shine

by Scott A. Snyder Friday, April 16, 2010

My colleague Sheila Smith wrote earlier this week in the International Herald Tribune that Japan, specializing on its nonproliferation credentials and interests, missed an opportunity to shine at this week’s Nuclear Security Summit.  Instead, it seems that South Korean president Lee Myung-bak stole the limelight, first by gaining media coverage both through an exclusive interview and front page photo at the summit with Obama in the Washington Post, then by having South Korea named as the country that would host the next Nuclear Security Summit in 2012. Read more »

Even If China Comes Around on Iran Sanctions …

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Friday, April 16, 2010

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Today’s Washington Post quotes Brazil’s foreign minister, Celso Amorim, to the effect that China and India share his country’s skepticism about new sanctions on Iran.  But the administration—both on the record and in background briefings—clearly believes China is coming around.  And the U.S. has certainly succeeded in moving China’s position compared to, say, three or four months ago.

It’s tough to know just what’s happening in New York, where representatives of the five permanent members (P-5) of the UN Security Council have been discussing the text of an Iran-related sanctions resolution.  But three things seem clear to me:

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Cyberwar? There’s an App for that

by Adam Segal Thursday, April 15, 2010

Photo Courtesy of REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

During the almost two-hour confirmation hearing for Lieutenant General Keith B. Alexander to be Director of the National Security Agency and Commander of the United States Cyber Command, China did not come up once (unless you count Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Carl Levin’s question about a hypothetical traditional armed conflict with country C that involves cyber attacks. If you’re not going to name names, why pick C? Why not A, B or X ?). Still, there were a few nuggets of interest for the Chinese, and for everyone else.

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CFR Expert Brief on Thailand

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Over this past weekend, Thailand’s volatile political situation, which had been burning hotter and hotter since early February, finally exploded in violence that killed at least twenty people and wounded hundreds. Though both the protestors and the government have stepped back from the brink temporarily, the battle is likely to resume, since underlying grievances on both sides are no closer to being resolved. Read more »

Obama’s India Problem

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Monday, April 12, 2010

Photo Courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Young

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner this week completed a trip to India, a country taking its place at the top table of the global economy for the first time through its membership in the Group of 20 and the Financial Stability Board. Geithner isn’t the first Treasury secretary to pursue broadened coordination with India. But his trip, in the wake of a global financial crisis from which India has emerged stronger and earlier than most other major economies, assumed a special significance. Geithner and Indian officials launched an expanded “Economic and Financial Partnership,” aimed at enhancing coordination of macroeconomic policies and increasing financing for infrastructure investment in India.

But Geithner’s passage to India–heavier on imagery and symbolism than on substance–took place on the heels of a more immediately tangible development: On March 29, the United States and India took a decisive step forward in implementing their historic civil nuclear initiative, completed in 2008. After months of negotiation, they agreed on procedures for India to reprocess U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

This kind of attention to India is important, not least because skeptics in both countries have argued that the U.S.-India relationship is drifting. Count me among the skeptics.

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Reading Ramo on China–why he’s right and wrong

by Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, April 12, 2010

This past weekend, I happened to come upon an article on by my good friend Joshua Ramo (“Hu’s Visit: Finding a Way Forward on U.S.-China Relations,” April 8, 2010). It is a great piece, not because Joshua gets everything right (or even agrees with me on very much!); he doesn’t. Rather, Joshua’s article matters because he’s an innovative thinker and is bringing a novel perspective to the challenging issue of U.S.-China relations, and we don’t have enough of that these days.

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with China's President Hu Jintao at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, April 12, 2010. (Jim Young/Reuters)

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China’s Leaders Finally Listen to Me

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, April 8, 2010
Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his counterparts from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos sit in their chairs during the Mekong River summit in Hua Hin

Photo Courtesy of Reuters/Damir Sagolj

I had suspected as much for some time, but it turns out that the top leadership in Beijing reads my CFR blog posts and closely follows my advice. Earlier this week, I suggested that, to demonstrate it can truly be a good neighbor in mainland Southeast Asia, China had to stop ignoring issues related to the Mekong River and its damming of the upper portions, which is partly responsible for reduced water levels and lower fish catches downstream.

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The Mekong River: a Major Test for China

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, April 6, 2010
A boy runs on a dried up reservoir on the Mekong River during a drought affecting the Thai-Lao border area of Wiang Kaen district

Photo Courtesy of Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom

When I first started studying the Mekong River’s water levels more than a decade ago, the river still ran relatively high, even in dry season–-high enough at least for sizable fish catches in Laos and Cambodia and for adequate drinking water and irrigation for those who depended on the Mekong. That is no longer the case. Now, the river is running at its lowest water level in fifty years, and fishermen in downstream countries are reporting their lowest catch levels in decades. Recently, when I visited Laos and Cambodia, I heard constant complaints from fishermen that they can no longer support themselves. Richard Cronin of the Stimson Center, an expert on the Mekong, has put together a fascinating analysis of the river’s declining levels and dire predictions for the coming years.

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