CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Copenhagen Lessons Still Lost on China and the United States

by Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, May 17, 2010

Courtesy of Reuters/Larry Downing

Last week I traveled down to Mexico City as part of a delegation led by my colleagues Michael Levi and Shannon O’Neil to discuss climate change issues with Mexican officials and civil society leaders. Aside from discovering that Mexico City is beautiful, I found that the Mexicans are “all systems go” as they prepare for the next round of climate negotiations to be held in Cancun in December. They are determined to ensure that the Cancun round avoids not only the logistical nightmares but also the political pitfalls of the Copenhagen meeting. For that to happen, they need a modicum of cooperation and constructive participation by both the United States and China. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that either country is getting the point.

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The King

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, May 17, 2010

Photo courtesy of Ho New / Reuters

In the Sunday New York Times, Seth Mydans and Thomas Fuller, the Bangkok correspondents, have written an insightful article on Thailand’s King Bhumibhol Adulyadej and why he has not intervened in the ongoing chaos in Bangkok. After all, during previous rounds of bloodshed, such as in 1973 and 1992, the king did step in, trying to mediate between warring factions and help preserve some kind of peace. Read more »

America, Trade, and Asia

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Friday, May 14, 2010

Photo courtesy of the MIT Visualizing Cultures project.

Here’s the thing about trade policy:  the United States can’t be a leader in Asia without one.

That was true in the 19th century, as fast-sailing clipper ships from Salem to San Francisco vaulted America into a role in Asia, spanning the trade from China to India.  It was true in the 20th century, from the Open Door through the Cold War.  And it remains very true today.

So it’s worth taking a look at a pair of articles in today’s Washington Post.

On the cover, the Post’s Howard Schneider notes that America is losing its edge in Asia.  Asian economies are leading the global recovery, not least through a surge in investment and increased domestic demand.  On the editorial page, the paper’s editors make “the case for Korea.”  They praise a bipartisan letter to the administration from Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) urging rapid movement on the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS).

The Post’s editors ask pointedly:  “Can the United States do anything now that is both in its self-interest and in the interest of a strong South Korea?”  Three cheers for the senators.  Three cheers for the Post.

But let’s broaden the issue beyond KORUS.

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India’s Push on Cybersecurity

by Adam Segal Wednesday, May 12, 2010

After several high-profile attacks (on computers in the Prime Minister’s Office, diplomatic missions in Kabul, Moscow, and Dubai as wells as an artillery brigade, air force base, army technology institute, and think tanks with ties to the military), the Indian government has announced a flurry of measures designed to address the cyber security challenge. The response pulls several strings at once: Read more »

It’s Not Over…

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, May 10, 2010
An anti-government "red shirt" protester takes a nap among thousands encamped in Bangkok's main shopping district May 9, 2010. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Sunday he would not abandon efforts to find a peaceful solution to a two-month political crisis despite renewed violence in Bangkok that took the death toll to 29.

Photo courtesy of Reuters/Adrees Latif

With an apparent compromise this week between the government and the red shirt demonstrators camped out in Bangkok for months, Thailand’s political crisis appears to have been defused. The government got much of what it wanted – a delay on a new election until after the reshuffle in the army slated for September. The protesters, who were getting tired of sleeping on the streets during the hottest time of the year, could at least save face by saying that they forced Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to speed up his time frame for dissolving Parliament and calling a new poll.

But like a bad horror movie, this “ending” will only lead to more, and nastier, sequels. None of the major problems actually have been resolved. Read more »

Just How “Central” is ASEAN, Anyway?

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Monday, May 3, 2010

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Francis R. Malasig/Pool

The Australian National University’s East Asia Forum has reprinted a fascinating speech by the talented Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

After reflecting on how ASEAN is helping the world emerge from the present financial crisis, Surin argues that ASEAN is “now more integrated, and resilient, than many had thought.”

But for the sake of argument, I think it’s worth picking apart that statement on three dimensions.

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Rough Diplomatic Waters on Korean Peninsula

by Scott A. Snyder Monday, May 3, 2010

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Lee Min-Hee/Korea Pool

The March 26 sinking of a South Korean corvette, the Cheonan, while on patrol in disputed waters near one of South Korea’s northernmost islands has thrown the country into a state of high anxiety. No wonder. South Koreans strongly suspect a North Korean torpedo was responsible for the explosion that killed forty-six crew members. Read more »

Understanding Thailand’s Conflict

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, May 3, 2010

In a new article for Newsweek, I examine the roots of Thailand’s current political struggle. Despite the media’s portrayal of the red shirt-government clash as a class war, this is only partially true. To be sure, there is a significant class divide – the region where the red shirts mostly hail from, the Thai north and northeast, is poorer than Bangkok – but the divide is much greater and complex. Thais today are split as much by their feelings about the country’s traditional institutions – the monarchy, the army, the civil service, Bangkok business – as they are just divided by income level.

Apples Are to Oranges As Cyber Is To?

by Adam Segal Monday, May 3, 2010

Photo courtesy of flickr/Dano

Cyber conflict remains an issue in search of a conceptual framework. In his widely noted, and controversial piece in the Washington Post, Michael McConnell, the former director of the NSA and national intelligence, relys on nuclear deterrence and cold war strategy, arguing that we were already fighting a cyber war and losing it. In his review of Richard Clarke’s new book, Cyber War (co-written with our colleague Rob Knake), Fred Kaplan jumps back and forth between the beginning of the nuclear age and today. In contrast, cyber security czar Howard Schmidt has said that he did not think that cyber war exists: ““I think that is a terrible metaphor and I think that is a terrible concept.” For my part, I think Greg Rattray and his co-authors at the Center for New American Security do a convincing job of arguing that dealing with cyber is more like addressing global public health risks.

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Nuclear Posture Review and Its Implications on the Korean Peninsula

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder Saturday, May 1, 2010
U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates and Secretary of State Clinton giving a joint news briefing on the new Nuclear Posture Review at the Pentagon in Washington, DC April 6, 2010 (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates and Secretary of State Clinton giving a joint news briefing on the new Nuclear Posture Review at the Pentagon in Washington, DC April 6, 2010 (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters).

Kim Hyun-wook is Professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS), South Korea.

Since his inauguration, President Obama has placed substantial emphasis on pushing forward nonproliferation and counterterrorism. His overall nuclear policy consists of three components: nonproliferation, disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. This policy was first laid out in President Obama’s Prague speech on April 5, 2009, and further developed in the April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). These policy adjustments have direct implications for South Korea as a country that is facing an expanded nuclear threat as a result of North Korea’s nuclear development. Read more »