CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

McDonald’s vs. Yingli Solar

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Germany's Thomas Mueller shoots to score his team's fourth goal against England during a 2010 World Cup second round soccer match at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 27, 2010.

Darren Staples/Courtesy Reuters

I like McDonald’s. In fact, I may be one of the few people who actually enjoys seeing, and occasionally eating at, the golden arches when I travel in Asia. However, when I saw that McDonald’s was the chief U.S. corporate sponsor for the World Cup and Yingli Solar was representing China, I was left with this niggling feeling that we weren’t quite matching up. Somehow World Cup sponsorhip became a metaphor for the willingness of the United States to live in the past while China is out pushing a vision of the future.
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Asia Alone

by Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, June 25, 2010
Asia Alone by Simon Tay

Asia Alone by Simon Tay

This is the title of a thought-provoking new book by Singaporean writer and political analyst Simon Tay. I had read a draft of the book several months back and been so impressed that I offered a blurb for the back of the book. Now that it is out, I hope that a lot of people will read it. It is one of the best new books on Asia out there.

What makes it so good? Two things, I think.
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Chinese Politics — Not an Oxymoron!

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Thursday, June 24, 2010

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jason Lee

I have a Ph.D. in Chinese politics—which means I have an abiding faith in the idea that, yes, China actually does have politics. That’s always been true, even in the authoritarian depths of the Mao Zedong era. And it’s been true in nearly every aspect of Chinese life, including atop the commanding heights of the economy.

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The New Normal

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, June 21, 2010
An anti-government "red shirt" protester places flowers  in mourning for the dead at a temple in Bangkok

Sukree Sukplang/courtesy Reuters

Now that Thailand has resolved the short term crisis of the red short protestors occupying – and often destroying – parts of central Bangkok, the Thai government has launched a charm offensive designed to reassure foreign investors, tourists, American officials, and the international media that the country has returned to normal. Last week, Bangkok sent an envoy of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to Washington to deliver this message to opinion leaders.

In reality, the situation is far from normal – or, at least, a new normal is developing. The current round of Thai unrest is starkly different from the previous cycles in 1973, 1976, and 1992. For one, back then the main antagonists fostered reconciliation through a kind of gentleman’s agreement to exit the political stage, either through going into exile or another means. This time around, neither Abhisit, who was in charge during the bloody crackdown last month, nor former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, show any signs of willingness to leave the political stage. What’s more, while in the past the security forces generally were united in their ability to crack down upon and control the opposition, this time Thai leader cannot be so sure. The violence in April and May revealed that there are conflicting opinions within the security forces, including some troops likely to be sympathetic to the red shirt movement.

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China’s Growing Transparency: Why it’s not all good news

by Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, June 14, 2010
Chinese sailors stand guard onboard the Shi Jia Zhuang, a Luzhou class missile destroyer, at Valparaiso port, about 75 miles (121km) northwest of Santiago November 23, 2009. Two Chinese vessels docked at Valparaiso on Monday as the navies from both countries sought to exchange experiences as well as strengthen cooperation between each other. REUTERS/Eliseo Fernandez

Eliseo Fernandez/Courtesy Reuters

The lack of transparency in Chinese strategic thinking and intentions has long been a bugaboo in U.S.-China relations. U.S. policymakers argue that it is hard to build trust and cooperate without transparency, while the Chinese argue that such transparency only serves the benefit of the stronger power. It is therefore telling that we are now getting a strong dose of transparency from some of China’s leading strategic and political players.
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What Now for U.S.-Indonesia Policy?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, June 14, 2010
U.S. President Obama meets with Indonesia's President Yudhoyono at the APEC Summit in Singapore

Jim Young / Courtesy of Reuters

In the wake of President Obama’s canceled trip to Indonesia – his third cancellation in less than a year – officials on both sides are urging calm. The White House has vowed to add Jakarta to Obama’s Asia trip in November, while Indonesian officials reportedly assured their American counterparts that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono did not take offense and understands that Obama had to stay in the United States to manage the fallout from the massive BP oil spill.

But even if everyone tries to make nice, the White House’s ambitions for the relationship with Indonesia will at least be damaged. The hope had been not simply that Indonesia would be one of many important Asian relationships, worthy of a visit as part of a longer regional swing, but that Indonesia would be for Obama what India was for George W. Bush – a country where he could take credit for vastly upgrading relations.

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A Step Forward for the U.S. and India

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Sunday, June 13, 2010

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

It’s been a rough seventeen months for the United States and India. I’ve written about some of the challenges here and here—and talked about them here and here.

First, there were some early missteps, not least during the President’s 2008 campaign. As a candidate, Barack Obama told TIME’s Joe Klein that he would appoint a U.S. envoy to seek peace in Kashmir. As president, he quickly backed off after strenuous Indian objections. But Indian mistrust spiked, then lingered, after his inauguration.

Second, the two sides hit something of an intellectual wall. They’ve lacked a new “big idea” to succeed the U.S.-India civil nuclear initiative. We sometimes forget just how big that idea really was. It began, in a sense, as an effort to overcome a bilateral dispute left over from the 1970s. But it quickly became a full-fledged campaign to achieve a unique international status for India.

Third, the two sides suffered from a lack of momentum. A crisis of vision (as I argued here) need not automatically have led to drift in the relationship. For instance, a package of smaller ideas could have pushed things forward. But many of the best ideas and initiatives bogged down. These included a bilateral investment treaty, expanded civil space cooperation, export control adjustments, defense procurement deals, a more ambitious bilateral agriculture initiative, and agreements on defense logistics and communications. Intelligence and law enforcement cooperation broadened, gathering momentum from an initial boost after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. But this really didn’t provide sufficient ballast.

Still, the most important problem has been substantive. As I argued in Foreign Affairs in March, disagreements over the administration’s policies toward Afghanistan and Pakistan have been a principal obstacle to strengthened U.S.-India relations. Many in the Indian government are deeply skeptical of the administration’s approach. And if the Indian government has been skeptical, commentators, pundits, and former Indian officials have been downright frigid. For a couple of examples, read here and here.

So on June 3-4, when Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna came to Washington, the United States and India finally had a terrific week. On the margins of their inaugural strategic dialogue, the two sides got much of the political symbolism right—and perhaps began to alter some perceptions.

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Kan’s Kiheitai-Japan’s Militia

by Sheila A. Smith Thursday, June 10, 2010

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Issei Kato

On June 4, the national legislators of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) gathered to select Naoto Kan as their party’s new leader, and thus as Japan’s new Prime Minister. Along with former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Kan was one of the original founders of this new political force in Japanese politics. As Mr. Hatoyama’s first effort to turn an opposition party into a governing one collapsed, Naoto Kan soon emerged as the obvious successor. In accepting his party’s nomination, Kan seemed to understand that this moment would make or break the DPJ, and laid claim to hopes of many in Japan that the DPJ could actually turn its slogan of reform into a capacity to solve Japan’s complex  economic and social challenges. Read more »