CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Korea Inter Pares? — South Korea on the Global Stage

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Saturday, July 10, 2010

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

It’s been a long and frustrating (and bloody exhausting … ) seventeen months for American trade policy. But on the margins of last month’s G20 summit, President Obama at last committed to complete the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS).

Seoul hosts the next G20 summit in November. So the move—and Obama’s timing—makes a lot of sense. Indeed, as my friend Phil Levy puts it, “the failure to move on KORUS was calling into question U.S. credibility on trade in general and U.S. standing in Asia in particular. It would have been exceedingly awkward to show up in Seoul for the November G20 meeting with nothing to offer.” Or as I put it a bit more bluntly on this blog back in May, “Here’s the thing about trade policy: the United States can’t be a leader in Asia without one.”

The good news is that the President has now instructed U.S. negotiators to wrap things up in time for his November visit to Seoul. And, in the meantime, he’ll have to gird his administration for the coming fight with a bevy of unhappy constituencies: on Capitol Hill, in labor, and ultimately within his own party.

But watching the administration prep the ground on KORUS, I couldn’t help but wonder whether an FTA of this scope would ever have moved forward had the relationship at stake not been with the Republic of Korea.

Why Korea?

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Obama and Asia, Part Deux

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, July 8, 2010
Supporters of U.S President Obama gather for party to welcome him at Fabulous Bellagio Mall in Jakarta

Crack Palinggi/courtesy Reuters

My colleague Elizabeth Economy raises some important points about my article in Newsweek, but I think that, overall, she takes a far too rosy  view of the White House’s efforts, and its rewards, in Asia. Much of the polling data showing the White House’s popularity or favorability in Asia, for example, reflects as much Asian enthusiasm for Obama, and dislike for his predecessor George W. Bush, as it does any real regional response to the Obama administration’s efforts, or lack thereof, in the region. In Indonesia specifically, the favorability rating reflects Obama’s status as a kind of “local boy,” having spent part of his childhood there; by contrast, specific elements of the mooted US-Indonesia comprehensive partnership are not necessarily popular in important segments in Indonesia, including a renewed relationship with Kopassus.

I do, as Liz notes, acknowledge when the administration has made headway. However, even some of the supposed triumphs are not necessarily so. The U.S.-South Korea free trade deal was negotiated by the previous administration, and despite Obama’s vow to move forward with it, the conditions he might attach to rethinking it may well kill it anyway, thereby both raising Seoul’s hopes and crushing them at the same time. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, meanwhile, is not an initiative launched by the Obama administration – it was started by Chile, Singapore, and New Zealand, and joined by the United States years later. The Obama administration, as even some administration officials admit in private, highlighted the TPP during the president’s visit to Asia last year exactly because the White House did not have any other good news on trade to offer, and TPP is so far from coming into reality that Washington could support it without having to face any real consequences of that support.

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Too Quick to Count Obama Out In Asia

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, July 7, 2010
U.S. President Barack Obama (C) poses with ASEAN Leaders before their ASEAN-US meeting in Singapore November 15, 2009. Pictured (L-R) are: Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Vietnam's President Nguyen Minh Triet. REUTERS/Jim Young

Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters

“How Obama Lost His Asian Friends” is the clever title of my colleague Josh Kurlantzick‘s cover story in this week’s Newsweek. The catchy title and the thrust of the article, however, don’t do full justice to the Obama administration’s efforts in the region or, more importantly, the reality of the situation on the ground. We have room to improve, but the United States and President Obama remain the most desired dance partners for virtually every country in the region…or at least for those with democratically- (or nominally democratically-) elected regimes.
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Prospects for an Inter-Korea Summit in the Post-Cheonan Era

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder Thursday, July 1, 2010
South Korean Navy's Ship Salvage Unit members on rubber boats and naval patrol ships patrol to rescue possible survivors from a sunken naval ship Cheonan March 28, 2010 (Jo Yong-hak/ Courtesy Reuters).

Kim Sung-bae is Research Fellow of the Institute for National Security Strategy.

After the sinking of the ROK Navy corvette Cheonan on March 26, 2010, the situation on the Korean Peninsula has rapidly deteriorated, worsening already high tensions and heightening the prospect for accidental military clashes. Prospects for the Six Party Talks are also very negative, as new moves to initiate additional sanctions against North Korea have replaced diplomatic efforts for the resumption of talks. Given the current situation, is there any possibility for an inter-Korean summit? A summit, paradoxically, might be the only means of exit from the crisis. Interestingly, in 1993, during heightened military tensions stemming from the first North Korean nuclear crisis, a proposal for an inter-Korean summit was accepted. The meeting was only canceled because of Kim Il-sung’s sudden death on July 8, 1994. Read more »

A Response to “Asia Alone”

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, July 1, 2010
U.S. President Obama shakes hands with Thailand's PM Abhisit after  the ASEAN-US Leaders Meeting at the APEC Summit in Singapore

Jim Young/courtesy Reuters

In Liz Economy’s assessment of Simon Tay’s new book Asia Alone, she writes that Tay argues that the United States should accept ASEAN as a full partner in a more multilateral Asian environment – that ASEAN is becoming a regional power of its own.

I have always enjoyed Simon Tay’s work, and I am sure that Asia Alone makes for a compelling and well-written read. However, the argument that ASEAN is becoming a regional power, an argument that I have heard increasingly from opinion leaders in Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia, is, I think, flawed. ASEAN has to date served as the hub of Asian institution-building, but that is primarily because, as a relatively weak organization, it can serve as a kind of neutral player; for the same reasons, the European Union is headquartered in Belgium and not France or Germany. Since ASEAN has served as the hub of Asian institution-building, a strange dynamic has developed over the past decade. Because of this central role, ASEAN leaders, and many Southeast Asians, have begun to see the organization as increasingly powerful and important in the region, when in reality, ASEAN actually in many ways has become weaker over the past decade. This divergence is creating a kind of mismatch between ASEAN’s rising intentions and its declining reality.

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