CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Poorly Made in China is Well Worth It

by Elizabeth C. Economy Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Poorly Made in China by Paul Midler

With the summer winding down, I was searching for a good China read and came across Paul Midler‘s Poorly Made in China. Midler has spent close to two decades living and working in China, the latter decade helping foreigners navigate the challenges of manufacturing in China. I’m not sure how I missed this book when it first came out, but I am glad that it crossed my desk now. It is one of the best business books on China that I have encountered in a long time.
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In China, Where You Sit is Where You Stand

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Monday, August 30, 2010

Over at The New Yorker, Evan Osnos has posted a fun piece on his “Letter from China” blog.  He nicely captures the ambivalence so many in China seem to feel these days about becoming the world’s second-largest economy.

“Why the long face,” Evan asks?  The news “has sent China into a frenzy of self-flagellation, in the hope of reminding people that it is still home to a lot of very poor people.”

Actually, this is hardly the first time we’ve seen China go into this kind of denial:  Back in 2006, China became the world’s number one emitter of greenhouse gases.  And in 2009, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), it became the world’s largest consumer of energy.   Now, in the second quarter of 2010, China, at $1.33 trillion, became the world’s second-largest economy, surpassing Japan and moving into position to overtake the United States by about 2030.

So … why aren’t they cheering in Beijing?

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Burma’s Looming Disaster

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, August 30, 2010

Military personnel from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), an ethnic militia battling Myanmar's military junta, take part in a traditional New Year's parade on the Myanmar-Thai border

This past week, the Burmese generals captured global media attention by apparently stepping down from their posts in anticipation of the upcoming national elections, the country’s first in two decades. Of course, the stepping down, which includes around fifteen top army men, is something of a fiction; the military is controlling most aspects of the election, and certainly the military’s favored party is going to win the poll, but even a relatively cosmetic change in unchanging Burma makes news.

The generals’ decision shouldn’t be ignored – even a small window of political opening might set the stage for some independent-minded politicians to join the new parliament. However, the stepping down has overshadowed a potentially much more serious – and dangerous – decision by the regime. According to reports in Burma publications like the Irrawaddy, the regime recently warned the many ethnic insurgent armies operating on Burma’s frontiers, some of which have as many as 20,000 men under arms, that the junta will attack them next month if they don’t essentially disarm and join a junta-controlled border guard force. The militias, most of whom have had a shaky cease-fire with the junta for over a decade, thus far have refused.

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Obama and Asia, with Apologies

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, August 23, 2010

A man walks past a picture of U.S. President Obama outside the U.S. embassy in Beijing

Several months ago, after writing an article complaining about the Obama administration’s lack of a coherent Asia policy, I got a fair amount of angry responses, pointing out the ways in which the administration’s Asia policy was beginning to emerge and would soon pay dividends. So, let me now give the administration credit, and also offer some worries. In the past two months, the administration has both shown much greater and more nuanced attention to Southeast Asia and has staked out clearer lines on where it stands on the region’s critical future issues. The question now is, can it back up its stances?

To review–after coming into office with a somewhat muddled China policy that seemed to please neither the Chinese nor many American opinion leaders, the administration has taken a tougher and firmer approach – and there is evidence from the past that, although Beijing may protest a tougher U.S. policy, it does appreciate consistency from Washington above all. The administration also has begun making good on its promises to be “back” in Southeast Asia, by weighing in on the South China Sea issue, by deciding to play a role in the East Asia Summit, and – possibly – by making Vietnam, not Indonesia, its most transformed foreign policy relationship in the region, not only through nuclear cooperation and joint exercises but also, in the longer run, the kind of security partnership the US now shares with Singapore.  And, a more nuanced policy toward Burma, which mixes continued engagement with a willingness to back a UN inquiry into Burmese war crimes – shows an ability to rethink sanctions and also a desire not to get fooled by the junta.

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China Assaults the High-Tech Frontier

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Friday, August 20, 2010

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV

I did a fun panel earlier this week on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” with Maria Bartiromo.  She asked a pretty straightforward question:  Is China challenging the United States on the frontiers of high technology, and, if so, what sectors should we watch?

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Web 0.2

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mas Ayu Adnan, a student, checks her assignment at a cybercafe in Kuala Lumpur August 11, 2009.

In an increasingly competitive region, and a world where a prolonged economic slowdown looks more than likely, the countries of Southeast Asia, constantly worried about competing with China and India, would want to give themselves every advantage, right? Right? Especially if that means trying to lure the kind of high-tech investment that not only pumps in money but also can help a country upgrade the value and quality of its workforce, right? Right?

Well, maybe not. Over the past year, as opposition movements or protests increasingly have threatened the governments of Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and other countries in the region, many of these governments have taken a major step backwards on Internet freedom, even after previously vowing not to censor the Web the way they control traditional print and broadcast media. Thailand, somewhat surprisingly, has been the worst offender; though it is still nominally a democracy, it now reportedly bans more websites than any other country on earth, a truly remarkable achievement given the competition from places like China and Saudi Arabia. Prominent online editors and bloggers have been jailed. Bangkok blogger Bangkok Pundit recently reported that the Thai police have allotted some 120 people to search for online discourse that potentially defames the monarchy —  an enormous waste of the cops’ resources, and a sign of the paranoia and increasingly authoritarian style of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government. Though Thailand’s stock market has stabilized, and a recent delegation of U.S. investors heard all the right promises from the government, increasingly strict Internet censorship, which poisons the political climate and, in the long run, will stifle Thai high-tech entrepreneurship, can’t be too reassuring to investors.

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Indonesia: Winning on Terror, but not on Tolerance

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir is escorted by the police as he arrives at the police headquarters in Jakarta

Last week, Indonesia arrested Abu Bakir Basyir, the most prominent militant cleric in the country, and a man believed to be the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah and its offshoots. The government had arrested Abu Bakir before, in 2002, and then several years later, but he served only light sentences, and this time the Indonesian government believes it has much more serious evidence against him, evidence that clearly links him to the planning and running of a terrorist training program in Aceh. The Indonesian police broke up that training program, in another major success story, and in the process captured or killed at least one hundred militants.

All of this is being treated, in Jakarta and Washington, as a major triumph. And without a doubt, the government of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has amassed a strong record in fighting terrorism. Detachment 88, the elite police force that has received training from the US, has become a model for counterterrorism, rolling up informants, infiltrating militant cells far more effectively than most Western intelligence agencies, and taking Jemaah Islamiah apart, so that it is a shadow of its presence of five or ten years ago.

But even as the Yudhoyono government wins against terrorism, it has proven strikingly mealy-mouthed and ineffective against intolerance. The government mostly says nothing as radical groups have attacked Christians throughout the archipelago and harassed and even attacked secular Indonesians partying at bars in Jakarta. In the past, Yudhoyono has hardly fought back when hardliners have changed laws to discriminate against minority Muslim sects, like the Ahmadiyah, and he seems basically unwilling to take a tough line against the Islamic Defenders Front, a leading vigilante group that tries to enforce its hardline version of Islam, and that is mutating into smaller, more thuggish cells, according to a recent investigation by the Jakarta Post.

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China’s Rise and the Contested Commons

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Friday, August 13, 2010

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Aly Song

Is there a more interesting place these days than the South China Sea? It’s the locus of a full-contact diplomatic spat between Washington and Beijing. It’s an arena for some nasty finger-pointing between Beijing and Hanoi. It’s an issue that may well destabilize relations between Beijing and Jakarta. And it’s the issue that somehow managed to make Asia’s most lethargic regional organization—the ASEAN Regional Forum—a bit more interesting at last month’s ministerial in Hanoi.

But here’s something else that strikes me about the South China Sea: It’s going to be an arena that tests some important assumptions about China’s rise.

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