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Asia Unbound

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

Won’t be an Apple or Google in China for Next 50 or 100 Years

by Adam Segal Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kai-Fu Lee

Over on Foreign Affairs, I have another piece on indigenous innovation and what it means for the United States.   Most of the points have already been well covered on Asia Unbound (here, here, and here).   I do, however, want to return to one that often gets overlooked in discussions about the 2006 “Guidelines on National Medium- and Long-Term Program for Science and Technology Development.”  Indigenous innovation and the state-directed, top-down policies designed to promote it get all of the attention, but in fact much of the Guidelines reads like a blueprint for building a Silicon Valley in China.  Large parts of the report talk about the need to create an ecosystem that fosters technological entrepreneurship through the growth of university-industry collaboration, promotion of small start-ups, development of venture capital funds, and protection of intellectual property rights.

The question–central to my forthcoming book Advantage–is how successful China will be in developing that environment.  I think it will be slow and difficult, but if it isn’t it will be because of people like Kai-Fu Lee, formerly of Microsoft Research China and Google China and now the head of a venture fund called Innovation Works.  Lee brings a wealth of knowledge and experience with him; he has deep ties to the technology community in China and the United States; and, in past profiles, has spoken enthusiastically about the growth of the Chinese Internet market as well as the energy and ability of Chinese students.  He, and other returnees, will be critical in building networks and a culture of innovation.
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“Soft” Authoritarianism

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, September 30, 2010

 	 Add to cart   Add to lightbox (FA Nov-Dec 2010) Download layout (Watermarked) Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva addresses the Euromoney Thailand Investment Forum in Bangkok

In the Bangkok Post, one of the two leading English newspapers in Thailand, Thai academic Thitinan Pongsudhirak offered a sad commentary this week on the state of political affairs in the kingdom.

I hate to hit someone who was just our guest, but at roughly the same time that Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva visited CFR in New York to proclaim his support for a free media and his government’s commitment to getting democracy back on track in Thailand, the Thai authorities arrested Chiranuch Premchaiporn, editor of the groundbreaking – and boundary-pushing – Thai website Prachatai. Hmm. Her crime, allegedly, was not taking down comments on the site that the government claimed were offensive to Thailand’s royal family. As Thitinan notes, Prachatai is left-leaning, but no more so than news and opinion publications in many other countries that are “receptive to dissenting opinions.” More broadly, Thitinan notes, the Prachatai case is emblematic of an emerging “soft civil-military authoritarianism” in Thailand in which new technologies are used to control the Internet and other forms of free speech, judicial interference is utilized to disbar opposition politicians, and the smooth Oxford-educated Abhisit presents a public face and a democratic facade to the world. In one reader comment after Thitinan’s piece the writer expressed surprise that someone educated at Oxford could preside over such draconian policies!

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Counting from one to two in China—a bigger leap than it seems

by Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, September 27, 2010

A 76-year-old man plays with his granddaughter at a hutong (traditional neighbourhood) in Beijing August 21, 2006. China's one-child policy has led to an aging population and labour shortages that could undermine a key basis for the country's economic growth -- its seemingly endless supply of cheap workers, a newspaper said on Monday. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Jason LeeSomething is afoot with China’s one-child policy, but no-one seems entirely sure what might be changing and when (see here and here). Everyone agrees that the policy has been “successful” in its original intent, by official account reducing China’s anticipated population over the past almost three decades by 400 million. At the same time, everyone also agrees that the policy has resulted in excesses that must be addressed sooner rather than later.
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One More Thing China Might be Thinking

by Adam Segal Friday, September 24, 2010

In his most recent post on Chinese assertiveness in the South China and East China Seas, my colleague Josh Kurlantzik raises three possible answers to the question: What is China thinking? Beijing was supposedly so good at reassuring the neighbors that its rapid rise would not threaten them; it could both grow and be a responsible partner.  But now, after a few short months, a decade of good work has been ruined.  The neighbors are worried, and, at least according to the New York Times, they are looking to Washington. Read more »

What is China Thinking?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, September 23, 2010

Activists on a fishing boat depart for the disputed Senkaku or Diaoyu islands from an island in Hong Kong

Following the recent months’ turmoil over the South China Sea and now China’s tensions with Japan, I have many questions; most importantly, what is China thinking? From the late 1990s until the mid-2000s, as I chronicled in my book Charm Offensive, Beijing did an excellent job of reassuring nations in East Asia, and particularly Southeast Asia, that it could be a good neighbor, a positive player in regional institutions, and an actor capable of conciliatory and reasonable behavior. In just the past few months, Beijing has damaged that perception and ruined much of the goodwill it took a decade to amass. Vietnam is fast-tracking its cooperation with the United States, other Southeast Asian nations are pushing Washington to re-engage with the region, and even Cambodia, whose leadership generally detests Western powers, is cozying up with Washington.

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Coming this Weekend: A Sino-Japanese Hacking War?

by Adam Segal Friday, September 17, 2010

Internet Explorer 7 Error Page

This Saturday is the seventy-ninth anniversary of the Mukden, or Manchurian, Incident, and, depending on who you believe, Chinese hackers are gearing up to launch massive attacks on the computer networks of the Japanese government and private industry, placing Chinese flags on some websites, knocking others offline, and deleting and destroying data. Or perhaps they are not.
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A Pleasant Surprise While in China…Then Back to Reality

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, September 16, 2010

Donilon, Summers Meet with Li Yuanchao in Beijing

Last week when I was in Beijing, I had a pleasant surprise. Everyone was talking about the new and improved U.S.-China relationship. Chinese officials were calling the visit of senior U.S. officials (Larry Summers, Jeff Bader, Tom Donilon, etc.),  which had just finished up, a clear success. The tribulations of the spring and summer—Taiwan arms sales, the Dalai Lama’s visit with President Obama, the Cheonan incident, and the fracas over the South China Sea—seemed a distant memory.
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Struggles with the Software

by Adam Segal Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Whenever I am confronted with some new press report about how rapidly Chinese science and technology is growing, my first reaction is usually, “yes, but…”

The “but” almost always revolves around what I call in my forthcoming book, Advantage, the software of innovation: the web of social, cultural, and political institutions and understandings that help create and then move big ideas from the lab to the marketplace.  If you have the resources, it is pretty easy to build the hardware by increasing enrollments in engineering courses and ramping up spending on research and development.   You just need leadership that sees science-based innovation as critical to twenty-first century competitiveness and is willing to follow through.  And the Chinese, of course, have that.  Just two days ago, on the sidelines of a summer World Economic Forum meeting, Premier Wen Jiabao trumpeted the role of “scientific innovation in the process of shifting from ‘made in China’ to ‘created in China’.”
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China’s Questionable Friends

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao shakes hands with Myanmar's Senior General Than Shwe during a meeting in the country's capital Naypyidaw

After welcoming last week, in succession, Kim Jong Il and Burmese dictator Than Shwe, perhaps the Chinese leadership should go for a trifecta; maybe this week they can host a party for Omar al-Bashir or roll out the red carpet for Islam Karimov.

Seriously, Than Shwe’s visit to China, in advance of Burma’s first national elections in twenty years, appeared like a solid vote of support for the Burmese military, who plan to use the election to create a civilian veneer for their rule while perpetuating the military’s power through its designated parties. Certainly, all public statements by leaders like Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao emphasized that China would support the Burmese government no matter the “international situation,” a code phrase for pressure on Burma by leading democracies. And, while five years ago the charge that China was backing Burma’s junta because it reaped massive profits in Burma was seriously overstated – Chinese investment at that time remained relatively small – it is now accurate. China accounted for over 90 percent of direct foreign investment in Burma in 2008 and likely similar figures in 2009, and will benefit enormously from new petroleum pipelines from Burma scheduled to come online in the next two years.

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Chinese Fishing Boat Sets Off Sino-Japanese Conflict

by Sheila A. Smith Monday, September 13, 2010

At midnight on Sunday morning, Japan’s new ambassador to Beijing, Uichiro Niwa, was unceremoniously summoned to meet a leading Chinese Communist Party official, State Councillor Dai Bingguo. Councillor Dai demanded the return of the ship and crew of a Chinese trawler detained by Japan for illegal activity in its territorial waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands.
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