CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

The Top 10 Asia Events of 2010

by Adam Segal and Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, December 30, 2010
 man looks a screen outside a United Overseas Bank branch in Singapore's financial district on October 31, 2008.

A man looks a screen outside a United Overseas Bank branch in Singapore's financial district on October 31, 2008. (Vivek Prakash/Courtesy Reuters)

The Great Foreign Policy Reveal
Chalk up 2010 as the year when Chinese rhetoric met reality. Five years worth of political talk about win-win diplomacy, peaceful rise, and a harmonious society unraveled quickly over the course of the year. China seemed to make all the wrong choices: cybersecurity attacks on multinationals and others, embargoes on rare earths, bullying Southeast Asia, ignoring and then defending North Korean aggression, demanding apologies from Japan and South Korea for Chinese-induced military spats, and the country’s greatest diplomatic embarrassment—attacking (and keeping in prison) Liu Xiaobo, the only Chinese Nobel Prize winner who still wants to live in the country. China’s takeaway from these disastrous diplomatic developments ought to be “actions speak louder than words.”  Indeed, recent reports suggest that China is finally exerting some pressure on North Korea. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a trend.

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As If North Korea Didn’t Have you Worried Enough

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Models of a North Korean Scud-B missile and South Korean Hawk surface-to-air missiles are seen at the Korean War Memorial Museum in Seoul

Models of a North Korean Scud-B missile and South Korean Hawk surface-to-air missiles are seen at the Korean War Memorial Museum in Seoul. (Jo Yong hak/Courtesy Reuters)

I have a new article in the New Republic examining the links between North Korea and a potential nuclear and missile program in Burma. Rumors and reports that Burma wanted to develop missile and nuclear programs have been percolating for years, but recently the problem has been highlighted with more credible reports on the topic by the United Nations, the Democratic Voice of Burma and the Institute for Science and International Security.

What is interesting about the possibility of a Burmese nuclear program – admittedly, still relatively remote at this point – is how, as with the junta’s recent political maneuvers, it shows that the regime has been able to both keep foreign powers in the dark and effectively manipulate the outside world. In this way, the junta has put the lie to the idea that its leaders are dumb, unsophisticated, or irrational – they are brutal, but also far savvier and rational than they often appear.

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North Korea “Backs Off”?

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Tuesday, December 21, 2010

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il walks in front of his youngest son Kim Jong-un as they watch a parade to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang. (Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters)

So, the New York Times says that North Korea’s failure to respond to yesterday’s South Korean live-fire drills “could signal [a] new policy”—namely, that Pyongyang, to quote a South Korean analyst cited in the article, may be “trying to create the mood for dialogue.”

We’ll see.  But, sorry, I just don’t buy it.

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Inflation is Political Too …

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Friday, December 17, 2010

People look at vegetable prices at a local food market in Shanghai. (Carlos Barria/Courtesy Reuters)

Are there many things in Asia more political than inflation?  At a time when governments across the region are wrestling with inflationary pressure, it’s worth asking just how aggressive Asian governments might become and what tools they may pull out of their toolkits to fight it.

On this episode of CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” I discussed the issues with Martin Soong and Karen Tso.  The answer, I think, is that they could become very aggressive, but that we’re not likely to see a uniform response across the region.

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Wouldn’t hold my breadth for IPR protection in China

by Adam Segal Friday, December 17, 2010
Gary Locke  (L) and Wang Qishan (R)

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke (L) shakes hands with China's Vice Premier Wang Qishan in Hangzhou October 29, 2009. (Eugene Hoshiko/Courtesy Reuters)

The two-day meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade ended with the Chinese promising to crack down on software piracy and prevent other violations of intellectual property rights.  I hope they do, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

The good news.  The Chinese government will spend more on legal software and it will try to track the use of software in state-owned enterprises.  Vice Premier Wang Qishan is said to have agreed to personally oversee a public campaign against intellectual property rights theft.  In addition, Chinese officials once again tried to reassure their American counterparts that earlier policy documents suggesting that the government would only buy products patented or trademarked in China were just drafts and that new rules would be more flexible.

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China, the U.S., and “Global Dominance”

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, December 16, 2010
Chinese policemen salute during a ceremony in Shanxi province.

Chinese policemen salute during a ceremony in Shanxi province. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

Yesterday I received a call from a reporter asking me to talk about China, the U.S., and rare earths. I offered a few thoughts, trying to point out that the rare earths story was not really about U.S.-China relations but rather about China’s strength in a particular market and what options existed for the rest of the world to avoid getting caught short as China enforced its increasingly tough export quotas.

She then asked me to discuss Shanghai’s globally top-ranked test scores, Chinese holdings of U.S. treasuries, China’s push in clean energy and anything else that would contribute to her readers’ understanding of how China was going to “take global dominance away from the United States.”

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More Reading the Wikileaks Cables: Thailand’s Monarchy

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, December 16, 2010
A woman holds a portrait of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej on his 83rd birthday in Bangkok

A woman holds a portrait of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej on his 83rd birthday in Bangkok. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters)

The latest bunch of released Wikileaks cables, online at the Guardian’s archive, offer fascinating insight into Thailand’s opaque monarchy, and should put to rest, once and for all, any idea that the royals stay out of politics except for occasions of national emergency, such as the bloodshed of 1992.

Theoretically, Thailand’s monarchy is “above politics” – the royal institution does not involve itself in political life, and is theoretically a constitutional monarch, like Queen Elizabeth II. Of course, Thais and experienced Thailand watchers know this is not the case; Thailand scholar Duncan McCargo, at Leeds University, coined the term “network monarchy” to explain how the palace influences politics through a network of its supporters and loyalists. But the recent batch of leaked cables show in much more detail how directly the monarchy intervenes in Thai politics, and how much more regularly it intervenes than some Thai observers thought. The royals are hardly saving their powder for occasional instances of dire national emergency. In one cable, a former Thai prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, tells US officials that Thailand’s Queen Sirikit pushed for the 2006 coup against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and also backed anti-government protests by groups that had demonstrated against Thaksin. In another, senior Thai officials tell American diplomats that Thailand’s king “explicitly told [army commander] Anupong Paojinda not to launch a coup” in 2008, two years after the previous putsch.

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Burma’s Ties to North Korea

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, December 13, 2010
North Korea's Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun visits the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

North Korea's Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun visits the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

One of the most interesting elements of the Wikileaks’ cables has been the large number of reports – thus far- from the U.S. embassy in Rangoon. Some media outlets have focused on these cables’ characterization of China’s position on Burma, which actually is less supportive and tolerant of the junta that it often seems. But several other cables detail allegations of North Korean workers building an underground facility at a Burmese military installation, of North Koreans allegedly building a missile program in Burma, and of the Burmese working on what they characterize as “peaceful nuclear cooperation” with Pyongyang. (Perhaps as “peaceful” as Iran’s program!) Another cable detailed allegations that 112 tons of “mixed ore” including uranium may have been shipped to Burma in early 2007.

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China’s Parallel Universe

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Soldier Standing Post in Front of Tiananmen

A soldier stands his post in Tiananmen Square. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters)

Bit by bit we are learning how China manages reality when reality doesn’t conform to Chinese interests: it constructs its own reality.

Some of this is simply smart politics. Chinese leaders don’t believe that the international press gives them a fair shake, so they invest $80 billion to create their own international media outreach with access to 130 news bureaus worldwide and a 24-hour English-language television station. Nothing wrong with this—everyone is free to decide what they do and don’t believe from any media source.

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Wikileaks, Zhongnanhai-ology, and the Prospect for Political Reform in China

by Yanzhong Huang Wednesday, December 8, 2010

While Kremlinology is no longer in vogue, our understanding of the inner workings of the elite politics in China still benefits a lot from the cables sent by our nosy and diligent diplomats based in Beijing. But if one anticipated that WikiLeaks would churn out truly juicy stuff on what transpires within the Zhongnanhai compound, he would be deeply disappointed. Not only was there nothing breathtaking, but the use of rumor mills such as raises questions on the reliability of some collected information.
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