CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Behind China’s Changing Approach to Foreign Policy

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, January 31, 2011
 	 Add to cart   Add to lightbox (The Chronicle - February Cover Options) Download layout (Watermarked) Paramilitary police recruits take an oath in front of a Chinese national flag during a military rank conferral ceremony at a military base in Suining

Paramilitary police recruits take an oath in front of a Chinese national flag during a military rank conferral ceremony at a military base in Suining, Sichuan province January 28, 2011. (Stringer Shanghai/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past two years, countries in Southeast Asia – and in some other parts of the world – increasingly have noticed sharp changes in Chinese foreign policy. These have been most evident regarding disputes over the South China Sea, contested territories with Japan, and other hot spots, but a new, more aggressive foreign policy is noticeable even in some of the most minor bilateral issues with China. Yet often China’s new, more proactive foreign policy actually seems to be backfiring, costing Beijing many of the gains it made in winning Asian nations’ trust during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

In the new issue of The New Republic, I have an article (subscription required) looking at the reasons why China has begun to adopt a more aggressive foreign policy – and the ramifications of this change.

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Suu Kyi in the New Yorker

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, January 28, 2011
Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi addresses crowd during a ceremony to mark 63rd Independence Day at NLD head office in Yangon

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi addresses the crowd during a ceremony to mark the country's 63rd Independence Day at the National League for Democracy (NLD) head office in Yangon January 4, 2011. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

In last week’s New Yorker, foreign correspondent Joshua Hammer had a profile of Aung San Suu Kyi, asking whether, after being released from house arrest, she could hold together an opposition movement in Burma battered for years by the ruling junta and now, in some ways, splintered following the recent national elections. Hammer further suggests that Suu Kyi has missed opportunities for compromise that might, in some small ways, have put Burmese politics onto a more open and progressive track. 

Hammer, whom I’ve known for years as an excellent reporter and edited when I was at the New Republic, raises some interesting questions. They were echoed in cables by American officials, leaked by Wikileaks, in which the U.S. officials question the long-term viability of the Burmese opposition movement, which they call “sclerotic” and dominated by older figures who are not giving way to the young.  “Already frustrated with the sclerotic leadership of the elderly NLD ‘Uncles,’ the party lost even more credibility within the pro-democracy movement when its leaders refused to support the demonstrators last September [2007], and even publicly criticized them,” wrote one US official.

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Europe Talks China

by Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, January 28, 2011
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez, and Spain's Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian talk during the signing of commercial agreements between China and Spain at Madrid's Moncloa Palace January 5, 2011.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez, and Spain's Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian talk during the signing of commercial agreements between China and Spain at Madrid's Moncloa Palace on January 5, 2011. (Susana Vera/Courtesy Reuters)

It is always good to get out in the world to gain a little perspective. I’ve spent the past week in Europe, and from London, to Stockholm to Davos, the message seems remarkably similar: as an economy, China rocks; as a global political player, not so much. While the Chinese Foreign Ministry has not acknowledged any missteps in its year of living dangerously — indeed Foreign Ministry officials are hewing very closely to the more assertive line that got them in trouble in the first place — the rest of the world is clearly a bit nonplussed.
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Hu-Obama Summit: Implications for Managing North Korea

by Scott A. Snyder Thursday, January 27, 2011
U.S. President Barack Obama looks on as Chinese President Hu Jintao speaks during a joint press conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, January 19, 2011.

U.S. President Barack Obama looks on as Chinese President Hu Jintao speaks during a joint press conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, January 19, 2011. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

Both North and South Koreans appear to have had disproportionately high expectations in the run-up to last week’s Hu-Obama summit, judging from their reluctant willingness to edge toward tension reduction and dialogue following the November 23rd Yeonpyeong Island artillery shelling and high tensions surrounding South Korea’s live-fire exercises on December 20th. In anticipation of potential improvements in Sino-U.S. coordination, North Korea launched a diplomatic charm offensive during the first two weeks of January. South Korea finally responded shortly following the Hu-Obama summit with proposals for inter-Korean military talks and talks to address nuclear issues. The Sino-U.S. Joint Statement provided a push to the two Koreas by calling for “sincere and constructive inter-Korean dialogue” and by explicitly mentioning enriched uranium as an item that should be on the agenda of renewed Six Party Talks, but the joint statement also exposes clear limits to Sino-U.S. agreement on how to approach North Korea.  Read more »

Vietnam: The More Things Change…

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, January 24, 2011
Vietnam's Prime Minister Dung chats with senior Politburo member Sang while attending the closing ceremony of the 11th National Congress of the Party in Hanoi

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (L) chats with senior Politburo member Truong Tan Sang while attending the closing ceremony of the 11th National Congress of the Party in Hanoi January 19, 2011. (Nguyen Huy Kham/Courtesy Reuters)

With the completion of Vietnam’s 11th Party Congress, which was overshadowed by Hu Jintao’s visit to the United States, we can assess the results. And the answer is: Not exactly a step forward. As General Secretary, the party picked Nguyen Phu Trong, known as a relative hard-liner, a man who previously worked as an editor at one of the main Communist Party publications and was known, as Asia Times reported, as an “enforcer of Marxist thought.”

Other senior military and security officials gained promotions, while more moderate officials hailing from diplomatic backgrounds and economic reform backgrounds did not fare so well at the Party Congress. Trong himself is not known as an advocate of economic reform, of fostering foreign investment, and of cutting away at the maze of regulations and opaque state ownerships that characterize Vietnam’s economy and can frustrate both local entrepreneurs and foreign investors. Further reforms might help address some of the serious economic problems Vietnam is facing, including a morass of debt at inefficient state companies, a current account deficit, and questions about the viability of the dong. But, more likely, these problems will allow hard-liners, after the Party Congress, to apply the brakes even more in terms of economic reforms.

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Hu and Obama: What Did It All Mean?

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, January 20, 2011
U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao shake hands at the conclusion of their joint news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, January 19, 2011.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao shake hands at the conclusion of their joint news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, January 19, 2011. (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters)

Now that the visit of President Hu Jintao is winding down, it is worth thinking about what actually happened.  Here is my take in an interview that I did with Bernie Gwertzman, former New York Times reporter and CFR Consulting Editor.  I also liked the round-up by the Atlantic Wire—it offers  a couple of different perspectives on the business side of things.  Will anything really change in the U.S.-China relationship as a result of this state visit? We’ll have to wait to see.  In the end, as we say,  the proof will be in the pudding or the almond jello, if you like.

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Two Cheers for Technology and the Hu Visit?

by Adam Segal Thursday, January 20, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Chinese President Hu Jintao after a joint news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, January 19, 2011. (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters)

I have to admit that I did not have very high expectations for concrete deliverables from President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington.  Yes, the Chinese would bring their checkbook—and here they did not disappoint, announcing a $45 billion trade deal—but they would be vague and noncommittal on just about everything else that Washington wanted: more transparency on military issues, increased pressure on North Korea, and revaluation of the renminbi.  Reports suggest that there was plenty of evasiveness at Wednesday’s press conference.  President Obama, for example, talked about universal values; President Hu responded with the need for “mutual respect.”

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Asia in the 21st Century

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, January 18, 2011
National flags of the U.S. and China are seen in front of an international hotel in Beijing

National flags of the U.S. and China are seen in front of an international hotel in Beijing January 17, 2011. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters)

In the most recent issue of Current History, I have an article that examines the truth and myths of the idea that the 21st century will be dominated by Asia. Though China, India, and other rising Asian powers obviously have made major economic gains over the past two decades, and have begun to use their economic might to expand their diplomatic and military reach, their ultimate ascent to equality with the United States is still far from assured. In addition, though Asia has come some ways in regional integration, led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in many ways its divisions still loom larger than its unifying forces.

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Hu Cometh

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Saturday, January 15, 2011
U.S. President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao watch members of the Old Guard march during a welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House April 20, 2006.

U.S. President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao watch members of the Old Guard march during a welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House April 20, 2006. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

Chinese president Hu Jintao arrives in Washington this week.  And after a year of difficult relations, it’s probably a good time to ask whether the two sides can’t revitalize at least some elements of their elaborate and detailed 2009 Joint Statement.

China has prepped the ground for Hu’s visit by ratcheting back its rhetoric and presenting a friendly face.  A January 10 op-ed in the Financial Times by Li Keqiang (China’s premier-in-waiting) argued that domestic demand has accelerated while 2010 imports “may well top $1,390 billion, ranking second in the world.” China’s message: “we get it, World; so ease off on rebalancing.”  Meanwhile, Beijing hosted U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates on 11 January, restoring high-level military dialogue after a long hiatus.

But the fluttering flags, red-coated fife and drum corps, and 21 cannon shots will belie the reality of a rapidly changing U.S.-China relationship.

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Talking Strategy with Japan

by Sheila A. Smith Thursday, January 13, 2011
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates meets with Japan's Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa in Tokyo

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates meets with Japan's Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa in Tokyo. (POOL New/Courtesy Reuters)

What a difference a year makes. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates just completed his second visit to Tokyo since Japan’s government changed in 2009. The shift in tone and substance from his last visit to Tokyo is striking, and reflects the difficult learning process U.S. policymakers have gone through over the past year.

Secretary Gates pointed out the United States needs to follow the lead of the Japanese government as it works with residents of Okinawa on their concerns over the relocation of a key U.S. marine base. Japan is one of the United States’ closest allies, and thus following their lead on what is an extraordinarily difficult domestic decision seems the obvious course. Read more »