CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

The Death of Vang Pao

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Shawn Xiong and thousands of Hmong protest the case against Gen. Vang Pao in Sacramento, California May 11, 2009. (Max Whittaker/Courtesy Reuters)

Last week, Vang Pao, who led the Hmong forces in the “secret war” in Laos during the Vietnam conflict, passed away near his home in Fresno, California. Vang Pao was a complicated figure – a truly brave fighter whose men helped American forces significantly during the Vietnam War, and during his time in the United States after he emigrated to America, a leader of the Hmong community, which faced as many obstacles in adjusting to American society as any immigrant group ever has. But, especially later in his life, Vang Pao also became an extremely divisive figure within the Hmong community in the United States, as Hmong-Americans, like many émigré communities, fought within themselves over whether to keep a dream alive of returning to Laos, and as Vang Pao, wittingly or not, allowed himself to be used for all number of schemes.

I had a chance to interview Vang Pao several years ago, during Hmong New Year celebrations in St. Paul, Minnesota. You can find the article from the New Republic here (unfortunately for subscribers only).

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What China Recommends for the United States

by Elizabeth C. Economy Tuesday, January 11, 2011
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) attends a State Dinner Reception with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 17, 2009.

U.S. President Barack Obama attends a State Dinner Reception with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 17, 2009. (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters)

I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about what I would like to see China do to improve relations with the United States. Given the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the United States next week,  I thought it might be interesting to see what some of my friends and colleagues across the Pacific recommend for U.S. policy towards China.  Let me begin by noting that there was far less written in this vein than I had anticipated…but here is a good sample of what I found:

1. Avoid aggressive and hawkish language on the issue of the South China Sea advocates People’s Daily columnist Li Hongmei. She argues that the South China Sea concerns China’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and is therefore one of China’s “hot-buttoned issues.”  Li believes that if Washington can watch what it says, it will have more success in its strategic and economic agenda with Beijing. She would also like to see the United States show “more flexibility and sincerity” in how it handles North Korea. This flexibility, according to Li,  will  “ease North Korea’s stance, disarm it, and finally help achieve settlement expeditiously.”

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The Curse of Nepotism

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, January 7, 2011
Members of an Indonesian military honour guard participating in a state dinner are pictured in Jakarta

Members of an Indonesian military honour guard participating in a state dinner are pictured in Jakarta. (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past two weeks, several interesting articles have emerged on politics in Indonesia and Malaysia, which are supposedly two of the more democratic nations in Southeast Asia. In one Asia Sentinel piece that also has been discussed endlessly in Jakarta circles, the author speculates that the wife of current president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) may well run for the presidency in the next election. In a well-drawn New York Times profile, the paper chronicles the rise of Nurul Izzah Anwar, the daughter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. She has recently been elected to the leadership of Anwar’s party, despite the fact that she is extremely young and politically inexperienced.

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Calculus in the Snow

by Adam Segal Friday, January 7, 2011
Chinese Doctors Walking in Snow

Military doctors make their way across snow to see patients trapped by heavy snowfall on the outskirts of Altay Prefecture, Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region, January 27, 2010. (China Daily/Courtesy Reuters)

What almost always goes hand in hand with worry about the United States is a tendency to overstate how great things are going in China or India.  So not only does the postponement of the Eagles game after a blizzard reflect the “wussification of America,” in Governor Edward Rendell’s memorable phrase, but this could never happen in Beijing or Shanghai.  The Chinese would march to the stadium “doing calculus on the way down” (the winter storms of 2008 that stranded thousands of travelers in central and southern China and resulted in the death of over 100 people must have slipped the governor’s mind).

I have been guilty of this myself.  Soon after I published “Is America Losing Its Edge?” in Foreign Affairs, I went to India expecting to hear a great deal about America’s decline.  While there was huge and justifiable excitement and confidence about the rise of India’s software industry, there was also significant worry about how sustainable it was and how innovative India truly was.  And almost every Indian CEO, scientist, and entrepreneur I spoke with cautioned me not to underestimate the resilience of the United States.  As C.N.R Rao, Chair of the Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Council, put it at a 2008 conference: “America—whether you like it or not, however much you complain, howl and cry—continues to be the centre of science and innovation.”

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The KORUS FTA, China’s Rise, and the U.S.-ROK Security Alliance

by Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, January 4, 2011
U.S. President Obama gestures next to South Korean President Lee on stage at the end of the G20 Summit in Seoul

U.S. President Obama gestures next to South Korean President Lee on stage at the end of the G20 Summit in Seoul. (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters)

The East Asia Institute has just published my critique of an earlier paper by Dong Sun Lee and Sung Eun Kim, which concludes that ratification of the KORUS FTA will not “markedly reinforce” the U.S.-ROK security alliance. I agree with that conclusion, but I think that the KORUS FTA provides an important strategic message of psychological support for the U.S.-ROK alliance as China’s economic clout grows. Read more »

Reviving American Innovation

by Adam Segal Tuesday, January 4, 2011
US Flag in Front of Cooling Towers

A U.S. flag flutters in front of cooling towers at the Limerick Generating Station in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

It is only the fourth day of the new year and I suspect we are at the beginning of what will be a mini-boom in articles on the future of American power.  As you can imagine, the picture painted by most does not look bright.  The United States is overspent and overstretched.  Domestically, policymakers cannot seem to get anything done, and they seem particularly paralyzed when it comes to making difficult decisions necessary for immigration or tax reform.  To be fair,  despite the presence of “decline” in their article titles, Paul Kennedy in the New Republic and Gideon Rachman in Foreign Policy are really talking about relative power; a return to a more “normal” time when the United States, though still very powerful, must confront real limits to its own resources and the rise of new powers, China in particular.

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Predictions for the New Year

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, January 3, 2011
Revellers take part in New Year celebrations in Hong Kong's Times Square

Revellers take part in New Year celebrations in Hong Kong's Times Square. (Tyrone Siu/Courtesy Reuters)

Liz already handled the top stories of 2010, so how about a few predictions for Asia for 2011. Of course, predicting is always an inherently dangerous game, so don’t bet your fortune on any of these. Or at least, if you do, don’t come after me.

1.   China-US relations will become even more touchy. (Or tetchy?)

With the run-up to the leadership change in Beijing in 2012, I think it’s unlikely that Beijing is going to back significantly off of its harder-line, and sometimes confusing, policy-making shown in 2010. There may be some concessions to better relations with the United States and China’s neighbors, such as China’s supposed recent mediation with North Korea, but don’t expect a wholesale shift back to the charm offensive of the early 2000s. And China’s behavior will continue to push Asian nations – most notably, Vietnam, but also others – into the arms of the Obama administration.

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Asia’s Business in 2010 (and 2011)? Still Business!

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Sunday, January 2, 2011

Shanghai's early-morning skyline. (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters)

What was the top Asia story of 2010? My colleagues, Liz and Adam, posted their own “top ten” list last week. I hate to disagree with them, but, for me, the top story—actually, the top three stories—were all about economics.

My latest “DC Diary” column is out in India’s financial newspaper, the Business Standard, and I try to make this case. The column offers a look-back at Asian economies in 2010 with a preview of some of what may be to come in 2011.

My bottom line is this: For two generations, much of Asia relied on global demand to power its growth. But as the world economy claws its way back from crisis, others are looking to Asia to step up and lead.

And that, to my mind, was the top Asia story of 2010.

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Building Regional Stability on the Korean Peninsula: A Chinese Perspective

by Scott A. Snyder Saturday, January 1, 2011
Chinese President Hu Jintao talks to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the Seoul Forest park during a summit in Seoul, August 2008 (Lee Jin-man/Courtesy Reuters).

Shen Dingli is Professor and Executive Dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai.

Recent turbulence on the Korean Peninsula raises several key questions: What is the best way to assure stability? How can the U.S.-ROK  alliance play its due role while still being perceived as a stabilizer by other stakeholders? How can China positively interact with the two allies? Read more »