CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Asia’s Examples for the Middle East

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, February 28, 2011
Anti-government protesters shout slogans during a protest demanding the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh outside Sanaa

Anti-government protesters shout slogans during a protest demanding the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh outside Sanaa University February 28, 2011. (Ammar Awad/Courtesy Reuters)

In the midst of the unrest in the Middle East, many Arabs, and outside observers, are looking for models for the region’s transitions. One place to look is Asia’s democratic revolutions of the past two decades, from South Korea to Indonesia to the Philippines, the original home of “People Power.” Unfortunately, after the initial euphoria, many of these revolutions have gone sour; today, twenty-five years after overthrowing Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippines is technically a democracy, but it’s a weak, corrupt, and oligarchic one.

I have a new CFR expert brief expanding on this topic. It is available here.

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Libya: China’s New Middle East Conundrum

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, February 23, 2011
A man is arrested by police in front of the Peace Cinema, where internet social networks were calling to join a "Jasmine Revolution" protest, in downtown Shanghai on February 20, 2011.

A man is arrested by police in front of the Peace Cinema, where internet social networks were calling to join a "Jasmine Revolution" protest, in downtown Shanghai on February 20, 2011. (Carlos Barria/Courtesy Reuters)

It has been fascinating to watch as Beijing traverses the tricky ground of revolution in the Middle East. Even as the United States is clearly struggling to find its voice on the dramatic changes underway, China’s leadership has found itself caught between the potential advantages that might accrue to the country and the challenges that it may well face.
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American Innovation and the Asian Challenge

by Adam Segal Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Earlier this month, I sat down with Harry Kreisler of UC Berkeley’s Institute of International Studies to talk about my new book,  Advantage.  Watch as we discuss the state of innovation in the U.S. and Asia, as well as how we can play to our strengths in what I call the “software” of innovation in order to maintain our lead in the global economy.

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If Failure to Stabilize Inter-Korean Relations Becomes Permanent . . .

by Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, February 22, 2011
South Korea's chief nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac speaks to the media at Beijing airport

South Korea's chief nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac speaks to the media upon his arrival at Beijing airport February 10, 2011 for talks on North Korea. (Courtesy Reuters/Jason Lee)

If this is the case, a critical question becomes whether Korea’s neighbors have enough patience, “strategic” or otherwise, to wait for two more years before revisiting an agenda that includes not only a stalled denuclearization process where there is no prospect of resuming Six Party Talks to address denuclearization, but also three practical concerns in North Korea: 1) humanitarian aid, 2) missile development, and 3) conventional provocations, especially around the Northern Limit Line (NLL). In some respects, the most attractive feature of patience with the current status quo from a North Korean perspective is that every day that there are no talks on denuclearization means one more day in which the world has tacitly accepted North Korea as a de facto nuclear weapons state. The above three issues are areas where it is possible to imagine that new crises might overwhelm the current focus on denuclearization, necessitating new diplomatic efforts while ensuring that the objective of denuclearization is not lost in the shuffle.

In the case of humanitarian aid, the objective must be to avoid linking food aid to political objectives or to a political agenda with North Korea, as was the case in the late 1990s. One way of doing this is to lay down clear criteria for aid provision that to a certain extent are independent of North Korean demands. Ambassador Robert King has essentially laid the groundwork for such an approach during his visit to Seoul last week when he spelled out three criteria for delivery of U.S. food aid to the North: 1) demonstrated need on the basis of in-country surveys, 2) a comparative evaluation of North Korea’s needs in the context of global need, 3) a secure guarantee of monitoring of aid. South Korea has linked provision of food assistance to improvements in inter-Korean relations, so it is necessary for United States and South Korea to further coordinate approaches on food aid to North Korea.

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Seven Guidelines for U.S. Central Asia Policy

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pedestrians walk past Bibi Khanum mosque in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. (Shamil Baigin/Courtesy Reuters)

As noted in my last post, a new report from the bipartisan Central Asia Study Group, chaired by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and issued by the Project 2049 Institute, offers an action agenda aimed at creating a more effective and enduring partnership between the United States and the nations of Central Asia. I was the principal author of the report, which was rolled out at a press roundtable I did with Armitage. But the paper is a consensus document that reflects discussion, debate, and, ultimately, broad agreement among a distinguished group of former senior U.S. diplomatic and defense officials with responsibility for, or interest in, Central Asia.

The report does a lot of things. But one central element is its attempt to offer any U.S. administration seven broad guidelines for U.S. policy in the region. So here they are:

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Is Aung San Suu Kyi Going Back to Jail?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks with youths at the National League for Democracy head office in Yangon

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks with youths at the National League for Democracy (NLD) head office in Yangon February 8, 2011. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

Speaking with a number of Burmese political analysts over the past month, I have repeatedly heard an unsettling conclusion – one that the military’s latest actions make even more likely. Nearly all of them agree that, by the end of this year, the Burmese regime is likely to put Aung San Suu Kyi back under house arrest. This would mark the continuation of a pattern: The regime has released and then detained Suu Kyi over and over during the past two decades.

Though it’s impossible to predict anything for sure in Burma, many of the signs of a hardening political climate are there, and noted today in brief in the New York Times. Having successfully had an election – albeit a highly flawed one – last fall, the regime, most Burmese analysts say, appears to be confident that the election provides enough cover of legitimacy to allow Asian nations, and some European ones, to work more closely with and invest in Burma. The election, and rising investment, has also made Senior General Than Shwe more confident about his own future and control of the country. One of Thailand’s biggest companies is going forward with a major port investment in Burma, and there are discussions on reopening the old World War Two “Stillwell” road in Burma and connecting it to the new network of roads and rails joining Southeast Asia.

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An Agenda for U.S.-Central Asia Relations

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Friday, February 18, 2011

When it snows on the steppes of eastern Kazakhstan, hunters saddle up and gallop off with eagles on their arms in search of prey. (Shamil Zhumatov/Courtesy Reuters)

I’ve blogged mainly on East Asia and South Asia here at Asia Unbound. But a new report from the bipartisan Central Asia Study Group, chaired by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, offers a timely opportunity to blog a bit on Central Asia.

First, a little truth in advertising: I’m the principal author of the study group report, Strengthening Fragile Partnerships: An Agenda for the Future of U.S.-Central Asia Relations, which was issued yesterday by the Project 2049 Institute, and rolled out at a press roundtable I did with Armitage. But I think the paper is important on its merits because it presents the consensus view of a distinguished—and bipartisan—group of former senior U.S. diplomatic and defense officials with responsibility for, or interest in, Central Asia.

The full report can be found and downloaded here.

Why issue such a report now?

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China’s Economy and the Water Crisis—A Fresh Take

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, February 16, 2011
The algae-filled Chaohu Lake is seen in Hefei, Anhui province, on August 3, 2010.

The algae-filled Chaohu Lake is seen in Hefei, Anhui province, on August 3, 2010. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

While China’s economy continues to grab headlines, a new report, “Choke Point: China,” suggests  that we ought to be spending a bit more time on an often-ignored economic fundamental: water.   China’s environment has been a long-standing passion of mine, both as a research focus and as an area to promote U.S.-China cooperation. While China’s poor air quality has received a lot of attention in the West—we can all see the pollution in Beijing or read about the pollution clouds that travel from China across the Pacific to the United States—the issue of greatest concern for China is access to clean water.

We know a fair amount about China’s water challenge already. Both municipal and industrial demand for water continues to grow, as both the economy and middle class expand, and levels of pollution throughout many of China’s major river systems and largest lakes make the water unusable even for agriculture or industry (forget about fishing or drinking). China is sinking as underground aquifers are drawn down, with the result that buildings are tilting, highways cracking, and people relocating as their coastal villages sink beneath sea level. Water is a source of societal concern: the public health costs from polluted water are mounting, and water pollution remains a source of significant social unrest in rural China. Civil society in China, in the form of environmental NGOs, has made enforcement of water pollution control regulations one of their top priorities.

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Why China is not Egypt (or Yemen, or Tunisia, or Bahrain)

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Protesters from the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions demonstrate outside the Egyptian Consulate in Hong Kong

Protesters from the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions demonstrate outside the Egyptian Consulate in Hong Kong February 8, 2011, in response to the "Day of Action for Democracy in Egypt" called by the International Trade Union Confederation. (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters)

Earlier, I posted on China’s reaction to the uprising in Egypt, which was basically to try to shut down any coverage of the protests in the Chinese media at all. Some reporters and commentors have suggested that this is a sign of China’s instability, that it bears some resemblance to the Arab-Muslim states now feeling the heat. Though I wish that were true, it’s probably not. Why?

1. China’s urbanites haven’t turned against the regime

Unlike the educated and secular men and women who thronged to the central squares in Cairo, many Chinese urbanites essentially support, or tolerate, the regime. And why not? The government has been very, very good to them, as Minxin Pei documented in his book China’s Trapped Transition. High growth, perks for professors and urban dwellers, restrictions on rural people’s housing and schools – all of these are reasons why urbanites, in polls, show high appreciation of the current state of affairs.

2. China’s leaders aren’t as out of touch, isolated, and brittle as those in the Middle East

The CCP leadership is not Hosni Mubarak. It is an authoritarian regime, but a collective one, one that does have some response to public opinion – see the 2008 Tibet protests, or China’s crackdowns on infant formula fakers – and uses its collective to make shared decisions that do not rest on the shoulders of one man or woman. The leadership has proven relatively flexible and tenacious, able to adapt to changing international currents, and to co-opt some of the finest political and business talent into the Party.

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The Budget and Innovation

by Adam Segal Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Budget and Innovation

The U.S. 2012 fiscal year budget is unveiled in Washington on February 14, 2012. (Jason Reed/courtesy Reuters)

A little house keeping. I was on the road last week, speaking about Advantage in Berkeley and Seattle.  About ten days ago, Foreign Policy published my response to the State of the Union, “The Great Invention Race,” and CFR.org just posted some of my thoughts on the budget and innovation—increased spending is definitely good news (if it does not eventually get slashed in the battle to reduce the budget deficit), but it is not enough.

One of the most interesting exchanges I had on the West Coast involved a serial entrepreneur who was trying to commercialize a dual-use technology but kept running into government bureaucracy. Venture capital was scared away from making an early investment, and hiring foreign-born workers was near impossible because of deemed export control laws—a Chinese engineer, for example, who works with technology that is controlled for export is “deemed” an export, and the company must obtain a license for that worker to use the technology in the lab.

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