CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

U.S.-South Korean Nuclear Relationship: After Fukushima

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, March 30, 2011
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) greets South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington April 12, 2010.

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) greets South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington April 12, 2010. (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters)

I was a last-minute substitute speaker this week on the U.S.-South Korean nuclear relationship at the Carnegie Endowment’s 2011 Nuclear Policy Conference. (A podcast of the event is available here.) The focus of our panel on “U.S. Nuclear Cooperation: How and With Whom?” was on issues surrounding a new U.S.-ROK nuclear cooperation agreement to replace the current agreement that expires in 2014, and featured an excellent review by State’s Richard Stratford of nuclear cooperation agreements the United States will be negotiating with at least 17 countries by 2014. 

The main focus of my presentation was on the challenges and pressures Korea poses as it negotiates a revised nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States in terms of its own perceived needs as a new exporter of nuclear plants. U.S. non-proliferation policies are in apparent conflict with the aspirations of the Korean industry to provide the full range of services, including enrichment and reprocessing, so as to maintain international competitiveness in this sector. This aspiration is also at odds with a Congressional desire to tighten restrictions contained in U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries, and raises some interesting questions about how long it is possible for the United States to sustain its role in shaping the parameters for nuclear activity in other states through its web of nuclear cooperation agreements. Fred McGoldrick last year provided an in-depth analysis of these challenges in a paper available here.
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Implications of Myanmar’s Earthquake

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Army soldiers carry weapons as they walk to the earthquake struck area in Tarlay March 28, 2011.(Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

Besides the obvious destructive impact on human life – the death toll is already above seventy, which is likely a severe underestimate — the earthquake in northeastern Myanmar last Thursday could have political and strategic implications as well.  That region is home to a number of ethnic minority militias, many of whom have fought the central government on and off for decades. Most had signed cease-fires more than a decade ago, but the regime has, over the past two years, pressured many of the ethnic minority militias to essentially give up their arms and join a border guard force run by the regime. Not surprisingly, nearly all the militias have refused, instead banding together and often purchasing new stocks of arms, sometimes allegedly with money from narco-trafficking. The regime has held off on attacking most of the militias, though it has taken the fight to several smaller ones.

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Myanmar’s Earthquake Response

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, March 28, 2011

A boy stands near the damaged Stjpsepth church in Tarlay, March 28, 2011. At least 74 people were killed in a strong earthquake that struck Myanmar, state media said on Friday. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

On Thursday evening local time, a massive 7.0 earthquake hit northeastern Myanmar, one of the most isolated parts of an isolated country. Across the border in Thailand, the quake shook buildings as far away as Bangkok,  hundreds of miles from the border,  and in towns in northern Thailand at least one woman was killed. Geologists estimated that as many as 600,000 people could feel the quake. What’s more, this strong quake was also not very deep, meaning that it had far more potential to cause major damage than a quake that was deep inside the earth.

Across the border, inside Myanmar, government reports now suggest that at least seventy people have been killed. But don’t believe it – the real figures are most likely much higher. As past history shows, the Burmese regime will cover up any information about the scope of destruction, making it even harder for local or international relief organization to help at all.

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China and a Two-Internet World

by Adam Segal Thursday, March 24, 2011

Baidu's website is seen on a laptop screen in this photo illustration taken in Shanghai on December 15, 2010. (Carlos Barria/Courtesy Reuters)

Not much good news coming out of China about the Internet these days. In the days and weeks after the Jasmine Revolutions, China has been tightening controls over cyberspace and new media. Bloomberg reported that DuPont, Johnson & Johnson, GE and a dozen others were victims of hacking over the last two years. This week Google claimed that China was interfering with the ability of users of gmail and other services, probably by using “intercept proxies” to intercept and modify messages. China is increasingly able to shape the Internet to meet its own political and economic demands and the eventual outcome, according to Bill Bishop, is a “two-Internet world” (although Bishop thinks the presence of foreign investment in Chinese Internet firms will limit the degree of autarky of China’s web).

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Earthquake in Myanmar

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, March 24, 2011

Children sit amidst the debris of their destroyed homes southwest of Yangon May 7, 2008. (STR New/Courtesy Reuters)

The USGS reported earlier today that a strong, 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit northeastern Myanmar Thursday evening Burmese time. There are few, sketchy reports of damage, but it will be interesting to watch and compare the response to Japan. The Burmese government is not, shall we say, very interested in transparency, and after Cyclone Nargis in 2008, which killed over 130,000 people, the government hid the scope of the disaster, purposefully slowed down relief efforts, and, after some time, tossed out international aid groups. A similar response to this earthquake could ensure major tragedy.

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The “Libya Model” and What’s Next in North Korea

by Scott A. Snyder Thursday, March 24, 2011
A billboard depicting North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is seen through the fence of the North Korea embassy in Beijing January 21, 2011.

A billboard depicting North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is seen through the fence of the North Korea embassy in Beijing January 21, 2011. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters)

While the events of the past weekend have shifted the world’s attention to Libya, there are clearly reverberations for North Korea, especially given that Muammar Qaddhafi pursued, then gave up in 2003, a nuclear weapons capability as part of what seemed then like a step toward normalcy with the rest of the world. Qaddhafi’s strategic decision to give up Libya’s nuclear program in return for rapprochement with the United States was held up to North Koreans as a model for pursuing diplomatic normalization with the United States.  Read more »

Operation Tomodachi

by Sheila A. Smith Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Sailors load food and humanitarian supplies onto a helicopter aboard the USS Ronald Reagan which is off the coast of Japan providing humanitarian assistance as directed in support of Operation Tomodachi, March 18, 2011.

Sailors load food and humanitarian supplies onto a helicopter aboard the USS Ronald Reagan which is off the coast of Japan, providing humanitarian assistance as directed in support of Operation Tomodachi, March 18, 2011. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

[Click here for information on how to locate friends and family in Japan, and here for how you can help]  

Last week, I discussed the front line role of Japan’s Self Defense Force, and received many emails from Japanese friends in Tokyo asking that I do the same for the U.S. government personnel, uniformed and civilian, that are providing much needed assistance to Japan.  

Operation Tomodachi—a broad disaster relief operation in support of Japan’s response to the triple crises—is growing by the day, and is a remarkable testament to the full throttle U.S. government effort to help the Japanese people. From the beginning the U.S. military was quickly on the scene; the U.S. Forces Japan stationed in country organized themselves for immediate support and Pacific Command forces outside Japan regrouped to lend assistance. An aircraft carrier task force, led by the USS Ronald Reagan, headed immediately for Japan, followed by eight other ships stocked with emergency relief equipment and supplies.  Read more »

Why America No Longer Gets Asia

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The author chats with Chinese traders in the Kara-Suu Bazaar, near Osh, Kyrgyzstan, October 2006. (Photo from the author)

I have a new article out in The Washington Quarterly, with a slightly provocative title, “Why America No Longer Gets Asia.”

It’s a think piece. And so it probably won’t be 100 percent persuasive to 100 percent of its readers in 100 percent of its aspects. But the article pulls together the strands of a lot of themes I’ve harped on in recent years, from speeches I was giving while at the State Department to a few years’ worth of articles and blogs. I also worked on an array of projects directly related to these themes while serving in the U.S. government, especially during the period from 2003 to 2007.

Here’s the headline: Asia is reintegrating, but the United States simply isn’t adapting quickly enough. And it is essential to adapt U.S. policy to the contours of change in Asia if the United States wishes to remain vital and relevant there.

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Burma and FIFA: A Match Made in…

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, March 22, 2011
A couple walks below a welcome board for FIFA President Sepp Blatter outside the Myanmar Football Federation in Yangon March 14, 2011.

A couple walks below a welcome board for FIFA President Sepp Blatter outside the Myanmar Football Federation in Yangon March 14, 2011. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

Over on the Financial Times’ Beyond Brics blog, Southeast Asia correspondent Tim Johnston reports that FIFA president Sepp Blatter recently made a two-day visit to Burma, at the invitation of Zaw Zaw, a businessman known for his close ties to the ruling military. Zaw Zaw, as Johnston notes, is banned from traveling to the U.S. and to the European Union because of his close ties to the brutal government. Still, the generals – and nearly everyone else in Burma – want their football. British Premier League teams are followed, as well as possible in a country where news can be still be hard to get, and even the Burmese soccer league, which won’t make anyone forget about Chelsea or Barca, attracts real support.

Still, should the most prominent football association executive in the world – and a man who reportedly believes he could win the Nobel Peace Prize for using soccer to bridge global divides — be stopping by to essentially bless the regime and its cronies? Well, within FIFA, Blatter is known for running a dictatorial shop, for mercurial decision-making that flies in the face of all wisdom (a World Cup in sun-baked Qatar in the summer?), and for surviving endless allegations of corruption.  Sound familiar?

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Remembering Katrina and Sichuan Amidst Japan’s Crisis

by Elizabeth C. Economy Tuesday, March 22, 2011
A man walks through the flooded Terme area of New Orleans, lying under several feet of water on August 29, 2005.

A man walks through the flooded Terme area of New Orleans, lying under several feet of water on August 29, 2005. (Rick Wilking/Courtesy Reuters)

As I watched the Japan crisis unfold in rapid succession—the earthquake, the tsunami and then the collapsing nuclear reactors at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima—I was struck by the absolute dignity and unity of the Japanese people. My colleague Sheila Smith has an excellent post on this, so no need for me to repeat.

Instead, I want to raise the issue of context, or the lack thereof.

For much of the past ten days, I have felt as though I was in an alternative reporting reality. Particularly in the early days, the western news media focused almost exclusively on the failures within the Japanese system: the failure of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to share information; the failure of the Prime Minister to stay on top of the crisis, and the failure of the Japanese people to retain hope and not hoard groceries. There was little to no reporting on the strength and resilience of the people. Yet many voices from Japan suggested this. How did we miss half the story?
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