CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Voices from Inside Japan—No Panic, Simply Strength and Kindness

by Sheila A. Smith Monday, March 21, 2011
A student volunteer holds a sign in front of instant noodles for evacuees from Futaba, a city near the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, at the evacuees' new shelter Saitama Super Arena, near Tokyo March 20, 2011, nine days after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan.

A student volunteer holds a sign in front of instant noodles for evacuees from Futaba, a city near the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, at the evacuees' new shelter Saitama Super Arena, near Tokyo March 20, 2011, nine days after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. (Jo Yong hak/Courtesy Reuters)

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

There are so many issues to discuss, but this morning, I thought I ought to share with you the voices I heard throughout the past week—on blogs, in conversation, and in the flowing emails to those of us outside the country—that ran counter to the speculation and panicky shrillness of our media’s coverage of the situation inside Japan. 

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Lessons from the 2004 Asian Tsunami

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, March 21, 2011
Rescue workers make their way through an area devastated by a tsunami as they search for victims in Rikuzentakata March 21, 2011.

Rescue workers make their way through an area devastated by a tsunami as they search for victims in Rikuzentakata March 21, 2011. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

In the wake of the tsunami and earthquake, Japan is going to embark upon a massive reconstruction effort. Japan is a wealthy country, but already the sheer scale of the disaster, combined with the Japanese government’s apparent paralysis, is making initial relief efforts challenging.

Though the 2004 Asian tsunami mostly hit nations far poorer than Japan, like Indonesia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, there are lessons that can be taken from the 2004-05 relief and rebuilding effort that can be applied to Japan. In a CFR expert brief, I examine some of those lessons.

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A Stunned Japan Turns to Its Military

by Sheila A. Smith Thursday, March 17, 2011
Japan Self-Defense Forces officers search for victims in Higashimatsushima City, Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, after an earthquake and tsunami struck the area, March 14, 2011.

Japan Self-Defense Forces officers search for victims in Higashimatsushima City, Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, after an earthquake and tsunami struck the area, March 14, 2011. (Courtesy Reuters/Kyodo)

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

For much of the postwar period, the Japanese Self Defense Force (SDF) has remained in the background of national life. Post-war sensitivities about pre-war militarism left little room for the SDF to vaunt its capabilities, or its bravery.

But today, as the country faces a complex and simultaneous series of crises, Japan’s military has emerged as the nation’s most relied upon “first responder.” In Japan’s largest disaster relief operation ever, the SDF has every asset deployed. The Maritime Self Defense Force has 59 ships offshore, and there are a total of 176 helicopters and 319 fixed-wing aircraft engaged. Personnel total 70,000 (40,000 Ground Self Defense Force (GSDF) and 30,000 combined Maritime and Air Self Defense Force personnel), and the number is growing. For the first time in the postwar era, the Japanese government has mobilized its reserves.

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Does the United States Have the Leverage to Press China to Become a Full Global Health Donor?

by Yanzhong Huang Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Mexican soldiers unload boxes with medical aid donated by China at the airport in Oaxaca, Mexico on May 5, 2009.

Mexican soldiers unload boxes with medical aid donated by China at the airport in Oaxaca, Mexico on May 5, 2009. (STR New/Courtesy Reuters)

On March 11, I had a debate with Ambassador Jack Chow of Carnegie Mellon University on the question: “Should the United States press China to make the full transition from health aid recipient to global health donor?” The event was hosted by the CSIS Global Health Policy Center as part of its “Fault Lines in Global Health Debate” series. You can listen here to our discussion on China’s status as a recipient of and contributor to global health aid, as well as the prospect for China to make the full transition to a global health donor.

The debate occurred only a few hours after the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. While I was concerned about the safety of my Japanese friends, I could not help but think of China’s Tangshan earthquake 35 years ago, which resulted in the loss of around 250,000 lives. To the surprise of the international community, China had declined the offer of humanitarian and medical assistance by Japan and other foreign governments. By contrast, China today faces growing pressures to significantly increase its global health aid and other development assistance. Critics find it ridiculous that a country with the largest foreign exchange reserve and the second largest fiscal revenue is still aggressively pursuing grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

While I am sympathetic to the critics’ perspectives, I don’t think the United States has very much leverage to press China to become a full global health donor. Read more »

Emperor Urges Japanese to Hope as Acute Needs Grow

by Sheila A. Smith Wednesday, March 16, 2011
People watch a television broadcasting Japan's Emperor Akihito's televised address to the nation at an electronics retail store in Tokyo.

People watch a television broadcasting Japan's Emperor Akihito's televised address to the nation at an electronics retail store in Tokyo. (Issei Kato/Courtesy Reuters)

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

Day five of the struggle to cope with the devastation in Japan brings increasing fears, but it has revealed yet again the herculean effort currently underway across Japanese society to address the complex and urgent needs of the nation.   

Japan’s Emperor Akihito, in a recorded message, asked the Japanese people not to give up hope and to reach out to each other in this time of great crisis. He urged the earliest relief be delivered to those in northeast Tohoku region who are still suffering after the earthquake and tsunami, and asked those at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant to do all that they could to avoid a worsening of the situation. Read more »

Japan and China’s New Nuclear Accountability

by Elizabeth C. Economy Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo. is seen in this satellite image taken on November 21, 2004.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, is seen in this satellite image taken on November 21, 2004. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

China’s nuclear industry’s free ride may soon be coming to an end. While nuclear power represents a mere fraction of China’s overall energy use—just over one percent—China plans to add another ten nuclear power projects to the books as part of the 12th Five Year Plan. By 2020, China wants to have a  nuclear power capacity of 86 GW–a dramatic increase considering China’s current capacity of 10.8 GW (To put that in perspective, in 2008, Japan’s nuclear capacity was 48 GW while the United States’ was 101 GW). China also has big plans to export its nuclear technology in the coming years.

Despite such ambitious plans for an often contentious technology, there is virtually no public debate in China on the topic of nuclear power. In a country where environmental activists protest everything from dams to incinerators to the Maglev Train, the issues of nuclear safety and contamination are completely off the radar. Greenpeace Beijing, which should be a natural repository for anti-nuclear activity in China, has no campaign or study underway on the issue. Perhaps they want to avoid the fate of the two known activists—uranium mine worker Sun Xiaodi and his daughter Sun Haiyan—who were sentenced to jail in 2009 for inciting the public with libelous slogans of “nuclear pollution” and “human rights violations.”

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Another Rocky Day for Japan

by Sheila A. Smith Tuesday, March 15, 2011
People on their wheelchairs rest at an evacuation centre in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, after an earthquake and tsunami struck the area, March 15, 2011.

People on their wheelchairs rest at an evacuation centre in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, after an earthquake and tsunami struck the area, March 15, 2011. (Courtesy Reuters/Kyodo)

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

At ten thirty in the night of March 15, another earthquake—magnitude 6.4—rocked the Kanto plain. Watching NHK to catch up on the latest news, I watched the incredibly composed news team at Newswatch 9 begin to report on an aftershock along the northeastern coast—and warn residents of the potential for a tsunami.

But then the studio began to rock, and they began to realize that they were in the midst of another earthquake, centered this time just south of Tokyo. Cameras revealed the powerful lateral swaying buildings of Yokohama, Shizuoka and Tokyo.

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Japan: How to Help

by Sheila A. Smith Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan needs assistance immediately for those stranded in the northeastern part of the country devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese tonight continue to be displaced, and in need of basic supplies such as water, food and blankets. Communities are devastated and a sustained humanitarian support effort will be required. While the nation’s military and civilian disaster relief teams are hard at work, supported by the U.S. and other national disaster relief teams, donations to experienced non-governmental disaster relief agencies can help mitigate the suffering.

Agencies with strong organizational capacity in Japan are:

American Red Cross
International Red Cross Red Crescent
Save the Children
Mercycorps

The Japanese Embassy in Washington, DC website carries a list of options for those seeking to donate to the relief effort as well.

For U.S. citizens trying to locate family and friends in Japan, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo has a dedicated page for the relief effort in Japan.

Japan-America societies around the United States are also organizing donation efforts. A full list of these efforts can be found at the National Association of Japan-America Societies.

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Yudhoyono and Wikileaks

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, March 14, 2011
Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono arrives at the Noi Bai airport for his return home in Hanoi on October 27, 2010.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono arrives at the Noi Bai airport for his return home in Hanoi on October 27, 2010. (Nguyen Huy Kham/Courtesy Reuters)

On Friday, Asia Sentinel and the Australian newspaper corporation Fairfax published summaries of several Wikileaks cables in which American diplomats in Jakarta made serious allegations that Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) and his close circle were involved in corruption and other abuses of power. The cables allege that Yudhoyono used his power to skew judicial investigations in order to protect political allies of his known to be corrupt, and that many of his political allies were involved in bribery and vote buying.

That an Indonesian leader would be involved in graft and abuse of power isn’t, on the face of it, that surprising – Indonesia has one of the worst records for corruption in Asia, according to Transparency International, and graft is probably the biggest obstacle holding back greater investment in the country. But Yudhoyono has been portrayed in the United States, and in many other nations, as a kind of white knight, a reformer capable of cleaning up one of the world’s most diverse, troubled, and graft-ridden nations all by himself. During his visit to Indonesia last year, Barack Obama highlighted Yudhoyono’s role in Indonesia’s economic and political renaissance, while many other senior American officials, even in private, heap praise on SBY as the key figure in turning the country around.

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Japan Begins Recovery

by Sheila A. Smith Monday, March 14, 2011
President of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Tadateru Konoe walks among rescue workers searching through rubble in residential area of tsunami-hit Otsuchi

President of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Tadateru Konoe walks among rescue workers searching through rubble in residential area of tsunami-hit Otsuchi. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

The impact of Japan’s deadly earthquake and tsunami is now apparent. With search and rescue personnel now reaching some of the communities in the northeastern region of Tohoku, the devastation along the eastern coast is complete. Entire villages are in ruin, roads and bridges broken and impassible, and thousands remain stranded in isolated schools and buildings where they managed to retreat in the face of the tsunami.

The human toll is tremendous. The confirmed death toll has reached 1,834, but over 15,000 remain unaccounted for three days after the Great Tohoku Earthquake. Over 450,000 have safely evacuated, but many are without water or food. Temperatures in the chilly northeast have dipped below freezing, and many are without heating or blankets. Telephone service is starting to be restored, but water and food are hard to come by. Japanese television on Monday captured heartbreaking stories of those who survived and the long lists being compiled by local shelters of those who are searching for separated family members.  

Prime Minister Naoto Kan told the nation on Saturday that this was the worst crisis Japan has faced since the devastation of World War II, and asked every person in Japan to contribute to the effort to recover. The Japanese government has displayed remarkable calm in the face of this tremendous catastrophe, and from the beginning launched an all-out and comprehensive effort to organize the country in the face of catastrophe.    Read more »