CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

The Party’s Never Over For Wu Bangguo

by Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, March 11, 2011
An unidentified official sleeps as Chinese Parliament chief Wu Bangguo delivers the work report of the National People's Congress Standing Committee during the second plenary session at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 9, 2009.

An unidentified official sleeps as Chinese Parliament chief Wu Bangguo delivers the work report of the National People's Congress Standing Committee during the second plenary session at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 9, 2009. (Reinhard Krause/Courtesy Reuters)

National People’s Congress (NPC) chairman Wu Bangguo has never struck me as terribly dynamic, but his March 10 comments before the NPC  have been making a lot of waves.  Speaking to almost 3,000 NPC  delegates, Wu said, “We have made a solemn declaration that we will not employ a system of multiple parties holding office in rotation; diversify our guiding thought; separate executive, legislative and judicial powers; use a bicameral or federal system; or carry out privatization.”

Not surprisingly, many outside observers are taking Wu’s remarks as a slap down to the Jasmine Revolutionaries and Wen  Jiabao’s repeated calls for more political reform over the course of the past year. The truth, however, is as AP noted, that Wu said the exact same thing at the NPC in 2009 when he stated that China would not introduce a system of “multiple parties holding office in rotation,”  nor would it have separation of powers among the legislative executive and judicial branches of government or a bicameral legislature. Responding to calls for judicial reform, Wu said that the “Western model of a legal system cannot be copied mechanically in establishing our own.”

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Reaching Out to Our Japanese Friends

by Sheila A. Smith Friday, March 11, 2011
Evacuees stand around Shinjuku Central Park in Tokyo Japan March 11, 2011. A massive 8.9 magnitude quake hit northeast Japan on Friday, causing many injuries, fires and a ten-metre (33-ft) tsunami along parts of the country's coastline.

Evacuees stand around Shinjuku Central Park in Tokyo Japan March 11, 2011. A massive 8.9 magnitude quake hit northeast Japan on Friday, causing many injuries, fires and a ten-metre (33-ft) tsunami along parts of the country's coastline. (Courtesy Reuters/Kyodo)

Japan suffered a tremendous earthquake yesterday afternoon, and already we know that many have lost their lives. My thoughts and prayers are with all Japanese families as they seek to cope with yesterday’s devastating shock and loss.

The Japanese government has mobilized the largest relief operation ever, with tens of thousands of Self Defense Force personnel, as well as coast guard, fire and police units, deployed to the northern part of Japan. The U.S. government, too, has pledged immediate and extensive assistance, and U.S. naval ships are already on their way with helicopters and other emergency relief needs.

On a more personal note, I wanted to share some preliminary information available for those of you—like me—who are attempting to find family members, friends and colleagues.

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Could Burma Be Egypt?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party shout during a protest outside the house of their leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon on November 13, 2010.

Members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party shout during a protest outside the house of their leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon on November 13, 2010. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

In today’s Asia Times, longtime Burma activist Aung Din wonders whether Burma, surely one of the most repressive states in the world, could follow the example of Arab protestors in countries from Egypt to Oman to Libya. The Burmese, after all, have not been shy about standing up before, from the massive 1988 protests that eventually led to a free election in 1990 that was annulled to the “Saffron Revolution” of tens of thousands of monks in Rangoon four years ago. And, as Aung Din notes, there are some similarities between regimes like Egypt and Burma – the nepotism and venality of high levels of the government: In Burma, a video leaked to YouTube showed the wedding of Senior General Than Shwe’s daughter, an almost-royal affair in which she was showered with gifts and wore enough diamonds to shame even Naomi Campbell.

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Is China Eating Our Lunch?

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Monday, March 7, 2011

An attendant fills the tank of a vehicle at a Sinopec gas station in Changzhi, Shanxi province March 28, 2010. Sinopec, Asia's top oil refiner, will buy a stake in upstream assets in Angola for $2.46 billion and said it wanted more such deals, which could shield it from high oil prices that hit margins in the fourth quarter. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

My latest “DC Diary” column is out in India’s leading financial newspaper, the Business Standard. The column plays off a rather extraordinary back-and-forth from Hillary Clinton’s budget testimony last week.

The Secretary of State told Congress that China is not just competing with the United States around the world but, for all intents and purposes, is eating America’s lunch.

“Let’s just talk, you know, straight realpolitik,” Mrs. Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “We are in a competition with China. Take Papua New Guinea: huge energy find … ExxonMobil is producing it. China is in there every day in every way, trying to figure out how it’s going to come in behind us, come under us.”

But how effective is the China model, anyway? And is China’s approach really quite so uniform?

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Japan’s Loss

by Sheila A. Smith Monday, March 7, 2011
Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara told a news conference on Sunday he would resign following criticism for accepting political donations from a foreign national, the latest blow to unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan's troubled government.

Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara told a news conference on Sunday he would resign following criticism for accepting political donations from a foreign national, the latest blow to unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan's troubled government. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Courtesy Reuters)

The abrupt resignation of Japan’s Foreign Minister, Seiji Maehara, has left the Kan cabinet reeling. Opposition party leaders smell blood and their gleeful calls for the prime minister’s resignation or for a general election suggest that the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) may be fatally wounded. But there is no victory here to be celebrated.

Japan’s project of political reform is badly served by this level of carnage. Seiji Maehara is not the first of the DPJ’s talents to be handicapped, nor is he likely to be the last. But he is one of Japan’s brightest political stars, and for virtually all outside of Japan, he was a reassuring presence in a party that came to power with few foreign policy experts in its ranks. Like other next generation leaders of the party, Maehara is intelligent, policy savvy—particularly in his favored area of foreign and security policy—and clear in his purpose of serving his country. Some argue he had his faults:  he was outspoken and rushed to judgment. Chinese officials and media targeted him as too tough on China.

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China Isn’t Egypt

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Saturday, March 5, 2011

A man (R) is arrested by police and taken to a police vehicle after calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" protest, organized through the internet, in front of the Peace Cinema in downtown Shanghai February 27, 2011. (Carlos Barria/Courtesy Reuters).

So many articles about whether and how China is “like” the Middle East … But I really wish we wouldn’t compare China and, say, Egypt. They are very different indeed:

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The Indonesia Model?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, March 4, 2011
Supporters of radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir shout slogans outside the South Jakarta court as Bakar Bashir stands trial February 14, 2011.

Supporters of radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir shout slogans outside the South Jakarta court as Bakar Bashir stands trial February 14, 2011. (Beawiharta Beawiharta/Courtesy Reuters)

The debate over the best models of democratization for the countries in the Middle East continues, with many people advocating that nations like Egypt and Tunisia should look to Indonesia for examples. And, in some ways, Indonesia has been a major success story since the collapse of dictator Suharto in the late 1990s. But Indonesia still confronts massive problems, which I outline in a new piece in the London Review of Books.

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Why China Is More Like the Middle East Than We Think

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, March 3, 2011
Policemen watch a crowd that gathered outside a McDonald's restaurant after internet social networks called for a "Jasmine Revolution" protest in central Beijing on February 20, 2011.

Policemen watch a crowd that gathered outside a McDonald's restaurant after internet social networks called for a "Jasmine Revolution" protest in central Beijing on February 20, 2011. (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters)

I was down in Washington, D.C. last Friday to testify before the Economic and Security Review Commission on the roots of social unrest in China, a particularly timely session given everything that has been transpiring in the Middle East and percolating in China.

The gist of my remarks was that social unrest in China was less about any one issue—forced relocation, the environment, or corruption—than about the systemic weakness of the country’s governance structure. There are over 100,000 protests every year in China not because the pollution is terrible (which it is) but rather because there is a lack of transparency, official accountability and the rule of law that make it difficult for public grievances to be effectively addressed.

By looking at the protests as a systemic problem, rather than as an issue-based problem, the relationship between the revolutions cascading through the Middle East and the not-quite flowering Jasmine Revolution in China is not as tenuous as it might first appear.

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South Korea’s 97 Billion Dollar Question: What is Green Growth?

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum presents South Korean President Lee Myung-bak with the Zayed International Prize for Environment in Dubai March 14, 2011 (Abdullah Muhsen/Courtesy Reuters). Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum presents South Korean President Lee Myung-bak with the Zayed International Prize for Environment in Dubai March 14, 2011 (Abdullah Muhsen/Courtesy Reuters).

Jill Kosch O’Donnell is a former Junior Associate of The Asia Foundation and is a writer in Washington, DC.

In an interview with the Korea Herald earlier this year, Hur Dong-Soo, CEO of Korea’s GS Caltex, called his company’s investments in heavy-oil upgrading facilities a “green growth business.” As the phrase “green growth” becomes ever more common—now used in reference to everything from solar panel exports to a stimulus-backed cure-all for ailing national economies—such claims beg the question, what does green growth really mean? Is it a strategy for cashing in on the growing global demand for clean energy products, like wind turbines and smart grid components? Is it the goal to derive more power from renewable sources? Or, is it investing in technology to meet the demand for cleaner-burning petroleum products, as GS Caltex is doing? Read more »

Time for a Comprehensive, Proactive North Korea Policy

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, March 1, 2011
North Korean soldiers participate in the Pyongyang City People's Rally, held to denounce the U.S - led U.N. punishment toward North Korea for its May 25 nuclear test (KCNA/Courtesy Reuters). North Korean soldiers participate in the Pyongyang City People's Rally, held to denounce the U.S - led U.N. punishment toward North Korea for its May 25 nuclear test (KCNA/Courtesy Reuters).

Jack Pritchard was the President of the Korea Economic Institute and was formerly ambassador and special envoy for negotiations with North Korea.

Last year I was privileged to co-chair the Council on Foreign Relations Independent Task Force Report U.S. Policy Toward the Korean Peninsula. One of the Task Force’s observations was that there was “significant risk that [the administration’s] ‘strategic patience’ will result in acquiescence to North Korea’s nuclear status as a fait accompli.” Several months have transpired since the report was published in June 2010 and “strategic patience” continues. Read more »