CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

China’s Political Reformers Strike Back

by Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, April 29, 2011
Locals read Chinese newspapers displayed on a public notice board in central Beijing.

Locals read Chinese newspapers displayed on a public notice board in central Beijing. (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past year, the world has watched with growing dismay as China’s leaders have orchestrated a relentless attack on political and cultural openness in their country. Ai Weiwei. Liu Xiaobo. Teng Biao. Gao Zhisheng. Zuo Xiao Zu Zhou. China has rounded up its artists, writers, lawyers and musicians, releasing some, and then arresting more.  The result? The country wounds itself deeply by depriving itself of some of its greatest thinkers, most creative forces, and most determined seekers of justice.

Premier Wen Jiabao, who has begun to sound like a broken record, clearly recognizes this. He once again gently stepped into the fray, stating at a meeting in mid-April, “We must create conditions for people to speak the truth.” Yet this time he has some back-up—and  from a rather surprising place: the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, People’s Daily.

A few days ago, People’s Daily ran an editorial with a number of striking statements, including:

  • “Only in the midst of competition will the value of ideas be shown, and only through practice can they be tested…”
  • “…it is inevitable that various values and ideas, traditional and modern, foreign and homegrown, will collide and clash.”
  • “Because we serve the people, if we have faults, we do not fear the people criticizing them and pointing them out…”
  • “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (quoting Voltaire)
  • “Seven mouths and eight tongues are not frightening, but most frightening is when not a crow or sparrow can be heard.” (quoting Deng Xiaoping)

What is behind this fresh salvo from the reform flank? Read more »

Can Thailand and Cambodia Step Back from the Brink?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, April 29, 2011
Thai army tanks travel on a road near the Thai-Cambodia border in Surin province April 28, 2011.

Thai army tanks travel on a road near the Thai-Cambodia border in Surin province April 28, 2011. (Sukree Sukplang/Courtesy Reuters)

A temporary ceasefire in the fighting over the disputed Preah Vihear temple on the Thai-Cambodian border appears to be over. According to multiple news reports, new skirmishes broke out in the past day on the border, where fighting has over the past week already killed sixteen people. After failed meetings between senior ministers, and minimal intervention by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the two countries apparently now are going to go to The Hague for a ruling from the International Court of Justice.

Read more »

A Time for Daffodils—But No Taxes, Please

by Sheila A. Smith Friday, April 29, 2011
Japan's Empress Michiko (top R) talks with evacuees as she visit an evacuation shelter in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, April 27, 2011. Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko met and chatted with survivors of last month's massive earthquake and tsunami on Wednesday, offering comfort and solace in a role that has helped keep the country's ancient monarchy relevant in modern times.

Japan's Empress Michiko (top R) talks with evacuees as she visit an evacuation shelter in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, April 27, 2011. Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko met and chatted with survivors of last month's massive earthquake and tsunami on Wednesday, offering comfort and solace in a role that has helped keep the country's ancient monarchy relevant in modern times. (Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool/Courtesy Reuters)

The effort to breathe fresh energy into Japan’s recovery was poignantly demonstrated yesterday when the emperor and empress of Japan visited Miyagi prefecture. One of the evacuees at a shelter in Sendai presented Empress Michiko with a bunch of daffodils, freshly picked that morning from the garden of her devastated home. Amidst the rubble, spring flowers are blooming all across Tohoku, and across Japan the idea that recovery will indeed be possible is gradually taking hold. Read more »

Thailand and Cambodia: The Endgame?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Thai soldiers are seen during a visit by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, following armed clashes on a disputed border area between Cambodia and Thailand, at a makeshift camp in Surin province, 30 km (19 miles) from the Thai-Cambodia border, April 27, 2011.

Thai soldiers are seen during a visit by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, following armed clashes on a disputed border area between Cambodia and Thailand, at a makeshift camp in Surin province, 30 km (19 miles) from the Thai-Cambodia border, April 27, 2011. (Sukree Sukplang/Courtesy Reuters)

As the conflict between Thailand and Cambodia over the Preah Vihear temple spirals out of control, with fighting now spreading to new locations, outside observers have desperately been trying to cool tempers. Not only Indonesia but also other ASEAN countries, including Vietnam, have been putting pressure on the two sides to back off from the brink. China apparently has applied pressure as well. ASEAN as an organization fears that the continuing dispute will only make it look more feckless than it is often perceived to be – and so Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva apparently will discuss the conflict with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in May in Jakarta.

Do not expect any miracles. Key constituencies in both nations are benefiting too much from the border dispute to allow it to die out completely now. As I mentioned yesterday, the Thai army clearly sees the dispute as a way to rally nationalist sentiment and also, most importantly, to entrench the armed forces at the center of national security and political life. In the run-up to what is expected to be a hotly contested national election, keeping in the center of politics will be crucial for the military, and so they are unlikely to abandon the dispute.

Read more »

Japan Reawakens?

by Sheila A. Smith Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan (L), Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard (2nd L), Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (C), China's Premier Wen Jiabao (2nd R) and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh join hands during a photo opportunity as part of the 5th East Asia Summit in Hanoi October 30, 2010.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan (L), Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard (2nd L), Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (C), China's Premier Wen Jiabao (2nd R) and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh join hands during a photo opportunity as part of the 5th East Asia Summit in Hanoi October 30, 2010. (Christophe Archambault/Pool/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past year or so, I have been directing a project that brings Japanese and American experts together to discuss how the rise of China and India are affecting the United States and Japan, and if—and how—this shift in global power may alter our alliance agenda. In February, a small CFR team—including my colleagues Elizabeth Economy and Adam Segal—visited Tokyo to meet with Japanese experts from the government, private business, media and academia to hear the range of views in Japan on what exactly this structural shift in world politics means for Japan.  

What we heard from every government ministry was an emphasis on the need for Japan to be more “strategic.” Read more »

Thailand and Cambodia Fighting Again Over Preah Vihear

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Cambodian soldiers walk at the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple on the border between Thailand and Cambodia February 9, 2011.

Cambodian soldiers walk at the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple on the border between Thailand and Cambodia February 9, 2011. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past week, fighting has flared again between Thailand and Cambodia over the disputed Preah Vihear border temple. Already, in the past week, at least thirteen people have been killed in the last week as the two sides have exchanged heavy rifle and mortar fire.

Now, this is a tragedy, of course – soldiers and civilians dying over a disputed UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one that has been fought over for decades. But as Bangkok Pundit notes in an interesting blog post, it is important to remember that there is a critical domestic component to this conflict. Thailand is facing national elections within the next two months, and the Thai military, which has over the past five years regained a central role in politics, wants to show that it alone can guard the nation’s security, and so deserves to continue playing that central role, rather than turning over power to real civilian rule.

The army has taken other steps recently to cement its power. Army chief Prayuth chan-Ocha increasingly has used the lèse majesté law to attack any government critics, explicitly putting the army in the center of the most important political battles in Thailand. Unfortunately, with Preah Vihear, this attempt by the Thai army is not only damaging Thailand’s reputation but also costing lives.

Read more »

China’s Brain Drain Gives Way to a Yuan Drain

by Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, April 22, 2011
An employee seals a stack of yuan banknotes at a branch of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Huaibei, Anhui province on April 6, 2011.

An employee seals a stack of yuan banknotes at a branch of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Huaibei, Anhui province on April 6, 2011. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

China has long acknowledged that it has a problem with its best and brightest leaving the country to study and not returning. According to the Chinese Ministry of Education, only around a quarter of the 1.4 million Chinese students and scholars who have left the country since it opened up to the outside world in the late 1970s have returned. Now with its rapidly growing GDP and burgeoning state coffers, Beijing is in a position to try to turn the situation around. In 2008, it launched its “1000 Talents Program” designed to bring top notch global talent to China. By providing strong financial and research incentives to the some of the world’s leading lights scholars, the program has had some notable successes. It is too early to tell, however, how well these returnees—or foreign talent—will be able to adapt their talents from abroad to the political culture that many of them fled a decade or more ago.

Having made a head-start in addressing one of its problems of human capital, Beijing must now gird itself to address another. Even as China seems to be importing back its top academic talent, it appears to be on the brink of losing its top wealth-making talent. Read more »

Burma Back to War?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, April 22, 2011
A soldier holds a gun during an opening ceremony of the Safari garden in the new capital Naypyitaw on February 12, 2011.

A soldier holds a gun during an opening ceremony of the Safari garden in the new capital Naypyitaw on February 12, 2011. (Soe Zeya/Courtesy Reuters)

The Irrawaddy has an inside report from the headquarters of one of the main ethnic militias in Burma, the Kachin Independence Organization. The group is preparing for renewed battle with the Burmese military, which has pushed for the militias to join a border guard force, which would essentially mean disarmament. The KIO increasingly has resisted, and another report, from the Kachins’ own news agency suggests that the central government now plans to go to war with the KIO, which supposedly has been labeled the top domestic enemy of the regime.

Whether that is true is hard to tell – the Kachin News Agency obviously is not exactly unbiased. But it is clear that the central government, in the wake of last fall’s elections, feels it has gained the stability and legitimacy to move against the ethnic militias. This could be only the first of several attempts to intimidate the militias, but it’s unlikely to work – the militia groups have little to gain from joining a border guard force, so the regime probably would have to make them submit. And that could be bloody.

Read more »

Freedom on the Net 2011

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, April 20, 2011
People use computers at an internet cafe in Wuhan, Hubei province, January 23, 2010.

People use computers at an internet cafe in Wuhan, Hubei province, January 23, 2010. (Stringer Shanghai/Courtesy Reuters)

Freedom House this week released its annual report on Freedom on the Net . Overall, despite the buzz about the ways in which social media, VOIPs, and other Internet-related tools have helped facilitate the Arab protests of 2010-2011, the report makes for pretty grim reading, including growing controls on online discourse even in free and developed nations like South Korea, as well as increasingly effective tools of repression deployed by autocratic regimes.

Southeast Asia does very poorly on the report. Some countries should not be a surprise: Burma, one of the most repressive nations in the world, comes out badly. But even some of the freer nations in Southeast Asia, like Thailand, rank very poorly: Thailand is rated as “not free” in terms of the Internet, which is the lowest ranking a country can receive. And Malaysia, which has had a vibrant blogosphere even as its print media remained controlled and stodgy, also has begun to turn. Some of Malaysia’s most prominent online writers have grown increasingly scared of government intimidation, and there is fear that the online media will become as constrained as the print and television media.

Read more »

Cyberspy vs. Cyberspy

by Adam Segal Monday, April 18, 2011

A work station is pictured at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) located just outside Washington in Arlington, Virginia on September 24, 2010. (Hyungwon Kang/Courtesy Reuters)

Reuters had a special report on Chinese cyber espionage last week.  It is very comprehensive, and definitely worth a read.

The report is built around a series of Wikileaks cables describing attacks on the State Department (codenamed “Byzantine Hades”), more commercially focused attacks on energy, technology, and financial firms, as well as on German military, research and development, and science interests.  Unlike official public statements that are often vague about responsibility, the cables trace the attacks back to China, and to the People’s Liberation Army Chengdu Province First Technical Reconnaissance Bureau in particular.

The motivation for the attacks, and the topic of my testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is to raise China’s technological capabilities. I describe cyber espionage as part of a three-legged stool, where the other two legs are technology policy—top-down, state-led science and technology projects—and innovation strategy—bottom-up efforts to create an environment supportive of technological entrepreneurship. However, James Lewis‘ quote sums it up well: “The easiest way to innovate is plagiarize.”

Read more »