CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

National Brotherhood Week Comes to China

by Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, April 15, 2011
A man walks past a signage decoration for the BRICS summit outside Sheraton Hotel, the venue for the third BRICS summit in Sanya, Hainan province on April 14, 2011.

A man walks past a signage decoration for the BRICS summit outside Sheraton Hotel, the venue for the third BRICS summit in Sanya, Hainan province on April 14, 2011. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters)

Growing up, I could never get enough of the mathematician/humorist/lyricist Tom Lehrer. Even today, his songs sometimes pop into my head. And so it was that while watching the pageantry attending the BRICS summit this past week, Lehrer’s “National Brotherhood Week” came to mind.  It’s basically a riff on how all the peoples of the world, who actually don’t like each other much, come together for one week and make nice.

I think Lehrer could have been singing about Hainan.  Despite all the media proclaiming the arrival of a new united geopolitical force and the threat to established powers such as the United States, what I saw was a number of countries that are not particularly in political or economic sync, trying hard to get along. Read more »

Warning: Political Bickering Dangerous to Japan’s Health

by Sheila A. Smith Friday, April 15, 2011
Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan reacts he he feels an earthquake in the upper house of parliament in Tokyo on March 11, 2011.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan reacts he he feels an earthquake in the upper house of parliament in Tokyo on March 11, 2011. (Toru Hanai/Courtesy Reuters)

 

It has been a month since the terrible earthquake/tsunami shock of March 11. Across the country, there is a palpable desire to reach out to the Tohoku region, and to bring the country together. 

But politics are returning to Tokyo. Last Sunday was the first of two sets of local elections scheduled for April. Before the crisis, the Kan government was weakened as it sought to pass the national budget. For the LDP and the New Komeito, opposition parties that had formed the coalition government up until the DPJ’s victory in 2009, these elections posed an opportunity to demonstrate their electoral strength, and challenge the prime minister. Read more »

So Much for Soft Power

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, April 14, 2011
U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (L) (R-WI) looks at a copy of U.S. President Barack Obama's 2012 budget with ranking Democrat Chris Van Hollen (R) (D-MD). (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters)

U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (L) (R-WI) looks at a copy of U.S. President Barack Obama's 2012 budget with ranking Democrat Chris Van Hollen (R) (D-MD). (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters)

According to the Washington Post’s analysis of the deal on spending cuts agreed to between President Obama and Congress, one of the hardest-hit areas will be the State Department. In particular, the cuts will come down on foreign aid programs, including the Peace Corps, educational exchanges, and economic assistance programs designed to help fragile governments in the developing world.

Of course, every Cabinet agency can make its case why it should not bear the brunt of cuts. But what is so difficult, and disconcerting, about these cuts, is that the impact will show up for years. In fact, because some of these State Department programs do not produce quick results, and have a limited constituency among U.S. voters, they are probably easier to cut. But the cuts will do major damage.

Read more »

Thailand to Myanmar Refugees: Drop Dead

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, April 13, 2011
A Myanmar refugee, who crossed over from Myanmar to Thailand when a battle erupted between Myanmar's soldiers and rebels, carries his relative at the Thai border town of Mae Sot on November 8, 2010.

A Myanmar refugee, who crossed over from Myanmar to Thailand when a battle erupted between Myanmar's soldiers and rebels, carries his relative at the Thai border town of Mae Sot on November 8, 2010. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters)

According to reports by AFP and other news agencies, Thailand’s National Security Council head, Tawin Pleansri, told reporters after a meeting of the council that Thailand wants to close the refugee camps for over 100,000 Burmese refugees, who have fled the country over the past twenty years. Most of the Burmese refugees live in camps on the western Thailand-Burma border; their housing is basic, but it is better than living in eastern and northeastern Burma, where they are prey to regular campaigns of attacks and even mass rape by the Burmese military, and retribution attacks by armed ethnic militia groups. In one comprehensive report, a group focusing on Chin State in Burma documented the use of rape as a weapon of war by the Burmese military.

Thailand has never really wanted to house the Burmese refugees, but over successive administrations Bangkok has tolerated the refugee presence. Read more »

Thailand: Another Coup?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, April 11, 2011
Thai soldiers salute as a coffin of their comrade killed in a recent car bombing is flown home from the troubled Yala province in southern Thailand March 2, 2011.

Thai soldiers salute as a coffin of their comrade killed in a recent car bombing is flown home from the troubled Yala province in southern Thailand March 2, 2011. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

In his blog for Reuters,longtime journalist Andrew Marshall offers an excellent examination of why, despite the Thai military’s promises that it has returned to the barracks for good, another coup is hardly out of the question in Thailand. The leaders of the Thai armed forces have in recent weeks been on a publicity campaign, telling any reporter who would listen that there will be no coup, even if the election this summer goes against the ruling Democrat Party, the favorite of the military/royalist/elite establishment.

Don’t be so sure. For one, such promises do not mean much: In 2006, not long before the last coup, senior army officers also were publicly promising that the military would not intervene in politics. The army clearly fears that, if the opposition were to win a victory in the elections, it might cashier many senior officers, as former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had tried to do, and that the opposition cannot be trusted to manage a possible royal succession in the manner that archroyalists want. To try and ensure the outcome they want, military officers have been twisting the arms of small parties behind the scenes to join the Democrat Party in a post-election coalition, if necessary. Still, if that does not work, the army could exercise other options.

Read more »

Note to China: Why Ai Weiwei Matters to the Rest of the World

by Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, April 11, 2011
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei throws porcelain sunflower seeds into the air as he poses for a photograph with his installation entitled 'Sunflower Seeds', at its unveiling at the Tate Modern gallery, in London on October 11, 2010.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei throws porcelain sunflower seeds into the air as he poses for a photograph with his installation entitled 'Sunflower Seeds', at its unveiling at the Tate Modern gallery, in London on October 11, 2010. (Stefan Wermuth/Courtesy Reuters)

China’s detention of the artist/activist Ai Weiwei has resulted in an international outcry. Ai is well-known not only for his thought-provoking art—such as the sunflower seed installation at the Tate Modern in London—but also for his “in-your-face” activism on behalf of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake victims. Ai has been working relentlessly over the past few years to develop a comprehensive list of the children who died in the earthquake—something the Chinese government has worked hard to prevent.

Ai has now been detained, ostensibly on the grounds of “economic crimes.” Other reports, however, suggest that a recent art work, in which Ai mocks the Communist Party (warning: graphic), may be to blame for his incarceration. It also has been evident for some time that the Chinese leadership is feeling particularly threatened by dissenting voices in the wake of the revolutions in the Middle East and calls for a “jasmine revolution” in China.

Whatever the reason, the question now remains as to what the rest of the world can do—not just about Ai Weiwei but about all the Chinese who are harassed, detained, and imprisoned because of their push for greater openness. Read more »

NGO Efforts to Meet Japan’s Needs

by Sheila A. Smith Wednesday, April 6, 2011
A girl holds her soft toy at an evacuation center in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, northern Japan, March 31, 2011

A girl holds her soft toy at an evacuation center in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, northern Japan, March 31, 2011 (Kim Kyung Hoon/Courtesy Reuters)

The March 11 disaster in Japan has prompted a broad effort at civic support, both within and without Japan, to provide assistance to the stricken Tohoku region. In a country where non-governmental organizations have struggled to create space for civic involvement in public affairs, today there seems to be a profusion of groups engaged in the disaster relief effort.

Japan has for decades supported disaster relief efforts abroad. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the national government’s agency tasked with administering Official Development Assistance, has staffed disaster relief efforts in countries as far afield as Pakistan, Mexico, Philippines and Haiti. Moreover, the JICA staff has worked closely with a growing group of Japanese NGOs organized to provided medical and technical assistance to those in need around the globe. Peace Winds Japan, for example, has played a significant role in post-conflict reconstruction activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Sudan.

But today, the roles are reversed. Read more »

China’s Confused Middle East Policies

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, April 1, 2011
Police arrest a man after calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" protest, organised through the internet, in front of the Peace Cinema in downtown Shanghai February 27, 2011.

Police arrest a man after calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" protest, organised through the internet, in front of the Peace Cinema in downtown Shanghai. (Carlos Barria/Courtesy Reuters)

As unrest sweeps through the Middle East, China has reacted in many different, and sometimes conflicting ways. It has issued its traditional call for countries to respect other nations’ sovereignty, while simultaneously deploying a large naval operation to evacuate Chinese workers from Libya, and backing a UN resolution imposing sanctions on the Libyan regime. It has cracked down on any sign of a “jasmine revolution” at home, while sometimes publicly noting the failures of the most autocratic Middle Eastern governments.

China’s Middle East confusion will, in the long run, help neither Beijing nor the Arab-Muslim world. In a new piece in The National newspaper of Abu Dhabi, I outline China’s emerging Middle East headache. You can read it here: “China lacks focus in the Arab world, missing a mutual opportunity”.

Read more »

The Great East Japan Earthquake and South Korean Support

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder Friday, April 1, 2011
South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak prays for the victims at the area which was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture (Koichi Kamoshida/Courtesy Reuters). South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak prays for the victims at the area which was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture (Koichi Kamoshida/Courtesy Reuters).

Park Cheol-hee is an associate professor at Seoul National University.

NHK live broadcasts on the tsunami that swept coastal villages in Eastern Japan on March 11, 2011, were a shocking scene to the South Korean people. Japan now confronts the aftermath of triple natural disasters—an earthquake of a record 9.0 magnitude, a devastating tsunami, and the threat of radioactive contamination—that have left 11,417 dead, 16,273 missing, and more than 350,000 people struggling to survive at crowded shelters. Read more »

China’s National Defense: “Intricate and Volatile”

by Adam Segal Friday, April 1, 2011
Chinese People's Liberation Army

Soldiers from Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy Marine Crops, Air Force Aviation and Airborne Corps (from top to bottom) stand at attention during a training session at the 60th National Day Parade Village on the outskirts of Beijing on September 15, 2009. (Joe Chan/Courtesy Reuters)

China, in an ongoing bid to be more transparent about its military modernization, released the 2010 defense white paper, China’s National Defense in 2010, this week.

The overall picture painted is of Beijing operating in an increasingly complicated security environment.  The 21st century is a time of cooperation, says the report, and “the current trend toward peace, development and cooperation is irresistible.” At the same time, “international military competition remains fierce.” The Asia-Pacific region remains “intricate and volatile” because of continued tension on the Korean Peninsula, and the United States is reinforcing its military alliances and asserting itself in regional security issues.  The key goals are:

Read more »