CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Human Rights Watch: Thailand’s Crackdown

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, May 4, 2011
A man is dragged after being shot at Rama IV Street during clashes between army soldiers and anti-government 'red shirt' supporters in Bangkok May 15, 2010.

A man is dragged after being shot at Rama IV Street during clashes between army soldiers and anti-government 'red shirt' supporters in Bangkok May 15, 2010. (Jerry Lampen/Courtesy Reuters)

It has been roughly one year since the bloodshed on the streets of Bangkok last May, which killed at least eighty people, injured hundreds, and set the stage for severe repression in Thailand. For the anniversary, Human Rights Watch has produced the most comprehensive and insightful account of the events of last May, truly a triumph of investigative reporting.

It will be interesting to see if the Thai government responds in depth to this report. It shows with significant evidence that both the red shirt protestors and the military used excessive force, but that the army also often operated with minimal command and control and in a largely unprofessional manner.

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An Opening in Myanmar: U Myint?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi shakes hand with people in Yangon

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi shakes hand with people in Yangon. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

The Financial Times yesterday offers fine coverage of a startling development in Myanmar. The government, run by army officers-turned-politicians “elected” in last fall’s sham election, has appointed as chief economic advisor U Myint. U Myint is one of the most respected leaders in the country, a close ally of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and a man not known as a sympathizer of the military government. The Irrawaddy reports that U Myint said that he believed the new government “is on the same page” with him in terms of their desire to improve the country.

Many democracy activists, and most average Burmese, would doubt that contention – the economy of the country verges ever closer to that of a predatory state, in which a small circle of regime insiders and their families dominate industries, leaving the rest of the country in penury. And yet U Myint’s appointment does offer some hope for change, or at least greater expertise and civilianization of government, in the wake of last fall’s vote.

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New Delhi Buys a Plane, Not a Defense Relationship

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Monday, May 2, 2011

Cadets march during celebrations to mark the combined graduation parade for the flight cadets of the Indian Air Force at Dundigal. (Courtesy Reuters/Krishnendu Halder).

Defense is widely viewed in U.S. strategic circles as a pivotal sector for future U.S.-India cooperation. And at more than $10 billion, India’s procurement of 126 new multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) is among the world’s richest pending weapons purchases.  So by shortlisting two European competitors and passing on two U.S. bids, New Delhi has chosen a plane but, I fear, tapped the brakes on broadened security ties with Washington.

My good friend, Dan Twining, has an optimistic take on this over at Foreign Policy.com.  And since Dan and I are true believers in the U.S.-India partnership, I hope he’s right.  After all, the strategic rationale for closer U.S.-India ties transcends an airplane and very much remains.

But I fear the decision will dampen enthusiasm for India among powerful U.S. political and industrial lobbies.  And I fear it will raise questions for others about the scope of U.S.-India strategic cooperation.  Indeed, that’s true even in India.  Take Sanjaya Baru, my editor at the Business Standard and former media advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.  Sanjaya has made this argument from the Indian end:  “The decision to make India’s choice of fighter jet a technical one,” he argues in his biweekly column, “was political.” And, he muses, the story says something important about the future trajectory of U.S.-India security ties.

Common interests will, of course, sustain the relationship, but skeptical voices will become more prominent in both capitals and the pace of big-ticket bilateral initiatives could slow.  That would be a shame.

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Security and U.S.-Sino Scientific Collaboration

by Adam Segal Monday, May 2, 2011

Space shuttle Discovery lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on February 24, 2011. Six astronauts were aboard on a mission to the International Space Station. (Pierre Ducharme/Courtesy Reuters)

This does not look like a great idea.  According to Science (behind paywall), Representative Frank Wolf (R–VA) inserted two sentences in the bill that averted the federal government shutdown prohibiting “any joint scientific activity between the two nations involving NASA or the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).” It is not clear how sweeping the provision is, and it only extends until the end of fiscal 2011, but the article quotes Wolf as saying he would like to shut down all collaboration: “We don’t want to give [China] the opportunity to take advantage of our technology, and we have nothing to gain from dealing with them.”

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Time for a U.S.-India Investment Treaty

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Sunday, May 1, 2011

Passengers travel in an overcrowded train in the eastern Indian city of Patna, February 23, 2010. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

It’s been a while since I last blogged on India. So my latest “DC Diary” column in India’s leading financial daily, the Business Standard, offers a good opportunity to do so. The column revisits—and then makes—the case for a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) between the United States and India.

Why? Here’s my argument:

India has concluded a raft of trade agreements—with Japan, South Korea, ASEAN, and many others—and it looks set to launch negotiations for many more. But the United States is the forgotten player, in part because Washington has yet to sort out its own trade priorities with India.

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Delivering Social Justice for North Korean Refugees in South Korea: The Role of Civil Society and Opportunities for U.S.-South Korea Cooperation

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder Sunday, May 1, 2011
Forth-three high school students who defected from North Korea attend their graduation ceremony at Hangyeore Middle and High School February 11, 2011 (Jo Yong-hak/Courtesy Reuters). Forth-three high school students who defected from North Korea attend their graduation ceremony at Hangyeore Middle and High School February 11, 2011 (Jo Yong-hak/Courtesy Reuters).

Park Gil-sung is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute of Social Research at Korea University. Moon Chun-sang is former Program Officer at The Asia Foundation Korea office.

The image of “Korea” as perceived by South Koreans has traditionally been that of one nation, one history, and one culture. The South Korean educational curriculum contains teachings that stress the common bond among all Koreans, homogeneity of bloodline, the whirlwind of often tragic history, and, more recently, the dramatic improvements in living standards and individual liberty in the South during the latter part of the twentieth century. Read more »