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Asia Unbound

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

Tackling Globalized Food Unsafety

by Yanzhong Huang Monday, June 20, 2011
A married couple from Shenzhen puts cans of milkpowder they bought for their baby into a backpack at a drug store at Hong Kong's northern rural Sheung Shui district, neighbouring Shenzhen on January 31, 2011. China food safety concerns and a strong currency are prompting a flood of Chinese parents to sweep supplies of milk powder from Hong Kong shop shelves, triggering citywide shortages and angering parents.

A married couple from Shenzhen puts cans of milkpowder they bought for their baby into a backpack at a drug store at Hong Kong's northern rural Sheung Shui district, neighbouring Shenzhen on January 31, 2011. China food safety concerns and a strong currency are prompting a flood of Chinese parents to sweep supplies of milk powder from Hong Kong shop shelves, triggering citywide shortages and angering parents. (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters)

Food safety is transforming from a backburner issue to Topic A in China.  While travelling in China recently, I had the opportunity to speak to taxi drivers, government officials, business entrepreneurs and farmers. They all agreed something had to be done to make Chinese food safe (I have to confess that when I was having Peking duck during my trip to China, the issue of food safety, now at the tip of so many tongues, did not come to my mind).

Amid the growing public outcry, the government, led by Vice Premier Li Keqiang, has launched a new campaign to crack down on food safety problems.  Since the dust of power jockeying for the new generation leadership has not settled, Li, who is to succeed Wen Jiabao as China’s next premier, has to work extra diligently in order to claim at least partial success in the areas he has been asked to be in charge of.  Alas, none of the assignments –  healthcare reform, food safety, and price control – seem to be easy tasks.  Interestingly, different segments of Chinese society have already devised their own approaches to grapple with the food safety crisis.  The government’s Special Food Supply Center has been set up to make sure the elite eat organic while farmers are so conscious of the problem that they only trust their own produce.  When I asked a taxi driver in Beijing about his approach, he confided that he avoided small grocery stores and shopped only in shopping malls instead.

To be fair, the food safety crisis is not unique to China.  The globalized food supply chain has also globalized the risk of food borne illness.  Noting recent outbreaks and scandals in Japan, Taiwan, and Germany, I published a piece in the Beijing Review originally titled, “Globalized Food Safety Conundrum”.  For reasons I don’t understand, “safety” was dropped from the title by the editors. The message though is pretty clear: countries need to work together to deal with food safety challenges in the era of globalization. Read more »

Burma: Back to War?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, June 17, 2011
Soldiers march with their rifles during a ceremony to mark the 64th Myanmar Union Day in front of the City Hall in the new capital Naypyitaw February 12, 2011.

Soldiers march with their rifles during a ceremony to mark the 64th Myanmar Union Day in front of the City Hall in the new capital Naypyitaw February 12, 2011. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past week, predictions of looming conflict in Burma’s ethnic minority areas finally seem to be coming true. After stepping up its attacks on some of the smaller ethnic minority militias, the Burmese military now has taken the fight to one of the largest groups, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). For decades until 1994, the KIA had fought a civil war against the Burmese regime, but then it signed essentially a cease-fire agreement with the government. Now, however, that cease-fire appears to be over, foreshadowing a wider war in Burma’s ethnic minority regions.

The new battle with the KIA threatens severe instability in a region with porous borders. At least thousands of refugees are already  fleeing the Kachin areas, many to China, and internal displacement within Myanmar likely will grow. There are virtually no aid organizations operating in the Kachin areas, as compared to those aid groups who assist Burmese refugees who flee to Thailand.

Read more »

Strategies for Engaging China in Cyberspace

by Adam Segal Thursday, June 16, 2011

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger speaks before introducing Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at a dinner hosted by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and the U.S.-China Business Council at the Waldorf Astoria in New York September 22, 2010. (Keith Bedford/Courtesy Reuters)

A little less than two weeks after the China Youth Daily published a piece explaining why China might have to fight a cyberwar, the People’s Liberation Army Daily has called for the military to defend national networks and improve combat capabilities in cyberspace. Both articles spend a great deal of time going through a long litany of complaints about the United States: it is trying to dominate cyberspace; was the first to militarize the Internet by setting up U.S. Cyber Command; and uses Twitter, Facebook, and other networking tools to undermine governments it does not like.

While the identity of the attackers in the hacks of RSA, Lockheed Martin, and the IMF remains uncertain, suspicion about China is high and so the discussion about what the United States should do about attacks from China has gotten louder. Several strategies have been aired recently:

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A Dimmer Tokyo

by Sheila A. Smith Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Lights are turned off to save energy before rolling blackouts in Tokyo, March 17, 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan. Tokyo Electric Power Co has announced rolling blackouts after its power generation was cut due to damage from an earthquake and tsunami to its Fukushima Daiichi power plant, where it is struggling to prevent reactor meltdowns.

Lights are turned off to save energy before rolling blackouts in Tokyo, March 17, 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan. (Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters)

I arrived in Tokyo several days ago, and was immediately struck by both the mood and the changes visible in the city itself. The hotels are nearly empty, elevators are turned off, and lighting everywhere is dimmer. Quite literally, Tokyo’s sparkle has been muted in an effort to conserve energy.

But dimmer, too, is the mood. In my early conversations here, the on-going challenges to cope with the effects of March 11 and its aftermath top the agenda. Daily coverage of the effort to clean up coastal cities in Tohoku is heartbreaking still. 86,000 or so Japanese are still in evacuation shelters three months after the tsunami hit. Resettling people by the end of the summer continues to be the goal, but temporary housing may fall short of current needs. Read more »

Speaking of the SCO …

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization walk during a meeting in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg June 15, 2009. Courtesy Reuters/RIA Novosti/Vladimir Rodionov/Pool.

Over at another CFR blog, The Internationalist, my colleague, Stewart Patrick, has posted a good piece about the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Boy, did that take me back to old times.

The SCO stokes up all kinds of opinions in the United States—some informed, some less informed; some vituperative, and others merely skeptical.

Back in 2007, while serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia, I became, I think, the only U.S. official ever to devote an entire speech to the SCO.  Just two years earlier, the SCO had called for a timeline to end the Coalition military presence in Afghanistan.  And since the U.S. was in the midst of prosecuting a war, there was a great deal that we in the United States were forced to wrestle with as a result. For one, we sought to forestall any repeat statements from the group.  But for another, we aimed to sort through the SCO’s deeper (and perhaps darker?) intentions.

Read more »

Thailand’s Election: Meltdown Coming?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, June 14, 2011
A motorcyclist rides past posters of candidates for the upcoming mayoral elections in Bangkok June 13, 2011.

A motorcyclist rides past posters of candidates for the upcoming mayoral elections in Bangkok June 13, 2011. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters)

As the clock ticks toward Thailand’s elections on July 3, the omens for some kind of nationwide peace and reconciliation don’t look good. The military apparently is warning opposition candidates, while the opposition Puea Thai party is stepping up its rhetoric against the government and also increasingly making former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra the center of its campaign.

In my new CFR expert brief, I examine the elections, Thailand’s political crisis, and whether the U.S. can help restore what was once one of the most promising democracies in Asia.

Read more »

Adapting to the New Asia

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Monday, June 13, 2011

Workers assemble a Hyundai i10 car at a plant of Hyundai Motor India Ltd in Sriperumbudur Taluk in the Kancheepuram district of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu April 12, 2011. Courtesy Reuters/Babu Babu.

Time to beat my drum again …

A nice little piece from the BBC offers another reminder of how Asia is changing and why America must adapt. It builds illustratively on one of several themes of my recent essay, “Why America No Longer Gets Asia.” Asia is reintegrating but America isn’t adapting quickly enough.

Nissan, the piece notes, “is among several major Asian companies that have set up manufacturing hubs” in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. “A short drive down the congested highway, packed with large container trucks, and you’ll pass the facilities of Hyundai, Samsung, Mitsubishi and myriad others. ‘India is a rapidly growing market, so therefore it is very important for global auto manufacturers,’ says Nissan’s managing director in India, Kiminobu Tokuyama. But they are not just hoping to capture the local market. They are also using India as a hub for products aimed at overseas markets … Chennai alone has close to 3,000 Koreans and Little Koreas are springing up in pockets around the city.”

Read more »

Unnatural Selection

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, June 13, 2011
People gather in front of City Bank to buy tickets for the cricket World Cup in Dhaka on January 2, 2011.

People gather in front of City Bank to buy tickets for the cricket World Cup in Dhaka, Bangladesh on January 2, 2011. (Andrew Biraj/Courtesy Reuters)

In today’s Financial Times, I have a review of the new book Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendahl. The book looks at what is one of the most pressing – and undercovered – security challenges in Asia today: The growing gender imbalances in pivotal countries, from India to China to Vietnam. As sex ratios become more and more skewed, all of these nations are going to have to deal with the consequences of having millions of unmarriageable men, including human trafficking, rising social instability, and possibly even war.

The review can be seen here. Read more »

China’s Brewing Political Storm

by Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, June 10, 2011
Villagers rest under a campaign banner in the run-up to a democratic election for village committee at Xiwangping Village, in Beijing's Mentougou District on June 18,2010. The banner reads: “fully develop democracy, strictly elect in accordance to law”

Villagers rest under a campaign banner in the run-up to a democratic election for village committee at Xiwangping Village, in Beijing's Mentougou District on June 18,2010. The banner reads: “fully develop democracy, strictly elect in accordance to law” (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters)

It is election time in China. With more than 2 million seats up for grabs in 2,000 counties and 30,000 townships, it could be a raucous campaign season. Of course, 99.99% of the seats will be won by candidates supported by the Communist Party. However, more than thirty Chinese citizens have announced their intent on microblogs to run for local district legislatures as independent candidates, standing outside the umbrella of the Communist Party. While most are activists of one form or another, at least one businessman is also running (perhaps not surprisingly he works for an internet company).

This is not the first time that “independent candidates” have run—indeed, the lawyer Xu Zhiyong even won his Beijing district’s election in 2003. However, the apparent burst of enthusiasm for such independent candidates, particularly in the midst of such a challenging political atmosphere, has left the Party scrambling to find ways to dampen the possibility that many (or should I say any) of these candidates will win. The Chinese media have been reporting on various official statements suggesting that there are a number of bureaucratic hurdles that will have to be overcome for any candidate not backed initially by the party. Read more »

America’s Global Future on the Chopping Block

by Sheila A. Smith Thursday, June 9, 2011
Students from Harvard Kennedy School cheer as they receive their degrees during the 360th Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts May 26, 2011.

Students from Harvard Kennedy School cheer as they receive their degrees during the 360th Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts May 26, 2011. (Brian Snyder/Courtesy Reuters)

Japan’s disasters, and our efforts to sustain our support, were the focal point of discussions at the U.S.-Japan Conference on Cultural and Education Interchange (CULCON) meeting I attended two weeks ago. Gathered there were the leading administrators for university, foundation, and people-to-people programs that sustain the U.S.-Japan relationship.

The news on Japan, of course, is difficult given the tragedy of this spring, and all of those who attended had stories to tell of the dampening impact the disasters, especially the nuclear disaster, has had on travel to and study in Japan.

The harder nut to crack, however, will be the impact of fiscal constraints on our ability to invest in the next generation of educators on Japan. Across the board, funding is disappearing in the United States to sustain education, exchanges, and research on Japan.

Read more »