CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Suu Kyi Steps up the Pressure

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at a ceremony to welcome and acknowledge released political prisoners at the National League for Democracy (NLD) head office in Yangon May 27, 2011.

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at a ceremony to welcome and acknowledge released political prisoners at the National League for Democracy (NLD) head office in Yangon May 27, 2011. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

According to numerous Burmese sources, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is planning to travel outside Rangoon within the next month in order to visit provinces, help rebuild her political movement, and generally gauge the political situation. This travel will show whether the regime, following the elections last fall and the civilianization of Myanmar’s cabinet of ministers, really has changed its stripes at all.  With Suu Kyi essentially stuck in Rangoon, the regime could claim legitimacy, and given Myanmar’s poor infrastructure and communications networks, it could essentially prevent her from reaching an audience across the country.

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China’s Information Warfare

by Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, June 3, 2011
A woman holds a flower aloft in front of the portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on May 19, 2008.

A woman holds a flower aloft in front of the portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on May 19, 2008. (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters)

As June 4 approaches, I am struck by how many discordant voices we hear in China today and how mightily the Chinese people are struggling to reckon honestly with their past and figure out their path forward. In just the past few weeks, there have been some striking examples of a hundred flowers blooming.

  • The renowned economist Mao Yushi had a short piece in Caixin online in which he advocated that the Chinese people understand Mao Zedong as a man rather than as an infallible deity, underscoring in the process some of Mao Zedong’s less salutary traits. With this brief opinion piece,  he inspired a firestorm of controversy: thousands of people signed a petition for him to be put in jail. Thus far, Beijing has resisted such calls.
  • The grisly death of an activist herder in Inner Mongolia at the hands of Han Chinese has given rise to widespread protests throughout the region, decrying the intrusion of Han Chinese into traditional Mongolian culture and livelihood. That in itself is not surprising. What is surprising is that the Global Times, generally a fairly conservative newspaper, gently rebuked Beijing for trying to limit reporting on the situation and called for shining light on what happened as a means of better addressing the problem.

What to Watch for At the Upcoming Shangri-La Dialogue

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, June 3, 2011
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak gives the opening keynote speech at the 10th International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) Asia Security Summit: The Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore June 3, 2011.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak gives the opening keynote speech at the 10th International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) Asia Security Summit: The Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore June 3, 2011. (Tim Chong/Courtesy Reuters)

The annual Shangi-La Dialogue hosted by IISS in Singapore is underway and goes until Sunday. In past years, the Dialogue has proven a major forum for hashing out critical Asian security issues, and often has been a flashpoint for conflict between the U.S. and China. Some issues to watch this year:

1.    Is the U.S. backing off its tough stance on the South China Sea?

After two years of increasingly aggressive Chinese posturing on the South China Sea, last summer the Obama administration, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, took a much tougher line on the Sea, warning China that the U.S. considered resolution of any claims to the Sea a core American national interest. China was, unsurprisingly, not happy about Hillary Clinton’s approach, and Beijing has continued its strong-arm tactics, bullying Vietnam, the Philippines, and other claimants this year. But in recent speeches Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell has downplayed any U.S.-China friction over the Sea, instead highlighting the many other areas of potential cooperation between Washington and Beijing. But a number of Southeast Asian nations, including Vietnam, worry that the U.S. no longer has their back, and that the Obama administration’s softer approach will only further embolden Beijing. Look for this to play out further at the Dialogue.

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Democracy in Decline

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, June 2, 2011
Protesters shout anti-government slogans during a pro-democracy demonstration organised by the "February 20 Movement", who are demanding political reforms, in Casablanca May 29, 2011.

Protesters shout anti-government slogans during a pro-democracy demonstration organised by the "February 20 Movement", who are demanding political reforms, in Casablanca May 29, 2011. (Macao/Courtesy Reuters)

The Arab Spring has, in recent months, raised hopes that a new wave of democratization will sweep across the developing world, akin to 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In China, online activists inspired by events in the Middle East have called for a “jasmine revolution.” In Singapore, one of the quietest countries in the world, opposition activists called for an “orchid evolution” in the run-up to this month’s national elections. The Middle East uprisings could herald “the greatest advance for human rights and freedom since the end of the Cold War,” argued British foreign minister William Hague. Indeed, at no point since the end of the Cold War—when Francis Fukuyama penned his famous essay, The End of History, positing that liberal democracy was the ultimate destination for every country—has there been so much triumphal talk about the march of global freedom.

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Blowout in Inter-Korean Relations

by Scott A. Snyder Thursday, June 2, 2011
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (front R), his son and vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea, Kim Jong-un (2nd R, 2nd row) and other officials visit the construction site of the Huichon Power Station in this picture released by the North's official KCNA news agency in Pyongyang June 1, 2011.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (front R), his son and vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea, Kim Jong-un (2nd R, 2nd row) and other officials visit the construction site of the Huichon Power Station in this picture released by the North's official KCNA news agency in Pyongyang June 1, 2011. (KCNA/Courtesy Reuters)

North Korea’s National Defense Commission yesterday released a rare public statement on inter-Korean relations in response to Lee Myung-Bak’s May 9 Berlin speech inviting Kim Jong Il to attend next year’s Nuclear Security Summit. The statement came only days after Kim Jong Il’s return from last week’s visit to China where he met with PRC President Hu Jintao, and it responds to the May 19 revelation by South Korea’s Blue House spokesperson that secret contacts had been made with North Korean counterparts in advance of Lee’s Berlin invitation. The North Korean statement confirmed that the contacts had occurred and that the South Korean side had actually proposed three summit meetings, including meetings in Panmunjom and Pyongyang prior to a meeting at the March 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, but it effectively derails prospects for a stable inter-Korean relationship over the next eighteen months. Read more »

Prime Minister Kan Prevails

by Sheila A. Smith Thursday, June 2, 2011
Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan (R) walks past lawmakers to cast a vote against the opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion in parliament in Tokyo June 2, 2011. Kan survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on Thursday, but the unpopular leader will still struggle to break a policy deadlock given a split in his own party and a divided parliament.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan (R) walks past lawmakers to cast a vote against the opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion in parliament in Tokyo June 2, 2011. Kan survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on Thursday, but the unpopular leader will still struggle to break a policy deadlock given a split in his own party and a divided parliament. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Courtesy Reuters)

After a nerve-wracking 24 hours, Japan’s prime minister persuaded his party to hold together in the face of an opposition party challenge. By a vote of 152–293, the opposition gambit to bring Japan’s prime minister down was defeated.    

The Japanese public response to the no-confidence vote, however, was disgust and anger. Media coverage of the evacuation centers during the Diet vote showed relief and applause when the final vote was tallied. Local municipal and prefecture leaders bluntly expressed their dismay over Tokyo’s politics, and asked their national government to focus instead on bringing aid to their communities. Read more »

The Global Fund, China, and Civil Society

by Yanzhong Huang Wednesday, June 1, 2011
A boy from northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region gets first aid for cigarette-burn wounds in the Baoji Xinxing Aid for Street Kids at Baoji, Northwest China's Shaanxi province on July 18, 2007. Baoji Xinxing Aid for Street Kids is a Chinese NGO fully funded by donations and provides clothing, food, accommodation, and basic health for street kids from all over China.

A boy from northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region gets first aid for cigarette-burn wounds in the Baoji Xinxing Aid for Street Kids at Baoji in Northwest China's Shaanxi province. Baoji Xinxing Aid for Street Kids is a Chinese NGO fully funded by donations and provides clothing, food, accommodation, and basic health for street kids from all over China. (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters)

Last week, I went to Beijing to attend a conference on “China’s Emerging Global Health and Foreign Aid Engagement” co-hosted by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies and the China Institute of International Studies. My presentation focused on the evolution of Chinese domestic decision-making on global health and foreign aid programs in Africa.  Prior to my departure, news came out that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria had frozen payments of grants to China worth hundreds of millions of dollars. According to the New York Times, the Fund’s decision seemed to be “rooted in a collision between the fund’s conviction that grass-roots organizations must be intrinsically involved in the fight to control diseases like AIDS, and the Chinese government’s growing suspicion of any civil-society groups that are not directly under its control.” The Times’ speculation was later confirmed by the Chinese Ministry of Health officials. Read more »

No Confidence in Tokyo?

by Sheila A. Smith Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan attends a special committee on post-quake reconstruction at the lower house in Tokyo May 31, 2011. Unpopular PM Kan on Tuesday refused to step down in the face of a no-confidence motion in parliament this week, saying he wanted first to resolve the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan attends a special committee on post-quake reconstruction at the lower house in Tokyo May 31, 2011. Unpopular PM Kan on Tuesday refused to step down in the face of a no-confidence motion in parliament this week, saying he wanted first to resolve the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years. (Yuriko Nakao/Courtesy Reuters)

Prime Minister Naoto Kan is facing a parliamentary challenge: opposition parties—the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the Komeito, and Tachiagare Nippon—have called for a vote of no confidence tomorrow in Japan’s Lower House of parliament.

Reports out of Tokyo are that members of Kan’s own party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), may join in his ouster. Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has publicly stated that he would vote against Kan. Former DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, in a widely-publicized interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, clearly advertised that he was willing—yet again—to pull the rug out from underneath the DPJ leader that had beaten him (and his surrogates) in two leadership contests.     Read more »