CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Would You Like Some Malware with Your IPad?

by Adam Segal Monday, July 11, 2011

Neil Ungerleider of Fast Company has noted a very interesting exchange that occurred at Friday’s hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  Asked directly by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) whether there was a threat that imported software, hardware, and software components had been tampered with and malware embedded within them, Greg Schaffer, the Department of Homeland Security’s acting deputy undersecretary for national protection and programs, very uncomfortably answered in the positive.

You can see the exchange starting at 51:40.

Outside experts have spoken about this threat for a long time, and government officials often speak of the potential threat (see this speech by DoD Deputy Secretary William Lynn III and testimony by former DHS Deputy Under Secretary Philip Reitinger), but you rarely, if ever, get a sitting official to explicitly state that, yes, “I am aware that there are instances where that happened.” The hearing did not get very far in discussing solutions. When Rep. Chaffetz asked what the administration is doing to defend against these threats, Schaffer replied that this was one of the most complicated problems since lots of information technology is manufactured outside of the United States. Chaffetz said he knew that, and then moved on to another question about public-private partnerships.

Read more »

The Land of Lousy Options, Indeed.

by Scott A. Snyder Friday, July 8, 2011
North Koreans shout slogan during a massive rally at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, to denounce the conservative government of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on July 4, 2011.

North Koreans shout slogan during a massive rally at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, to denounce the conservative government of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on July 4, 2011. (YouTube User StimmeKoreas)

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry published an opinion column in the Los Angeles Times last week urging the Obama administration to engage in direct diplomacy with North Korea by resuming Korean POW/MIA recovery operations active in the 1990s that had been suspended early in the Bush administration and by authorizing humanitarian aid in response to North Korea’s appeals. Last Monday, the European Union’s decision to provide assistance to North Korea has arguably put more pressure on the Obama administration to provide assistance following the dispatch of an assessment team two months ago led by Ambassador for Human Rights Robert King. And the Obama administration’s nomination last Friday of Clinton-era special envoy for North Korea Wendy Sherman as undersecretary of state for political affairs has fed rampant speculation and anxiety among South Koreans that the United States is about to shift gears despite the Obama administration’s close coordination to date with South Korea on North Korea policy, especially given the downturn in inter-Korean relations. Read more »

Harnessing Technological Prowess for Japan’s Recovery

by Sheila A. Smith Thursday, July 7, 2011

Full service is restored to JR East Tohoku Shinkansen line on April 29, 2011 following the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011.

A bullet train arrives at JR Sendai Station after full service is restored on April 29 to the JR East Tohoku Shinkansen line following the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. (YouTube User Karibajct)

As politicians in Tokyo continue to flounder in their efforts to look forward, it continues to impress upon me the importance of understanding what is going right in Japan’s recovery effort. Last time I shared a story that reflects the ability of individual Japanese to innovate and cope during the crisis. Today it is a story of Japan’s technological prowess—harnessed in the service of social need—that I want to share with you from my recent trip to Tohoku. Read more »

Thailand’s Critical Election

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, July 7, 2011
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra gestures during a meeting near his home in Dubai, after voting in general elections ended in Bangkok July 3, 2011.

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra gestures during a meeting near his home in Dubai, after voting in general elections ended in Bangkok July 3, 2011. (Jumana El Heloueh/Courtesy Reuters)

Thailand’s election last Sunday could be the most important in the country’s history. It provides, possibly, a last chance for all sides to come to some reconciliation. I have an article in yesterday’s Financial Times on how the new prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, her brother Thaksin, and Thailand’s traditional establishment all can help the country’s democracy get back on track.

You can see the article here.

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China Rare Earths: The Saga Continues

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, July 7, 2011
A worker holds one of scrap mobile phones, at a recycling facility of Re-Tem Corp, in Tokyo on October 15, 2010. Re-Tem Corp researches and develops the recycling of rare earth metals vital to the production of electronics. Japanese high-tech companies face higher input costs for rare earth metals as dominant supplier China curbs exports.

A worker holds one of scrap mobile phones, at a recycling facility of Re-Tem Corp, in Tokyo on October 15, 2010. Re-Tem Corp researches and develops the recycling of rare earth metals vital to the production of electronics. Japanese high-tech companies face higher input costs for rare earth metals as dominant supplier China curbs exports. (Toru Hanai/Courtesy Reuters)

Nine months after the original brouhaha over China’s plans to decrease dramatically its exports of rare earths, the international community has called foul again on a closely related issue: China’s export curbs on other raw materials, such as magnesium and silicon. On July 5th, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that China had violated WTO rules when it curbed its exports of these and other raw materials. (Thus far, the Chinese response to the first ruling has been muted, but all indications are that Beijing will appeal the ruling.)

Now China is worried that it will face a similar suit on rare earths. Whether it would fare better in such a case is uncertain, but unlikely. The WTO allows for export restrictions when a country is trying to conserve non-renewable natural resources, which China is clearly trying to do. The hitch is that this exception also demands similar restrictions on domestic production and consumption. China can’t offer more favorable policies to its own companies than to the rest of the world. That is going to be a high bar for China to meet. Read more »

How Thailand Got Here

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Puea Thai Party's Yingluck Shinawatra (C) poses for a photo with her coalition after a joint news conference in Bangkok July 4, 2011.

Puea Thai Party's Yingluck Shinawatra (C) poses for a photo with her coalition after a joint news conference in Bangkok July 4, 2011. (Adrees Latif/Courtesy Reuters)

Thailand’s political denouement has been building for a decade, since former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was first elected in early 2001, in a poll that would upend Thailand’s traditional politics and pave the way for a decade-long clash between traditional interests and Thailand’s increasingly empowered poor and new businesspeople.

An overview of Thailand’s crisis, and how such a once-promising democracy faltered, can be found here.

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Thailand’s Elections: First Take

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, smiles as she arrives to her party's headquarters after voting in general elections ended in Bangkok July 3, 2011.

Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, smiles as she arrives to her party's headquarters after voting in general elections ended in Bangkok July 3, 2011. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

On Sunday, Thai voters went to the polls for the first time since, in 2008, the Democrat Party, supported by Thailand’s traditional elites, maneuvered its way into power through legislative wrangling backed by the army and the palace. It was also only the second election since the 2006 coup, which deposed the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, who previously had been the most powerful prime minister in Thai history, but gained much of his support from the poor, and was extremely unpopular with Thailand’s traditional elites.

The result of Sunday’s vote was an overwhelming rejection of both the coup and the 2008 manuevering, and a vote of confidence for Thaksin’s party, now run by his youngest sister, Yingluck. (Since the 2006 coup, Thaksin has lived in exile, mostly in Dubai, but has remained the power behind the scenes in his party and, in the election campaign, called Yingluck “his clone.”) Riding high voter turnout, Yingluck and Thaksin’s party won an absolute majority of the 500-seat lower house of parliament, which will almost certainly make Yingluck the country’s first female prime minister. She made add to her power by allying with several smaller parties that won a handful of seats. Read more »