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Asia Unbound

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

The More Things Change in Burma …

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, August 31, 2011
A girl of Myanmar heritage holds a placard during a pro-democracy rally in New Delhi August 8, 2011.

A girl of Myanmar heritage holds a placard during a pro-democracy rally in New Delhi August 8, 2011 (Parivartan Sharma/Courtesy Reuters).

Over the past two months, a number of events in Burma have raised hopes that, for the first time in at least two decades, real political opening might be in the cards. President Thein Sein recently met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, called for exiled Burmese — many of whom fled because of repression — to return to the country, and has reportedly pushed for more economic reform. U.S. officials have expressed cautious optimism that last year’s election, though not free and fair, may have been the catalyst for sustained reform, which might allow the National League for Democracy to contest freer elections four years from now.

Yet a court sentence released yesterday should give pause to any hope that real reform is coming – or, at least, that it will come soon. According to Agence France-Presse, a Burmese court sentenced a man named Nay Myo Zin, a retired army officer, to ten years in jail for writing an article deemed “subversive” and sending it to Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based media outlet that provides unbiased reporting on the country as an alternative to the state media. Not exactly a sign of a Burmese spring.

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Why China Worries About Japanese Prime Minister Noda

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Japan's Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda stands up as he is chosen as the party's new leader while the party lawmakers clap their hands during Japan's ruling Democratic Party of Japan leadership vote in Tokyo on August 29, 2011.

Japan's Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda stands up as he is chosen as the party's new leader while the party lawmakers clap their hands during Japan's ruling Democratic Party of Japan leadership vote in Tokyo on August 29, 2011. (Toru Hanai/Courtesy of Reuters)

In her First Take on Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, my colleague Sheila Smith suggests that Mr. Noda is moderate, fair, and an experienced hand in Japanese and global financial affairs. That all sounds pretty good. But apparently from China’s perspective, the new prime minister is nothing but trouble.

While Premier Wen Jiabao and the Chinese Foreign Ministry have offered up short congratulatory statements to the new prime minister, most Chinese commentary has ranged from bleak to belligerent. Chinese analysts point out that the prime minister has not renounced his comments to the effect that Class-A Japanese wartime leaders should no longer be considered criminals nor has he committed not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine. He also has made reference to China’s rising nationalism and naval activities as posing a risk to regional stability. To top it all off, the new prime minister has been a strong supporter of the U.S.-Japan defense alliance.

Given the new prime minister’s apparent policy predilections, it seems to me that Chinese analysts have some reason to be concerned. Read more »

What Qaddafi’s Fall Means for His Evil Minions in South America, Asia, and Africa

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, August 29, 2011
Employees of the Libyan Embassy burn portraits of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi at the embassy's garden in Buenos Aires August 23, 2011.

Employees of the Libyan Embassy burn portraits of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi at the embassy's garden in Buenos Aires August 23, 2011 (Marcos Brindicci/Courtesy Reuters).

The fall of Muammar Qadaffi’s Libyan regime has sparked celebration across the country, and in many parts of the Middle East. But Qadaffi’s collapse will impact not only his country but also civil wars and insurgencies around the world. Since he seized power in the late 1960s, Qadaffi has been a major funder and trainer of insurgents from South America to South Africa to the southern Philippines. Now, with Qadaffi gone, many of these groups may have to rethink their strategies.

In the New Republic, I outline what Qadaffi’s fall means for his many insurgents around the world. You can read the piece here.

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My Kind of Town

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Friday, August 26, 2011

The Chicago skyline in fog caused by extreme cold temperatures of -21 degrees. Courtesy Reuters.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve had a day job at Eurasia Group, a global political risk consulting firm. And they’ll know, too, that I’ve sometimes blogged or talked about the firm’s work, including what my time there has taught me about the relationship between politics and markets in Asia and around the world. For a guy with a background principally in foreign and national security policy, intensive exposure to the markets—and to financial market participants—has been a great experience. But today is my last day at Eurasia Group. I’ll remain an adjunct senior fellow at CFR and will, of course, continue blogging here at Asia Unbound. But I’m taking up a new job as the first executive director of the Paulson Institute, an independent center, located at the University of Chicago, established by former Treasury Secretary and Goldman Sachs CEO Hank Paulson. The institute will promote economic activity and cross-investment, leading to the creation of jobs, as well as encourage progress in environmental protection and the development of alternative sources of clean energy. Its aim is to promote sustainable economic growth and a cleaner environment around the world, focusing initially on concrete actions by businesses and governments in the United States and China—the world’s two largest economies and energy consumers. I’m readying myself for a steady diet of Cubs games, Bears tailgates, and a very cold winter. And I’m looking forward to continued interchange with readers of Asia Unbound.

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Sometimes It’s Not China (Though This Is Probably Not the Week To Be Saying It)

by Adam Segal Thursday, August 25, 2011

A screenshot taken from a CCTV special report on cyberwar, which shows the use of hacking software. This target selection menu allows one to choose an IP address and provides a list of target websites (here all Falun Gong sites). The large button on the bottom left says "attack." (Courtesy CCTV)

This week we’ve had a rash of reporting that suggests the links between the state and Chinese hackers.

Smoking Cursor: First reported in the Epoch Times, and then picked up by the Washington Post and others, a report on CCTV 7 about cyberwar appears to show the PLA conducting an attack on a website connected to the Falun Gong. The attack probably happened several years ago, and there is something funny about the big “attack” button seen in the video (removed from CCTV but available on YouTube) which suggests that maybe it isn’t real. But, despite years of denials from Chinese officials, it maybe as close to a “smoking cursor” as we get, at least in the open source material.

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The Race to Replace Kan

by Sheila A. Smith Thursday, August 25, 2011
Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan bows to the national flag as he arrives for a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo April 1, 2011.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan bows to the national flag as he arrives for a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo April 1, 2011 (Issei Kato/Courtesy Reuters).

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has announced that it will hold an election on August 29 for the man who will replace Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Kan is expected to step down this Friday, opening the way for an intense weekend campaign before Monday’s party election.

Already the field of candidates is full. At the moment at least six DPJ members have declared their interest in running. This will be the third DPJ party leadership race since Japan’s new ruling party came to power in 2009.

The distinguishing feature of this race is that it will bring new leadership to the fore. To date, it has been the senior troika of leadersYukio Hatoyama, Ichiro Ozawa, and Kanand the struggles between them that have defined Japan’s new ruling party. The DPJ’s early efforts at governing Japan have been characterized by intense differences between these party founders over the identity of the party, as well as its policy agenda. In fact, it was the intense strife between these three that led to the electoral setback in last summer’s Upper House election as well as the near miss of the no-confidence vote against Kan this past June.

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Myanmar: Failing State?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Mynamar's Aung San Suu Kyi (L) meets President Thein Sein at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw August 19, 2011.

Mynamar's Aung San Suu Kyi (L) meets President Thein Sein at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw August 19, 2011 (Myanmar News Agency/Courtesy Reuters).

In recent weeks, attention has focused on a potential rapprochement in Burma between the government and longtime opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi traveled for the first time to the new capital of Naypyidaw, and met with the top government leadership — although she did not meet with former regime head Senior General Than Shwe, who is still believed to wield considerable influence from behind the scenes.

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U.S.-China Basketball Brawl Becomes an Inappropriate Metaphor

by Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, August 22, 2011

Players from American Georgetown University men's basketball team and China's Bayi men's basketball team fight during a basketball friendly game at the Beijing Olympic Basketball Arena on August 18, 2011. (China Daily/Courtesy of Reuters)

It must be a testament to the dearth of interesting diplomatic discussions that a brawl between the Georgetown Hoyas and the Bayi Rockets became the headline news out of the U.S.-China summitry between Vice Presidents Biden and Xi last week. Page after page in newspaper after newspaper was filled with the same accounting of the unfair refereeing, aggressive play, and poorly behaved crowd. For many, the event became a metaphor for the animosity presumed to underpin the U.S.-China relationship and, possibly, a lack of respect to Vice President Biden.

When one reporter called me for commentary, however, I couldn’t offer much except to wonder whether the brawl wasn’t simply a case of a game getting out of control as sporting events sometimes do. Read more »

Signs of Change in Burma?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, August 18, 2011
Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Myanmar's democratic opposition, smiles to supporters August 14, 2011.

Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Myanmar's democratic opposition, smiles to supporters August 14, 2011 (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters).

Since the highly suspect national “elections” held in Burma last November, Burmese activists and average Burmese citizens have been looking for any signs that the new, civilian government, would be any different from decades of venal and ruthless military regimes that have ruled the country. For months, there were very few signs. Though the new president, Thein Sein, has reputedly reformist tendencies, many Burma watchers have reported that he has had to fight with a group of reactionary hard-liners who have been put in power essentially to check him. Most notably, Asia Times has reported that Vice President Thin Aung Myint Oo, a hard-liner, has effectively stood in the way of any real change that Thein Sein has promoted. Following any cabinet meetings, Thin Aung Myint Oo reportedly summons cabinet members and warns them not to proceed with any reform.

This set-up may well have been by design. As Asia Times reported:

As former junta leader Than Shwe has withdrawn from the scene, some believe he deliberately left a power vacuum in his wake which Thein Sein and Thin Aung Myint Oo are competing to fill. If the competition escalates into open rifts, some fear the military could step in to suspend the country’s nascent democracy.

Largely because of these signs of blocked reform, the US Congress has extended comprehensive sanctions on Burma. In an age of partisan tension, these sanctions enjoy widespread bipartisan support.

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A Six-Step Formula for Resumption of Six Party Talks

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, August 17, 2011
North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan (L) shakes hands with Clifford Hart, Special Envoy to the Six Party Talks on North Korean De-Nuclearization, as he arrives at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York, July 29, 2011

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan (L) shakes hands with Clifford Hart, Special Envoy to the Six Party Talks on North Korean De-Nuclearization, as he arrives at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York, July 29, 2011 (Jamie Fine/Courtesy Reuters)

Since before the sinking of the Cheonan in March of 2010, the People’s Republic of China has been pushing a three-step formula for resumption of Six Party Talks: resume inter-Korean dialogue, resume high-level U.S.-DPRK contacts through a visit by Vice Minister Kim Kye-gwan to the United States, and reconvene Six Party Talks in Beijing. The first two steps were accomplished in relatively short order at the end of July with a surprising meeting between the foreign ministers and chief negotiators of the two Koreas in Bali on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum and a visit by Kim Kye-gwan to New York a week later for two days of informal dialogue with U.S. officials, including Special Representative Stephen Bosworth, Special Envoy for Six Party Talks Clifford Hart, and Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Robert King. Although the State Department labeled these talks “exploratory and preliminary,” the North Korean side described the talks as “negotiations” while KCNA re-initiated a propaganda campaign calling for a Peace Treaty to end the Armistice.

The next step in the Chinese-formulated three-step plan would be the resumption of Six Party Talks in Beijing, but it seems doubtful that the third step will come as quickly as the first two have proceeded. In fact, there are at least three missing steps in the Chinese three-step plan that must be pursued before it would be possible, in my view, to return to the Six Party Talks, and even then it will be politically impossible for the United States to negotiate a nuclear deal with North Korea that follows the template of the U.S.-DPRK Agreed Framework or the September 19, 2005, Six Party Joint Statement. For this reason, I am advocating a six-step plan for returning to Six Party Talks. The missing steps are as follows:

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