CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Japan’s Nuclear Quandary (continued)

by Sheila A. Smith Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Protesters take part in an anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo March 27, 2011. The sign on the left reads, "Change energy policy". The sign on the right reads, "Do not sprinkle radioactive material".

Protesters take part in an anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo March 27, 2011. The sign on the left reads, "Change energy policy". The sign on the right reads, "Do not sprinkle radioactive material". (Courtesy Reuters/Toru Hanai)

Partisan politics aside, public confidence in industry and government has plummeted. Credibility of data marshaled to date in support of the conclusion that Japan’s reactors are safe has been undermined, and media polls reveal a steady drop in public support for Japan’s existing nuclear energy policy.  

A broader debate in Japan is unfolding, and the temptation is to draw the battle lines so that industry and government are on one side and Japan’s citizens are on the other. But this would be a flawed—and from a policy perspective, deeply damaging—premise. Read more »

ASEAN Kicks the South China Sea Dispute down the Road

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Anti-China protesters hold a Vietnamese flag (top) and a Chinese flag with an image of the pirate skull and crossbones (bottom) during a demonstration around Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi July 24, 2011.

Anti-China protesters hold a Vietnamese flag (top) and a Chinese flag with an image of the pirate skull and crossbones (bottom) during a demonstration around Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi July 24, 2011. (Peter Ng/Courtesy Reuters)

In the wake of the recent ASEAN Regional Forum in Bali, both Southeast Asian nations and China celebrated the drafting of an agreement between Southeast Asian states and China to resolve South China Sea disputes peacefully. As Voice of America reported, American officials also hailed the deal:

“U.S. officials are expressing relief over the accord, which they say should ease tensions between China and several ASEAN member states including U.S. defense treaty ally, the Philippines.”

Of course, any dampening of tensions in the South China Sea, where there has been one incident after the next in recent months, is welcome. The Philippines, Vietnam, and China had been ratcheting up tensions, and some Chinese analysts even began talking of a “limited war” with Vietnam to teach the country a lesson about claims in the Sea.

Read more »

Japan’s Nuclear Quandary

by Sheila A. Smith Tuesday, August 2, 2011
An aerial view shows Kyushu Electric Power's Genkai nuclear power plant, in Genkai town, Saga Prefecture, in this picture taken by Kyodo on June 9, 2011. The Japanese government moved closer on Wednesday to securing approval from local authorities to restart the first of 35 nuclear reactors shut for regular maintenance or kept idle since the March earthquake and tsunami. Japan's trade and energy minister, undeterred by several dozen anti-nuclear protesters urging him to go home, tried to persuade local governments in the southern Saga prefecture that it was safe to restart nuclear reactors shut since a deadly natural disaster struck the country's northeast on March 11.

An aerial view shows Kyushu Electric Power's Genkai nuclear power plant, in Genkai town, Saga Prefecture, in this picture taken by Kyodo on June 9, 2011. The Japanese government moved closer on Wednesday to securing approval from local authorities to restart the first of 35 nuclear reactors shut for regular maintenance or kept idle since the March earthquake and tsunami. (Courtesy Reuters/Kyodo)

The Kan cabinet is facing a defining moment in Japan’s postwar nuclear debate. With the bulk of nuclear reactors now offline, the country is holding its breath over how the prime minister will proceed. Difficulties continue at Fukushima Daiichi. Dangerous levels of radiation have been reported in the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors, and new sources of food—this time beef—have been taken off the market by the Japanese government with dire consequences for the livestock producers in the stricken regions.   

The short-term prognosis for Japan’s electricity supply is uncertain, yet it is the longer term effort to reform Japan’s energy policy that is the key to resolving the current impasse. Public confidence in Japan’s nuclear industry was shattered by the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, and until the reactors are fully cooled, it is unlikely that the full impact of this disaster will be appreciated. In the meantime, decisions need to be made, and Japan’s energy supply needs to be assured.  Read more »

Decline of Democracy

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, August 1, 2011
Pro-democracy protesters scuffle with police during a protest march to demand universal suffrage and against rising property prices in Hong Kong July 1, 2011.

Pro-democracy protesters scuffle with police during a protest march to demand universal suffrage and against rising property prices in Hong Kong July 1, 2011. (Tyrone Siu/Courtesy Reuters)

The recent uprisings in Malaysia and Thailand, following on the heels of the Arab Spring, which has turned into the Arab Summer, have emboldened democracy advocates around the world. Some see the wave even reaching China, where in recent days there have been fresh protests in Inner Mongolia, southern China, and other regions of the country.

But in reality the forecast for democratization is not so sanguine. Already, the revolts in places like Tunisia and Egypt are turning sourer, with the military and other elite actors reasserting their powerful position in society. Meanwhile, in other parts of the developing world, democratization actually has gone backwards over the past decade.

In a piece in The National, I chronicle the decline of democracy in recent years, and argue that, Arab Spring and Summer notwithstanding, the future for democracy in the developing world is not bright.

Read more »