CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Malaysia’s Sham Trial

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, September 30, 2011
Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim smiles as he arrives at courthouse for his sodomy trial in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim smiles as he arrives at courthouse for his sodomy trial in Kuala Lumpur (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters).

Much has changed in Southeast Asia over the past decade. But travel to downtown Kuala Lumpur today, and walk along the Moorish-influenced public greens, and suddenly the Malaysian capital seems trapped in the 1990s.

At that time, the Asian financial crisis was battering the country’s economy, and urbanites hit by the downturn and frustrated by the country’s tightly controlled political system, had taken to the streets, where they were met by riot control troops, who battered them on a daily basis until the government’s long-ruling coalition put Anwar Ibrahim, the country’s popular opposition leader, on trial. The charge: Sodomy, a serious crime in a predominantly Muslim nation.

Though the trial was a farce—accusers later recanted their statements, and Anwar appeared in court with what the government called a “self-inflicted” black eye—he was convicted, and ultimately served six years in prison. Read more »

China’s Challenge to Democracy

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, September 30, 2011
China's Premier Wen shows the way to Cambodia's PM Sen during a welcome ceremony in Beijing.

China's Premier Wen shows the way to Cambodia's PM Sen during a welcome ceremony in Beijing (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters).

China’s relationship to democracy is a closely watched issue on the world stage. As the largest authoritarian nation in the world, and within a decade potentially the world’s largest economy, China exerts significant influence on the balance of democracy across the developing world.

For decades, foreign observers and many Chinese reformists have focused on China’s own internal political movements, watching as it alternately becomes more open to dissent and competing voices, then clamps down. These days, China actually appears to be regressing, despite its capitalist economy and some recent protests in cities like Dalian. Over the past year, the government has cracked down hard on any protest groups, and has increasingly monitored and filtered the Internet and microblogging sites. According to Yasheng Huang, a China specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, China’s political system actually was more liberal in the 1980s than today.

While observers have focused on China’s internal politics, however, an important and worrisome change has been taking place outside its borders:  Beijing increasingly appears to be thwarting democracy in countries surrounding it. Local officials from Cambodia, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, and other Asian nations increasingly receive training in China, where they learn repressive Chinese judicial, policing, and Internet control tactics. It has pushed neighboring nations to crack down on activists who criticize China, even outside the borders of the People’s Republic. In Central Asia, meanwhile, China has helped create a regional organization to prop up authoritarian rule.

In a new piece in the Boston Globe, I examine China’s challenge to democracy in Asia. You can read the whole piece here.

Read more »

Missing Opportunities in U.S.-China Relations

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, September 29, 2011

A screenshot taken from C-SPAN's recording of the Washington Post Live's Global China Summit on September 27, 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy C-SPAN)

This past Tuesday, the Washington Post hosted a day-long conference on China. It was a good set of discussions that offered a range of different perspectives. (You can watch the panels here.)

I participated on the first panel of the morning with former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Rhodium Group head Dan Rosen. Dan raised a number of important issues in the U.S.-China economic relationship and one in particular that is increasingly central to the U.S. debate on China: How do we take advantage of Chinese multinational interest in investing in the United States? Dan estimates that several billions of FDI annually is at stake for the United States. This does not mean that the United States should open its doors to any kind of investment on any terms, but rather that we have to move quickly to find the proper balance of openness and protection in our investment regime.

What struck me most from my panel, however, was a comment by the erudite Mr. Miliband. He had recently spent a week in China and was enthusiastic in particular about the outward-looking Chinese students. He contrasted their interest in and knowledge of the West with what he saw as a failure on the part of students and others in the West to learn as much as they could about China—not just learning Mandarin (which American students are doing in droves) but also learning about Chinese culture and history.

Maybe Mr. Miliband is right, but maybe not. Read more »

2012-2013 International Affairs Fellowship (IAF) in Japan and South Korea: Seeking Applicants

by Asia Unbound Thursday, September 29, 2011

Are you interested in spending time and working on research in Tokyo, Japan or Seoul, South Korea? Do you have an interest in U.S.-Japan or U.S.-South Korea relations? Do you know someone who is? If so, consider CFR’s 2012-2013 International Affairs Fellowship (IAF) in Japan or 2012-2013 International Affairs Fellowship (IAF) in South Korea.

What is the mission of the IAF in Japan? Founded in 1997, the IAF in Japan, sponsored by Hitachi, Ltd., seeks to strengthen mutual understanding and cooperation between the rising generations of leaders in the United States and Japan. The program provides fellows the opportunity to carry out research while affiliated with a cooperating institution in Japan. The goal of the fellowship is to strengthen the U.S.-Japan relationship by expanding American understanding of Japan and enhancing communication between Americans and Japanese on global problems. Read more »

Collision in Cyberspace Is Unavoidable: The View from Chinese Analysts

by Adam Segal Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Chinese news vendor waits for customers in front of newspapers. (Claro Cortes/Courtesy Reuters)

People’s Tribune Magazine (人民论坛杂志) has a collection of twelve articles on cyberspace and cyber conflict by Chinese analysts at think tanks and academic institutes. All of the articles are worth glancing at, but four—”A Sovereign Country Must Have Strong Defense” by Min Dahong, director of the Network and Digital Media Research Office at the China Academy of Social Sciences; “America’s ‘Pandora’s Box’ Cyber Strategy Confuses the World” by Shen Yi from Fudan University’s Department of International Politics; “Cyber Power ‘Shuffles the Cards’: How China Can Overtake the Competition” by Tang Lan, assistant director of the Institute of Information and Social Development Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations; and “How to Construct China’s Cyber Defenses” by Liu Zengliang, from the PLA National Defense University—do a particularly good job of illustrating what some Chinese analysts are saying about U.S.-China relations in cyberspace.  The picture is not pretty. All see cyberspace as an emerging, critical area of competition and are notably pessimistic about the future. Conflict seems almost inevitable.

Reading the essays, it is clear that Chinese analysts believe the United States is ahead in the competition.  U.S. strengths include “core technology, experts, high military expenditures, and an integrated command system.”  In contrast to the perception in the West that China possesses a comprehensive strategy uniting the diplomatic, military, and technological components of cyber, these analysts are not impressed. Beijing is said to lack a coherent vision of what it wants to accomplish.

Read more »

Does U.S.-China Strategic Cooperation Have To Be So Hard?

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger delivers a speech in front of a picture of late U.S. president Richard Nixon meeting with late premier Zhou Enlai during a ceremony in Shanghai to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the "Shanghai Communique," on April 15, 2002. (China Photo / Courtesy of Reuters)

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger delivers a speech in front of a picture of late U.S. President Richard Nixon meeting with late Premier Zhou Enlai during a ceremony in Shanghai to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the "Shanghai Communique." (China Photo/Courtesy Reuters)

Can the United States and China cooperate to forestall threats to stability? A new CFR report, Managing Instability on China’s Periphery, asks this question in the context of fragile states and regions that share borders with China—specifically North Korea, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Central Asia. I participated in the project, which included workshops with Chinese specialists assembled by Peking University. I also wrote the report’s chapter on Central Asia.

The project is interesting because the U.S. and China actually have a long history of cooperating in places along China’s border. Just take recent tensions over Afghanistan, for example. These strains belie the degree to which Beijing and Washington worked jointly to defeat the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Washington encouraged Chinese support for the Afghan mujahideen, and the two countries cooperated in other unprecedented ways during the conflict.

But that was then.

Read more »

North Korea’s Deepening Economic Dependency on China

by Scott A. Snyder Monday, September 26, 2011
Local workers arrive with fresh fish at the port area of North Korean special economic zone of Rason city, located northeast of Pyongyang September 2, 2011.

Local workers arrive with fresh fish at the port area of North Korean special economic zone of Rason city, located northeast of Pyongyang September 2, 2011 (Carlos Barria/Courtesy Reuters).

Yonhap reported this week that North Korea’s trade dependence on China has climbed as China’s proportion of North Korea’s overall foreign trade has risen from $1.97 billion, representing 41.6 percent of North Korea’s overall trade in 2007, to $3.47 billion, representing 57.1 percent in 2010. The report compares trends in China-North Korea trade relations with inter-Korean trade trends, which despite heightened tensions show a slight increase in trade volume from $1.8 billion in 2007 to $1.91 billion in 2010. But because of the growth in China’s trade with North Korea, inter-Korean trade as a proportion of North Korea’s overall trade has dropped from 38 percent in 2007 to 31.4 percent in 2010.

South Korea’s perceived failure to compete with China for economic influence in the North as a result of heightened tensions in inter-Korean relations remains an active subject of frustration in South Korea, especially among progressives, but North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear and missile tests and other tension-raising provocations against the South make it clear that China has been unable to use the North’s economic dependency on Beijing as a tool for imposing political restraint on Pyongyang.

Read more »

Prime Minister Noda Outlines His Priorities in New York

by Sheila A. Smith Friday, September 23, 2011
Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda speaks during a high-level meeting on nuclear safety and security at the United Nations headquarters in New York September 22, 2011.

Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda speaks during a high-level meeting on nuclear safety and security at the United Nations headquarters in New York September 22, 2011 (Shannon Stapleton/Courtesy Reuters).

Japan’s newest prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, arrived in the United States this week for his much anticipated first meeting with President Obama, and a debut at the UN General Assembly—the first conversation there since the March 11 earthquake-tsunami disaster struck.

U.S. officials seemed upbeat about the prime minister’s meeting with President Obama. Yet, media questioning about the infamous Futenma Marine base on Okinawa set off another round of speculation about the state of the relationship. Earlier in the week, at a George Washington University conference hosted by Professor Michael Mochizuki, the governor of Okinawa, Hirokazu Nakaima, laid out current political realities in Okinawa and argued the U.S.-Japan governments’ plan to relocate the marine airfield was too difficult to realize. The governor presented his thinking on how to proceed, a position that surprised few of us who have been watching Okinawa politics of late. Pressure is building again here in Washington, as Congressional budget cuts loom, and the governor spent some time on Capitol Hill with Senators Levin, McCain and Webb sharing his thoughts.

But Prime Minister Noda presented a broader—and more strategic—agenda during his New York visit.

Read more »

Instability in North Korea: Implications for Sino-U.S. Relations

by Scott A. Snyder Friday, September 23, 2011
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Chinese Ambassador to the United States Zhou Wenzhong during a tour of the Great Wall of China in Badaling November 18, 2009.

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Chinese Ambassador to the United States Zhou Wenzhong during a tour of the Great Wall of China in Badaling November 18, 2009 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

CFR’s Center for Preventive Action has released its report on Managing Instability on China’s Periphery, the product of a series of workshops that included a useful meeting with Chinese academic specialists held in Beijing last April. At that meeting, I provided analysis of several sources of North Korean vulnerability, an assessment of scenarios for instability in North Korea and potential international responses, and a set of specific policy recommendations for how the United States and China might address the current incongruity in their respective priorities, with China favoring stability over denuclearization and the United States favoring denuclearization over stability.

Read more »

Gary Locke: America’s Too Popular Ambassador to China

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, September 22, 2011
Ambassador Gary Locke is surrounded by local Chinese media outside his residence in Beijing on August 14, 2011.

Ambassador Gary Locke is surrounded by local Chinese media outside his residence in Beijing on August 14, 2011. (David Gray / Courtesy of Reuters)

It scarcely seems possible, but apparently some Chinese commentators are put out that the U.S. ambassador has garnered so much favorable press in his first month on the job. In recent days, the Chinese media have published a number of commentaries criticizing not only the ambassador but also some of their fellow journalists, who they believe are paying too much attention to Ambassador Locke’s activities. Stripped to its essence, the criticism of Ambassador Locke is that he is a nice guy, who is simply too good at representing U.S. values.  It would be laughable, if it didn’t point to a real challenge in the Sino-American relationship.

The trouble began as soon as the ambassador was nominated. Anonymous postings on various Internet chat sites in China accused him of being a “fake foreign devil who cannot even speak Chinese” and a “guy who has forgotten his ancestors.” Traitor was not an uncommon epithet.

Yet when the ambassador arrived, the tide appeared to turn. Read more »