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Asia Unbound

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

Where Is Burma’s Reform Headed?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, October 28, 2011
Su Su Nway, a 39-year-old labor activist, arrives at Yangon's domestic airport October 16, 2011. Nway was released from a prison in northern Burma when the government granted amnesty to her and other political prisoners on October 12.

Su Su Nway, a 39-year-old labor activist, arrives at Yangon's domestic airport October 16, 2011. Nway was released from a prison in northern Burma when the government granted amnesty to her and other political prisoners on October 12 (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters).

As the reform process in Burma continues to pick up speed, many in the U.S. and other Western governments are wondering how they can best support the reforms without compromising their ability to continue to apply pressure on the Burmese government. In the new issue of The New Republic, I explore Burma’s reforms and ask where the United States should go from here.

You can read the article here.

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More on “Going It Alone”: India and Internet Governance

by Adam Segal Thursday, October 27, 2011

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma poses for photos with Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the end of the fifth India-Brazil-South Africa summit (IBSA) in Pretoria October 18, 2011. (Courtesy Reuters)

I’ll go ahead and jump in late to the discussion Liz and Evan were having about India’s foreign policy. Despite their different focus, they do seem to converge around the point that India now frequently charts its own course, in some instances moving closer to the United States, in others China, and in some cases remaining distant from both and finding other partners.

A recent declaration about the need for a new organization, within the United Nations framework, to oversee global Internet governance highlights how India is trying to walk that tightrope. At first glance, the declaration, which was made at the end of the fifth IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) summit in Pretoria, seems harmless enough. The Internet is clearly a global issue lacking an effective governance mechanism. Moreover, as emerging economies, India, Brazil, and South Africa tend to see the current structure as dominated by the United States and American companies. The Hindu quoted the head of an Indian NGO: “Internet-related policies today are made either by mega global digital corporations or directly by pluri-lateral bodies of the rich nations, like the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.”

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Dialogue and “Strategic Patience” with North Korea

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, October 26, 2011
U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth (R) and U.S ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Glyn Davies (L) leave their hotel for the United States Mission in Geneva October 25, 2011

U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth (R) and U.S ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Glyn Davies (L) leave their hotel for the United States Mission in Geneva October 25, 2011. (Denis Balibouse/Courtesy Reuters)

U.S.-DPRK meetings in Geneva held early this week with the objective of reviving denuclearization negotiations have ended with a whimper. The apparent lack of sufficient progress to move forward will underscore lingering doubts about the North Korean will to pursue denuclearization via negotiations, which along with diplomatic normalization, economic development, and peace were the main agenda items of the moribund Six Party Talks. Despite Chinese exhortations to come back to Six Party Talks and Kim Jong-il’s willingness to return to talks as soon as possible based on the “principle of simultaneous action,” Six Party Talks can have no utility—and should not proceed—unless North Korea affirms that denuclearization is on the agenda.

Despite the disappointing outcome, the Obama administration was right to pursue the dialogue and to reiterate its insistence that North Korea take actions to restore the status quo ante that existed at the time of the last round of Six Party Talks in December 2008. This is the significance of the “pre-steps” for resumption of six-party negotiations: that North Korea pledge not to continue to pursue nuclear and missile tests, that it not engage in military provocations with South Korea, and that it come clean on the uranium enrichment program it revealed to Sig Hecker in November 2010. A failure to insist on these actions would allow North Korea to use resumption of the Six Party Talks to claim international recognition, if not acceptance, of its nuclear accomplishments, while a North Korean affirmation of the denuclearization agenda provides a pathway by which to return to Six Party Talks and abandon nuclear weapons development.

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Sick Man of East Asia

by Yanzhong Huang Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Doctor Ji Jiafu operates with his staff on a cancer patient in an operating theatre in the Beijing Cancer Hospital July 12, 2011. (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters)

Doctor Ji Jiafu operates with his staff on a cancer patient in an operating theatre in the Beijing Cancer Hospital July 12, 2011. (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters)

Foreign Affairs just published its November/December issue, which includes my piece “Sick Man of Asia” (behind paywall).  The title is reminiscent of “Sick Man of East Asia,” a metaphor used to allude to a China too weak to withstand the challenges posed by Western powers in the early 20th century.  Ironically, as China is regaining its greatness, the disease burden is rapidly increasing, suggesting a sicker China in the post-Mao era.  Here is some epidemiological data:

–The average life expectancy in China rose by only about 5 years between 1981 and 2009.  In countries that had similar life expectancy levels in 1981 but had slower economic growth thereafter–Colombia, Malaysia, Mexico, and South Korea, for example–by 2009 life expectancy had increased by 7 to 14 years.

–While China is still battling a legion of infectious diseases, noncommunicable diseases–including cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases, and cancer–account for 85 percent of total deaths in the country, much higher than the global average of 60 percent.

–17.5 percent of the Chinese population, or more than 227 million people, suffer from some form of mental problem.  This is one of the highest such rates in the world.

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“Paulson’s Principles” for the United States and China

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Monday, October 24, 2011
U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson leaves after making closing statements after the 5th U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue in Beijing, December 5, 2008. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson leaves after making closing statements after the 5th U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue in Beijing, December 5, 2008. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters)

With the glaring exception of Japan, Asian economies are recovering earlier and stronger from the crisis than nearly all others. And China has now cemented its place alongside the United States and Europe as a growth engine.

But China faces large—and intensifying—vulnerabilities.

Readers of Asia Unbound will know that I’ve talked here and written here about some of these challenges.

And so I thought I’d flag for interested readers a major speech delivered this morning in Washington by former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (full disclosure: my boss).

He has a deep history with the U.S. and Chinese economies—at Goldman Sachs, and then as the Treasury Secretary. As a banker, he worked on historic but thorny issues in China, like privatizations. And at the Treasury, he established the Strategic Economic Dialogue and played a central role in the creation of the Ten Year Energy and Environment Cooperation Framework.

The basic thrust of his speech is twofold:

First, both countries face growing economic challenges and vulnerabilities. And for its part, it is decidedly in the U.S. interest for China to get ahead of these challenges. As Paulson puts it, “China’s success at sustaining growth, fighting inflation, and transitioning from an economic model too dependent on exports and fixed asset investment is closely connected to our own success.”

Second, “the U.S. and China need to take steps—mostly individually, sometimes together—that will have the mutually beneficial effect of supporting and sustaining economic growth.”

That’s a striking formulation because it’s not focused on “cooperation” for its own sake. Rather, as Paulson argues, the U.S. and China “don’t always need to act jointly.” They can take separate and self-interested steps that, in the bargain, put their two economies onto a more complementary footing.

You can read the entire speech here, or watch it delivered here.

But for the central message, here are his five principles—let’s call them, ”Paulson’s Principles”—quoted verbatim from the speech:

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Bangkok to Be Hit by Second Wave of Flooding

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, October 24, 2011
An elderly flood victim sits outside an evacuation centre at an unused airport terminal at Dan Mueang Airport in Bangkok October 24, 2011.

An elderly flood victim sits outside an evacuation centre at an unused airport terminal at Dan Mueang Airport in Bangkok October 24, 2011. (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters)

Although the Thai capital was mostly spared from the first inundation of flooding that swept through the country last week, meteorologists are predicting a new storm system will potentially ravage Bangkok this week. In an article in Voice of America, Bangkok’s governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra, one of the most respected politicians in the country, says that the new wave of water will come this week. This time, the central areas and most populous regions of the capital’s suburbs could well be hit.

What is shocking about the flooding is not only the sheer scale, but also that the central government has had a relatively long time to prepare for it – and now as another week to prepare – and yet seems so disorganized, thus causing panic among many Bangkok residents. As I wrote earlier in the week, the first potential wave of flooding seemed to catch the national government unaware, even though there were many signs it was coming and it hit northern parts of Thailand first. The prime minister seemed totally overwhelmed by having to deal with the disaster, only adding to people’s anger and panic. A new poll of Bangkokians, referenced on Bangkok Pundit, shows that on average they gave the government’s flood response center a horrible score of roughly three out of ten for effectiveness.  Anecdotal opinion from Bangkokians I have spoken to is even worse; I doubt any of them would give the center more than a rating of one. Most had no idea what the center was doing, and had had no contact from government officials in terms of organizing evacuation or relief – even though, as I noted, this is now the second week of potential flooding, and the government has had weeks to prepare the city.

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Prime Minister Noda’s Visit to Seoul

by Sheila A. Smith Monday, October 24, 2011
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak (front R) walks with Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (front L) into the presidential Blue House before their meeting in Seoul October 19, 2011

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak (front R) walks with Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (front L) into the presidential Blue House before their meeting in Seoul October 19, 2011 (Kim Jae-hwan/Courtesy Reuters).

Japan’s prime minister Yoshihiko Noda has just completed a two-day visit to South Korea. Noda personally insisted on carrying with him five volumes of the 1,205 royal scrolls confiscated under Japanese colonial rule. Noda spent time with South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, and the tenor of the meeting suggested that the two Northeast Asian neighbors were determined to get their relations back on a more positive footing.

Economic relations were the highlight. Japan and South Korea agreed to a currency swap arrangement that sought to convey to markets that South Korea’s delicate won would have Japanese backing. Likewise, there is talk of Korean encouragement for greater Japanese foreign direct investment, yet another way for Japan to signal its confidence in a vibrant Korean economy.

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Can India “Go It Alone”?

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Wednesday, October 19, 2011
India's BSF soldiers ride their camels in front of the Presidential Palace during the full-dress rehearsal for "Beating the Retreat" ceremony in New Delhi . (B. Mathur/ Courtesy Reuters)

India's BSF soldiers ride their camels in front of the Presidential Palace during the full-dress rehearsal for "Beating the Retreat" ceremony in New Delhi. (B. Mathur/Courtesy Reuters)

Liz’s post on India got me thinking about an article I published last year in Foreign Affairs on the fate of the U.S.-Indian partnership.

Liz bluntly titled her post, “India’s message to China and the United States: we’ll go it alone.” And that could mean two things:

(1)  India’s fate is in India’s hands, not yours, or

(2) We’ll stay non-aligned, thank you very much.

But the fact is, India has moved well beyond non-alignment. And Indian policy will increasingly intersect with Chinese and American policies in important ways.

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Flooding in Bangkok

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, October 19, 2011
A man stands on sandbags at a flooded intersection in Pathum Thani province, a suburb of Bangkok October 19, 2011.

A man stands on sandbags at a flooded intersection in Pathum Thani province, a suburb of Bangkok October 19, 2011. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past week, Thailand has been threatened by its worst flooding in nearly five decades. As the Wall Street Journal has reported, the flooding already has killed over 300 people and destroyed large areas north of Bangkok. It now threatens Bangkok, and already has significantly damaged many of Thailand’s most important industries.

The government of Prime Minster Yingluck Shinawatra has declared a national crisis and pleaded with all Thais to band together, avoid political in-fighting, and work to mitigate the worst effects of the crisis. At a press conference, Yingluck seemed visibly overwhelmed by the damage.

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India’s Message to China and the United States: We’ll Go It Alone

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, October 19, 2011
A signboard is seen from the Indian side of the Indo-China border at Bumla, in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh on November 11, 2009

A signboard is seen from the Indian side of the Indo-China border at Bumla, in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh on November 11, 2009. (Adnan Abidi/Courtesy Reuters)

Last week, I joined my colleagues Paul Stares, Dan Markey, and Micah Zenko in Delhi for a few days of discussions with senior Indian officials, experts, and journalists. We covered a fair amount of the U.S.-India political waterfront, including bilateral relations, China, Pakistan, and broader Asia. The discussions were quite lively: a great thing about foreign policy experts in India is that there are as many opinions expressed as there are people—a breath of fresh air after more constrained or sometimes just strained discussions with Chinese counterparts. While the variety of views we heard makes it hard to generalize, some common themes emerged. Put in rather stark terms, they boil down to:

Beijing is not trustworthy

An overarching theme was China’s growing “confidence, hubris, and economic ascension.” Some Indians argued that China is challenging the existing power equation and trying to limit the extent of any other power in the region, particularly the United States and India. Not surprisingly, worry over China’s intentions in South and Southeast Asia was paramount—and continued Chinese territorial claims to Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India were a central source of concern. (India has reportedly just sited missiles in the region.)

At the same time, the Indians with whom we met generally admired China’s ability to get things done, particularly in terms of modernizing the country and developing the infrastructure. Read more »