CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Burma’s Reforms Gathering Pace

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, October 14, 2011
Police assist a newly released prisoner in the meeting hall of Insein Prison in Yangon.

Police assist a newly released prisoner in the meeting hall of Insein Prison in Yangon. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

In the past week, the cautious reforms launched this summer and early fall by the Burmese government of President Thein Sein have gathered pace, and even seasoned observers of Burma — which is hardly an easy country to analyze — have to admit that they really do not know where the country’s political path is now headed. These reforms, as I noted earlier this week, seem to be more substantial than any in decades past: Thein Sein has notably not only freed prisoners but also taken a dramatic decision to halt construction on a China-funded dam, both angering Beijing and showing average Burmese that he was responding to their concerns.

In the London Review of Books, I analyze the potential for a ‘Burmese Autumn’ of reform and discuss why, against all hope, some Burmese and foreign observers are starting to believe that this time is different from all of Burma’s past stalled political changes.

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The Missing Piece in the U.S.-Korea Summit: Implementation of the 2009 Joint Vision Statement

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, October 12, 2011
U.S. President Barack Obama gets a hug from South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the Blue House in Seoul, November 19, 2009.

U.S. President Barack Obama gets a hug from South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the Blue House in Seoul, November 19, 2009. (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters)

With the formal ratification of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS-FTA) and a rare address by a South Korean president to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, the mood surrounding Lee Myung-bak’s state visit has turned celebratory. Indeed, this is a high point in the U.S.-ROK relationship, especially given the close personal relationship between President Lee and President Obama. But there has been a missing element in many pre-summit briefings in advance of this week’s state visit: the need for a progress report on implementation of the June 2009 U.S.-ROK Joint Vision Statement, touted as the major accomplishment of Lee’s last visit to the White House.

While ratification of the KORUS-FTA after such a long delay is a significant achievement, and there is a perennially urgent need for coordination regarding North Korea, the 2009 Joint Vision Statement represented an ambitious effort to cement an enduring and comprehensive U.S.-ROK alliance partnership. It provided a platform for the alliance to take on global and regional roles that extend the U.S.-ROK partnership well beyond the Korean peninsula, in line with expanded South Korean capacities and interests represented by the idea of a “global Korea.” But the absence of reference to the Joint Vision Statement in pre-summit briefings for the state visit either undersells the level of progress in implementing broadened U.S.-ROK cooperation or it diminishes the significance of this landmark statement by the two presidents as a platform for extending such cooperation.

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Anyone But Huawei

by Adam Segal Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Headquarters of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. in Shenzhen, Guangdong province June 29, 2009. (Stringer Shanghai/Courtesy Reuters)

A new report about Huawei’s connections to the Chinese military and intelligence agencies will make it even more unlikely that the telecomm company will ever be approved for a major acquistition in the United States (it should be noted that Huawei already supplies many smaller companies throughout the United States). Actually, given all the previous reports on Huawei, the letter eight Republican senators sent to the Obama administration urging an investigation of the company, and given that Rick Perry’s presence at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Texas has become a campaign issue, the claim that Huawei has links to the Ministry of State Security just seems like unnecessary piling on.

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State of the U.S.-ROK Alliance

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Chairman of South Korea's bid committee Sung-Joo Han submits the official bid book for the 2022 Soccer World Cup to FIFA President Blatter in Zurich

H.E. Han Sung-Joo May 14, 2010. (Arnd Wiegmann/Courtesy Reuters)

In anticipation of South Korean president Lee Myung-bak’s state visit this week, I asked former South Korean foreign minister and ambassador to the United States Han Sung-Joo to provide an assessment of the U.S.-ROK alliance, including future prospects and challenges. In his essay, which can be found here, he addresses the ever-present challenge of coordinating policies toward North Korea, the need to sustain current high levels of public support for the alliance in both countries, tensions that may arise as a result of fiscal constraint, and the geopolitical challenge of dealing with China’s rise. Although the ratification of the KORUS-FTA will be advertised as the primary achievement of this week’s summit, the two presidents would do well to address these issues going forward to ensure that it can indeed act as a security “lynchpin” for the United States, South Korea, and the Asia-Pacific region.

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Burma’s Reforms Starting to Appear More Real

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Mynamar's Aung San Suu Kyi meets President Thein Sein at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw.

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

A front-page article in Friday’s New York Times, entitled “Detecting a Thaw in Myanmar, U.S. Aims to Encourage Change” captures the frankly shocking new spirit of reform emerging in recent weeks in Burma. The pace of the apparent reforms has surprised many cynics, including myself – I have long warned that any reforms should be seen as superficial and likely to be rolled back, as has happened many times in Burma’s modern history. Other doubters, including many in the Obama administration, the U.S. Congress, and the human rights community, including exiled Burmese reformers, also are starting to put aside some of their (well-earned) skepticism. Indeed, this is by far the most optimistic period for Burma in at least two decades, and the optimism is bracing among Burmese who are used to nothing but political stasis and economic misery and mismanagement.

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Giant Sucking Sound: China and IPR Theft

by Adam Segal Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Water Vortex. (Courtesy Creative Commons)

That phrase is of course associated with presidential candidate Ross Perot and what he believed would be the massive loss of jobs to Mexico after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Now it may best summarize the emerging view of congressional leaders about China and intellectual property.

Last week, in his opening statement, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers called out Chinese economic cyber espionage: “A massive and sustained intelligence effort by a government to blatantly steal commercial data and intellectual property.”  As Ellen Nakashima pointed out in the Washington Post, that Chinese hackers are behind the massive theft of intellectual property is widely assumed. People just don’t say it so directly very often.

At almost the same time, Senator Jim Webb was introducing legislation that is supposed to stop the transfer of technology funded by the U.S.  government to China and other countries that “by law, practice, or policy require proprietary technology transfers as a matter of doing business.”  These transfers, in Webb’s view, “clearly and unequivocally place the competitive advantage of the American economy at risk.” In his statement, Webb offered the specific examples of Westinghouse and third generation nuclear reactors; General Electric and avionics; and Ford and electric vehicles.

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America’s Free Trade Champion: Lee Myung-Bak

by Scott A. Snyder Thursday, October 6, 2011
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a Joint Session of Congress inside the chamber of the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington September 8, 2011.

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a Joint Session of Congress inside the chamber of the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington September 8, 2011 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

The Obama administration has always been conflicted about free trade agreements. Candidate Obama didn’t outright condemn the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS-FTA), but he publicly let it be known that it could stand some improvement while privately offering body language suggesting support for free trade. The inheritance of the deepest recession and unemployment levels in decades conspired against consideration of FTAs as the administration poured itself into the task of getting Congress to pass the stimulus package.

During his first trip to Asia in November 2009, President Obama got an earful from Asian leaders who were aghast at the apparent absence of a U.S. trade policy, widely viewed as a strategic necessity to counter Asia’s growing trade dependency on China. The best stop of the trip was Seoul, and Lee Myung-bak’s primary request was support for the KORUS-FTA. Despite positive body language and the appearance of a commitment from President Obama to get KORUS done, nothing happened. No exchanges of negotiators ensued.

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China’s Influence: Waxing or Waning?

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, October 6, 2011
China's President Hu Jintao shows the way to South Africa's President Jacob Zuma during a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on August 24, 2010.

China's President Hu Jintao shows the way to South Africa's President Jacob Zuma during a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on August 24, 2010. (Jason Lee / Courtesy of Reuters)

One of the significant unresolved questions surrounding Chinese foreign policy is whether China’s influence is expanding or diminishing. Is China a model for other countries? Does its economic clout give it sway in other arenas? Does its growing military prowess have the potential to bend others to its will?

In the past two weeks, China’s influence barometer has been fluctuating wildly. In Zambia, Presidential candidate Michael Sata campaigned largely on an anti-China platform, proclaiming “Zambia has become a province of China…the Chinese are the most unpopular people in the country because no one trusts them,” and won. Closer to home, Burma threw a wrench in China’s plans to populate the Irrawaddy with seven more dams, including the 6,000 megawatt Myitsone dam, when Burmese President Thein Sein announced the suspension of the dam until his term ends in April 2016. The dam would have flooded an area roughly the size of Singapore and provided energy primarily for China. The Chinese government was stunned at Burma’s betrayal. And of course, throughout much of Asia, China’s neighbors are forging new alliances and fortifying old ones to defend against a seemingly more assertive China. (That certainly sounds like influence…just not the kind Beijing wants to have.)

At the same time, the South African government led by President Zuma failed to provide the Dalai Lama with a visa to attend the 80th birthday party of his fellow Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, prompting an angry outcry from the Archbishop. In addition, my colleague Josh Kurlantzick has suggested that China’s influence in central and parts of Southeast Asia is expanding through Beijing’s programs to manage social instability. Although given the significant annual increases in numbers of protests in China, it’s not clear to me what they are teaching, exactly; and given the already authoritarian predilections of these states, China’s influence, while not negligible, is not terribly surprising. Finally, opening the newspaper on any given day, it is easy to get the impression that without Chinese investment, the entire world economy would be down under.

So, is China’s influence waxing or waning? The answer is that it depends. Read more »

The Legacy of Deng Xiaoping

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Visitors stand in front of a portrait of the late Chinese leader Deng in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

Visitors stand in front of a portrait of the late Chinese leader Deng in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters).

Although he was a transformational figure in China’s history, Deng Xiaoping has not received a thorough treatment from biographers in the way that Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai have. But in his new book Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, Harvard professor Ezra Vogel offers the most complete portrait of Deng, his times, and his politics, that has ever been written in English. In the current issue of The Nation, I review the book and examine the ways in which Deng did — and did not — transform China.

Read my entire review here.

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Can India and America Up Their Investment Game?

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Sunday, October 2, 2011
Commuters on a suburban train during the morning rush hour in Mumbai.

Commuters on a suburban train during the morning rush hour in Mumbai.Danish Siddiqui/Courtesy Reuters.

My latest column is out in India’s financial daily, the Business Standard. I used this month’s column to talk a bit about structural impediments hindering U.S. investment in India. These challenges will grow if, as many economists suspect, India’s growth continues to slow from its restored post-crisis clip of 8 to 9 percent a year to something more on the order of 7 to 7.5 percent. And in that context, it’s worth noting that Indian stocks have just completed their worst quarter since 2008. And of course food price inflation remains as stubborn as ever.

Here’s my argument, which reflects in part a perspective from my new perch in Chicago rather than Washington, DC:

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