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Asia Unbound

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

First Steps in U.S.-China Cyber Cooperation?

by Adam Segal Tuesday, November 29, 2011
President Obama on the Phone

President Obama on the phone in the Oval Office on February 2, 2011. (Pete Souza/Courtesy The White House)

China Daily has responded to a very detailed study Project 2049 published two weeks ago about Chinese signals intelligence and cyber reconnaissance.  The response—which does not directly address any of the report’s specific claims about the role that the PLA General Staff Department’s Third Department plays in computer network exploitation—is essentially: those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.  The United States may portray itself as the victim in cyberspace, “but it is no secret that the U.S. has already developed an information warfare doctrine and has capability to make cyber attacks on other nations.”  And “the U.S. military is clearly capable of conducting offensive operations in cyberspace at any time and against any country.”

This is one of the standard comebacks to U.S. claims of Chinese cyberattacks (the other being China is also a victim) and would normally not be worthy of too much attention.  But this article does end with two suggestions about how China and the United States might build trust in cyberspace.  The first—that the two sides should cooperate and exchange information about “profit-driven” cyber crime—is also not much to get excited about, as it has been made several times in different fora.  In November 2010, Gu Jian, head of Network Security in the Ministry of Public Security, suggested the United States and China cooperate on cases where there is “double criminality”—acts that are illegal in both countries.  In May 2011, the EastWest Institute announced a joint agreement on battling spam.  The problem, of course, is that the United States’ main complaint with China is not cyber crime, but cyber espionage—the theft of military and political secrets as well as commercial intellectual property, business plans, and corporate strategy.  Mistrust will remain high unless this is tackled head on.

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Judging Hillary Clinton’s Visit to Burma

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, November 29, 2011
U.S. Secretary of State Clinton will be the first American Secretary of State to travel to Burma in over half a century.

U.S. Secretary of State Clinton will be the first American Secretary of State to travel to Burma in over half a century (Romeo Ranoco/Courtesy Reuters).

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will begin a visit to Burma, the first trip to the country by such a high-level American official in some fifty years. In a previous blog post I outlined several indicators to focus on in examining how quickly and successfully Burma’s reforms are moving.

Although the United States is not the most important player in Burma, compared to regional powers like China and India, the Burmese government clearly is hoping for warmer relations with the United States, for a variety of reasons – strategic balance, a real desire for reform, greater investment, and others. In judging the secretary of state’s trip, it’s important to consider whether she has achieved the following aims – aims that, if successful, would demonstrate significant American influence in the country: Read more »

Watching Before Moving Further on Burma

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, November 21, 2011
Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi shakes hands with people outside the National League for Democracy (NLD) head office after a meeting in Yangon November 18, 2011.

Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi shakes hands with people outside the National League for Democracy (NLD) head office after a meeting in Yangon November 18, 2011 (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters).

With the announcement that Secretary of State Clinton will be traveling to Burma in early December, the first visit by such a high-level U.S. official in five decades, U.S.-Burma relations are actually moving so rapidly that it is hard to keep up with the change — something I never thought I would find myself writing about Burma. But in anticipation of the visit, it’s important to critically examine how to proceed from here. The government of new president Thein Sein already has presided over more opening than any Burmese government in at least two decades, but the administration should be watching these key markers to see that reform is continuing to progress: Read more »

Hillary Clinton to Myanmar

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, November 18, 2011
U.S. President Barack Obama announces that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Myanmar, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Bali.

U.S. President Barack Obama announces that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Myanmar, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Bali (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

In what is surely the biggest news in U.S.-Myanmar relations in fifty years, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced that she will be traveling to Myanmar next month. On the same day, Aung San Suu Kyi announced she will be re-entering politics, setting the stage for her and her party, the National League for Democracy, to contest the next elections, which are believed to be coming in 2015. As the New York Times reported, “The twin events underscored the remarkable and sudden pace of change in Myanmar, which has stunned observers inside and outside the country.”

Clinton’s trip, though it caps off a year of serious reforms in Myanmar, is still something of a gamble. The new president, Thein Sein, does indeed seem to be a reformer, and possibly Myanmar’s de Klerk or Gorbachev. He has presided over an opening of the media environment, privatization of many companies,  a relaxation on political parties, a new dialogue with Suu Kyi, the freeing of significant numbers of Burma’s thousands of political prisoners,and a push to convince exiles who have fled the country to return. Still, many doubts remain about how much power Thein Sein himself wields, and whether the generals who formally retired after the elections last November will allow reform to continue.

In a piece last week for The New Republic, I outlined these challenges.

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What Can the East Asia Summit Do for Northeast Asia?

by Scott A. Snyder Friday, November 18, 2011
Leaders walk during dinner at the East Asia Summit gala dinner in Nusa Dua, Bali

Leaders walk during dinner at the East Asia Summit gala dinner in Nusa Dua, Bali November 18, 2011 (Beawiharta/Courtesy Reuters).

Although this weekend’s East Asia Summit (EAS) is the sixth in the series, it will be part of American awareness for the first time as a result of America’s decision to join the group (with Russia) and President Obama’s first-time participation. In some respects, it will be a new start for the organization. EAS priorities do appear to have been reshuffled as a result of American membership away from economics and toward three main issues that mesh well with American priorities: disaster relief, nonproliferation, and maritime security. While the United States has reportedly been careful not to usurp leadership within the EAS, ASEAN thus far seems very responsive to American priorities. However, Korea University’s Lee Shin-wha argues in this month’s Korea Update essay that there is a deep disconnect between East Asian summitry and Northeast Asian security needs that is likely to remain. The sixth EAS may feel like a new start, but there is a long way to go in establishing effective regional-based solutions to acute and longstanding security problems such as the standoff on the Korean peninsula. Read more »

Obama to Asia: It’s Our Party

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, November 17, 2011
World leaders arrive to take family photo at the APEC Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii on November 13, 2011.

World leaders arrive to take family photo at the APEC Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii on November 13, 2011. (Larry Downing / Courtesy of Reuters)

President Obama is having a good week. He held court in Hawaii at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, pushed through a reduction on tariffs for environmental goods, and gained steam on what has become his signature regional free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), with interest from Japan, Canada, and Mexico. On to Australia, President Obama and Prime Minister Gillard agreed to enhance joint military training and provide the United States with access to Australian bases. Score two for the president. His last stop will be Bali for the East Asian Summit. For a home run, the president need only let Washington’s allies take the lead in setting the agenda—thereby allaying quietly-voiced concerns among some of the smaller Asian nations that the United States would try to control the agenda—and reaffirm the willingness of the United States to support its partners’ interests.

For many observers, President Obama’s trip represents a “return to Asia.” The truth is that the United States never left Asia; it was just focused elsewhere in the region. Mostly, Washington was busy banging its head against the wall trying to find ways to work constructively with China (translation: get the Chinese to change their economic, political, and security policies) and to persuade North Korea to step back from the nuclear brink. Suffice it to say that neither effort yielded a significant return. The president and his team have now realized that it is much more substantively productive and politically profitable to spend time with people whose overall political values, economic practices, and strategic interests are generally aligned with those of the United States—namely all the important players in the region except for China.

Beijing’s reaction to President Obama’s initiatives in the region, unsurprisingly, has been one of deep unhappiness. Read more »

The KORUS-FTA Ratification Stalemate: Implications for Korea’s Election 2012

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Union workers from Korean Confederation of Trade Unions shout slogans during a demonstration in Seoul

Union workers from Korean Confederation of Trade Unions shout slogans during a demonstration in Seoul. Banners read: "Abolish the South Korea-U.S. FTA!" (red) and "Can't tolerate! Lee Myung-bak out!" (blue) November 13, 2011 (Jo Yong-hak/Courtesy Reuters).

South Korean president Lee Myung-bak showed admirable patience in the months he waited for the U.S. Congress to ratify the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and two other trade pacts on October 12. In the end, his visit to Washington was the action forcing event that broke the congressional stalemate. But the political ground in Seoul has shifted in recent months as represented by the outcome of October 26th Seoul mayoral bi-election, is posing new obstacles to Korean National Assembly ratification. In the first of a series of essays examining South Korean public opinion and implications for issues in U.S.-Korea relations, Kim Chi-wook analyzes the implications of this shift in South Korean public opinion from policies that emphasize growth to those that emphasize distribution.

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Chinese Hacking Chinese

by Adam Segal Monday, November 14, 2011
Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in Nanjing

Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in Nanjing. (Vmenkov/Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Whenever the United States raises computer attacks that appear to come from computers based in China, Chinese government officials are quick to point out that they are also victims: “The fact is that China itself faces a rapid rise of cyber-crimes and attacks.”

These claims are usually made to draw attention to hacks that come from outside China— “according to the 2010 report by the China National Computer Emergency Response Team (CNCERT), nearly half of Trojan server and Zombie server attacks on Chinese computer systems came from outside China”—but the Yangtse Evening Post has an interesting article on cyber espionage ordered by one Chinese firm on a potential supplier.  The story goes like this:

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The Scope of the Problem: How Much Does Cyber Espionage Cost the United States?

by Adam Segal Thursday, November 10, 2011
Abacus

Abacus. (Andreas Rodler/Courtesy Flickr)

There was an important point in last week’s report on foreign economic collection and industrial espionage that I did not have a chance to get to in my original post: there are no reliable estimates of how much cyber espionage actually costs the U.S. economy.  As the report notes, estimates from the academic literature on the losses “range so widely as to be meaningless”—from $2 billion to $400 billion or more a year.

There are many reasons why the data is so bad.  Companies don’t know they are being hacked so they don’t report it, or they do know it’s happening and they still don’t report it because they are afraid of getting sued or damaging their reputation.  Much of the data on cyber crime comes from surveys, with the victims self-reporting how much damage they thought was done.  Damage might mean the cost of developing the stolen information or loss of future revenues and profits.  And these same surveys are often conducted by security firms that benefit from hacking being seen as a widespread and serious problem.

Read more »