CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Time to Move Bangkok?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra gestures to residents during her visit to a flooded area at Don Muang district in Bangkok.

Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra gestures to residents during her visit to a flooded area at Don Muang district in Bangkok (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters).

The flooding in Bangkok shows little sign of getting better, and its impact on Thailand’s economy and the global supply chain of many computer and automotive components has yet to be fully tallied. Japanese companies in particular have made enormous investments in Thailand and have been particularly hard hit by the flooding, but all computer disk drive makers and many car manufacturers have been affected. People are stranded throughout Bangkok, the government’s messages are still confusing and hard to understand, and the divisions in Thai political society have prevented the type of unity in the political system that should be necessary at such a time of crisis. In addition, diseases carried by the fetid water are beginning to be a problem in Bangkok and the outlying suburbs. Many foreign investors will now rethink their decisions to place so much of their supply chain in Thailand.

But even more worrying, these floods, which are the worst in Thailand in fifty years, could be a harbinger of the future.

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The United States in the New Asia … Revisited

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Wednesday, November 9, 2011

For the next several days, President Obama is hosting leaders from around the Asia-Pacific region in Hawaii for the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. So this seemed like a good time to repost a Council on Foreign Relations special report on Asian regionalism that I co-wrote with my colleague, Bob Manning, in the run up to the 2009 meeting.

Our report, The United States in the New Asia, is two years old. But in my view, it’s still deeply relevant.

You can download the report here.

Some good things have happened since we wrote our paper in 2009. For one, the United States has joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, and that is a decidedly good thing. There isn’t likely to be a successful Doha Round nor is another global trade round likely anytime soon. So TPP can fill in some of the gaps between global trade liberalization and bilateral and regional agreements. The United States has also—finally—completed the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS).

And yet the larger questions Bob and I raised about the United States and Asian regionalism remain important and mostly unanswered.

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ROK Green Growth Quarterly Update: July–September 2011

by Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Global Green Growth Institute chairman Han Seung-soo of South Korea delivers a keynote speech during the Global Green Growth Summit 2011 in Seoul June 20, 2011.

Global Green Growth Institute chairman Han Seung-soo of South Korea delivers a keynote speech during the Global Green Growth Summit 2011 in Seoul June 20, 2011 (Courtesy Global Green Growth Institute).

South Korean president Lee Myung-bak has made great strides internationally in propagating an international vision for green growth, especially through the work of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI). The Council on Foreign Relations has published a new report on South Korea’s green growth policies by Jill Kosch O’Donnell which describes South Korea’s newly emerging green growth partnerships with Denmark, the UAE, and the World Bank, as well as more mixed progress in implementing green growth strategies domestically. The report can be found here.

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Don’t Bet on the BRICs

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, November 7, 2011
(L-R) India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev, China's President Hu Jintao, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and South African President Jacob Zuma attend a joint news conference at the BRICS Leaders Meeting in Sanya, Hainan province April 14, 2011.

(L-R) India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev, China's President Hu Jintao, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and South African President Jacob Zuma attend a joint news conference at the BRICS Leaders Meeting in Sanya, Hainan province April 14, 2011 (How Hwee Young/Courtesy Reuters).

In the midst of the Eurozone crisis and the G20 summit, many commentators are hailing this moment as a key sign of America’s decline and the rise of emerging powers – principally China but also India, Brazil and others. In the new issue of Bloomberg Businessweek I argue that this optimism over the BRICS’ ability to aid the world economy is, for now, wildly overrated.

You can read the article in its entirety here.

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South Korea’s Mayoral Election: Setback for KORUS-FTA?

by Scott A. Snyder Friday, November 4, 2011
Lawmakers from opposition parties and civic group members chant slogans during a rally opposing the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade agreement (FTA) talks at the National Assembly in Seoul October 12, 2011.

Lawmakers from opposition parties and civic group members chant slogans during a rally opposing the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade agreement (FTA) talks at the National Assembly in Seoul October 12, 2011. The front banner reads: "Oppose the handling without debate over the U.S.-South Korea FTA talks!" (Jo Yong-Hak/Courtesy Reuters).

South Korean president Lee Myung-bak’s visits to Washington, we have learned through hard experience, may not always have the same positive effects in South Korea that they have had in the United States. Lee’s first visit to Washington in the spring of 2008 resulted in a strong endorsement of the alliance, but it also resulted in a backlash over opening of the Korean beef market that resulted in weeks of public protests and gridlock in Seoul.

President Lee’s state visit to Washington two weeks ago catalyzed Congressional ratification of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS-FTA), but it has coincided with a Seoul mayoral bi-election won by independent opposition candidate Park Won-soon over ruling party candidate Na Kyung-won in a campaign that has marked the unofficial opening of a year-long presidential election campaign. This has complicated calculations regarding how and whether South Korea’s National Assembly will be able to ratify the KORUS-FTA as the last step required for the agreement to go into effect.

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Asia’s Landlocked Spaces

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Kyrgyz customs officer talks on a radio in front of workers as they reload cargo from a Chinese truck to Kyrgyz one at the Irkeshtam border crossing in southern Kyrgyzstan. Courtesy Reuters/Vladimir Pirogov.

Chris Rickleton, a Bishkek-based journalist, has a fascinating piece up on EurasiaNet about prospective Chinese rail construction in Kyrgyzstan. The piece cuts directly to tough political choices—namely, the push and pull between Russian and Chinese interests in Central Asia and, more important, how politicians in landlocked countries, like Kyrgyzstan, must try to balance among the larger countries on whom their economies depend for transit.

I’ve written a lot on efforts to reconnect trade and transit routes across continental Asia. You can read some of what I’ve argued herehereherehere, and here.

But Rickleton’s piece got me thinking about two questions:

(1) Since the obstacles to continental trade and transit are so high, is the game really worth the candle?

This is especially relevant because Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is vigorously promoting a “New Silk Road” concept, drawing heavily on a decade of prior efforts and experiences.

(2) With so much focus on the interests of the outside powers—Russia, China, Iran, and the United States, among others—what about the interests of the landlocked countries themselves?

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China Games the G20, but to What End?

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, November 3, 2011
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomes China's President Hu Jintao at the G20 venue where world leaders gather in Cannes on November 2, 2011.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomes China's President Hu Jintao at the G20 venue where world leaders gather in Cannes on November 2, 2011. (Yves Herman / Courtesy of Reuters)

One of the big stories playing out at the G20 in Cannes is “will it or won’t it?” Namely, will China meet the European request to help bailout the euro to the tune of $140 billion or will it take a pass? While China holds out on its answer—either for maximal political advantage or because it really isn’t sure what it wants to do—the drama is mounting.

Analysts and the media are consumed with the prospect of what China will ask for in return—if it decides to help.  Will China be able to parlay its economic support into some political concessions? Some observers have suggested that European leaders will back down on visits with the Dalai Lama—always a sticking point with the Chinese—or not pressing the Chinese on human rights. An editorial in China’s nationalist Global Times argues that, in return for China’s cash, the EU should further open their markets to China and finally admit that it is a market economy. Maybe it will be as straightforward as the G20 not issuing a joint leader statement singling out China as needing more flexibility in its currency to help ease global trade and investment balances, as a draft statement indicated. While the latter might be a feasible trade-off, a simple look at the realities of democratic politics in Europe provides the answer to the issue of a broader quid pro quo. Read more »

Chinese Economic Espionage

by Adam Segal Thursday, November 3, 2011

(Courtesy Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive)

The Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive released a report on foreign economic and industrial espionage today.  The top two suspects are no surprise: Russia and China, with Chinese hackers taking the prize as the “world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage.”  Chinese intelligence services as well as private companies are said to conduct spying operations and the list of sectors they are interested in is long: information technology; oil and other natural resources; clean energy; health care systems and pharmaceuticals; as well as military information, in particular maritime systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, and space and aviation.

The New York Times story notes that U.S. government officials “took pains” to alert journalists that the report explicitly named China and Russia.  Officials are usually more circumspect, offering something more like, “well it is always hard to say where a cyberattack originated from, but if we’re talking on background: yes, most attacks come from China and Russia.”

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The Ramifications of Thailand’s Flooding

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, November 1, 2011
A boy walks through the water at a flooded market in Chinatown, central Bangkok.

A boy walks through the water at a flooded market in Chinatown, central Bangkok (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters).

By now, with the major flooding in the Bangkok area well into its second week, even resilient Thais are reaching their breaking point. Angry, frustrated Bangkok residents have been scuffling with police in attempts to force the government to open sluice gates and release some water from their neighborhoods (Reuters has a good summary of the problem here). Across the capital, many Thais who have not fled are finding it impossible to even reach local government officials, while the official flood emergency center actually had to move out of its offices because of flooding — showing how unprepared it was and perhaps, poorly informed by its own meteorologists. The government has also appeared to be unprepared for the extent of the economic damage to industrial estates outside the city, which produce computer disk drives and other important electronics components.

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