CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

The Top Ten Events that Shook Asia in 2011

by Elizabeth C. Economy and Adam Segal Thursday, December 29, 2011
 The body of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il lies in state at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang.

The body of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il lies in state at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang. (KCNA/Courtesy Reuters)

If there were one word to describe Asia in 2011, it would likely be tremors—not only the physical ones that devastated Japan, but also the political ones that reverberated throughout the region shaking India, China, and Thailand, waking up Burma, and further unsettling North Korea.

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Ideas about China’s Cyber Command

by Adam Segal Tuesday, December 27, 2011
National Security Agency Headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland.

Fort Meade, Maryland, which is home to U.S. Cyber Command. (Courtesy National Security Agency)

Chinese analysts and officials like to point out that it was the United States that first set up Cyber Command and thus, in their view, militarized cyberspace. Yet Chinese military thinkers are clearly thinking about what type of organizations and institutions they will need to conduct offensive cyber operations and to defend their own networks against attacks. An interesting piece in China Defense Daily lays out some of the characteristics necessary for “a highly effective command system for cyber war mobilization.”

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Kim Jong-un Survivability Scorecard: What to Look For

by Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, December 27, 2011
North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un and military officer Jang Song-taek paying their respects (Courtesy: Reuters)

North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un and military officer Jang Song-taek paying their respects。 (Courtesy Reuters)

Now that the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) has officially announced the start of the Kim Jong-un era, the major questions on the minds of North Korean observers revolve around the durability and sustainability of the North Korean leadership under Kim Jong-un. Another way of making judgements regarding this process is to assess whether the succession process is going according to plan. The 1994 succession experience offers the North Koreans a template for how to successfully manage succession and offers a scorecard for assessing the durability of the Kim Jong-un regime. In the first few days, the North Korean leadership has made no obvious mistakes, nor has there been any evidence that the succession process is veering off track. The North Korean media has reinforced Kim Jong-un’s role, with international diplomats implicity acknowledging his position and KCNA bestowing on Kim Jong-un the titles of Great Successor and Supreme Commander. I believe that each of these elements is designed to reinforce perceptions of the inevitability of Kim Jong-un as the next leader, with the funeral being a major event designed to affirm Kim Jong-un’s new role at the same time that he pays respects to his father. This will also be the first opportunity to make judgments regarding his leadership style independent of his father. Read more »

Asia Behind the Headlines

by Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, December 23, 2011
An employee hoses a China Railway High-speed Harmony bullet train at the high-speed train maintenance base in Wuhan, Hubei province on October 19, 2011.

An employee hoses a China Railway High-speed Harmony bullet train at the high-speed train maintenance base in Wuhan, Hubei province on October 19, 2011. (Stringer Shanghai / Courtesy Reuters)

Jared Mondschein looks at the key stories in Asia behind the headlines.

Clamping down in cyberspace: With more than 485 million Internet users and 300 million microbloggers, the Internet in China allows “netizens” to voice their opinions on everything from Wukan to Beijing’s air quality to North Korea. Beijing, however, has never been quite comfortable with such an open marketplace of ideas. Now, in an attempt to “purge online rumors and enhance social credibility,” Guangzhou and Shenzhen have joined Beijing in requiring new users of China’s microblogs to register with their real names. China’s netizens unsurprisingly have not taken well to the clampdown, as one microblogger wrote: “There will only ever be a single voice speaking now.”

Who’s the fairest of them all? There’s no doubt that the center of economic gravity in Asia is China, while the United States holds the security card for the region. But whom do regular citizens across the region prefer? According to a Gallup poll of citizens in Cambodia, Australia, South Korea, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines, for the most part there is a higher approval for U.S. leadership: The median approval rate for U.S. leadership stands at 44 percent while China’s is at 30 percent. Respondents ranked U.S. leadership more highly than Chinese in eight out of the nine countries polled. Read more »

Deja-vu in North Korea? Succession 1994 vs. 2011

by Scott A. Snyder Friday, December 23, 2011
Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un salute during a military parade (courtesy Reuters/KCNA)

Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un salute during a military parade (courtesy Reuters/KCNA)

As events unfold surrounding the succession from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un, it is clear that North Korea is using the 1994 succession from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il as its template for managing the current transition. However, as one observes these two parallel processes, it becomes clear that while North Korea may have this template, differing conditions in 2011 compared to those that existed in 1994 may prove fatal to successful implementation of this succession. Among the key differences in the two processes are the following: Read more »

Impressions of Japan, 2011

by Sheila A. Smith Thursday, December 22, 2011
A Japan Self-Defense Forces officer smiles as he holds a four-month-old baby girl who was rescued along with her family members from their home in Ishimaki City, Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, after an earthquake and tsunami struck the area on March 14, 2011.

A Japan Self-Defense Forces officer smiles as he holds a four-month-old baby girl who was rescued along with her family members from their home in Ishimaki City, Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, after an earthquake and tsunami struck the area. (Yomiuri Yomiuri / Courtesy of Reuters)

2011, of course, will be forever remembered as the year of Japan’s “triple disasters.” Only time will tell what this devastating experience will mean for the Japanese people and their society. For so many Americans, March 11 and its aftermath reminded us of why we so admire the accomplishments of Japan, and the civility and humanity of so many Japanese. From Kandahar to Canberra, from Seoul and Beijing, Japan’s friends around the globe responded—in part because of the tremendous scope of the tragedy, but also out of a sense of gratitude for Japan’s own effort to assist and befriend those beyond their own shores.

The impact of the disasters is too broad to discuss here. But as a long time Japan watcher, several aspects of the disaster and its aftermath stood out. The first, and most widely recognized, is the depth of gratitude expressed by the Japanese people for their military, the Self Defense Forces (SDF). As Japan’s “first responder,” the SDF performed search and rescue operations, opened and sustained supply routes, and filled in the manpower for the local governments that lost staff as well as infrastructure and communications. In June, when I visited Ishinomaki, the SDF were just beginning to hand back governance tasks to an inundated municipal staff.

Second, the disasters brought back into focus Japan’s Imperial family as the symbol of national unity. The Emperor spoke out in the early days as the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi unfolded to remind Japanese to remain calm and to have hope. He and the Empress also traveled back and forth to the devastated regions of Tohoku, visiting evacuation shelters and reassuring those who lost not only their homes but their family members as well. Read more »

North Korea and Kim Jong-il: The Myanmar Element

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, December 20, 2011
North Korea's Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun (4th R) visits the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar July 29, 2010.

North Korea's Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun (4th R) visits the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar July 29, 2010 (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters).

Over the past five years, as North Korea’s few friends and allies in the world dwindled, and the international community cracked down on its proliferation activities, Myanmar has apparently become much more important to Pyongyang strategically. From virtually no relationship at all ten years ago, now the two pariah nations have regular high-level military-military dialogues, including some of the senior-most members of the former Myanmar military regime. As The Irrawaddy reported several years ago:

In November 2008, a Burmese military delegation led by Gen Shwe Mann flew secretly to North Korea and met the army-in-chief, Gen Kim Kyok-sik. They agreed terms of cooperation on several military initiatives, including radar and jamming units, air defense systems, and a computer-controlled command center. The delegation also visited North Korean SCUD missile factories which are located in the tunnels. The two countries signed an agreement that North Korea will help in the construction of military facilities for missiles, aircraft and war ships.

That’s far from all. Read more »

Kim Jong-il in Death as in Life: Sowing Divisions in South Korea

by Scott A. Snyder Monday, December 19, 2011
A tearful announcer dressed in black announces the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on North Korean State Television in this still image from video December 19, 2011

A tearful announcer dressed in black announces the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on North Korean State Television in this still image from video December 19, 2011 (KRT/Courtesy Reuters).

A North Korean announcer delivered the news in a quavering voice that Kim Jong-il had died, triggering official reactions across the region. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman stated that “we are shocked to learn that the top leader of the DPRK, comrade Kim Jong-il, passed away and we hereby express our deep condolences on his passing.” Japan’s government spokesman also stated that “we express our condolences upon receiving the announcement of the sudden passing of Kim Jong-il, the chairman of the national defence committee of North Korea.”

South Korea placed its defence forces on high alert in response to the news and convened an emergency meeting of its National Security Council to discuss countermeasures following the North Korean announcement, but there was no decision on whether to express official government condolences on the death of Kim Jong-il. Read more »

Kim Jong-il’s Death Has Inspired Uncertainty and Anxiety: North Korea’s Succession and the Region

by Scott A. Snyder Monday, December 19, 2011
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (L) walks in front of his youngest son Kim Jong-un (R) as they watch a parade to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang October 10, 2010

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (L) walks in front of his youngest son Kim Jong-un (R) as they watch a parade to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang October 10, 2010 (Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters).

Despite clearly laid plans for succession, Kim Jong-il’s sudden death has induced uncertainty and anxiety among North Korea’s neighbors. Whereas his father had two decades to consolidate power over the country, Kim Jong-un has only had two years. With a fragmented and stovepiped system that only allows for the leader to exercise control, a vacuum at the top could lead to bureaucratic infighting. Despite a common fear of instability, North Korea’s neighbors are warily watching both Pyongyang and each other. I write about this in my CNN article. Read more »

Japan Responds to Kim Jong-il’s Death

by Sheila A. Smith Monday, December 19, 2011
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (R) is accompanied by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to a conference room for their landmark summit in Pyongyang in this September 17, 2002 file photo

Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi (R) is accompanied by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to a conference room for their landmark summit in Pyongyang in this September 17, 2002 file photo (Japan Pool/Courtesy Reuters).

The sudden announcement of Kim Jong-il’s death yesterday came just as Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his colleagues in the Democratic Party of Japan were to speak at an afternoon rally. The prime minister instead convened an emergency national security council meeting, and later in a statement to the press suggested a mix of concern and caution. Noda warned the Japanese people that instability on the Korean peninsula could be a factor in the days ahead.

In the early hours, this raised both economic and security concerns as the ripples of response around the region began to be felt. The initial market responses in Asia were erratic, with both South Korea’s Kospi and Japan’s Nikkei responding to the news. As the U.S. and South Korean militaries moved into defense readiness, Japan’s military, the Self Defense Forces, were also put on alert.

Tokyo will be working closely with Washington, and working to be part of a regional response to the death of Kim Jong-Il. Japan’s foreign minister Koichiro Genba is now in Washington, and will be meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Noda has already spoken to South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, who was just in Tokyo over the weekend. This trilateral coordination between Tokyo, Seoul, and Washington has a strong precedent when it comes to coping with North Korea. China too has agreed to share information on what is emerging. Read more »