CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

From “Dead Aid” to Effective Development: Assessing the Busan High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness

by Scott A. Snyder Friday, December 16, 2011
Secretary-General BanSecretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Republic of Korea.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Republic of Korea 30 November 2011 (Eskinder Debebe/Courtesy United Nations).

South Korean president Lee Myung-bak has actively sought to raise South Korea’s profile and contributions to the international community by promoting the idea of a “Global Korea.” Under this framework, South Korea has proven itself a capable and congenial host for an array of international meetings, including the G20 in November of last year, the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness held last month, and the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit this coming March.

But South Korea has also found that hosting a meeting and shaping the international agenda are two different things. While last year’s G20 meeting was successful in initiating a reallocation of governance shares and contributions to international financial institutions, South Korea found itself in no position to broker compromises on “rebalancing” between the United States and China. Preparations for the Nuclear Security Summit have been equally challenging, given the Obama administration’s authorship and feelings of stewardship toward that process. Development specialist Sohn Hyuk-sang assesses South Korea’s impact and contributions to the international development agenda as the host of the fourth High Level Forum of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (Deputy Administrator of USAID Don Steinberg speaks to U.S. challenges in the aftermath of this forum here), finding that the inclusion of emerging new donors, while more representative, imposed costs to the depth of consensus among donors. His clear analysis of a rather murky outcome is a useful contribution to our understanding of what was accomplished in Busan. Read more »

A Review of Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, December 15, 2011
Villagers pan for gold from the Irrawaddy river near the town of Myitkyina in northern Myanmar. Myitkyina has been an important trading town between China and Myanmar since ancient times.

Villagers pan for gold from the Irrawaddy river near the town of Myitkyina in northern Myanmar. Myitkyina has been an important trading town between China and Myanmar since ancient times (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters).

In the midst of what appears to be Myanmar’s year of reform, Burmese author and historian Thant Myint-U, by far the best-known – and most controversial – Burmese scholar, has put out a timely book. Where China Meets India continues the argument he made in his last book, The River of Lost Footsteps, that decades of Western isolation of Myanmar have proven counterproductive, and that foreign countries should instead engage with the country.  He further argues that Burma’s growing strategic significance, as a bridge between the two Asian giants, and a source of oil, gas, and other natural resources, means that, even if the West does not engage, the country will become increasingly integrated internationally, and potentially prosperous.

In this week’s issue of The Nation, I have an extended review of Thant Myint-U’s book. You can read it here. Read more »

Occupy Wukan: China’s 99 Percent

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, December 15, 2011
Residents observe a moment of silence for a local leader who died in police custody, during a demonstration in Wukan village on December 13, 2011.

Residents observe a moment of silence for a local leader who died in police custody, during a demonstration in Wukan village on December 13, 2011. The banner reads: "Everyone has a responsibility in fighting corruption and graft." (Stringer / Courtesy of Reuters)

It all began with a protest over illegal land sales and rigged elections. According to the investigative Chinese journal Caixin, the local government in Wukan village in southern Guangdong province had earned over 700 million yuan (roughly US$110 million) from selling collectively-owned farmland but it disbursed only 550 yuan (roughly US$86) to each villager. Moreover, the highly unpopular village party secretary and director had rigged the local elections, managing to hold on to power for 40 years as a result.  The villagers had been unhappy about the situation for a number of years and have complained by petition since 2009. However, there was no resolution until they finally took to the streets in September.

The good news is that by late November after a few months of protest—some of it violent—the villagers succeeded in ousting the two village leaders. The Chinese media argued at the time that Guangdong, under Party Secretary Wang Yang (a candidate for the Standing Committee of the Politburo in the 2012-2013 leadership transition), was pursuing a new approach to social unrest, one that tried to “balance maintaining stability and basic rights while helping people to express their needs.”

The bad news is that the balance still isn’t quite right. Read more »

China’s Pakistan Conundrum

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Wednesday, December 14, 2011
A Pakistani policeman keeps watch near a Pakistan-China friendship billboard in Islamabad February 3, 2002. (Claro Cortes IV / Courtesy Reuters)

A Pakistani policeman keeps watch near a Pakistan-China friendship billboard in Islamabad February 3, 2002. (Claro Cortes IV / Courtesy Reuters)

 I’ve written a think piece for Foreign Affairs on two subjects:

(1) China’s calculus in Pakistan, or, as the editors asked me, “Could China’s calculus ever change and, if so, what would change it?” and

(2) China’s approach to risk management, which, I argue, increasingly includes an effort to balance three baskets of risk: geopolitical risk, political risk, and investment risk.

Read more »

Can You Hear Me Now? The U.S. Sends China a Message on Cyber Espionage

by Adam Segal Tuesday, December 13, 2011

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin gestures to a journalist during a news conference in Beijing. (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters)

First, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers calls China out for cyber espionage.  Then the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive called Chinese hackers the “world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage.”  Now, according to reports by the AP and the WSJ, U.S. intelligence officials have identified a dozen groups connected to the People’s Liberation Army as well as another six tied to universities that are responsible for the majority of the attacks.  U.S. officials have reportedly warned their Chinese counterparts that economic espionage will have serious diplomatic consequences.

This September I asked someone in the administration why the United States did not respond more vocally and visibly to Chinese attacks.  Obviously annoyed by the suggestion that Washington was making cyber issues less of a priority compared to the pursuit of other goals—say Beijing’s cooperation on the renminbi or Iran—he argued that it was difficult to present evidence of Chinese hacking without revealing American capabilities.  That no longer seems to be an issue; the National Security Agency reportedly used improved cyber forensics and human and signals intelligence to identify the hackers.

Read more »

U.S. Citizen Sent to Jail in Thailand for Insulting the King

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, December 12, 2011
Joe Gordon arrives at the Bangkok Criminal Court December 8, 2011. The U.S. citizen was given 2-1/2 years in prison on Thursday for insulting the Thai monarchy, the latest in a series of draconian sentences handed down for lese-majeste and one that could cause friction with the United States.

Joe Gordon arrives at the Bangkok Criminal Court December 8, 2011. The U.S. citizen was given 2-1/2 years in prison on Thursday for insulting the Thai monarchy, the latest in a series of draconian sentences handed down for lese-majeste and one that could cause friction with the United States (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters).

As detailed in a comprehensive New York Times article by Thomas Fulller, an American citizen was sentenced this week to two and a half years in jail in Thailand for translating portions of a book that is critical of the Thai monarch. The accused, Joe Gordon, is a Thai-American but a U.S. passport holder.

This sentencing comes on top of a wave of other tough, and frankly absurd, crackdowns by the Thai government on alleged anti-monarchical sentiment online. Just a few weeks ago, a Thai court sentenced an elderly man, suffering from cancer, to twenty years in prison for allegedly sending several text messages critical of the crown. The court was unable to prove that the man, who hardly seemed like a technological savant, had actually sent the messages in question, but neither could he prove that he had not sent them – so, by default in the mixed-up lèse-majesté trial system, he got a long jail sentence.

Now, one of the most strident opposition politicians, MP Mallika Boonmetrakul, has gone much farther. Read more »

The Growing Brouhaha Over Beijing’s Air Quality

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Buildings in Beijing are pictured on a recent day with heavy haze and smog.

Buildings in Beijing are pictured on a recent day with heavy haze and smog. (Jason Lee / Courtesy of Reuters)

Smog recently forced the cancellation of almost 700 flights at Beijing airport, igniting a mini-media firestorm. Since flights at Beijing’s airport have been canceled on any number of occasions over the past two decades because of pollution, why all the attention now?

Several reasons: Read more »

Myanmar’s Curious Opening

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, December 7, 2011
U.S. President Obama looks back at Myanmar's President Thein Sein as they participate in a group photo of leaders at the East Asia Summit in Nusa Dua.

U.S. President Obama looks back at Myanmar's President Thein Sein as they participate in a group photo of leaders at the East Asia Summit in Nusa Dua (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

Over the past year, Myanmar’s political opening has surprised even the most sophisticated observers and analysts of the country. Few expected the November 2010 election, which was hardly free or fair, to lead to real political reform, which now increasingly seems to be occurring. And so, in its seemingly unexpected transition, Myanmar is calling into question many accepted ideas about democratization.

In a new piece in the Boston Globe’s Sunday Ideas section, I examine the reasons for Myanmar’s surprising year of change, and look at how it has upended much conventional wisdom on policy toward the country.

You can read the whole piece here.

Read more »

When Will Secretary Clinton Visit Pyongyang?

by Scott A. Snyder Monday, December 5, 2011
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates brief reporters at the Truce Village in Panmunjom, South Korea, on July 21, 2010 (Courtesy State Department).

U.S. secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton and former U.S. secretary of defense Robert M. Gates brief reporters at the Truce Village in Panmunjom, South Korea, on July 21, 2010 (Courtesy State Department).

Secretary Hillary Clinton’s historic visit to Myanmar, the first by a U.S. secretary of state in over fifty years, has stimulated speculation among journalists (including at the end of her interview with the BBC in Rangoon) regarding the circumstances under which she might visit North Korea. The conditions in Myanmar also suggest some likely benchmarks for what it would take for the secretary of state to visit Pyongyang: an embrace of nascent economic and political reforms (including the possible release of some political prisoners); a return to the denuclearization commitments embodied in the September 2005 Six Party Joint Statement; and a South Korean political leader with the credibility to champion U.S. engagement so as to protect the administration from conservative congressional criticism. Read more »

Adding Insult to Injury in Okinawa

by Sheila A. Smith Saturday, December 3, 2011
Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa, left, apologizes to Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima December 2, 2011 (Tadashi Mizowaki/Courtesy to the Asahi Shimbun)

Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa, left, apologizes to Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima December 2, 2011 (Tadashi Mizowaki/Courtesy to the Asahi Shimbun).

It is difficult to write about the events of this week in Japan. There are moments that are simply inexplicable, and this is such a moment. Offensive statements by Japanese government officials have exacerbated the tense relations between the national government and the Okinawa governor.

For more than fifteen years now, the effort to reduce the footprint of U.S. forces in Okinawa, and to build a better understanding between local communities and U.S. forces there has been at the top of the U.S.-Japan alliance agenda.

The U.S. and Japanese governments have agreed on a plan to relocate Futenma Marine Air Station, and a new runway is to be built in the northern region of Okinawa for the use of Marine helicopters. The local city mayor has rejected the plan, however, and the governor has suggested that more main island Japanese communities share in the hosting of the U.S. military in Japan.

But officials in Tokyo are now embroiled in yet another controversy that has inflamed local sentiment, making it even less likely that the governor will be able—or willing—to work with the Ministry of Defense. If badly handled, this latest controversy could significantly weaken the Noda Cabinet.

So what happened? Read more »