CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Japan’s Iran Sanctions Dilemma

by Sheila A. Smith Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Defense Minister Prince Salman receives a commemorative gift from Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba following official talks in Riyadh on Sunday. (SPA) Saudi Arabia's defense minister prince Salman bin Abdulaziz receives a commemorative gift from Japanese foreign minister Koichiro Genba following official talks in Riyadh January 8, 2012 (Courtesy SPA).

Cutting off Iranian oil imports has put Tokyo in a difficult position. The United States and its European allies have already agreed to up the ante on sanctions against Iran, but the domestic costs that Japan has to bear in order to cooperate are higher.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government has indicated its desire to cooperate, and last December the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced new restrictions on the operations of 106 entities as well as one individual with potential links to proliferation-sensitive activities in Iran. But the real effort now is to reduce Japan’s oil imports from Tehran, and to negotiate an exemption from more stringent restrictions on Japanese banks included in the new U.S. sanctions law. Read more »

China’s Game-Changing Water Policies

by Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, January 30, 2012
A farmer digs a trench to allow water to irrigate his field planted with winter wheat crop near the village of Lidong, located around 217 miles south of Beijing. A farmer digs a trench to allow water to irrigate his field planted with winter wheat crop near the village of Lidong, located around 217 miles south of Beijing. (David Gary / Courtesy of Reuters)

Water is an issue that preoccupies Chinese officials throughout the country, but nowhere perhaps as much as in Beijing. The already water-scarce capital has been suffering a continuous and precipitous decline in water availability over the past decades, as both population size and income levels have grown dramatically. Caixin magazine has a terrific new piece that details not only the current crisis but also the historical challenges Beijing has faced. The piece also explores what the capital should be doing but isn’t. Experts, for example, have been pushing pricing reform, water conservation, and recycling. Some of this is being done, but not enough. Instead, Beijing’s plans center on desalination, exploiting karst resources, and the South-North Water Diversion, each of which, as the article discusses, brings with it additional economic and potentially serious environmental costs. Read more »

U.S.-Philippines Relations Benefit From China’s Poor Public Image

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, January 26, 2012
The Virginia-class attack submarine USS Texas moors alongside the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land in Subic Bay, Philippines. The Virginia-class attack submarine USS Texas moors alongside the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land in Subic Bay, Philippines (David R. Krigbaum/Courtesy Reuters).

Today’s Washington Post has a useful article outlining the plans for a much greater U.S. military presence in the Philippines. The article discusses all of the potential options being put on the table between U.S. and Philippines officials: “Operating Navy ships from the Philippines, deploying troops on a rotational basis and staging more frequent joint exercises.” Read more »

China, Hong Kong and Taiwan: Running Dogs, Democracy, and More

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Kong Qingdong, a direct descendant of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, stands in front of a painting depicting celebrities and world leaders, including a dancing Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, at the Confucius Peace Prize ceremony in Beijing on December 9, 2011. Kong Qingdong, a direct descendant of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, stands in front of a painting depicting celebrities and world leaders, including a dancing Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, at the Confucius Peace Prize ceremony in Beijing on December 9, 2011. (David Gray / Courtesy of Reuters)

Kong Qingdong has gone viral. The Peking University professor of literature and descendant of Confucius has become an overnight celebrity with his televised rant against Hong Kong. In a televised interview, Kong rails against non-Mandarin speaking Hong Kongers, denounces their rule of law system, and calls them “running dogs,” a Maoist-era epithet that typified the class warfare of the 1950s and 60s. What induced this attack was a momentary interchange on a Hong Kong subway between a Hong Kong resident and a mainland woman, in which the Hong Konger told the woman that her child should not be eating on the subway. Read more »

Forbes Looks Into the King of Thailand’s Wealth

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej leaves from Siriraj Hospital to the Grand Palace in Bangkok December 5, 2011. Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej leaves from Siriraj Hospital to the Grand Palace in Bangkok December 5, 2011. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

A fascinating recent piece in Forbes discusses the new and palace-promoted biography of Rama IX, King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work. Although much of the biography apparently borders on hagiography (I have not received it from Amazon yet), there is considerable detail in it on the vast holdings of the Crown Property Bureau (CPB), which normally are kept very quiet. The CPB, which as Forbes notes manages the palace’s investments, holds enormous amounts of land across Thailand, as well as stakes in many of Thailand’s biggest companies including Siam Cement and Siam Commercial Bank. Read more »

Washington Post Interview with Thein Sein

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, January 20, 2012
Myanmar's president Thein Sein arrives at the Bali Nusa Dua Convention Center before the opening ceremony of the ASEAN Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali on November 17, 2011. Myanmar's president Thein Sein arrives at the Bali Nusa Dua Convention Center before the opening ceremony of the ASEAN Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali on November 17, 2011. (Pool New/Courtesy Reuters)

Today’s Washington Post has an extended interview with Burmese president Thein Sein, who met Post senior associate editor Lally Weymouth. The interview is fascinating simply because of its novelty: Burmese leaders in the past shunned reporters like they had the plague. When I worked for a newswire in Bangkok in 2000, we tried to get even lower-ranking Burmese officials to talk to us about very noncontroversial subjects, such as upcoming Asean meetings. We never got anywhere. Read more »

Kim Jong-nam and the Question of North Korea’s Leadership Stability

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Kim Jong-nam looks around upon his deportation from Japan. (Eriko Sugita/Courtesy Reuters) Kim Jong-nam looks around upon his deportation from Japan. (Eriko Sugita/Courtesy Reuters)

North Korea’s leadership succession from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un has gone according to script. The Korean Worker’s Party and the Korean People’s Army are supporting Kim Jong-un as North Korea’s new leader and North Korea’s propaganda machine hasn’t missed a beat in announcing new titles, manufacturing accomplishments, and portraying Kim Jong-un as a Great Successor worthy of the name. But despite these efforts, there are two notable missing pieces: Read more »

Myanmar – the Next Asian Tiger Cub Economy?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Cashiers are seen behind piles of kyat banknotes as they count it in a private bank in Yangon. Cashiers are seen behind piles of kyat banknotes as they count it in a private bank in Yangon (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters).

With the upgrading of American diplomatic relations with Myanmar, and a wave of political reform in the country over the past year, many businesses have begun eying the Southeast Asian nation, which has a population of over 50 million people and has been essentially isolated from Western companies by U.S., Japanese, and EU sanctions. A delegation of Japanese business leaders recently visited the country, as did an American delegation. Business magnate and philanthropist George Soros also visited recently (of course, the U.S. would have to drop sanctions for investment to happen, but that is looking more likely). Read more »

Is It Time for the U.S.-Japan-South Korea Virtual Alliance to Get Real?

by Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, January 17, 2012
South Korean nuclear envoy Lim Sung-nam and Japanese counterpart Shinsuke Sugiyama. (Courtesy Yonhap News) South Korean nuclear envoy Lim Sung-nam and Japanese counterpart Shinsuke Sugiyama. (Courtesy Yonhap News)

Today’s meeting among U.S., Japanese, and South Korean envoys to discuss policy coordination toward North Korea is a welcome step forward that builds on a foreign ministers’ meeting held in Washington on December 6, 2010, in response to the North Korean artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island.   That meeting resulted in an ambitious joint statement illustrating the depth of like-mindedness among the three countries.  The idea of strengthening the trilateral relationship has great potential but it has also been frustratingly slow to materialize in practice. Read more »

Who Are the Generals Surrounding Kim Jong-un?

by Scott A. Snyder Friday, January 13, 2012
New leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un speaks while surrounded by soldiers in this undated still image taken from video at an unknown location in North Korea released by North Korean state TV KRT on January 8, 2012. New leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un speaks while surrounded by soldiers in this undated still image taken from video at an unknown location in North Korea released by North Korean state TV KRT on January 8, 2012. (KRT/Courtesy Reuters)

North Korea has done its best in the weeks since Kim Jong Il’s death to project an atmosphere of calmness, continuity, and stability in the transition from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un. Despite significant differences between 1994 and 2011, including the weakening of ideology, the lack of a long apprenticeship for Kim Jong-un, and an increasingly penetrated North Korean society, the North Korean leadership has been following the script provided by the succession of 1994 through its handling of the funeral arrangements and initial efforts to elevate Kim Jong-un as a leader. Read more »