CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

U.S. Restores Diplomatic Relations With Myanmar

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, January 13, 2012
Ko Pyone Cho (C), one of the leaders of a 1988 student uprising, reunites with his family at Yangon International Airport in Yangon January 13, 2012. Ko Pyone Cho (C), one of the leaders of a 1988 student uprising, reunites with his family at Yangon International Airport in Yangon January 13, 2012. (James YeAungThu/Courtesy Reuters)

News today that the administration would restore full diplomatic relations with Myanmar, placing an ambassador in the country, should be seen as another sign of the rapid reentry of Myanmar into the international community. A major U.S. business delegation is also visiting Myanmar, which some see as an economic opportunity on par with Vietnam after it opened in the early 1990s. Japanese business delegations have also been visiting and eying many sectors in the country. The restoration of diplomatic ties comes after another large prisoner release by the Myanmar government, as well as – more shockingly – a cease-fire with the Karen National Union, one of the longest-lasting ethnic insurgencies in the country, whose battle dates back six decades. Read more »

The End of War in Myanmar?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, January 13, 2012
Representatives from Myanmar's government and the Karen National Union (KNU) shake hands during peace talks at Hotel Zwekabin in Pa-an, capital of the Karen State in eastern Myanmar January 12, 2012. Representatives from Myanmar's government and the Karen National Union (KNU) shake hands during peace talks at Hotel Zwekabin in Pa-an, capital of the Karen State in eastern Myanmar January 12, 2012. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

News yesterday that the Myanmar government has signed what appears to be a cease-fire with the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the largest ethnic insurgent groups in the country, may mean the end of one of the longest civil wars in the world. The Karen have been fighting the Myanmar central government since nearly the time the country gained independence from Britain six decades ago, and though their numbers have dwindled, every year conflict has dragged on in eastern Myanmar, sucking in tens and even hundreds of thousands of civilians. Massive human rights abuses became the norm — on both sides of the conflict– in eastern Myanmar. Read more »

Japan’s “New Politics”: Tactics in the “Divided Diet”

by Sheila A. Smith Thursday, January 12, 2012
Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (front R) and his cabinet members prepare to pose for a photo in Tokyo September 2, 2011. Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (front R) and his cabinet members prepare to pose for a photo in Tokyo September 2, 2011. (Toru Hanai/Courtesy Reuters)

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is about to reshuffle his Cabinet, and my friends here in DC are looking at me in amazement, asking “not again?!” Prime Minister Noda’s reshuffle brings some new faces into the leadership, and removes a few that were less than exemplary at their job.

The real story is less about these faces, and more about the frequency with which Japan’s top policymakers change. Parliaments operate differently than the U.S. presidential system, and so the reconstitution of Japan’s Cabinet is always more sudden than the four-year transitions of presidential administrations here in Washington. Read more »

China’s Wukan Protest: The Story’s Not Over

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, January 12, 2012
A wounded villager from Wukan is seen after a riot with the police the day earlier on September 23, 2011. A wounded villager from Wukan is seen after a riot with the police the day earlier on September 23, 2011. (Staff/Courtesy of Reuters)

It was easy to get swept up in the Wukan moment. A committed band of protestors stands up to corrupt officials and seizes control of the village. They demand that the officials return ill-gotten land, call for free and fair elections, and seek the body of one of their leaders they believe has been beaten to death while in official custody. After a several-day standoff, senior provincial officials swoop in and hand the villagers an unequivocal victory: Land, elections, and their leader’s body.

Only not quite. Read more »

A Chinese View on Why Cyber Deterrence Is So Hard

by Adam Segal Wednesday, January 11, 2012
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and China's Vice Premier Wang Qishan attend a joint news conference for the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 25, 2010. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and China's Vice Premier Wang Qishan attend a joint news conference for the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 25, 2010. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters)

There has been a great deal of thinking and writing about why deterrence is difficult in cyberspace. Attacks can be masked, or routed through another country’s networks. Even if you know for sure the attack came from a computer in country X, you cannot be sure the government was behind it. All of this creates the attribution problem: It is hard to deter if you cannot punish, and you cannot punish without knowing who is behind an attack. Moreover, much of the cyber activity is espionage and it is hard to imagine a government threatening military action for the theft of data. Read more »

Anwar Ibrahim Acquitted

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, January 9, 2012
Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (C) talks to his supporters while flanked by his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail after the verdict of his sodomy trial was announced in Kuala Lumpur January 9, 2012. Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (C) talks to his supporters while flanked by his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail after the verdict of his sodomy trial was announced in Kuala Lumpur January 9, 2012 (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters).

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was acquitted Monday morning in Kuala Lumpur on sodomy charges — the second time he has faced such charges in two decades. The decision was frankly a surprise to nearly everyone who follows Malaysia, and to most Malaysian opposition politicians; nearly all expected that Anwar would be sent to jail again, so as clear the way for the current government’s re-election campaign (Several Malaysian opinion leaders I spoke with just before the verdict were convinced it would go against Anwar). Shockingly, it took the judge only two minutes to deliver the verdict. Read more »

Asia Behind the Headlines

by Elizabeth C. Economy Saturday, January 7, 2012
A man rides a tricycle carrying a couch on a road amid heavy smog in central Beijing on October 31, 2011. A man rides a tricycle carrying a couch on a road amid heavy smog in central Beijing on October 31, 2011. (Jason Lee / Courtesy Reuters)

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

Using “strength to gain friendship” – The recently released U.S. defense strategy is pretty clear on U.S. policy toward China: “the growth of China’s military power must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions in order to avoid causing friction in the region.” China’s response? It’s only been two days since the strategy was released, so Beijing hasn’t officially responded yet. However, an editorial in the government-linked Global Times listened and responded transparently: Read more »

Thailand on the Edge – Again

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, January 6, 2012
Thailand's PM Yingluck Shinawatra pays respect in front of a portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok. Thailand's PM Yingluck Shinawatra pays respect in front of a portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok (Rungroj Yongrit/Courtesy Reuters).

Having just returned from Thailand, I found that the country, which nearly succeeded in destroying itself in 2010 and early 2011, seems determined to continue trying to do so in 2012. As anyone who follows Thailand (and its independent news sites like Prachatai) knows, despite the election of the Puea Thai party there have continued to be a staggering wave of arrests for lèse-majesté (LM) in recent months. What’s notable about these arrests, as the excellent Thai commentator Pavin Chachavalpongpun notes, is that the LM attacks have moved beyond a tool to blunt and ostracize political enemies and have become a weapon by royalitsts to attack average people who have little connection, if at all, to Thai political discourse. Read more »

The Republicans on China: Who Knows What’s Up and Who Doesn’t

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Republican presidential candidates stand at attentiond during the singing of the national anthem during the CNN GOP National Security debate on November 22, 2011.

Republican presidential candidates stand at attentiond during the singing of the national anthem during the CNN GOP National Security debate on November 22, 2011. (Jim Bourg / Courtesy of Reuters)

Truth be told, I don’t think that foreign policy—other than matters related to war—is likely to play a significant role in this year’s presidential election. Moreover, as decades of U.S. electoral politics have demonstrated, whatever candidates say about China is likely to bear little resemblance to what they actually do once they are in the Oval Office. Nonetheless, as a matter of character and competence, it is fascinating to look at what each of the Republican candidates has to say about China. Even though I have followed the Republican race fairly closely, I was surprised—both pleasantly and not—by what I found.

Talk the talk but don’t walk the walk: Rick Perry breathes fire on China: “Communist China is destined for the ash heap of history because they are not a country of virtues. When you have 35,000 forced abortions a day in that country, when you have the cyber security that the PLA has been involved with, those are great major issues both morally and security-wise that we’ve got to deal with now.” Well maybe, but exactly how Perry is dealing with them by courting Huawei to invest in Texas is unclear. The U.S. government has three times denied China’s telecom giant business opportunities in the United States because of security concerns related to spying and the People’s Liberation Army. Mr. Perry, however, has praised Huawei’s “really strong worldwide reputation.” The end result of candidate Perry’s China policy to date? Huawei has a corporate headquarters just outside Dallas. Read more »

Prime Minister Noda’s Year-end Strategic Tour

by Sheila A. Smith Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda inspects a guard of honour during his ceremonial reception at the presidential palace in New Delhi

Japan's prime minister Yoshihiko Noda inspects a guard of honour during his ceremonial reception at the presidential palace in New Delhi December 28, 2011 (B Mathur/Courtesy Reuters).

Unlike many of us, Japan’s prime minister did not sit back and rest at year’s end. Rather, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda took to the road to visit two of Asia’s ascending powers. He spent Christmas in Beijing, after a planned visit for earlier in December was unexpectedly postponed by China’s leaders. Yet it was his trip to New Delhi on December 27–28 that energized Tokyo’s diplomatic agenda.

Noda’s willingness to rearrange his schedule to accommodate China’s desire to change the summit dates reflects an awareness of the delicacy of the moment for Beijing. The original date of the summit coincided with the deeply painful anniversary of World War II atrocities, the day Japanese Imperial Army troops captured the city of Nanjing. Postponing a planned summit meeting may be unprecedented, yet it leaves us wondering why Beijing’s leaders did not appreciate the domestic impact of hosting Japan’s leader when they picked the date. That they saw fit to ask Tokyo to reschedule reveals perhaps a bit more confusion in Beijing than is usual. But it also reveals the efforts Japanese and Chinese governments together are making to get this important bilateral relationship back on a sound footing. Read more »