CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Thailand’s Tentative Peace Is Collapsing

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Red shirt supporters wave flags as thousands of people gather outside the Grand Palace to celebrate the birthday of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok. Red shirt supporters wave flags as thousands of people gather outside the Grand Palace to celebrate the birthday of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

In a brief but informative piece in the Wall Street Journal recently, veteran correspondent James Hookaway notes that “a delicate détente between Thailand’s powerful armed forces and a populist government led by [Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra] … is looking increasingly fragile.”

Saying that the truce is “increasingly fragile” is like saying Homer Simpson enjoys donuts or Barney Frank is a difficult interview: Thailand could easily blow up again, soon. Read more »

Can China Change Its Growth Model?

by Evan A. Feigenbaum Monday, February 27, 2012
The Oriental Pearl Tower is pictured through a glass wall as people walking past and the skyline behind are reflected on the wall in the financial district of Pudong. (Aly Song / Courtesy Reuters) The Oriental Pearl Tower is pictured through a glass wall as people walking past and the skyline behind are reflected on the wall in the financial district of Pudong. (Aly Song / Courtesy Reuters)
How many countries with nearly two decades of double-digit growth under their belt would look in the mirror and say, “Hey, it’s just not working anymore?”

I daresay, not many.

But that is precisely what some Chinese leaders appear to be doing.

Read more »

Chinese Politics—Intrigue and Ideas

by Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, February 27, 2012
A paramilitary policeman stands guard at the Xinhua Gate of the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Central Beijing on December 27, 2010. A paramilitary policeman stands guard at the Xinhua Gate of the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Central Beijing on December 27, 2010. (Petar Kujundzic / Courtesy of Reuters)

Chinese politics is fun again. The Palace—or Zhongnanhai in this case—hasn’t been rife with this much intrigue since Mao Zedong’s time. The apparent attempted defection and subsequent flight to Beijing of Chongqing deputy mayor Wang Lijun has China historians reminiscing about one-time Mao successor Lin Biao. The analogy isn’t really that precise of course. Lin reportedly died in 1971 in a mysterious plane crash over Mongolia after purportedly leading a failed coup attempt against Mao. At most the mystery surrounding Wang has to do with whether he will be the downfall of his boss Bo Xilai, the powerful Chongqing Party Secretary and Politburo Standing Committee wannabe. But like the Lin Biao drama, the Wang saga is unfolding in a dark and secretive manner that has all the makings of a le Carré novel. Read more »

Indonesia’s Surprising Resilience

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, February 24, 2012
A superblock developed by Agung Podomoro, one of Indonesia’s biggest property developers, is seen in Jakarta January, 2012. Indonesia’s economy grew by 6.5 percent in 2011. A superblock developed by Agung Podomoro, one of Indonesia’s biggest property developers, is seen in Jakarta January, 2012. Indonesia’s economy grew by 6.5 percent in 2011. (Supri/Courtesy Reuters)

Last week, The Economist had a fine overview of the surprising resilience of the Indonesian economy, which it nicknamed the “Komodo economy” – tough and resilient, and surprisingly quick. Indeed, Indonesia grew by 6.5 percent in 2011, one of the highest growth rates of any emerging economy, and its fastest growth rate, The Economist noted, since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which devastated the country. Growth projections for 2012 are similarly rosy, despite labor unrest in several parts of the country, including in Papua; a weak international economic climate that shows little signs of improving; slow progress on cutting trade barriers within ASEAN; and Indonesia’s continuing massive problems with graft and misallocation of capital, some of which is a result of the decentralization program embarked upon over the past decade. Read more »

Beware the Patriotic Geek: The Risk of Cyber Militias in Asia

by Adam Segal Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Participants at a China Collegiate Programming Contest in 2010. (Courtesy HKU) Participants at a China Collegiate Programming Contest in 2010. (Courtesy HKU)

When people warn of growing cyber insecurity they are often referring to the threat of an arms race, countries trying to outdo each other in the development of offensive weapons and defensive technologies. This is certainly a real risk, but the greater threat to Asian regional stability may not be from technology, but the spread of an organizational framework.

Keio professor Motohiro Tsuchiya has written a commentary (h/t David Wolf) suggesting that Japan needs to establish a cyber militia in order to defend itself from attacks. Read more »

New U.S. Talks With North Korea: What to Expect

by Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, February 21, 2012
North Korea's first vice foreign minister and envoy to the Six Party Talks Kim Kye-gwan arrives at Beijing airport (Courtesy Reuters/Jason Lee) North Korea's first vice foreign minister and envoy to the Six Party Talks Kim Kye-gwan arrives at Beijing airport (Courtesy Reuters/Jason Lee)

The United States opens its first round of talks with North Korea under its new leader Kim Jong-un later this week in Beijing, following sessions in July in New York and October in Geneva. It is hard to find analysts these days who think that North Korea’s denuclearization is possible, yet the objective of these talks is to bring North Korea back to the denuclearization path that it had accepted as a signatory to the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement of Six Party Talks. In the ensuing six years, however, North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests, which have been now been lauded as the primary accomplishments of the late Kim Jong-il, whose 70th birthday was commemorated last week in Pyongyang with the unveiling of a new Kim Jong-il statue and a military parade. Read more »

Myanmar’s Reforms Don’t Necessarily Mean Big Business

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Workers in Myanmar mend a truck used to carry goods to and from China in the northeastern town of Lashio January 19, 2012. Workers in Myanmar mend a truck used to carry goods to and from China in the northeastern town of Lashio January 19, 2012. (Courtesy Reuters)

As I have blogged about before, the fact that Myanmar has embarked on a process of political reform that has created the most open political environment in decades does not necessarily mean the country is destined to be the next major emerging market. It has as large population, a strategic location, and considerable natural resources, but in many ways it actually resembles some of the poorest countries in Africa more than neighbors like Thailand or Vietnam. In a new Financial Times op-ed, I explore the challenges of Myanmar’s business environment.

Read the whole piece here: “Beware talk of business-friendly Myanmar.” Read more »

Myanmar’s Drug Problem

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, February 16, 2012
Desmond Ball and Joshua Kurlantzick believe that Myanmar military units are closely involved in the shipping of drugs into neighboring Thailand and Laos. Desmond Ball and Joshua Kurlantzick believe that Myanmar military units are closely involved in the shipping of drugs into neighboring Thailand and Laos. (Sukree Sukplang/Courtesy Reuters)

In an extensive article in the Bangkok Post, Australian National University professor Desmond Ball, a longtime expert on Myanmar, highlights the issue that, above all, may be the trickiest to solve if the country’s reform process is to go forward. While the central government has been working on transforming cease-fires into permanent peace deals with the many ethnic insurgent armies throughout the country, Myanmar’s drug production has actually been increasing since many cease-fires were originally inked, according to Ball. Read more »

After Kim Jong-il: America and the Two Koreas

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, February 15, 2012
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his son pose with military officers. (KCNA/Courtesy Reuters) North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his son pose with military officers. (KCNA/Courtesy Reuters)

The February edition of the monthly radio program America Abroad looks in-depth at the Korean peninsula following the death of Kim Jong-il, including a report from South Korea on a generational gap in attitudes toward Korean reunification between older and younger South Koreans, interviews with North Korean defectors regarding Kim Jong-un, a review of the 1994 U.S.-DPRK nuclear negotiations, and a discussion among America Abroad Anchor Ray Suarez, Georgetown’s Victor Cha, and myself on the impact of Kim Jong-il’s death on U.S.-DPRK relations. The podcast for the show is available here.

Guest Post: Taiwan and the TPP: Don’t Count Your Chickens

by Elizabeth Leader Wednesday, February 15, 2012
AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt greets Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou at the Presidential Office in Taipei. AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt greets Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou at the Presidential Office in Taipei. (Central News Agency/Courtesy Reuters)

Following the recent reelection of Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou, media outlets worldwide have speculated about the president’s economic posture in his second term: Will he continue to advance relations with the mainland, or shift his gaze outward toward Taiwan’s neighbors in the Pacific? Hence, it is no surprise that the announcement of President Ma’s intent to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) has been cast by the media as a hot button issue. Read more »