CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

The Return of Banned Thai Politicians

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, May 31, 2012
The return of many Puea Thai politicians will likely strengthen the government of Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (pictured). (Lukas Coch/Courtesy Reuters) The return of many Puea Thai politicians will likely strengthen the government of Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (pictured). (Lukas Coch/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past year, since Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected in July 2011, the balance of power has shifted precariously, back and forth, between the Thaksin/Red Shirt/ Puea Thai forces and the establishment pro-royalist forces, allied with the army. As Asia Times has written in several comprehensive pieces, the army, which cast serious dishonor upon itself with the killings in the streets of Bangkok in the spring of 2010, restored some of its positive image through effective relief work during the floods of 2010, at a time when the Yingluck government seemed to be flailing in handling the crisis. Read more »

China’s Real Soft Power: Chen Guangcheng

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, May 31, 2012
Chen Guangcheng speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations headquarters in New York City on May 31, 2012 (Don Pollard / Council on Foreign Relations). Chen Guangcheng speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations headquarters in New York City on May 31, 2012 (Don Pollard / Council on Foreign Relations).

Politicians and pundits in Washington have it all wrong. Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is not going to be a political football in U.S. election-year politics or a poster boy for one side of a domestic debate or another. Rather, Chen has the potential to emerge as the most potent weapon in China’s otherwise fairly dismal arsenal of soft power. Read more »

Can the U.S. Work with India in Cyberspace?

by Adam Segal Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Workers are seen at their workstations on the floor of an outsourcing centre in Bangalore, February 29, 2012. (Vivek Prakash / Courtesy Reuters) Workers are seen at their workstations on the floor of an outsourcing centre in Bangalore, February 29, 2012. (Vivek Prakash / Courtesy Reuters)

Eric Heginbotham and George Gilboy have a new book, Chinese and Indian Strategic Behavior, looking at the rise of China and India. One of their main points is a warning directed at U.S. policymakers who think that India is going to be a counterweight to China. Delhi has many of its own interests and in many instances—Iran, trade, and proliferation—those interests are closer to Beijing’s than Washington’s. China and India “both pursue a common agenda at the U.N. and other security bodies: a strict interpretation of state sovereignty and a protection of the principle of non-interference in the affairs of other states.” Read more »

A New Twist on Chinese Foreign Policy: Beijing Mixing Business with Politics?

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, May 24, 2012
Filipinos chant anti-China slogans as they march towards the Chinese consulate in Manila's Makati financial district on May 11, 2012. Filipinos chant anti-China slogans as they march towards the Chinese consulate in Manila's Makati financial district on May 11, 2012 (Erik de Castro / Courtesy Reuters).

One of the cardinal rules of Chinese diplomacy is that China doesn’t mix business with politics. The precept fits in nicely with the primacy that China places on sovereignty, respecting the right of a country—or at least the leaders of the moment—to determine how things ought to work. And, of course, it also provides Beijing with the opportunity to rationalize its lack of enthusiasm for tough foreign policy action in places such as Iran, Syria, Sudan, or Zimbabwe as a matter of principle. Read more »

The Demolition of Democracy in Thailand

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Red shirt protesters hold a picture of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra at a gathering to mark the second anniversary of a government crackdown on red shirt protestors in Bangkok May 19, 2012. Red shirt protesters hold a picture of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra at a gathering to mark the second anniversary of a government crackdown on red shirt protestors in Bangkok May 19, 2012 (Sukree Sukplang/Courtesy Reuters).

With the ousting of the military regime in 1992, Thailand emerged as a regional beacon of democracy. The international monitoring organization Freedom House even ranked Thailand a “free” country in its 1999 report—one of only a few Asian countries to receive this designation. Over the past six years, however, democracy has retreated rapidly in Thailand. Today, the imminent return of Thaksin, the current government’s oppressive wielding of the draconian lèse-majesté law, and the deteriorating health of the beloved King, all suggest that this fragile “democracy” may be on the precipice of yet another crisis. Read more »

Review: ‘The Dictator’s Learning Curve’ by William Dobson

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, May 21, 2012
In his new book, Dobson argues the Chinese Communist Party is one of several New Age autocratic regimes that justify oppressive rule with economic success. Pictured: Chinese President Hu Jintao. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters) In his new book, Dobson argues the Chinese Communist Party is one of several New Age autocratic regimes that justify oppressive rule with economic success. Pictured: Chinese President Hu Jintao. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters)

The ongoing uprisings in the Arab world, as well as transformations in Myanmar and several other closed countries, have led to predictions that we are in the beginnings of a global Fourth Wave of democratization, following the three previous waves over the past century. I disagree —and I think the data supports my argument that in reality democracy in many developing nations remains in serious crisis. In the new issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, I review William Dobson’s book The Dictator’s Learning Curve, which deals with many of these questions of whether a Fourth Wave is upon us. Read more »

Myanmar: The “Resource Curse’s” Next Victim?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, May 16, 2012
A Burmese man unloads tomatoes from a small boat along the Irrawaddy river banks. Some analysts worry about the consequences of a gluttony of foreign investment in Myanmar. A Burmese man unloads tomatoes from a small boat along the Irrawaddy river banks. Some analysts worry about the consequences of a gluttony of foreign investment in Myanmar. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

The dramatic political reforms underway in Myanmar have lead to readmission of the one-time pariah into the international community, and the suspension of sanctions by Western governments such as the European Union and Canada. The result is an inundation of foreign investment, which brings with it both opportunity and cause for concern.

There is a wealth of new material being published on Myanmar’s once opaque economy. Here are some of the best pieces: Read more »

South Korea’s National Assembly Elections and the Presidential Electoral Landscape

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Election officials count the ballots of the parliament elections in Seoul. (Courtesy Reuters/Lee Jae-Won) Election officials count the ballots of the parliament elections in Seoul. (Courtesy Reuters/Lee Jae-Won)

South Korea’s National Assembly elections were supposed to shape the landscape for December’s presidential contest; instead, the parliamentary outcome seems to have muddied the waters.  The unanticipated victory of the ruling Saenuri Party has put Park Geun-hye back in the driver’s seat as the front runner candidate in the latest opinion polls, but the presidential election is still seven months away, an eternity in South Korean politics. Read more »

Information Penetration and North Korean Regime Survival

by Scott A. Snyder Monday, May 14, 2012
Balloons containing leaflets and CDs denouncing Pyongyang  are seen after anti-North Korean activists with former North Korean defectors released them toward North Korea. (Courtesy Reuters/Lee Jae-Won) Balloons containing leaflets and CDs denouncing Pyongyang are seen after anti-North Korean activists with former North Korean defectors released them toward North Korea. (Courtesy Reuters/Lee Jae-Won)

The conventional wisdom is that there could be nothing more dangerous to North Korea’s current leadership than the penetration of information into North Korea from the outside world.  A new empirical study released last week by Nat Ketchum and Jane Kim entitled “A Quiet Opening:  North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment”draws on surveys and interviews from North Korean refugees to show that information penetration is changing North Korea, but the result has been an evolutionary change of circumstances in North Korea rather than uprising or revolution. Read more »

Another Coup Looming in Thailand?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, May 10, 2012
An activist holds a cut-out mask of Amphon Tangnoppaku outside Bangkok Remand Prison. An activist holds a cut-out mask of Amphon Tangnoppaku outside Bangkok Remand Prison. (Sukree Sukplang/Courtesy Reuters)

Recent international media attention related to Thailand has been (quite reasonably) focused on the tragic story of Ampon Tangnoppakul, also known as “Ar Kong,” an elderly grandfather who had been sentenced to twenty years in prison for allegedly sending four text messages defaming the monarchy. This despite the fact that he had no previous political experience, and the state could not even prove he had actually sent the messages, but instead simply applied the standard that he could not disprove he sent them — obviously not a reasonable standard of proof in a democracy. Sick with cancer and other ailments, and separated from his entire family, Ampon died in jail earlier this week. Read more »