CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

China’s Political Silly Season Arrives

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, August 30, 2012
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden address a meeting with governors and Chinese provincial officials in Los Angeles on February 18, 2012. Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden address a meeting with governors and Chinese provincial officials in Los Angeles on February 18, 2012. (David McNew / Courtesy Reuters)

Election season in the United States is often called the “silly season” as a result of all the name-calling and heightened nationalistic rhetoric that it tends to produce.  China policy, while never a central focus of the campaign season, nonetheless is always raised, and this year is no exception. Both the Obama and the Romney campaigns have condemned Beijing for its weak adherence to global trade norms and its negative impact on the American economy, with Romney supporters threatening serious action if their guy is elected. Read more »

Myanmar Cabinet Reshuffle: Thein Sein for Real

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Myanmar's President Thein Sein (C) visits Laem Chabang port, in Chonburi province, east of Bangkok July 22, 2012. Myanmar's President Thein Sein (C) visits Laem Chabang port, in Chonburi province, east of Bangkok July 22, 2012. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters)

News this week that Myanmar president Thein Sein had reshuffled his cabinet, removing several key ministers, seems to suggest that Thein Sein is for real, that he is indeed committed to the long-term economic and political reforms the country desperately needs. All of the appointments to the posts in the president’s office are reformers and at the same time he seems to have demoted hard-liners in this reshuffle. Thein Sein’s moves, and his commitment, do not mean that Myanmar might not regress; just because he is committed to reform, the military still remains a critical player, and as we have seen in other countries in the region, such as Thailand, if democratization coincides with weak growth or the alienation of critical interest groups (i.e., the Thai upper class), these interest groups can wind up turning against the democratic process altogether. Read more »

North Korea’s “New Look” Nuclear Program

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, August 29, 2012
North Korean leader Kim and Wang, the head of the International Liaison Department of China's Communist Party, toast in Pyongyang (KCNA/courtesy Reuters) North Korean leader Kim and Wang, the head of the International Liaison Department of China's Communist Party, toast in Pyongyang (KCNA/courtesy Reuters)

North Korea’s “new look” leadership, including speculation about both leadership and potential economic reforms, have drawn the lion’s share of media attention in recent weeks. As a result, the fact that North Korea’s nuclear program continues unchecked has dropped from the headlines following North Korea’s failed rocket launch and the failure of the Obama administration’s “leap day” understanding with North Korea. An article this month by Frank V. Pabian and Siegfried Hecker in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and an Institute of Science and International Security (ISIS) report by David Albright and Christina Walrond are firm reminders that North Korea’s nuclear program and uranium enrichment efforts continue regardless of whether or not they are in the headlines. Read more »

China’s Food Safety Crisis: How Serious Is the Problem?

by Yanzhong Huang Monday, August 27, 2012
An employee works at the production line of an edible oil company in Sanhe, Hebei April 12, 2011. An employee works at the production line of an edible oil company in Sanhe, Hebei April 12, 2011 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

Last month in the 2012 FIVB World Grand Prix Finals, China’s women’s volleyball team fell to countries that did not even qualify for the 2008 Olympics, where China won Bronze. The coach blamed his team’s abysmal performance on their veggie diet, saying that the athletes had not had any meat for three weeks.  The players were certainly not vegetarians: they abstained from meat lest contamination of chemicals such as clenbuterol interfere with their urine tests. The excuse was not as lousy as it initially sounded: early this year, China’s State General Administration of Sports issued a document forbidding its athletes from consuming meat outside of official training facilities. Read more »

Royalty in Austere Times

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, August 24, 2012
Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej is pictured before taking a boat trip from Siriraj Hospital pier in Bangkok July 7, 2012. Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej is pictured before taking a boat trip from Siriraj Hospital pier in Bangkok July 7, 2012 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters).

In today’s Washington Post, there is an excellent overview of how the austerity programs in many countries in Europe have led to pressure on monarchies to cut costs and reduce their lifestyles. Most notably, the criticism has extended to even the Spanish monarchy, which for years in Spain was all but exempted from public and press criticism because of the role that King Juan Carlos played in the late 1970s and early 1980s in helping to promote democratization and to prevent a coup from succeeding. The very socialists who, in other countries, might have been used to criticizing the monarchy usually avoided any critiques of Juan Carlos, as the socialists had benefited enormously from the democratization period, dominating the Spanish government for years. Read more »

Positive Signs in Indonesia’s Fight Against Graft

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Indonesian President Yudhoyono accompanied by first lady Yudhoyono wave their hands at the end of a ceremony marking Indonesia's 67th Independence Day in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, August 17, 2012. Indonesian President Yudhoyono accompanied by first lady Yudhoyono wave their hands at the end of a ceremony marking Indonesia's 67th Independence Day in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, August 17, 2012 (Enny Nuraheni/Courtesy Reuters).

Over at Asia Sentinel, a report analyzes how Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission appears to be going after high-ranking Democratic Party official and allies suspected of bribery, including several very close to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The Commission, known as the KPK in Indonesia, has also taken on the National Police, which is often considered by many Indonesians as now more corrupt than the army. The police have been empowered over the past decade by successive governments as the army has had its powers (rightly) curtailed. The devolution of powers to provincial and subprovincial areas also has reduced the power of the army, except in areas where there is still serious conflict, like in Papua. Read more »

China as a Responsible Power: “Known by the Company You Keep”

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (L) meets China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Damascus on April 26, 2009. Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (L) meets China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Damascus on April 26, 2009. (Sana Sana / Courtesy Reuters)

Will Piekos is a Research Associate for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

On August 3, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a non-binding resolution condemning the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad for its human rights violations against opposition rebels. The West, the Arab League, and most other UN member states voted to censure Assad’s government, while China, Russia, and an array of authoritarian states—including North Korea, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Iran, Myanmar, and Cuba—voted against the resolution. Though China’s vote is not unexpected, it does little to enhance Beijing’s efforts to be considered a responsible power.       Read more »

Gu Kailai Trial: Drama Ended?

by Yanzhong Huang Monday, August 20, 2012
Gu Kailai, wife of ousted Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Bo Xilai, attends a trial in the court room at Hefei Intermediate People's Court in this still image taken from video Gu Kailai, wife of ousted Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Bo Xilai, attends a trial in the court room at Hefei Intermediate People's Court in this still image taken from video on August 20, 2012. (Courtesy Reuters)

The murder trial of Bo Xilai’s wife Gu Kailai ended with a local Chinese court delivering a suspended death sentence for her killing of a British citizen Neil Heywood. While Gu only received a two-year reprieve for the execution, anybody with some knowledge of the operation of the Chinese officialdom knows that this is tantamount to life in prison. Provided “good behavior” during her imprisonment, Gu could be released after serving fewer than a dozen years. Gu was apparently satisfied with the verdict. It is ironic, of course, that she demonstrated no respect for the law by taking another person’s life, but is now praising the court for showing “immense respect for the law, reality and life.” Read more »

Legendary Female Cyber Cop: What Do New ‘Model Workers’ Tell Us About Chinese Cyber Policy?

by Adam Segal Monday, August 20, 2012
Sina Weibo Homepage of Gao Yuan, "The Legendary Female Cyber Cop." (Courtesy Sina Weibo) Sina Weibo Homepage of Gao Yuan, "The Legendary Female Cyber Cop." (Courtesy Sina Weibo)

There is a long tradition of the Chinese Communist Party acknowledging and honoring “model workers,” selfless citizens who contribute to the building of modern China. While in the early years after the revolution these individuals were usually peasants or ordinary workers like Zhang Binggui who worked at a candy counter and could “count out prices and change in his head,” the category has expanded to encompass almost all professions including the astronaut Yang Liwei and NBA-great Yao Ming.

Read more »

Cooler Heads on the South China Sea?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, August 15, 2012
China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (L) is greeted by Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for a meeting at the presidential office in Jakarta August 10, 2012. China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (L) is greeted by Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for a meeting at the presidential office in Jakarta August 10, 2012 (Enny Nuraheni/Courtesy Reuters).

During his trip to Southeast Asia this week, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi vowed to work with ASEAN to reach consensus on a code of conduct for the South China Sea, according to reports by the Asia News Network. Yang visited Indonesia, which has been trying to rally ASEAN unity on the South China Sea, as well as Malaysia and Brunei, two of the nations that have claims to the South China Sea —but ones that have been far more reticent to cross China than Vietnam or the Philippines have been. Read more »