CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Sixty-seven Years After WWII, Northeast Asian Nationalisms Flare Again

by Sheila A. Smith Wednesday, August 15, 2012
A Japan Coast Guard patrol ship sails around a Hong Kong fishing boat near the disputed islands in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Japan or Diaoyu in China A Japan Coast Guard patrol ship sails around a Hong Kong fishing boat near the disputed islands in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Japan or Diaoyu in China August 15, 2012 (Japan Coast Guard/Courtesy Reuters).

August 15 marks the anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia. Japan’s defeat was complete, and its losses unprecedented. Today, Japanese television coverage traced the final days of devastation, with those who lived through the war (now in their 80s) narrating accounts of the firebombing that ruined most of Tokyo and the atomic bombing that obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For Japanese it continues to be a day of national mourning for those lost, and an annual opportunity to remind the nation and its neighbors of Japan’s postwar commitment to peace. Read more »

South Korea’s Small Think With Japan

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, August 15, 2012
South Korean president Lee Myung-bak visits a set of remote islands called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese South Korean president Lee Myung-bak visits a set of remote islands called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese August 10, 2012. (The Blue House/Courtesy Reuters)

Lee Myung-bak broke new ground by making a presidential visit to Tokdo, but should the visit be considered as a big statement of Korea’s place in the world or is it a product of small thinking about how South Korea can get what it wants from Japan?

The trouble I had with Lee’s visit to the island, as significant as it may be for many South Koreans, is that with Lee as South Korea’s president I have grown used to Korean “big think” on national security issues and on its place in the world. Hosting the G20 and the Nuclear Security Summit. The idea of a Global Korea. Read more »

Thailand: Reconciliation Fails

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, August 13, 2012
A member of Nation Associate Anti-Corruption Network (NACN) holds a placard during a rally outside the U.S. embassy in Bangkok August 10, 2012. A member of Nation Associate Anti-Corruption Network (NACN) holds a placard during a rally outside the U.S. embassy in Bangkok August 10, 2012 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters).

After some time on vacation, I have returned to find that Thai politics, which almost couldn’t get worse, actually has. Last month, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, in my opinion the most astute observer of Thai politics, captured the fundamental tension in Thailand today in an op-ed:

Thailand’s problem is that those who keep winning elections are not allowed to rule, whereas others who ultimately call the shots cannot win elections. [Thanks to Bangkok Pundit for pointing me to Thitinan’s op-ed]

 That, in a nutshell, is Thailand’s dilemma, one shared by many middle-income developing nations where middle classes are becoming increasingly skeptical of the benefits of democratization, as I discuss in my forthcoming book The Decline of Democracy (Yale University Press). Read more »

Remembering Ambassador Kim Kyung-won

by Scott A. Snyder Sunday, August 12, 2012
Former South Korean ambassador to the United States Kim Kyung-won (courtesy International Policy Studies Institute) Former South Korean ambassador to the United States Kim Kyung-won (courtesy International Policy Studies Institute)

The news that former South Korean Ambassador to the United States Kim Kyung-won passed away last month provides an opportunity to reflect both on his contributions to the U.S.-ROK alliance and its remarkable transformation over a generation since South Korea’s democratization. Ambassador Kim was a graduate of Williams College (an alma mater he shared with his U.S. counterpart on many complex issues, Ambassador Donald Gregg), and Harvard, and taught at New York University and Korea University prior to joining the Blue House in 1975 under Park Chung-hee and serving as South Korea’s Ambassador to the UN and the United States from 1982 to 1988 under Chun Doo-hwan. Read more »

Getting Japan Right, Mr. Romney

by Sheila A. Smith Saturday, August 11, 2012
U.S. President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Noda shake hands after their joint news conference in the East Room of the White House U.S. president Barack Obama and Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda shake hands after their joint news conference in the East Room of the White House April 30, 2012 (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters).

Coming home after several weeks in Tokyo, I had planned to write about several issues that are consuming the attention of Japan’s political and policy elites. But instead I came back to a hubbub stirred up by presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s commentary on Japan.

At first, I found it hard to believe that Japan had come up at all in the U.S. presidential race. Not since the trade disputes of the 1980s did Tokyo factor in our domestic political contests, and even then it was in large part a function of our own economic concerns and the protectionist impulse that this created in some sectors of our society. China seems to be our demon of choice today in electoral politics, and politicians in the midterm elections fixated on that perceived threat. Read more »

China’s Olympic Debate

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, August 9, 2012
China's Feng Zhe, the eventual gold medal winner, reacts after competing in the men's gymnastics parallel bars final during the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 7, 2012. China's Feng Zhe, the eventual gold medal winner, reacts after competing in the men's gymnastics parallel bars final during the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 7, 2012. (Brian Snyder / Courtesy Reuters)

The Chinese stand second in the Olympic medals table—both in gold and overall—but you would never know it from what’s going on in their media. Of course, there is celebration of the country’s athletes. Yet the flawless performances of the Chinese divers and spectacular achievements of the Chinese male gymnasts are in danger of being drowned out by a torrent of commentary focused on what the games mean for China as a society and for its place in the world.  Some of the commentary is lamenting, some angry, and still other searching.

Read more »

Indonesia Exhumes the Past

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Indonesia's President Yudhoyono waits to give his keynote address during the opening of the 11th IISS Asia Security Summit: The Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore (Tim Chong/courtesy Reuters) Indonesia's President Yudhoyono waits to give his keynote address during the opening of the 11th IISS Asia Security Summit: The Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore (Tim Chong/courtesy Reuters)

Lost in the slow news of summer, the Olympics, and the conflict over the South China Sea, last week Indonesia released a report that was truly groundbreaking for Southeast Asia, in its willingness to examine serious past human rights abuses. In Thailand, the killings of 2010, in the streets of Bangkok, have not been properly examined, in a way that clearly assigns blame and ends controversy. In Myanmar, despite the promising political reforms, there has of yet been no real effort to analyze the vast abuses committed over the past fifty years by the military and the ethnic armies. In Cambodia, the Hun Sen government has for years stalled serious investigation of past crimes by the Khmer Rouge (KR). Cambodia under Hun Sen also has not included the KR period in most textbooks for Cambodian schools. Read more »