CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

The U.S. Pivot to Asia: Much More Than a Military Rebalance

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Tuesday, November 20, 2012
U.S. President Barack Obama smiles as he poses for a photo with (L-R) Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, China's Premier Wen Jiabao, and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the 21st ASEAN and East Asia summits in Phnom Penh on November 19, 2012. U.S. President Barack Obama smiles as he poses for a photo with (L-R) Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, China's Premier Wen Jiabao, and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the 21st ASEAN and East Asia summits in Phnom Penh on November 19, 2012. (Damir Sagolf/Courtesy Reuters)

Dr. Paula Briscoe is National Intelligence Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

President Obama’s trip to Southeast Asia this week brings into sharp relief the challenges facing the administration: how to retain influence in the region and honor commitments to allies without provoking China or furthering suspicions of encirclement.

In numerous remarks and public statements President Obama’s cabinet have been on message stressing the need for balance. On November 15, the day before the president departed on his five-day trip, the National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon, reiterated the importance that the United States places on getting this balance right: “The United States is a Pacific power whose interests are inextricably linked with Asia’s economic, security, and political order. America’s success in the twenty-first century is tied to the success of Asia.” Read more »

The Myanmar Mirage

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, November 19, 2012
An employee stands behind a MasterCard logo during the launch of the international credit card issuer's first ATM transaction in Myanmar, in Yangon November 15, 2012. An employee stands behind a MasterCard logo during the launch of the international credit card issuer's first ATM transaction in Myanmar, in Yangon November 15, 2012 (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters).

In advance of President Obama’s historic visit to Yangon this week, the U.S. government announced Friday the easing of yet another round of sanctions against Myanmar. The latest suspension will allow for goods made in Myanmar to enter the U.S. market for the first time in nearly a decade.  Since the Obama administration first began lifting economic restrictions against the one-time pariah in April, Western companies have been clamoring to enter Myanmar —an enormous (60 million) market that, because it was essentially closed to Western investment for decades, could be a sizable opportunity. Its abundance of natural resources and its geographically strategic location, between China and India, further add to its allure. Read more »

Obama and His Majesty the King

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, November 19, 2012
U.S. president Barack Obama speaks with Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej during an audience granted at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok. U.S. president Barack Obama speaks with Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej during an audience granted at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok (Royal Household Bureau/Courtesy Reuters).

President Obama kicked off his tour of Southeast Asia this week with a visit to Bangkok, Thailand where he and Secretary Clinton were granted a royal audience with the country’s ailing monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.  The Washington Post yesterday had an excellent account of the meeting, which took place at the Siriraj Hospital where the king has been hospitalized since 2009. The United States’ courtship of the monarch dates back to the 1950s, when the king and his close ally, then-military leader Sarit Thanarat, allowed U.S. troops to base out of Thailand during the Vietnam War. Washington came to view the monarch as invaluable to stemming the growth of communism, both in Thailand and region-wide. Read more »

U.S. Policy Toward Myanmar: Too Much, Too Soon?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, November 19, 2012
Crowds line a street outside the home of Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as U.S. president Barack Obama arrives to meet her in Yangon November 19, 2012. Crowds line a street outside the home of Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as U.S. president Barack Obama arrives to meet her in Yangon November 19, 2012 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

On Monday Yangon time, President Obama visited Myanmar’s former capital and became the first sitting American president ever to travel to the one-time pariah. His itinerary included meetings with both President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as an address before Burmese students, officials and former generals at the historic University of Yangon. “When I took office as President, I sent a message to those governments who ruled by fear.  I said, in my inauguration address, ‘We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,’” said Obama during his remarks. “And over the last year and a half, a dramatic transition has begun, as a dictatorship of five decades has loosened its grip.” Read more »

What Message Will Kim Jong-un Take from the Obama Visit to Myanmar?

by Scott A. Snyder Monday, November 19, 2012
U.S. President Obama waves to the press during his meeting with Myanmar's President Thein Sein in Yangon. (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Obama waves to the press during his meeting with Myanmar's President Thein Sein in Yangon. (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters)

President Obama’s visit to Myanmar only a year after the country has begun to embark on a dramatic but “tenuous” reform path has naturally fed speculation about lessons the leadership in Pyongyang might take from the visit. President Obama highlighted that question for North Korean leaders in his speech at the University of Yangon, issuing a direct challenge to North Korean leaders to “let go of your nuclear weapons and choose the path of peace and progress . . . you will find an extended hand from the United States of America.” Read more »

Noda’s November Surprise

by Sheila A. Smith Friday, November 16, 2012
Japan's prime minister Yoshihiko Noda arrives for a lower house plenary session at the parliament in Tokyo November 15, 2012 Japan's prime minister Yoshihiko Noda arrives for a lower house plenary session at the parliament in Tokyo November 15, 2012 (Yuriko Nakao/Courtesy Reuters).

Japan’s prime minister Yoshihiko Noda suddenly announced this Wednesday that he would dissolve the Lower House of parliament, and today marks the end of the Democratic Party of Japan’s (DPJ) majority in the Lower House. Opposition criticism of his leadership may have stung, but the long overdue passage of legislation to issue government bonds that should have been uncontested yet again raised questions about Japan’s parliamentary contortions. Noda’s final words repeated what he came into office arguing for—political reform of a government that seems unable to make decisions. Read more »

Obama Heads to Southeast Asia Amid Regional Tensions

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, November 15, 2012
President Barack Obama waves at the door of Air Force One; The U.S. president will travel to Southeast Asia November 16-21, 2012. President Barack Obama waves at the door of Air Force One; The U.S. president will travel to Southeast Asia November 16-21, 2012 (Romeo Ranoco/Courtesy Reuters).

As President Barack Obama sets off this weekend for a historic trip to Southeast Asia, he arrives at a high point for himself —and a low point for the region. Obama, making his first trip since winning re-election at the polls, will be the first sitting American president to visit Myanmar. The country has undoubtedly embarked upon historic reforms, yet is also embroiled in brutal ethnic violence. Thailand, another stop on Obama’s trip, is bracing for what could be a hugely disruptive leadership succession fight. In Cambodia, he will attend the East Asia Summit, as well as the Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), an organization in the throes of a crisis. Read more »

International Stabilization and Reconstruction and Global Korea

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder Thursday, November 15, 2012
South Korean soldiers board an airplane bound for Afghanistan at a military airport in Seoul. (Lee Jae-won/Courtesy Reuters) South Korean soldiers board an airplane bound for Afghanistan at a military airport in Seoul. (Lee Jae-won/Courtesy Reuters)

John Hemmings is a doctoral candidate in the international relations department at the London School of Economics and a non-resident Sasakawa Peace Foundation fellow at the Pacific Forum CSIS.

South Korea’s stabilization efforts in Afghanistan have not gained a lot of prominence in the Western media, but they are arguably one of the great successes of recent ROK overseas policy and deserve international recognition. The decision, made this September, to extend South Korean involvement in the Afghan theatre for one more year, demonstrates Seoul’s determination to continue its contribution to the stabilization efforts of International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) and NATO troops and to solidify its Global Korea posture. Read more »

China’s New Leaders: No Reform Dream Team

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, November 15, 2012
China's new Politburo Standing Committee members Zhang Gaoli, Liu Yunshan, Zhang Dejiang, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Yu Zhengsheng and Wang Qishan, line up as they meet with press at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 15, 2012. China's new Politburo Standing Committee members Zhang Gaoli, Liu Yunshan, Zhang Dejiang, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Yu Zhengsheng and Wang Qishan, line up as they meet with press at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 15, 2012. (Carlos Barria/Courtesy Reuters)

Let’s face it. China’s 18th Party Congress was a heartbreaker. In terms of personnel, it was a triumph of the Party’s conservative clique; and in terms of policy, it was a victory for more of the same. It didn’t have to be that way, but the Party elders elected to preserve their legacy at the expense of opening the door to real change. The candidates for the Politburo Standing Committee with the strongest reform credentials—Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang—were left high and dry, while those who anchor the “hold back change at all cost” wing of the Party—Zhang Dejiang and Liu Yunshan—took their place among the top seven. Read more »

The Future of ASEAN

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, November 14, 2012
U.S. secretary of state Clinton speaks with ASEAN secretary-general Pitsuwan during a meeting at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta. U.S. secretary of state Clinton speaks with ASEAN secretary-general Pitsuwan during a meeting at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta (Jim Watson/Courtesy Reuters).

Next week,  leaders from Asia and around the world will gather in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the twenty-first annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and related meetings. On the eve of this event, I have published a new CFR Working Paper, in partnership with the International Institutions and Global Governance program, on ASEAN’s future and its role in the region. While ASEAN has accomplished several notable acheivements in the economic and nonproliferation realms, I argue that ASEAN today lags woefully behind its full potential. In the paper, I analyze the major obstacles currently facing ASEAN, and I  prescribe recommmendations for the both the United States and ASEAN that will enable ASEAN to firmly establish itself as the essential regional organization in Asia. Read more »