CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Why China Hands Think What They Think

by Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, January 28, 2013
My First Trip to China. Kin-Ming Liu. http://www.musemag.hk/musestore/product.php?id=60 http://www.musemag.hk/musestore/product.php?id=60

These days, China books are a dime a dozen and so, too, are China analysts. Journalists, scholars, businesspeople, general foreign policy analysts, and random people living in Beijing all have something to say. To stand out, you have to bring something unique to the table—a new finding, a new framing, or, unfortunately, too often, just a willingness to say something controversial.

A new book, My First Trip to China, edited by Hong Kong-based journalist Kin-ming Liu, manages to be exceptional in a few respects. Read more »

Thailand’s Lèse Majesté Law Descends Further

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, January 25, 2013
Activists hold signs as they gather in front of the Thai Criminal court during a protest in Bangkok January 25, 2013. Activists hold signs as they gather in front of the Thai Criminal court during a protest in Bangkok January 25, 2013 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters).

Yesterday the prominent Thai editor and activist Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was sentenced to ten years in jail for publishing articles allegedly offensive to the Thai monarchy, under the draconian lèse majesté laws Thailand has in force. Bangkok-based blogger Saksith Saiyasombut has a fine overview of the scene in the courtroom as the judges read out their verdict, to the protests of several hundred observers, including other rights activists. Read more »

Presidential Inbox: Integrating Global Health Into the Pivot Strategy

by Yanzhong Huang Friday, January 25, 2013
U.S. President Obama is followed by his staff as he leaves the Plenary session of the 21st ASEAN and East Asia summit in Phnom Penh (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. President Obama is followed by his staff as he leaves the Plenary session of the 21st ASEAN and East Asia summit in Phnom Penh (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters).

Mr. President, as you begin your second term, you and your Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping both face the challenge of building a mature and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship.  There is no need to belabor the strategic importance of the Sino-American relations for the United States.  Indeed, one may argue that it is precisely the strategic dynamics driven by China’s rise that led to your critical decision to pivot to Asia. Read more »

Presidential Inbox: A Strategy to Counter North Korea’s Nuclear Defiance

by Scott A. Snyder Friday, January 25, 2013
U.S. President Obama speaks during a joint news conference with South Korea's President Lee at the Blue House in Seoul. (Yuriko Nakao/courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Obama speaks during a joint news conference with South Korea's President Lee at the Blue House in Seoul. (Yuriko Nakao/courtesy Reuters)

Mr. President, your first administration played “small ball” with North Korea. The policy of “strategic patience” succeeded in weathering North Korean provocations and limited exposure to the political risks that would have accompanied a high profile effort to address North Korea’s nuclear development.  However, the crime and punishment approach to North Korea’s 2009 satellite launch and nuclear test through UN Security Council sanctions, statements, and resolutions has failed to stop North Korea’s growing nuclear and long-range delivery capabilities. Read more »

Presidential Inbox: U.S. Policy in Northeast Asia

by Sheila A. Smith Friday, January 25, 2013
U.S. President Barack Obama attends the East Asia Summit plenary session in Phnom Penh alongside then Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao U.S. President Barack Obama attends the East Asia Summit plenary session in Phnom Penh alongside then Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao November 20, 2012 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

President Obama,

As you consider America’s foreign policy challenges, I would urge you to pay particular attention to Northeast Asia. I believe U.S. policy will be tested in this part of Asia, and that our maritime commitments in particular will require clear and committed action. There are leadership transitions there too that deserve some of your personal engagement in building trust.

Let me suggest three areas where I think significant policy attention is warranted. Read more »

Presidential Inbox: Top Priorities for U.S. Policy Toward China and Asia

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, January 24, 2013
U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with China's Vice President Xi Jinping in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on February 14, 2012. U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with China's Vice President Xi Jinping in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on February 14, 2012. (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters)

President Obama,

You and your foreign policy team have steered the United States on a constructive course in Asia over the past few years. There is thus no need for a policy overhaul. However, the dynamics of the region—from exploding trade and investment to rapidly rising security tensions and emerging flashpoints—leave no room for complacency. Read more »

Presidential Inbox: The Constant Irrititant of Cybersecurity in Asia

by Adam Segal Wednesday, January 23, 2013
U.S. President Barack Obama recites his oath of office as first lady Michelle Obama looks on during swearing-in ceremonies on the West front of the U.S Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2013. U.S. President Barack Obama recites his oath of office as first lady Michelle Obama looks on during swearing-in ceremonies on the West front of the U.S Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2013. (Jim Bourg/Courtesy Reuters)

Mr. President, as you look toward Asia in your second term, cybersecurity will be a grain of sand in the eye, a major irritant but not one that blocks the larger vision of what you hope to accomplish in the region. That grain, namely Chinese cyber espionage, is not going away any time soon, but there are things you can do to make it slightly less annoying. Moreover, many of the policies to mitigate the situation will overlap with other efforts to re-energize the U.S. presence and boost ties to allies and friends in the region. Read more »

Presidential Inbox: Balancing the Pivot with Supporting Human Rights

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, January 22, 2013
President Barack Obama is sworn in for a second term as President of the United States in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, DC January 20, 2013. President Barack Obama is sworn in for a second term as President of the United States in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, DC January 20, 2013 (Brendan Smialowski/Courtesy Reuters).

Mr. President, as you start your second term, you have made clear that you will continue the “pivot” to Asia, which includes moving military assets to the Asian theater, bolstering relations with Asian partners, and generally re-establishing the United States as the major Pacific presence. Your new secretary of state, John Kerry, is a longtime advocate of closer ties with mainland Southeast Asia. Within the State Department and Pacific Command, support for the “pivot” is strong as well. Read more »

A New Opportunity for China-South Korea Relations Under Park Geun-hye and Xi Jinping?

by Scott A. Snyder Sunday, January 20, 2013
China's Vice Foreign Minister Zhang shakes hands with South Korea's conservative President-elect Park during their meeting at her office in Seoul. (Kim Hong-ji/courtesy Reuters) China's Vice Foreign Minister Zhang shakes hands with South Korea's conservative President-elect Park during their meeting at her office in Seoul. (Kim Hong-ji/courtesy Reuters)

Following an early ambassadorial visit and a courtesy call on President-elect Park Geun-hye from China’s special envoy Vice Minister Zhang Zhijun, Park has decided to reciprocate by sending her first special envoys to Beijing during the transition. The exchange illustrates a mutual recognition that Sino-South Korean relations had deteriorated under Lee Myung-Bak and Hu Jintao and that Park and Xi have a chance to start out on the right foot this time. (See-Won Byun and I review the respective South Korean and Chinese leadership transitions over the last four months in detail here alongside parallel assessments of inter-Korean relations and U.S.-ROK relations by Aidan Foster-Carter and Victor Cha and Ellen Kim.) Read more »

When the Middle Class Revolts

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, January 18, 2013
Supporters of yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy react to the speech from the stage during a rally near the Government house in Bangkok. Supporters of the yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy react to a speech during a rally near the Government house in Bangkok (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters).

Over on Bangkok Pundit, a translation of an op-ed recently published in the Thai publication Matichon offers some revealing quotes from Senator Somjate Boonthanom, the former general who helped lead the 2006 coup that toppled the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. “The elected ones like to refer to the election process as being democracy,” explained Somajate, “From elections, the people choose, but still corruption. Therefore, it is not proof that coming from elections is the best. Democracy that steals from the nation, I view it as worse than a military dictatorship.”

Of course, such statements are of little surprise from an appointed Senator whose power, as Bangkok Pundit notes, was not derived from the ballot box, but from a coup against an elected government. But General Somjate is far from alone in his sentiments. Read more »