CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Toshihiro Nakayama: Japan’s Soul Searching

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith Friday, January 18, 2013
Buildings are silhouetted against the setting sun in front of Mount Fuji in Tokyo December 2, 2009 Buildings are silhouetted against the setting sun in front of Mount Fuji in Tokyo December 2, 2009 (Gary Hershorn/Courtesy Reuters).

This blog post is part of a series entitled Is Japan in Decline?, in which leading experts analyze Japan’s economy, politics, and society and give their assessment of Japan’s future.

Being cynical just to be cynical is the worst frame of mind. Unfortunately, however, you can’t avoid being cynical when talking about my country these days.

A couple of years ago, many of us in Japan complained that there was a tendency to overlook Japan in Washington. But today, Japan experts sit in almost all of the major think tanks there. Yes, Americans seem to be worried about us. You are worried that your major ally in the Asia-Pacific is in a constant flux. You are worried that we are drifting into a “tier-two status” in global relations, as one major report suggested. Read more »

Jeffrey W. Hornung: Japan, a Consequential Power

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith Thursday, January 17, 2013
Buildings are silhouetted against the setting sun in front of Mount Fuji in Tokyo December 2, 2009 Buildings are silhouetted against the setting sun in front of Mount Fuji in Tokyo December 2, 2009 (Gary Hershorn/Courtesy Reuters).

This blog post is part of a series entitled Is Japan in Decline?, in which leading experts analyze Japan’s economy, politics, and society and give their assessment of Japan’s future.

The debate over Japan’s decline overlooks Japan’s long-term strengths and global contributions, focusing instead on current, high visibility factors like GDP growth and military power. In particular, it misses Japan’s continuing strategic importance in both security and diplomatic spheres. While Japan may not be a great military power or no longer the second largest economic power, it is a consequential power. Read more »

Report Shows Democracy’s Decline for Seventh Straight Year

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Leftists displaying banners and portraits of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong demonstrate outside the office of the liberal Southern Weekly newspaper in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou January 9, 2013, denouncing the newspaper as "a traitor newspaper" for defying the party. Leftists displaying banners and portraits of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong demonstrate outside the office of the liberal Southern Weekly newspaper in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou January 9, 2013, denouncing the newspaper as "a traitor newspaper" for defying the party (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters).

Today, at an event hosted by my colleague Mark Lagon at the Council on Foreign Relation’s office in Washington, DC, the NGO Freedom House released the findings of its annual international survey Freedom in the World 2013. While the report, the most comprehensive analysis of freedom around the globe, applauded the remarkable and salient gains made this year by a few countries, such as Tunisia and Myanmar, it also acknowledged the continued decline of democracy worldwide—a trend that has persisted since the mid-2000s. For the seventh consecutive year, more countries regressed than made democratic gains. Read more »

China: Dirty Air, Dirtier Water?

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, January 16, 2013
A dead fish is seen floating in a polluted river on the outskirts of Yingtan, Jiangxi province, on March 20, 2010. A dead fish is seen floating in a polluted river on the outskirts of Yingtan, Jiangxi province, on March 20, 2010. (Stringer / Courtesy Reuters)

In recent weeks, the Chinese and western media have been all atwitter over the shocking levels of air pollution in Beijing and a number of other Chinese cities. But it really shouldn’t be all that shocking. After all, in 2007, the World Bank and China’s own State Environmental Protection Administration (now the Ministry of Environmental Protection) found that that as many as 700,000 people die prematurely annually from respiratory disease related to air pollution. And more recently, Greenpeace Beijing reported that in 2011 in four major cities, more than 8,000 people died prematurely as a result of just one pollutant, PM 2.5. Anyone who spends any time in Beijing knows that the city has not yet found a way to tackle the myriad sources of air pollution from construction to cars to coal. Read more »

Glenn Hoetker: Leveraging Japan’s “Old Economy”

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Buildings are silhouetted against the setting sun in front of Mount Fuji in Tokyo December 2, 2009 Buildings are silhouetted against the setting sun in front of Mount Fuji in Tokyo December 2, 2009 (Gary Hershorn/Courtesy Reuters).

This blog post is part of a series entitled Is Japan in Decline?, in which leading experts analyze Japan’s economy, politics, and society and give their assessment of Japan’s future.

Those predicting Japan’s decline overlook one of its greatest resources: its large, established firms and the model that produced them. With the tribulations of Panasonic, Sony, and others in the headlines, this claim may seem to be dubious and to run counter to the many efforts underway to increase the role of start-up firms and entrepreneurs in the Japanese economy. Read more »

Keiko Iizuka: Abe’s Challenge

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Buildings are silhouetted against the setting sun in front of Mount Fuji in Tokyo December 2, 2009 Buildings are silhouetted against the setting sun in front of Mount Fuji in Tokyo December 2, 2009 (Gary Hershorn/Courtesy Reuters).

This blog post is part of a series entitled Is Japan in Decline?, in which leading experts analyze Japan’s economy, politics, and society and give their assessment of Japan’s future.

On December 26, 2012, Japan chose its seventh prime minister in seven years, a new record for the annual turnover in leadership that has plagued the country since Junichiro Koizumi stepped down in 2006. For a second time, Shinzo Abe has stepped up to the plate. A coalition government, comprised of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the New Komei Party, has returned in the wake of over three years of reformist rule by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Read more »

The Conversation on Japan’s Decline Concludes

by Sheila A. Smith Monday, January 14, 2013
Buildings are silhouetted against the setting sun in front of Mount Fuji in Tokyo December 2, 2009 Buildings are silhouetted against the setting sun in front of Mount Fuji in Tokyo December 2, 2009 (Gary Hershorn/Courtesy Reuters).

This blog post is part of a series entitled Is Japan in Decline?, in which leading experts analyze Japan’s economy, politics, and society and give their assessment of Japan’s future.

Last year, as Japanese were getting ready to vote in the Lower House election, I hosted a broad conversation on the question of whether Japan was in “decline.” The result was a two-week conversation on the subject that began with America’s foremost Japan politics specialist, Columbia University’s Gerald Curtis. Our experts included the chairman of Japan’s leading business executives forum, American social scientists, a distinguished Japanese scholar of China, non-profit foundation executives, a successful global entrepreneur from Japan, and concluded with the thoughts of two smart Japanese twenty-somethings. Read more »

Mixed Signals on Japan’s Defense

by Sheila A. Smith Friday, January 11, 2013
Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) destroyer Kurama (R) leads destroyer Hyuga as a Japanese naval flag flutters during a naval fleet review at Sagami Bay, off Yokosuka, south of Tokyo October 14, 2012 Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) destroyer Kurama (R) leads destroyer Hyuga as a Japanese naval flag flutters during a naval fleet review at Sagami Bay, off Yokosuka, south of Tokyo October 14, 2012 (Yuriko Nakao/Courtesy Reuters).

My phone has been ringing this week with journalists and others asking for clarification on what Japan is doing with its defense policy. The tone of the questions reveal the growing concern about the security dynamics in Northeast Asia, and specifically the growing worry that Japan and China could be headed for an even more serious clash over disputed islands.

So first let’s sort through the various announcements on defense policy emanating from Tokyo. Read more »

Indonesia’s Resource Nationalism Increases

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, January 10, 2013
A worker carries rubber latex that he collected from the state-owned plantation at Jember in Indonesia's East Java province. A worker carries rubber latex that he collected from the state-owned plantation at Jember in Indonesia's East Java province (Sigit Pamungkas/Courtesy Reuters).

Over the past year, as Indonesia has geared up for its next presidential election, and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has desperately attempted to keep his party together in the wake of endless corruption allegations, nationalism has come to play a larger and larger role in Jakarta’s policymaking. In just the latest example, reported well on Asia Sentinel, Indonesia has effectively tossed the chief executive of ExxonMobil Indonesia out of his job. As Asia Sentinel notes, with increasingly weak leadership from Yudhoyono, other, more nationalist ministers are able to drive the agenda, particularly Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Hatta Rajasa. Read more »

Desperately Seeking Xi Jinping

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, January 9, 2013
China's Communist Party chief Xi Jinping looks on during his meeting with U.N. General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 27, 2012. China's Communist Party chief Xi Jinping looks on during his meeting with U.N. General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 27, 2012. (Wang Zhao/Reuters)

When a noted American columnist wrote recently that he expected Xi Jinping to spur real reform because reform is “in his genes,” I realized just how desperate we had become. In fact, the sound of speculation around Xi has become deafening. Even though he will not formally assume the presidency of China until March, Xi’s every utterance is now being fed into an evolving Xi Jinping narrative. The reality, however, is that we know very little of Xi’s actual policy proclivities save his desire for a more informal and direct style of governance and a Communist Party that is corruption-free. Read more »