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Asia Unbound

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

The True Face of Laos

by Joshua Kurlantzick Saturday, January 5, 2013
Laos honor guards and members of military orchestra sit behind guns as they prepare to welcome another foreign delegation arriving at Vientiane airport. Laos honor guards and members of military orchestra sit behind guns as they prepare to welcome another foreign delegation arriving at Vientiane airport.

The tiny country of Laos does not normally get much attention from policymakers or the international media, at least since the Vietnam War; but in Obama’s first term, the administration put a focus on Laos as one of the Mekong Region countries with which Washington would push for closer relations. This push came partly to reaffirm the United States’ presence in mainland Southeast Asia, which had diminished during the Bush administration, in part because of apathy, and in part because of sanctions and restrictions on relations with several Mekong nations. Read more »

Two U.S. Policymakers Take on U.S.-China Policy

by Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, January 4, 2013
U.S. Secretary of Navy Ray Mabus inspects a guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony at the Chinese PLA Navy Headquarters in Beijing on November 27, 2012. U.S. Secretary of Navy Ray Mabus inspects a guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony at the Chinese PLA Navy Headquarters in Beijing on November 27, 2012. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Dan Blumenthal and Phillip Swagel’s new book on U.S.-China relations, An Awkward Embrace, is its lack of nuance. The authors—both of whom have served in the U.S. government and now share an affiliation with the American Enterprise Institute—clearly define U.S. interests with regard to China and address directly the opportunities (great) and challenges (greater) that China presents to those interests. They are equally no-nonsense in their prescriptions for U.S. policy, which they see as necessarily proceeding on two separate economic and security tracks (given the relative greater opportunity for successful cooperation on the economic than on the security front). Most important, Blumenthal and Swagel accomplish what many analysts attempt and most fail—to provide a road-map for U.S. policymakers in managing the relationship with China. Read more »

Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Speech: Who Is the Audience?

by Scott A. Snyder Thursday, January 3, 2013
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers a New Year address in Pyongyang. (KCNA/courtesy Reuters) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers a New Year address in Pyongyang. (KCNA/courtesy Reuters)

An annual ritual of North Korea is the release of a lengthy propaganda statement that serves as guidance and provides a sense of priorities for the coming year.  Under Kim Jong-il, the statement came in the form of a joint New Year’s Day editorial by three leading news organs, but Kim Il-sung gave the speech himself.  Kim Jong-un does not appear to have the same fear of public speaking that his father apparently had, so he gave the speech, which was broadcast on North Korean television, available through YouTube here.  Even though Kim is not afraid to read a speech in front of a camera, the echoing of the room, despite North Korean cutaways to a building accompanied by an applause track, suggests that Kim did not present the speech to a live audience.  Curious. Read more »

Getting at the Heart of China’s Public Health Crisis

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, January 2, 2013
A nurse gives an infected patient medicine as she lies in her bed at the HIV/AIDS ward of Beijing YouAn Hospital on December 1, 2011. A nurse gives an infected patient medicine as she lies in her bed at the HIV/AIDS ward of Beijing YouAn Hospital on December 1, 2011. (David Gray/Reuters)

Trying to wrap one’s arms around China today is a significant challenge. It is a global power with a growing economy, rising military, and expanding diplomatic reach. Yet there continues to be a gnawing sense in and outside China that all is not quite right. Whether it is the 180,000 protests annually, the growing flight of capital and people to the West, or the potentially ruinous impact of corruption on the Communist Party’s legitimacy, uncertainty about China and its future is much greater than the country’s impressive global standing might suggest. Read more »