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Asia Unbound

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

Myanmar’s President Gets Peace Award While the Country Burns

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Myanmar's President Thein Sein talks during a meeting with representatives from civil societies at the Yangon Region Parliament Building in Yangon on January 20, 2013. Myanmar's President Thein Sein talks during a meeting with representatives from civil societies at the Yangon Region Parliament Building in Yangon on January 20, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

On April 22, at a packed, black-tie ceremony in New York City, the Myanmar president, represented by minister Aung Min, accepted an award from the respected global NGO International Crisis Group for the “pursuit of peace.” The award, given annually by the group, is meant to honor someone who promotes change and reform, and helps end violent conflicts, like the ones that have ranged along Myanmar’s borderlands for decades. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 26, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, April 26, 2013
A woman sits with her head down next to a damaged house after Saturday's earthquake hit Lushan county, Ya'an, Sichuan province, on April 22, 2013. A woman sits with her head down next to a damaged house after Saturday's earthquake hit Lushan county, Ya'an, Sichuan province, on April 22, 2013. (Darley Shen/Courtesy Reuters)

Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week.

1. Earthquake kills scores, injures thousands in China. A massive earthquake in Ya’an, Sichuan, on Saturday left at least 193 dead, 25 missing, and 12,300 injured. Beijing poured one billion RMB into earthquake relief, but hundreds of victims still protested, claiming they had no shelter or food. Though devastating, the earthquake pales in comparison to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed 70,000. Read more »

Why Resurrect the Divisive Politics of Yasukuni?

by Sheila A. Smith Friday, April 26, 2013
Japan's deputy prime minister Taro Aso (2nd R) bows as he visits the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo April 21, 2013 (Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters). Japan's deputy prime minister Taro Aso (2nd R) bows as he visits the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo April 21, 2013 (Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters).

Just as I thought I could put the finishing touches on my book manuscript, Japanese Domestic Politics and the Rise of China (Columbia University Press), which has a chapter on Yasukuni, the issue erupted again to confound Japan’s diplomatic relations.

The revival of Yasukuni Shrine visits presents a serious diplomatic setback for Tokyo. The costs have been high and the benefits hard to find. (Jennifer Lind wrote a great piece on this in March before this week’s headlines.)

More importantly, it reveals the reactive nationalisms afoot in Northeast Asia that are dangerous and unpredictable. Read more »

Human Rights Watch’s Devastating Myanmar Report

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, April 25, 2013
An ethnic Rakhine man holds homemade weapons as he walks in front of houses that were burnt during fighting between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities in Sittwe on June 10, 2012. An ethnic Rakhine man holds homemade weapons as he walks in front of houses that were burnt during fighting between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities in Sittwe on June 10, 2012. (Reuters Staff/Courtesy Reuters)

This week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a detailed, and devastating, report on abuses against Muslim Rohingyas in western Myanmar’s Rakhine (also known as Arakan) State. The report claims that the most heinous of all crimes—crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing—were committed against Rohingya last year. It conclusively shows that, contrary to the Myanmar government’s claims that the violence against Rohingya last year erupted spontaneously, monks and local political parties had been agitating for ethnic cleansing against Rohingya well in advance of last year’s violence, in some cases with local government complicity. Read more »

U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Report: 2012 Not as Rosy as It Seemed

by Joshua Kurlantzick Sunday, April 21, 2013
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a policy speech in Tokyo, Japan, on April 15, 2013. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a policy speech in Tokyo, Japan, on April 15, 2013. (Paul J. Richards/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past three years, the Arab uprisings have created the idea that the climate, internationally, for democracy and human rights has been improving. As I write in my new book Democracy in Retreat, the Arab uprisings have been essentially canceled out by regression, over the past ten years, in parts of South and Southeast Asia, Eastern and Southern Europe, and Africa. Many other reports have come to similar conclusions, including Freedom House’s annual report and the new Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) study of global democracy, released earlier this month. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 19, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, April 19, 2013
Members of the People's Liberation Army guard of honour stand with red flags during an official welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing on April 15, 2013. (Courtesy Reuters/Jason Lee) Members of the People's Liberation Army guard of honour stand with red flags during an official welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing on April 15, 2013. (Courtesy Reuters/Jason Lee)

Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week.

1. China released a white paper on defense on Tuesday. The 2013 National Defense White Paper blamed Japan and the United States for the rise in tensions in the region (in so many words). It complained about neighboring countries for “making trouble over the Diaoyu islands,” referring to Japan. It also referenced the United States, saying, “some country has strengthened its Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation tenser.”
Read more »

Situating Malaysia’s Thirteenth General Election: Not All About the Outcome

by Guest Blogger for Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, April 18, 2013
Malaysians listen to speeches during an election campaign in Kajang outside Kuala Lumpur on April 17, 2013. Malaysians listen to speeches during an election campaign in Kajang outside Kuala Lumpur on April 17, 2013. (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters)

Meredith Weiss is an associate professor in the department of political science at the University of Albany.

If all goes according to plan, election-watchers of all sorts will be thick on the ground for Malaysia’s upcoming thirteenth general elections. Admittedly, that plan is dependent upon rounding up and training an extraordinary number of volunteers, and doubtless will be forced to exclude the least accessible, but purportedly most watch-worthy districts. But what tends to get lost in the tea leaf-reading and data-crunching of this long-awaited showdown is the why behind such widespread interest in process and participation, which extends well beyond the polls themselves. Read more »

Secretary Kerry’s First Visit to Northeast Asia: Rolling the North Korea Stone Back Up the Hill

by Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, April 16, 2013
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) walks with U.S. Ambasador to South Korea Sung Y. Kim (L) and deputy director general of South Korea's Foreign Ministry Moon Seoung-hyun upon his arrival at a military airport in Seongnam, south of Seoul, April 12, 2013. Kerry begins a three-day visit to Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo as U.S. and South Korean officials say the nuclear-armed North appears poised to test a medium-range missile after weeks of threatening statements. (Kim Hong-ji/courtesy Reuters) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) walks with U.S. Ambasador to South Korea Sung Y. Kim (L) and deputy director general of South Korea's Foreign Ministry Moon Seoung-hyun upon his arrival at a military airport in Seongnam, south of Seoul, April 12, 2013. Kerry begins a three-day visit to Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo as U.S. and South Korean officials say the nuclear-armed North appears poised to test a medium-range missile after weeks of threatening statements. (Kim Hong-ji/courtesy Reuters)

Secretary of State John Kerry’s first visit to Northeast Asia came against the backdrop of increasing tensions stoked by North Korean evacuation announcements and missile-launch threats.  His meetings with new leaders Park Geun-hye, Xi Jinping, and Abe Shinzo succeeded in changing the tone of the conversation about North Korea from a military to a diplomatic focus and to strengthen  diplomatic consultation processes with new administrations in South Korea and China, but it remains to be seen whether there will be substantive shifts in the respective policies of the various governments. Read more »

More on Myanmar Unrest

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, April 12, 2013
People carry weapons during riots in Meiktila on March 22, 2013. People carry weapons during riots in Meiktila on March 22, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

On the CFR site, I have an expert brief up on the surge in ethnic and religious unrest in Myanmar. You can read the expert brief here.

The anger seems to be building, despite some efforts by the government, Muslim leaders, and Buddhist leaders to cool tensions. (Aung San Suu Kyi, who had said virtually nothing about the violence for two weeks, did finally step forward and say that Myanmar needs to promote a stronger rule of law to prevent future violent outbreaks, a somewhat mealy-mouthed response.) One of the leading militant monks—a phrase that just sounds bizarre—this week gave an interview to the Irrawaddy in which he was essentially unrepentant about the attacks on Muslims. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 12, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, April 12, 2013
Japan's Interchange Association Chairman Mitsuo Ohashi (L) shakes hand with Taiwan's Association of East Asian Relations Chairman Liao Liao-yi during the fishery agreement signing ceremony in Taipei on April 10, 2013. Japan's Interchange Association Chairman Mitsuo Ohashi (L) shakes hand with Taiwan's Association of East Asian Relations Chairman Liao Liao-yi during the fishery agreement signing ceremony in Taipei on April 10, 2013. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week.

  1. China’s economy seems a little shakier. A surge in bad-credit loans within the country has China trying to clean up liquidity without slowing growth. China’s plethora of bad loans and unsustainable levels of debt has led Fitch to downgrade China’s yuan-dominated debt from AA- to A+. It is the first time since 1999 that China’s sovereign credit rating was cut. Part of the reasoning for the downgrade was low average incomes, poor standards of governance, and a rapid expansion of credit. Read more »