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Asia Unbound

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

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of June 28, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, June 28, 2013
Australia's new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, gestures at a news conference at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Brisbane on February 24, 2012. Australia's new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, gestures at a news conference at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Brisbane on February 24, 2012. (Renee Melides/Courtesy Reuters)

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

1. Julia Gillard is ousted as Australia’s prime minister, replaced by Kevin Rudd. Australia’s first female prime minister was ousted by the Labor Party on Thursday over fears that the party would lose September’s election with her at the helm. She was replaced by Kevin Rudd, who previously served as prime minister until a 2010 party coup. Chief among the Labor Party’s concerns is Australia’s faltering economy and slowing mining boom. Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker, also urged China to finalize a free trade agreement with Australia. Chinese farmers are worried that their businesses could be hurt by the free trade agreement because of the size of Australia’s agricultural output. Read more »

China and the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula

by Scott A. Snyder Friday, June 28, 2013
South Korean president Park Geun-hye (R) and Chinese president Xi Jinping inspect Chinese honor guards during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing June 27, 2013. Park is on a visit to China from June 27 to 30. (Wang Zhao / courtesy Reuters) South Korean president Park Geun-hye (R) and Chinese president Xi Jinping inspect Chinese honor guards during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing June 27, 2013. Park is on a visit to China from June 27 to 30. (Wang Zhao / courtesy Reuters)

People’s Republic of China president Xi Jinping has taken a noticeably stronger rhetorical stand against North Korea’s nuclear program since he came to office in March on the heels of North Korea’s third nuclear test on February 12, 2013. China backed a new UN Security Council resolution condemning North Korea’s test and clearly distanced itself from North Korea, in contrast to its decision to embrace and defend North Korea as a strategic asset following North Korea’s second nuclear test in 2009. There has been a slowdown in high-level contacts with Kim Jong-un and a striking chilliness to Sino-DPRK interaction following meetings in July and November 2012 between Kim Jong-un and high-level Chinese officials in Pyongyang. Last week DPRK Vice Minister held a “strategic dialogue” with his PRC foreign ministry counterpart Zhang Yesui that was devoid of the party-to-party interaction that has long made China-DPRK interactions “special” rather than “normal.” Read more »

Despite Democracy, Myanmar’s Muslim Minority Still Suffering

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, June 27, 2013
A 969 shirt is seen among National League for Democracy party shirts and Aung San Suu Kyi shirts at a shop on a street side in Yangon on April 27, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) A 969 shirt is seen among National League for Democracy party shirts and Aung San Suu Kyi shirts at a shop on a street side in Yangon on April 27, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

As Myanmar opens up, at least 100,000 Muslims have been made homeless in the past two years by violent attacks, and hundreds if not thousands have been killed, along with a much smaller number of Buddhists. Left unchecked, rising ethnic hatred and increasing attacks could push the country into a terrible period of ethnic cleansing, similar to what happened in the Balkans in the early 1990s. Read more »

Sharone Tobias: Internet and Press Freedom in Taiwan

by Guest Blogger for Adam Segal Thursday, June 27, 2013
A general view shows booths at the 2013 Computex exhibition, the world's second largest computer show, in Taipei World Trade Center on June 3, 2013. (Pichi Chuang/Courtesy Reuters) A general view shows booths at the 2013 Computex exhibition, the world's second largest computer show, in Taipei World Trade Center on June 3, 2013. (Pichi Chuang/Courtesy Reuters)

Sharone Tobias is a Research Associate for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Earlier this month, Taiwanese Internet advocacy groups succeeded in shutting down an anti-piracy bill similar to the U.S. Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The bill was an amendment to the Taiwan Intellectual Property Office’s Copyright Act, and would have forced Internet service providers to block a list of domains or IP addresses connected to websites and services that enable illegal file sharing. The plan would have allowed Taiwan’s bureaucracies to create a blacklist for websites and peer-to-peer sharing tools like BitTorrent, rather than blocking individual videos and files as the law currently allows. Read more »

Southeast Asia’s Purple Haze

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, June 27, 2013
A worker stands as he looks on at fire from burning trees planted for palm oil, during haze in Indonesia's Riau province on June 24, 2013. A worker stands as he looks on at fire from burning trees planted for palm oil, during haze in Indonesia's Riau province on June 24, 2013. (Beawiharta/Courtesy Reuters)

Even before several of my CFR colleagues and I arrived in Indonesia earlier this week for discussions on regional security and governance, headlines in the region’s media were dominated by the haze that was blanketing Singapore and Malaysia—not to mention parts of Indonesia—as a result of the slash-and-burn practices in Sumatra. In an effort to clear land to plant new crops, farmers there burn crop residue, timber, and peat. The result is hundreds of “hotspots,” or fires that contribute to a thick, toxic haze that travels throughout the region. This is despite a government effort to promote “zero burning” and a moratorium on all deforestation in much of the country. Read more »

ASEAN’s Haze Shows the Organization’s Futility

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, June 26, 2013
A tourist wearing a face mask passes the hazy skyline of the Marina Bay Sands casino and resort in Singapore on June 18, 2013. (Edgar Su/Courtesy Reuters) A tourist wearing a face mask passes the hazy skyline of the Marina Bay Sands casino and resort in Singapore on June 18, 2013. (Edgar Su/Courtesy Reuters)

Haze continues to spread across Southeast Asia, the result primarily of burn-offs from farming by individuals and agribusinesses in Indonesia, combined with the dry summer weather and urban pollution in the region’s largest cities. As Yanzhong Huang notes, air pollution levels in some parts of penisular Southeast Asia have reached record highs this past week; the more proactive governments in the region, like Singapore, have taken health precautions like pushing nearly all residents to wear masks while outdoors and setting up centers across the city-state for low-income and elderly residents to get free face masks they can use. As Yanzhong notes, Singapore also is vowing to pursue companies that use polluting practices and cause this haze. Overall, countries in the region, like Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, appear to be pointing fingers at each other and engaging in diplomatic recriminations rather than collaborating to address the haze crisis and its causes. Read more »

Haze Crisis in Southeast Asia (and China)

by Yanzhong Huang Monday, June 24, 2013
An aerial view of burning lands in Palalawan district in Riau province June 21, 2013. An aerial view of burning lands in Palalawan district in Riau province June 21, 2013. Indonesia deployed military planes to fight raging forest fires on Friday that blanketed neighbouring Singapore in record levels of hazardous smog for a third straight day in one of Southeast Asia's worst air-pollution crises. (Fikih Nauli//Courtesy Reuters)

Having just arrived in Jakarta for a joint CSIS-CFR workshop on emerging Indonesia and rising regionalism, I was greeted by hot and humid weather conditions and horrible traffic. However, this is nothing compared to the severe haze that has blanketed Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, Malaysia, and Singapore, sending air pollution there to record high levels. Read more »

Myanmar Government Continues to Blame Muslims for Unrest

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, June 24, 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. (Courtesy Reuters) 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. (Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past six months, the Buddhist-Muslim violence in Myanmar, which last year seemed confined to the western Rakhine (or Arakan) State, has exploded all over the country. The violence has spread to places in central Myanmar, like Okkan and Mktila, to the outskirts of Yangon, and even to towns in the northeast, like Lashio, with little history of inter-religious tension. The nationalist, xenophobic, fascistesque 969 Movement of the monk Ashin Wirathu appears to be gaining followers. The New York Times  recently reported that Wirathu’s sermons now are attracting thousands of followers, and that it is planning to set up school for Buddhist children across the country. Read more »

Laos Returns North Korean Refugees to the North

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, June 17, 2013
Protesters from a human rights group hold signs during a rally against Laos' recent repatriation of nine North Korean defectors, in front of the Laotian embassy in Seoul on May 31, 2013. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy Reuters) Protesters from a human rights group hold signs during a rally against Laos' recent repatriation of nine North Korean defectors, in front of the Laotian embassy in Seoul on May 31, 2013. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy Reuters)

On Saturday, the Washington Post ran a front-page article on the story of North Korean refugees, or defectors, in Laos. It has been well-known for years that many North Koreans who try to get to South Korea transit through either Laos, Thailand, or Cambodia after leaving China. But until recently the government of Laos, though hard-line authoritarian, mostly seemed to ignore the fleeing North Koreans, as long as they had the money to pay off the right people and then get to the South Korean embassy in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, or to the border with Thailand. Yet in May, Laos’ government suddenly sent nine fleeing North Koreans, nearly all of whom are orphans, back to the North. The group had been detained by Laos’ security forces, but in the past North Koreans who had been detained often were let go, in exchange for cash, and then continued on to Thailand or to the South Korean embassy. This time,Laos’ government did not release the detainees, instead handing them over to Pyongyang. Read more »

North Korea’s Defiant Proposal for Denuclearization Talks

by Scott A. Snyder Monday, June 17, 2013
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) poses with troops of Korean People's Army Unit 405 at an undisclosed location. (KCNA/courtesy Reuters) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) poses with troops of Korean People's Army Unit 405 at an undisclosed location. (KCNA/courtesy Reuters)

Only one week after proposing and then pulling the plug on inter-Korean dialogue over protocol differences, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)’s National Defense Commission on June 16 issued a surprise proposal for “high-level” U.S.-DPRK talks on easing of military tensions, establishment of a peace regime, and “various other issues both parties want to address, including the building of a nuclear-free world proposed by the United States.” Read more »