CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Prosperity and Politics

by Alyssa Ayres Thursday, October 31, 2013
Primary school students march by the bank of the river Buriganga during an event in support of education, organised by Campaign for Popular Education Bangladesh, in Dhaka April 23, 2007 Primary school students march by the bank of the river Buriganga during an event in support of education, organised by Campaign for Popular Education Bangladesh, in Dhaka April 23, 2007 (Rafiqur Rahman/Courtesy Reuters).

Two seemingly unrelated items caught my eye this week: one, the release of the new Legatum Prosperity Index, and the other, the release in Bangladesh of a transcript detailing an important and much-anticipated phone conversation between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. Read more »

Engage DPRK: Mapping International Projects in North Korea

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, October 30, 2013
A group of tourists from Shanghai, China arrives at an airport in Pyongyang on an Air Koryo Tupolev Tu-2004-300 passenger jet in this picture taken on July 1, 2011 and released on July 2, 2011 by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA said that the group was the first Chinese tourists to arrive in North Korea via the Shanghai-Pyongyang air route, and that they would visit monuments in Pyongyang, the International Friendship Exhibition House, Panmunjom, Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong area during four nights and five days (KCNA/Courtesy Reuters). A group of tourists from Shanghai, China arrives at an airport in Pyongyang on an Air Koryo Tupolev Tu-2004-300 passenger jet in this picture taken on July 1, 2011 and released on July 2, 2011 by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA said that the group was the first Chinese tourists to arrive in North Korea via the Shanghai-Pyongyang air route, and that they would visit monuments in Pyongyang, the International Friendship Exhibition House, Panmunjom, Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong area during four nights and five days (KCNA/Courtesy Reuters).

Former ambassador Donald Gregg has labeled North Korea “our longest-running intelligence failure.” North Korea’s long-running quest to keep the veil over the “hermit kingdom” has vexed scholars who have tried to gain empirical data on how North Korea works. However, a project to map out almost two decades of non-governmental engagement with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) reveals that it has more foreign exposure than most people think, and that the number of outsiders visiting sanctions-weary North Korea for tourism and business reasons has been going up sharply. Read more »

Thailand Headed for Political Meltdown—Again

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, October 30, 2013
An anti-government protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask holds a picture of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej during a protest in Bangkok's shopping district on August 18, 2013. Several hundred people marched through central Bangkok to protest against the amnesty bill, saying it could help ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra return from exile without having to serve a jail sentence. (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy Reuters) An anti-government protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask holds a picture of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej during a protest in Bangkok's shopping district on August 18, 2013. Several hundred people marched through central Bangkok to protest against the amnesty bill, saying it could help ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra return from exile without having to serve a jail sentence. (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy Reuters)

Thailand, which has gone through one political crisis after the next for nearly a decade now, appears poised for more political turmoil. Most of the factors that have caused previous periods of unrest are now locking into place once again. The ruling Puea Thai Party, though democratically elected, has taken its mandate as a license to operate like an elected dictatorship, and now is trying to push through parliament a misguided, potentially damaging amnesty law. The law, as Human Rights Watch notes in a summary, would prevent prosecutions of nearly everyone involved in political protests and counterprotests in Thailand in recent years. The amnesty would apply to members of the security forces who killed at least seventy protesters in Bangkok in 2009 and 2010 and the leaders of the government at that time who oversaw these massacres.  The law also potentially would make it easier for the return to Thailand of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the leader—though in exile—of the Puea Thai party and a potent symbol to Thailand’s rural voters, who have continued to back Thaksin and his party for more than a decade. With the law, Thaksin could potentially return to Thailand without having to face any accountability for his time as prime minister, when he oversaw a “war on drugs” that led to thousands of unaccounted for deaths, or any accountability for corruption charges that were laid against him after he was deposed from office. Read more »

Introductory Post

by Alyssa Ayres Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) speaks with Gujarat's chief minister and Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the inauguration ceremony of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel national museum in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad October 29, 2013 (Amit Dave/Courtesy Reuters). Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh (L) speaks with Gujarat's chief minister and Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) October 29, 2013 (Amit Dave/Courtesy Reuters).

Hello Asia Unbound readers! As CFR’s newest senior fellow, and the newest contributor to the blog, I look forward to adding a little more content on South Asia to the group effort. At CFR, I am covering the broader South Asian region, with a strong focus on India. I’ve spent my entire professional life working on South Asia, and there is never any shortage of new and interesting issues to explore. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of October 25, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, October 25, 2013
Supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) gather during a protest at the Freedom Park in central Phnom Penh on October 23, 2013 (Samrang Pring/Courtesy Reuters). Supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) gather during a protest at the Freedom Park in central Phnom Penh on October 23, 2013 (Samrang Pring/Courtesy Reuters).

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

1. Turkey and China might coproduce air missile defense system. Turkey, a member of NATO and a U.S. ally, is in discussions to coproduce a long-range air and missile defense system with China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation, a Chinese firm that is under U.S. sanctions for violations of the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act. The United States is “very concerned” by the $3.4 billion deal and its potential ramification for allied air defense, as the Chinese system would not integrate well with existing NATO defense infrastructure. Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey would be open to new offers from other companies, including the American company Raytheon, if the deal did not come to pass. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on Friday that the United States should not “politicize the relevant normal commercial competition.” Read more »

Rob Sheldon: Advancing U.S.-Japan Collective Cyber Capabilities (Part III: Cooperation)

by Guest Blogger for Adam Segal Friday, October 25, 2013
Participants from government ministries and agencies take part in the Cyber Defense Exercise with Recurrence (CYDER) in Tokyo on September 25, 2013. (Toru Hanai/Courtesy Reuters) Participants from government ministries and agencies take part in the Cyber Defense Exercise with Recurrence (CYDER) in Tokyo on September 25, 2013. (Toru Hanai/Courtesy Reuters)

Rob Sheldon is a 2013-2014 Mansfield Fellow based in Tokyo. Follow him at @shorttelegrams. Also see Part I and Part II of this series.

As the United States and Japan seek to develop the capacity for collective operations in cyberspace, the overarching theme should be creating practical, functional forces, processes, and institutions. A stated goal of the policy should be to establish capabilities that are robust enough to address high-end threats, yet nimble enough to address normal, low-end, peacetime threats. Read more »

Talks With Thai Insurgents Stall

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, October 25, 2013
Thick smoke rises from a burning police truck as rubber farmers clash with riot police in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, south of Bangkok on September 16, 2013. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters) Thick smoke rises from a burning police truck as rubber farmers clash with riot police in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, south of Bangkok on September 16, 2013. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

The Thai government recently announced that its peace talks with several representatives of the southern Thai insurgents have been postponed indefinitely. As Anthony Davis notes in an excellent piece on Asia Times, this step was hardly a surprise; since Ramadan, when there was supposed to be a temporary cease-fire, violence has once again surged in the south, while Army Commander in Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has ordered forces in the south to take more aggressive measures. The meaning of the aggressive measures order became clear when Thai forces tracked down and then shot and killed one insurgent commander in early October. In response, over the past two weeks the insurgents have launched a string of attacks. As Davis notes, the insurgents have had little trouble placing bombs right in the middle of key towns in the south, and at major targets that one would think would be better protected. Read more »

Shazeda Ahmed: Saving Face in U.S.-China Space Relations

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, October 24, 2013
The sun is captured over Earth's horizon by one of the Expedition 36 crew members aboard the International Space Station on May 21, 2013 (NASA/Courtesy Reuters). The sun is captured over Earth's horizon by one of the Expedition 36 crew members aboard the International Space Station on May 21, 2013 (NASA/Courtesy Reuters).

Shazeda Ahmed is an intern for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In early- to mid-October, NASA came under fire for allegations of prejudice against Chinese scientists. Prominent scientists in the United States and Chinese netizens harshly criticized what they understood as NASA’s choice to bar Chinese scientists from attending an upcoming conference on the Kepler space telescope. Instead, it emerged that the agency was simply complying with a Congressional ban on using federal funds to collaborate with “China or any Chinese-owned companies.” Read more »

Erickson and Strange: Pragmatic Partners, the Unsung Story of U.S.-China Anti-Piracy Coordination

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, October 24, 2013
A visit, board, search and seizure member checks his surroundings aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill during a bilateral anti-piracy exercise with the Chinese People's Liberation Army (Navy) frigate Yi Yang in the Gulf of Aden on September 17, 2012 (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Aaron Chase/Courtesy Reuters). A visit, board, search and seizure member checks his surroundings aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill during a bilateral anti-piracy exercise with the Chinese People's Liberation Army (Navy) frigate Yi Yang in the Gulf of Aden on September 17, 2012 (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Aaron Chase/Courtesy Reuters).

This guest post is by Andrew Erickson, an associate professor in the Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College, and Austin Strange, a researcher for the College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. 

Out of the limelight, Gulf of Aden cooperation has provided both China and the United States with a vital conduit for progressive military contact amid protracted mistrust in the Asia Pacific. Indeed, their navies recently conducted a joint anti-piracy exercise there. In the future, Far Seas non-traditional security cooperation is set to play an even larger role in buttressing Sino-American military relations. Read more »

“In Line Behind a Billion People”: Fun, Fast, and Fact-filled

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Examinees walk into the entrance of a classroom building to take part in a three-day entrance exam for postgraduate studies, at Anhui University, in Hefei, Anhui province on January 5, 2013 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). Examinees walk into the entrance of a classroom building to take part in a three-day entrance exam for postgraduate studies, at Anhui University, in Hefei, Anhui province on January 5, 2013 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

What do we still not know about China? A never-ending stream of books explores every issue, every relationship, and every period of Chinese history. Newspaper articles report breathlessly on the same topics year after year—until we can practically predict when the articles reporting that Chinese wind farms are taking over the world will segue into those decrying the almost near-criminal level of overcapacity in wind power. So when a new China book appears on the scene, it is worth asking what, if anything, it contributes to our overall state of knowledge of China? Damien Ma’s and William Adams’ In Line Behind a Billion People does what many books attempt but few successfully accomplish: provide an eminently readable, even entertaining, guide to what is going on in China today. Read more »