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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 January 31, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, January 31, 2014
srilanka_humanrights A demonstrator from the Frontline Socialist Party shouts slogans during a protest against Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa's government as they commemorate the International Human Rights Day in Colombo on December 10,2013. Demonstrators from Frontline Socialist Party protest against abductions and murders in the final stage of the war against Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Courtesy Reuters).

Darcie Draudt, Charles McClean, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. U.S. envoy to visit Sri Lanka as pressure builds for war crimes inquiry. Three days after the United States announced that it would seek a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council calling for an investigation into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, the U.S. State Department sent Nisha Biswal, assistant secretary of state for Central and South Asian affairs, to meet with government officials in the country. The ruling Sri Lankan government has not welcomed investigations into war crimes during the thirty-year civil war against the Tamil Tigers, though the UN Human Rights Council has already passed two resolutions pressing the Sri Lankan government to do so. Read more »

Sex Has Become the Main Mode of HIV Transmission in China

by Yanzhong Huang Friday, January 31, 2014
Sex shops with neon signs are seen at a wealthy district in Beijing May 6, 2013 (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Courtesy Reuters) Sex shops with neon signs are seen at a wealthy district in Beijing May 6, 2013 (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Courtesy Reuters)

Fifteen years ago, in light of the rapid spread of the HIV cases and the absence of effective government response, UN officials warned that China could have over 10 million HIV cases by 2010.  Thankfully, that prophesy was not fulfilled.  In fact, China today has an estimated 780,000 people living with HIV/AIDS.  The adult prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS is only 0.1 percent, the same as Japan’s and less than the United Kingdom’s (0.2 percent) and the United States’ (0.6 percent).  Comparatively, in 2010, China had 36,200 AIDS-related deaths—the same number of people die annually as a result of seasonal flu in the United States—compared to 1.7 million who died of stroke and nearly 1 million who died of heart disease. Read more »

Drip, Drip, Drip: The Impact of Thailand’s Political Chaos on the Thai Economy (and the World)

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, January 31, 2014
An anti-government protester walks down an empty road during a rally near the Government Complex in Bangkok on January 24, 2014. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters) An anti-government protester walks down an empty road during a rally near the Government Complex in Bangkok on January 24, 2014. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters)

For months now, even as Thailand’s political crisis has escalated from street protests into daily violence, the disintegration of state institutions, and the threat of a coup, most Thai businesspeople, foreign investors, and analysts of the Thai economy have maintained a relatively positive outlook for the Thai economy this year and next. After all, as several long-time investors in Thailand have told me, the country’s economy has over decades proven extraordinarily resilient, surviving nineteen coups and attempted coups, natural disasters, the Indochina wars, and many Bangkok street protests that ended in bloodshed. Read more »

North Korea’s Test of Trustpolitik

by Scott A. Snyder Friday, January 31, 2014
park-geun-hye-newyears South Korean president Park Geun-hye speaks during her New Year news conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on January 6, 2014. (Jung Yeon-Je/Courtesy Reuters).

South Korean president Park Geun-hye came to office last year pledging a policy of trustpolitik designed to promote inter-Korean reconciliation through principled engagement while holding North Korea to account. The Economist suggested the policy should be named “distrustpolitik,” asserting that “the south does not trust the north to keep its promises; the north does not trust the south to follow through on its admonitions.” Both sides took the measure of each other last year during the closure and reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the industrial park in North Korea that combines North Korean labor with South Korean capital to produce goods to export internationally. That experience provides a valuable lesson for inter-Korean relations. Read more »

Of Democratic Systems and Processes

by Alyssa Ayres Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Rahul Gandhi Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi speaks during the All India Congress Committee (AICC) meeting in New Delhi January 17, 2014 (Adnan Abidi/Courtesy Reuters).

This post is part of a series on the Indian elections.

On Monday, January 27, Indian National Congress party vice president and heir apparent Rahul Gandhi sat down for a lengthy one-on-one interview with India’s most-watched gotcha television host, Arnab Goswami (transcript here, and video here). His first in-depth interview in his nearly ten years as a member of parliament—and two years as the front face of Congress’s election campaigns—marks a new effort to make Mr. Gandhi more publicly accessible. Reportedly this is one prong of a new media strategy for Mr. Gandhi as India prepares for national elections by mid-April. Read more »

Thailand Endgame

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, January 27, 2014
An anti-government protester (C) negotiates with a local official and police officers regarding the closing of a polling station after protesters blocked its entrance during advance voting for a general election in Bangkok on January 26, 2014. (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters) An anti-government protester (C) negotiates with a local official and police officers regarding the closing of a polling station after protesters blocked its entrance during advance voting for a general election in Bangkok on January 26, 2014. (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the weekend, Thailand’s political crisis moved closer to the ultimate endgame, which is a complete takeover by anti-government forces, both in the street and in institutions in Bangkok. Primarily pro-government Thais came out to polls across the country to vote in advance balloting, which went on without incident in much of the North and Northeast. In these places, one might have thought a normal election was proceeding. In Bangkok and parts of the South, the demonstrators blocked many polling booths, and the level of anger and violence went up a notch, if that was even possible. The Economist this weekend essentially suggests that Thailand is going to break apart. I think that’s extreme, but the situation is deteriorating out of control quite quickly. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of January 24, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, January 24, 2014
Supporters of Xu Zhiyong, one of China's most prominent rights advocates, shout slogans near a court where Xu's trial is being held, in Beijing on January 22, 2014. (Kim Kyung-hoon/Courtesy Reuters) Supporters of Xu Zhiyong, one of China's most prominent rights advocates, shout slogans near a court where Xu's trial is being held, in Beijing on January 22, 2014. (Kim Kyung-hoon/Courtesy Reuters)

Darcie Draudt, Charles McClean, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia this week.

1. Report reveals that several of China’s top leaders hold trillions in offshore accounts. A new report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed nearly 22,000 tax haven clients from Hong Kong and mainland China. Among the confidential files cited, there are details of a real estate company co-owned by President Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law, and British Virgin Island companies set up by former Premier Wen Jiabao’s son and son-in-law. The report also states that PricewaterhouseCooper, UBS, and other Western banks have acted as middlemen aiding in setting up the offshore accounts. According to the report, “by some estimates, between $1 trillion and $4 trillion in untraced assets have left the country since 2000.” The ICIJ website is now blocked in China. Read more »

The Political Plight of China’s Wealthy

by Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, January 24, 2014
Visitors look around Rolls-Royce's vintage car during the Rolls-Royce's Concours d'Elegance event for celebrating its ten years of business in China on June 28, 2013. (Kim Kyung-hoon/Courtesy Reuters) Visitors look around Rolls-Royce's vintage car during the Rolls-Royce's Concours d'Elegance event for celebrating its ten years of business in China on June 28, 2013. (Kim Kyung-hoon/Courtesy Reuters)

Technically, the news that many rich people in China have personal ties to China’s top leaders is not really news anymore. Nor is it news that many rich Chinese have placed their assets in offshore accounts or even that many rich people in China get that way through peddling influence or corruption. After all, the top fifty members of China’s National People’s Congress boast a combined wealth of $94.7 billion, making their American congressional cousins across the Pacific—whose top fifty members are worth only $1.6 billion—look positively poverty stricken. The link between politics and money in China is well-established. Read more »

Democracy Suffers Again in 2013

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, January 24, 2014
A supporter of the constitution gestures in front of a statue of Egypt's former Army Chief of Staff Abdel Moneim Riad near Tahrir square, during the final stage of a referendum on Egypt's new constitution in Cairo on January 15, 2014. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/ Courtesy Reuters) A supporter of the constitution gestures in front of a statue of Egypt's former Army Chief of Staff Abdel Moneim Riad near Tahrir square, during the final stage of a referendum on Egypt's new constitution in Cairo on January 15, 2014. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/ Courtesy Reuters)

In mid-January, millions of Egyptians voted in a constitutional referendum that won resoundingly, with a majority of 98.1 percent voting yes, according to the nation’s election commission. Egyptian leaders, and some outside observers, lauded this vote as a victory for the country’s democratic transition. Read more »

The Constancy of Contest with Okinawa

by Sheila A. Smith Thursday, January 23, 2014
Coral reefs are seen along the coast near the U.S. Marine base Camp Schwab, off the tiny hamlet of Henoko in Nago on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, in this aerial photo taken by Kyodo on January 14, 2014. (Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters) Coral reefs are seen along the coast near the U.S. Marine base Camp Schwab, off the tiny hamlet of Henoko in Nago on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, in this aerial photo taken on January 14, 2014. (Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters)

On Sunday, voters in Nago City re-elected their mayor, Susumu Inamine. Compared with his predecessors, Inamine’s margin of victory was high—more than 4,000 votes more than his challenger. Unlike his predecessors, however, Inamine campaigned solidly against the relocation of the U.S. Marine airfield to his community, a policy advocated by Japan’s prime minister. Despite the Okinawa governor’s decision to approve construction of a new runway just weeks earlier, Inamine proclaimed that he would do all that he can to thwart the construction of the runway for the U.S. Marines in his city. Read more »