CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Thanks, John Oliver! Why India Isn’t a Big Focus for U.S. Television

by Alyssa Ayres Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Voters line up to cast their votes outside a polling station during the seventh phase of India's general election in Rangareddy district in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on April 30, 2014 (Danish Siddiqui/Courtesy: Reuters). Voters line up to cast their votes outside a polling station during the seventh phase of India's general election in Rangareddy district in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on April 30, 2014 (Danish Siddiqui/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

In the grand tradition of Jon Stewart, the British comedian John Oliver has skewered American television’s priorities in his new show, Last Week Tonight. His acerbic eight minute bit on the Indian elections—elections historic in scale, with an electorate of 815 million voters and big issues at stake—gets many things right, most importantly, U.S. television’s focus everywhere else. (And even, hilariously, the sad fact of a Fox News segment last week covering not, say, the April 17 fifth phase of India’s elections in which 195 million people went to vote, but instead a ludicrous feature about a leopard on the loose causing panic in India). Read more »

Missing in Asia: The Pivotal Person in Obama’s Pivot

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, April 30, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama pauses next to Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a joint news conference in the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo April 24, 2014. Abe said on Thursday that he will continue to explain his visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead to gain understanding from neighbouring Asian countries. REUTERS/Larry Downing (JAPAN - Tags: POLITICS) U.S. president Barack Obama pauses next to Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe at a joint news conference in the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo on April 24, 2014. (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

It is tough to get a fix on what is wrong with President Obama’s Asia pivot. On the face of it, it is the perfect policy at the perfect time: it serves America’s economic interests by pushing a high-end trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); it reinforces and expands America’s role as the dominant security player in the region; and it advances the ideals of the American political system through capacity building in countries such as Myanmar. Yet, no matter how much attention the president and his team are paying to the region—and no one can legitimately claim that the Asia Pacific is suffering from a lack of U.S. attention given the number of trips to the region by senior U.S. officials—the sum of the policy is rapidly becoming less than its parts. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 25, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, April 25, 2014
President Barack Obama reviews an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on April 24, 2014 (Shizuo Kambayashi/Courtesy: Reuters). President Barack Obama reviews an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on April 24, 2014 (Shizuo Kambayashi/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. Obama on a four-country tour of Asia to reassure allies and reinforce U.S. rebalancing. Obama began his Asia tour in Japan, where he discussed trade negotiations (see story below). He made waves when he reassured Japan that Washington was committed to its defense, including in the East China Sea, where maritime disputes between China and Japan have caused skirmishes and tension. Read more »

Obama Won’t Meet Anwar, But Susan Rice Will

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, April 24, 2014
anwar-ibrahim Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim speaks during a protest against the recent election results in Kuala Lumpur in June 2013 (Samsul Said/Courtesy: Reuters).

After sustained pressure from human rights groups, democracy advocates in Congress, and some within the Obama administration who were worried (rightly) that Obama touting Malaysia as a model democracy might be slightly compromised by the pending sham charges against Malaysia’s opposition leader, now it appears that National Security Advisor Susan Rice will meet Anwar Ibrahim during the president’s visit to Malaysia this coming weekend. AFP and ChannelNewsAsia have a summary of the most recent news on Obama’s upcoming visit to Malaysia here. Read more »

Obama and Park: Political Leadership Needed in the Face of Crisis

by Scott A. Snyder Thursday, April 24, 2014
park-on-sewol South Korean president Park Geun-hye speaks to family members of missing passengers who were on South Korean ferry Sewol, which sank at the sea off Jindo, during her visit to a gym in Jindo where family members gathered, on April 17, 2014. President Park said on Monday the actions of some crew of the ferry that sank with hundreds feared dead were tantamount to murder, as a four-year-old video transcript showed the captain promoting the safety of the same route (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy: Reuters).

Rumors of an impending North Korean nuclear test have more than justified President Obama’s decision to add South Korea to his agenda during his trip to Asia this week. Rather than discussing security challenges, it would not be surprising if the American and South Korean leaders spend most of their time commiserating with each other over the limits and obstacles their respective governments are facing against high public expectations. Read more »

A Guide to the Rana Plaza Tragedy, and its Implications, in Bangladesh

by Alyssa Ayres Thursday, April 24, 2014
Rana Plaza Tragedy Rescue workers attempt to rescue garment workers from the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Savar, nineteen miles outside Dhaka on April 29, 2013 (Andrew Biraj/Courtesy: Reuters).

One year ago today, April 24, the world watched with horror as a concrete building known as “Rana Plaza” cracked, buckled, and ultimately collapsed atop the garment workers inside its factories. It would turn out to be the worst accident in the garment industry anywhere. More than 1,100 people were killed, and 2,500 injured. Read more »

Obama’s Mission in Asia: Bring the Allies Together

by Scott A. Snyder Monday, April 21, 2014
park-obama-abe-at-the-hague U.S. president Barack Obama hosted a trilateral meeting with South Korean president Park Geun-hye Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe after the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on March 25, 2014 (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy: Reuters).

President Obama took an important step before this week’s visit to Asia by bringing together Japanese and South Korean leaders for a trilateral summit at The Hague a few weeks ago. That meeting sent a crucial message that the president should hammer home at every opportunity in Asia this week: for the Obama administration’s rebalancing strategy toward Asia to be successful, America and its allies must work more closely with each other. Read more »

What President Obama Should Do in Malaysia

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, April 21, 2014
obama-speaks-before-asia-trip-in-april U.S. president Barack Obama makes a statement to the media in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington on April 17, 2014 (Larry Downing/Courtesy: Reuters).

On April 27, President Obama will become the first sitting American president to visit Malaysia in five decades. This trip, which already had been postponed from the fall, has been complicated by the Malaysian government’s recent crackdown on opposition politicians, and by Kuala Lumpur’s inept handling of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 tragedy. However, Obama still plans to highlight the growing strategic and economic relationship between Malaysia and the United States, the relationship between himself and Prime Minister Najib tun Razak, and Malaysia’s supposed credentials as a moderate, Muslim-majority state and emerging democracy. But on his trip, the president should try to maintain a balanced focus, hitting the following points: Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 18, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, April 18, 2014
A Buddhist monk prays for the missing passengers on the South Korean ferry, Sewol on April 18, 2014. The ferry had been en route to Jeju, a holiday island off South Korea’s southern coast, when it sent a distress signal on April16 (Issei Kato/Courtesy: Reuters). A Buddhist monk prays for the missing passengers on the South Korean ferry, Sewol on April 18, 2014. The ferry had been en route to Jeju, a holiday island off South Korea’s southern coast, when it sent a distress signal on April16 (Issei Kato/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. South Korean passenger ferry capsizes. A South Korean ferry, the Sewol, capsized on Wednesday, April 16. As of Friday, twenty-five deaths have been reported, with 271 passengers still missing. The vessel was en route from Incheon, on the northwestern coast of the country, to Jeju Island, a resort island off the southwestern coast. A government investigation team is looking into alleged negligence by the captain and some members of the crew, who reportedly instructed passengers to remain seated and abandoned the ship in the state of emergencyRead more »

Our Anxiety as the President Heads to Asia

by Sheila A. Smith Friday, April 18, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama walks among Cherry Blossoms in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington March 20, 2012. (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama walks among cherry blossoms in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington March 20, 2012. (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters)

Anxiety is everywhere these days in the debate over U.S. policy toward Asia. Here in Washington, there seems to be deep anxiety about the Obama administration’s ability to fulfill its promise to rebalance to Asia. In Asia itself, the anxiety is more about the staying power of the United States in a region undergoing a challenging geostrategic shift, and often that anxiety is manifest not in what the United States does on a daily basis but in what the president will or will not say out loud when he goes there next week.

There is reason for anxiety, to be sure. But let’s make sure we are anxious about what matters. Let’s have a conversation about policy goals instead of atmospherics and personalities. And, rather than declare Obama’s visit to Asia doomed before it even begins, it might be wise to consider on balance the positive accomplishments as well as the limitations of current U.S. policy initiatives in Asia. Read more »