CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

A Turn Toward Authoritarianism in the Philippines?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Rodrigo-Duterte Presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte raises a clenched fist aboard a truck during election campaigning for May 2016 national elections in Malabon, Metro Manila in the Philippines on April 27, 2016. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

As I wrote last week, the Philippines’ presidential race is still extremely close, going into the final days before Election Day. But as numerous Philippine polling organizations have reported, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte maintains a slim lead over his closest challenger, Senator Grace Poe, and over the other three major candidates. Since there is no runoff system like that of the French presidential election, which has more than one round, Duterte could win the presidency with a plurality 30 to 35 percent of the total votes. Read more »

TPP and its Implications for Global Access to Medicines

by Guest Blogger for Yanzhong Huang Wednesday, May 4, 2016
The twelve Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Ministers hold a press conference to discuss progress in the negotiations in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii July 31, 2015. Pacific Rim trade ministers failed to clinch a deal on Friday to free up trade between a dozen nations after a dispute flared between Japan and North America over autos, New Zealand dug in over dairy trade and no agreement was reached on monopoly periods for next-generation drugs. (Marco Garcia/Reuters) The twelve Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Ministers hold a press conference to discuss progress in the negotiations in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii July 31, 2015. Pacific Rim trade ministers failed to clinch a deal on Friday to free up trade between a dozen nations after a dispute flared between Japan and North America over autos, New Zealand dug in over dairy trade and no agreement was reached on monopoly periods for next-generation drugs. (Marco Garcia/Reuters)

Mi Lin is an intern for Global Health Governance at the Council on Foreign Relations.

On March 9-10 and March 16-17, two sections of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines (UNGSAM) were held in London and Johannesburg, respectively. These two conventions were launched in response to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call last November to “find solutions to the lack of access to medicines.” This was the first time such a high-level panel on access to medicines was made open to the public.  Though the two dialogues, one in a developed country and the other in a developing country, had different conversational dynamics, issues surrounding intellectual property (IP) rules in free trade agreements (FTAs) were frequently raised in both sections. Health advocates have long argued that stricter IP provisions in FTAs is a main barrier to access to essential medicines for populations in developing countries. As the recently signed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) adds the latest development to this decades-long debate on trade and health, issues around TPP and its potential effects on global access to medicine also arose frequently at the panel. Read more »

How Could the Philippines’ Money Laundering Woes Affect Overseas Workers?

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Salud Bautista (R), president of PhilRem Service Corporation, a remittance and money changer company, answers questions from Senators, beside her lawyer, during a Senate hearing of money laundering involving $81 million stolen from Bangladesh's central bank, at the Philippine Senate in Manila April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY Salud Bautista (R), president of PhilRem Service Corporation, a remittance and money changing company, answers questions from senators during a hearing at the Philippine Senate in Manila on money laundering involving $81 million stolen from Bangladesh's central bank on April 19, 2016. Greater scrutiny of PhilRem could have implications for other Philippine remittance services around the world. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

Rachel Brown is a research associate in Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In February, $81 million stolen from the central bank of Bangladesh’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was laundered through the Philippines. Most observers worried about the security of the institutions involved. But equally if not more important is the potential impact on overseas Filipino workers. Increased scrutiny of vulnerabilities in the Philippines’ anti-money laundering provisions could make it harder for the over ten million Filipinos working abroad to send remittances home, as has occurred in many other developing nations. Globally, the Philippines is the third-highest recipient of remittances, which compromised 10 percent of GDP in 2014. These funds help fuel domestic consumption, and anything that affects the cost or ease of sending money to the nation will have significant economic implications. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of April 29, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, April 29, 2016
An Afghan athlete performs during a sporting event at a stadium in Kabul March 8, 2014. Despite decades of conflict in Afghanistan, and several recent militant attacks, the country's capital Kabul is home to a vibrant youth scene of musicians, artists, athletes and activists. Shopping malls and cafes stand in the city, which is nonetheless beset by infrastructure problems and instability. Afghanistan is preparing for an election on April 5 that should mark the first democratic transfer of power in the country's history, but it has been hit by a tide of violence as the Islamist Taliban movement has ordered its fighters to disrupt the vote and threatened to kill anyone who participates. Picture taken March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: SOCIETY POLITICS SPORT) A female Afghan athlete performs during a sporting event at a stadium in Kabul on March 8, 2014. Afghanistan’s women’s sports programs have recently encountered greater challenges. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Gabriella Meltzer, Gabriel Walker, and Pei-Yu Wei look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. Afghan female athletes forced to the sidelines. Despite annual donations to the tune of $1.5 million from the American government and other Western donors to women’s sports in Afghanistan, these programs have proven to be an abject failure in the promotion of women’s empowerment and equal participation. The efforts have been riddled by corruption; the cricket program “consist[s] of little more than a young woman with a business card and a desk” and the women’s soccer team has not played an international match in years. Read more »

Further Signs of Southeast Asia’s Political Regression

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, April 29, 2016
prayuth-thailand Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha looks on before a weekly cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, on April 26, 2016. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Three new annual reports, from the U.S. State Department, Freedom House, and Reporters without Borders, add further evidence to worries that much of Southeast Asia is experiencing an authoritarian revival. Released this week, Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press report (for which I served as a consultant for several Southeast Asia chapters) reveals that in nearly all the ten ASEAN nations, press freedom regressed significantly last year. Freedom House’s findings are similar those of Reporters Without Borders annual Press Freedom Index, which was released earlier this month. Read more »

Podcast: The Paper Tigers and Hidden Dragons of China’s Tech Sector

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, April 28, 2016
Paper-Tigers-Hidden-Dragons-2

Chinese President Xi Jinping has claimed that the direction of China’s technological development is “innovation, innovation and more innovation.” But besides prominent success stories like Huawei and Lenovo, how innovative are other companies in China’s tech sector? In this week’s Asia Unbound podcast I talk with Douglas Fuller, professor of business administration at Zhejiang University’s School of Management, about his upcoming book—possibly the best China book I have read all year—Paper Tigers, Hidden Dragons: Firms and the Political Economy of China’s Technological Development. Read more »

Why North Korean Threat Is a More Urgent Issue for Next U.S. President

by Scott A. Snyder Thursday, April 28, 2016
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) attends a meeting of information workers of the whole army at the April 25 House of Culture in Pyongyang March 28, 2013, in this picture released by the North's official KCNA news agency on March 29, 2013. North Korea put its rocket units on standby on Friday to attack U.S. military bases in South Korea and the Pacific, after the United States flew two nuclear-capable stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula in a rare show of force. (Reuters/KCNA) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) attends a meeting of information workers of the whole army at the April 25 House of Culture in Pyongyang March 28, 2013, in this picture released by the North's official KCNA news agency on March 29, 2013. North Korea put its rocket units on standby on Friday to attack U.S. military bases in South Korea and the Pacific, after the United States flew two nuclear-capable stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula in a rare show of force. (Reuters/KCNA)

Kim Jong Un has been intensifying his efforts to develop a long-range nuclear strike capability since the beginning of 2016. The more vulnerable he feels atop a weakening North Korea, the more he seeks a silver bullet to ensure the regime’s long-term survival. Read more »

Taiwan’s WHA Status in Limbo

by Yanzhong Huang Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Taiwan Health Minister Yeh Ching-chuan reacts at this arrival at the 62nd World Health Assembly takes place at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva May 18, 2009. The World Health Assembly is the annual meeting of the World Health Organization's (WHO) 193 Member States and it is the supreme decision-making body of WHO, It sets the policy for the Organization and approves its budget. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters) Taiwan Health Minister Yeh Ching-chuan reacts at this arrival at the 62nd World Health Assembly takes place at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva May 18, 2009. The World Health Assembly is the annual meeting of the World Health Organization's (WHO) 193 Member States and it is the supreme decision-making body of WHO, It sets the policy for the Organization and approves its budget. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

The World Health Assembly (WHA), the executive body of the World Health Organization (WHO), will convene on May 23-28 in Geneva. While member states have received invitations to participate in this year’s WHA, the only assurance Taiwan has received from the WHO Secretariat is that “internal operations were ongoing.” Read more »

What Does the Rise of State Capitalism Mean for the World?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, April 25, 2016
petrobras Workers repair a tank of Brazil's state-run Petrobras oil company in Cubatao, Brazil, on April 12, 2016. (Paulo Whitaker/Reuters)

In just the past year, major scandals have erupted at several of the world’s most influential state-owned companies, with repercussions going far beyond the boardrooms. In Brazil, graft scandals centered on state-owned petroleum company Petrobras have triggered waves of arrests and played a role in the ongoing impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. Meanwhile, in Malaysia investigations continue into allegations of massive irregularities in state fund 1MDB, allegations that have shaken the government of Prime Minister Najib tun Razak and reportedly triggered investigations into 1MDB in Singapore, Switzerland, the United States, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia. Read more »

Beijing’s Squeeze Play on Taiwan

by Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, April 25, 2016
Supporters of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen celebrate her victory in Taipei, Taiwan, January 16, 2016. REUTERS/Olivia Harris Supporters of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen celebrate her victory in Taipei, Taiwan on January 16, 2016. (Olivia Harris/Reuters).

In late April, I spent several days in Taiwan as part of a Council on Foreign Relations delegation. We met with a wide range of officials from the major political parties, including President Ma Ying-jeou, President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, President of the Legislative Yuan Su Jia-Chyuan, and Kuo Chang-huang, a first-term legislator. It is a period of political transition from eight years of Kuomintang (KMT) leadership under President Ma to a government led by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) with Tsai at the helm. And waiting in the wings is the brand new New Power Party (NPP), which was born out of the 2014 Sunflower Movement, and earned itself five seats in the most recent Legislative Yuan elections. Read more »