CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

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 »

A Tale of Two Diseases: Tuberculosis Control and Malaria Eradication in China

by Yanzhong Huang Friday, April 18, 2014
China's first lady Peng Liyuan attends an event for World Tuberculosis Day in Dongguan, Guangdong province. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters) China's first lady Peng Liyuan attends an event for World Tuberculosis Day in Dongguan, Guangdong province. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

Last month, the World Health Organization declared that China has achieved the Millennium Development Goals target of reversing tuberculosis (TB) incidence by 2015.  According to a recent study published by the Lancet, between 1990 and 2010, China more than halved the prevalence of smear-positive TB. The achievement prompted the WHO representative in China to note that “over the last 20 years, China has been the single country that has shown the biggest gains in TB control in the world.” The Lancet piece attributes China’s success in TB control to the government’s commitment to the WHO-recommended program called directly observed therapy, short course or DOTS. What the article failed to note was the important role played by other international agencies such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the largest international health cooperation program in China. Read more »

China’s Round Two on Electric Cars: Will It Work?

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, April 17, 2014
A visitor looks at BYD E6 electric car on display at the New Energy Auto Expo in Nanjing, Jiangsu province March 22, 2014. Three of China's biggest cities are helping consumers pay for a range of electric cars, heeding calls to encourage the sale of green vehicles that the government sees helping tackle pollution. China's smoggy skies topped the agenda at the annual parliamentary session this year, while Premier Li Keqiang in January demonstrated the importance of green cars by visiting a factory of BYD Co Ltd , maker of the e6 pure electric car. The BYD E6 electric car was on display at the New Energy Auto Expo in Nanjing, Jiangsu province on March 22, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

Everyone loves China’s five-year plans. They tell you everything you need to know about the future direction of the Chinese economy: intentions and priorities, along with timetables and targets. The only thing missing are the results. After five years, though, who keeps track of what was promised and what was delivered? Well, the Chinese government for one. And as Beijing takes stock of its efforts to become a world leader in the production and deployment of electric and hybrid electric cars during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), the picture isn’t pretty. Now Beijing is attempting a mid-plan course correction. Will it work? Read more »

The Global Fund’s China Legacy

by Yanzhong Huang Monday, April 14, 2014
A doctor draws blood from the neck of a patient at an emergency room of a hospital in Shanghai May 15, 2013. (Aly Song/Courtesy Reuters) A doctor draws blood from the neck of a patient at an emergency room of a hospital in Shanghai May 15, 2013. (Aly Song/Courtesy Reuters)

Last week, twelve African countries met in Windhoek, Namibia to discuss the new funding model of the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria. With its emphasis on actual disease burden and flexibility, the launch of the new funding model put the final nail in the coffin of the old approach, which allocates grants based on the need of individual countries and the quality of each proposal. Indeed, even prior to the unveiling of the new funding model, the Global Fund had made China and several other G20 upper-middle income countries ineligible due to their “less than an extreme disease burden.” China, which began receiving Global Fund support in 2003, quickly became one of the Global Fund’s largest recipients. This decision hit China hard, as China had been expecting to be eligible for some $880 million in grant renewals during the 2012-16 period. Since China also decided to forego transitional funding from the Global Fund, the Fund officially closed its portfolio in China rather unceremoniously at the end of 2013. Read more »