CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

How the Laos War Transformed the CIA

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Book jacket photography by John Quintero/Getty Images. Book jacket photography by John Quintero/Getty Images.

From 1961 until the early 1970s, the Central Intelligence Agency undertook, in Laos, what remains the largest covert operation in the history of the United States. Tiny Laos, which had not even existed as a coherent entity twenty years earlier and which had a smaller population than Los Angeles, suddenly was propelled to the center of U.S. foreign policy universe, only to vanish completely from that radar fifteen years later. Read more »

The CIA Isn’t Necessarily Going to Lose Out in the New Administration

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, January 23, 2017
trump-3 U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia U.S. on January 21, 2017. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

During the transition period between November and January, President-elect Donald Trump developed perhaps the most publicly antagonistic relationship with U.S. intelligence agencies of any incoming president in at least decades. He compared the intelligence agencies to Nazis, repeatedly disdained their reports as fake, and dismissed their assessments of foreign interference in the 2016 election. In an interview published in the Wall Street Journal last Monday, outgoing CIA director John Brennan called Trump’s allegations “repugnant.” Other intelligence officials have reportedly expressed a sense of dread about what’s to come. Read more »

Samsung Scandal, Chinese Coal, Islamic State in Asia, and More

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, January 20, 2017
jay-lee-samsung Chief of Samsung Group Lee Jae-yong is surrounded by media as he arrives at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, South Korea, January 18, 2017. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. Sprawling influence-peddling scandal spreads to Samsung leadership. Last week, the de facto leader of Samsung, Lee Jae-yong, faced a twenty-two-hour interrogation regarding allegations that Samsung paid, and promised to pay, a total of 43 billion won (roughly $36.4 million) in bribes to South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her close confidante, Choi Soon-sil, in exchange for the government-controlled National Pension Service’s support of a contentious 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates. Read more »

Abe’s Mission Impossible in Manila

by Guest Blogger for Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, January 18, 2017
duterte-abe President Rodrigo Duterte joins Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) as he interacts with the pupils waving the Japan and Philippine flags before entering the Malacanang presidential palace in metro Manila, Philippines on January 12, 2017. (Malacanang Photo/ Handout via Reuters)

Richard Javad Heydarian is an assistant professor in political science at De La Salle University in Manila, and, most recently, the author of Asia’s New Battlefield: The U.S., China, and the Struggle for Western Pacific.

As electoral shocks overhaul the Asian geopolitical landscape, Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe is on an all-out charm offensive. When Donald Trump Jr. pulled off a surprising electoral victory on the back of a populist, anti-globalization rhetoric, the Japanese leader immediately scrambled to secure a meeting with the president-elect. Read more »

Chinese Carrier in the Strait, Philippine Birth Control, $100 Billion SoftBank Fund, and More

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, January 13, 2017
liaoning-training-drill China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier with accompanying fleet conducts a drill in an area of the South China Sea, in this undated photo taken December 2016. (Stringer/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Lorand Laskai, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. China’s aircraft carrier sails through Taiwan Strait. Early Wednesday morning, China’s sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, sailed into the Taiwan Strait, leading Taipei to scramble F-16 fighter jets and ships to “surveil and control” the movement of the Liaoning and its accompanying five warships. Read more »

The World Economy is Already Responding to the Presidential Transition

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, January 12, 2017
trump-2 U.S. President-Elect Donald J. Trump speaks at the USA Thank You Tour event at the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center in West Allis, Wisconsin, U.S., on December 13, 2016. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

As the Trump administration steps up its transition planning, the details of its proposed economic policies remain unclear. During the campaign, Trump took multiple positions that were at odds with Republican orthodoxy on economics, slamming current and potential U.S. free trade deals, calling for possible tariffs on China, Mexico, and other countries, and vowing to unleash a wave of spending in America that could, he argued, bolster infrastructure and revive withering manufacturing industries. Read more »

Podcast: North Korea’s Information Underground

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, January 12, 2017
north-korea-balloon-leaflets Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector and leader of an anti-North Korea civic group, prepares to release a balloon containing leaflets denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un near the demilitarized zone in Paju, South Korea, April 29, 2016. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

On this week’s Asia Unbound podcast, Jieun Baek, author of North Korea’s Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground is Transforming a Closed Society, tells the story of the outlawed political and social information that is penetrating North Korea’s hermetic borders. Through dozens of interviews with North Korean defectors, Baek finds that everyday North Koreans crave news and entertainment from the outside world—from romantic television dramas to basic weather reports. Most of all, the foreign knowledge they seek helps to dismantle the façade of total information control the North Korean government has tried to erect around its citizens. Read more »

South Korea’s Political Vacuum and the Trump Administration

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, January 11, 2017
People attend a protest demanding South Korean President Park Geun-hye's resignation in Seoul, South Korea, January 7, 2017. (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji) People attend a protest demanding South Korean President Park Geun-hye's resignation in Seoul, South Korea, January 7, 2017. (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)

The December 9 impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-hye has created a vacuum of political leadership in South Korea. Normally, the South Korean president would lead a full court press to confirm President-elect Donald Trump’s commitment to the U.S.-ROK security alliance and coordinate a consistent approach to the growing North Korean nuclear threat. Read more »

Costs and Consequences of South Korea’s Political Vacuum

by Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, January 10, 2017
People attend a protest demanding South Korean President Park Geun-hye's resignation in Seoul, South Korea, December 31, 2016. The signs read "Regime change in the New Year" and "Step down Park Geun-hye immediately". (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji) People attend a protest demanding South Korean President Park Geun-hye's resignation in Seoul, South Korea, December 31, 2016. The signs read "Regime change in the New Year" and "Step down Park Geun-hye immediately". (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)

On December 9, the South Korean National Assembly passed a motion of impeachment against Park Geun-hye. The ROK (Republic of Korea) Constitutional Court has up to 180 days from that date to review the motion of impeachment and to evaluate the specific charges contained in the motion. While the court reviews the evidence in support of the impeachment motion, Park is sidelined from her official responsibilities and has been replaced by her former prime minister, Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn. Read more »

India’s Migration Gender Gap

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, January 9, 2017
Sarta Kalara (C), a construction worker, stands among other female workers in Ahmedabad, India, April 20, 2016. Kalara says she has no option but to tether her daughter Shivani to a stone despite her crying, while she and her husband work for 250 rupees ($3.8) each a shift digging holes for electricity cables in the city of Ahmedabad. There are about 40 million construction workers in India, at least one in five of them women, and the majority poor migrants who shift from site to site, building infrastructure for India's booming cities. Across the country it is not uncommon to see young children rolling in the sand and mud as their parents carry bricks or dig for new roads or luxury houses. REUTERS/Amit Dave Sarta Kalara (C), a construction worker, stands among other female workers in Ahmedabad, India on April 20, 2016. There are about 40 million construction workers in India, at least one in five of them women, and the majority poor migrants who shift from site to site, building infrastructure for India's booming cities. (Amit Dave/Reuters)

Rachel Brown is a research associate for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This is the second part of a series on migration trends in India and China.

In 1966, Indira Gandhi assumed the position of India’s prime minister and served until 1977, followed by a second term from 1980 to 1984. Yet fifty years later, women’s opportunities for economic advancement remain limited compared to other emerging economies. Read more »