CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Pence Returns Home: Southeast Asia Overshadowed

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, April 24, 2017
pence-australia U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) meets with Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Admiralty House in Sydney, Australia, on April 22, 2017. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Vice President Mike Pence, after a brief but relatively successful trip in Asia, rushed back to Washington ahead of schedule this week; the U.S. administration plans to tackle a very important set of domestic priorities including tax reform and keeping the federal government open. Pence reduced his time in Honolulu at the end of his trip. More important, as Reuters notes, portions of his trip in Indonesia and Australia were overshadowed by the increasingly tense environment in Northeast Asia, which now includes the reported chance of another North Korean missile or nuclear test Tuesday. Read more »

Anies’s Big Win, India’s Sex Ratio, USS Carl Vinson Bluff, and More

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, April 21, 2017
Anti-Ahok-Jakarta Supporters of Jakarta governor candidate Anies Baswedan react as Baswedan leads the count at the Petamburan flat polling station in Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 19, 2017. (Beawiharta/Reuters)

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

1. Anies elected Jakarta’s next governor. Anies Baswedan, Indonesia’s former education minister, beat out sitting governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known as Ahok) in a closely contested election. While official results have not yet been released, Anies clearly leads in polls. Read more »

Chinese Cinema’s Absent Allure

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, April 21, 2017
Feng-Xiaogang-award Director Feng Xiaogang poses backstage after winning the best director award for his movie “I Am Not Madame Bovary” at the fifty-third Golden Horse Film Awards in Taipei, Taiwan, on November 26, 2016. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Larry Hong is an intern in the Asia program at the Council on Foreign Relations and a senior at Columbia University. This is the second post in his three-part series on the relationship between Hollywood and the Chinese film industry. Read part one here.

When I ask my American friends what they know about Chinese cinema, most respond with blank stares. Less than half can name a single Chinese actor besides action giants Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen, who are for the most part Hong Kong-based actors and have long been part and parcel of Hollywood. Even fewer can name a Chinese director, though a handful know Zhang Yimou, whose cinematic vision, signature style, and long career have made him understandably the face of mainland Chinese cinema. Read more »

A Superpower, But Not Yet a Global Leader

by Yanzhong Huang Thursday, April 20, 2017
Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech during a high-level event in the Assembly Hall at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, January 18, 2017 (Denis Balibouse/Reuters).

In hindsight, China’s international ascendance seems to fit well with the predictions of neorealist scholars like John Mearsheimer. Back in 1974, Deng Xiaoping declared at the United Nations that “China is not, and will never become a superpower.” Today’s Chinese leaders might find what he said ill-timed and ill-advised. By the end of 2015, China saw its GDP reach $11.2 trillion, accounting for 15 percent of the world economy (U.S. share: 24.5 percent). If China maintains its stated growth rate, by 2024, its economy is expected to be as large as the United States’. Already, some leading Chinese scholars are using the term “superpower” to describe China’s power status.

Read more »

Vice President Mike Pence in Indonesia

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, April 20, 2017
pence-indonesia tour U.S. Vice President Mike Pence tours the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia on April 20, 2017. (Beawiharta/Reuters)

On his current visit to Indonesia, Vice President Mike Pence appears likely to play a role he is quickly becoming accustomed to—the low-key, reassuring, figure who provides continuity in U.S. foreign policy. On Thursday, Pence toured Indonesia’s largest mosque, after earlier calling the country’s moderate form of Islam “an inspiration,” and met with Indonesian religious leaders from various faiths. This is just the kind of public diplomacy that would have fit right into the regional soft power strategies of the Obama or George W. Bush administrations, and Pence is, in private, likely to offer broad reassurances of the importance of the U.S.-Indonesia relationship for Washington. Read more »

Why Are Chinese Tourists So Eager to Visit Trump’s America?

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Tourists from China pose for a picture with Disney characters Mickey (R) and Minnie Mouse during a cruise for the first official Chinese tour group to the United States under a new bilateral travel agreement with the United States government, in Washington June 19, 2008. A negotiated deal under which Beijing agreed to permit group tourism to the United States and allow U.S. tourist destinations to market themselves in China is expected by 2011 to double to 600,000 the number of annual visitors from China to the United States, according to industry and government forecasts. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES) Tourists from China pose for a picture with Disney characters Mickey (R) and Minnie Mouse during a cruise. The number of Chinese tourists visiting the United States grew by 18 percent in 2015. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

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

Xi Jinping certainly isn’t the only recent Chinese visitor to the United States whose travel is affecting U.S.-China relations. Rates of Chinese tourism to the United States have been marching steadily upward. Even though overall tourism numbers have declined since President Donald J. Trump’s election – incurring $185 million in lost revenue – interest from China remains high. Read more »

Podcast: Human Rights in the Shadows of Authoritarianism

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Beijing-police-camera A policeman makes a recording of a journalist during lawyer Pu Zhiqiang’s verdict outside the second intermediate people’s court of Beijing on December 22, 2015. (Adam Rose/Reuters)

Who and what define a human right? And when rights are violated, what recourse do citizens have to seek redress? On this week’s Asia Unbound podcast, Eva Pils, reader in transnational law at King’s College London, visiting professor at Columbia Law School, and author of the forthcoming book Human Rights in China: A Social Practice in the Shadows of Authoritarianism, offers a detailed overview of the state of human rights in China. Read more »

Thailand’s New King Adds Even More Uncertainty to Thai Politics

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, April 17, 2017
Thailand-Vajiralongkorn Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun salutes as he arrives at the monument of King Rama I after signing a new constitution in Bangkok, Thailand on April 6, 2017. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Two weeks ago, David Streckfuss, a longtime analyst of Thai royal politics, wrote an incisive op-ed in the New York Times. It effectively summarized a growing current of analysis about how Thailand’s new king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, may upend the country’s already fractious politics. Read more »

Myanmar–China Pipeline, Malaysian Disappearances, Japan’s Population Problem, and More

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, April 14, 2017
Xi-Htin-Kyaw-meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, shakes hands with Myanmar’s President Htin Kyaw at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, China, on April 10, 2017. (Yohei Kanasashi/Reuters)

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

1. At last, Myanmar–China pipeline opens for business. This Tuesday, the first drops of crude oil began their slow northward crawl through a new pipeline connecting the Burmese coast to the southern Chinese city of Kunming. After nearly three years of remaining empty, the 480-mile-long, $1.5-billion pipeline will carry up to 260,000 barrels’ worth of crude a day to a refinery owned by the state-owned PetroChina, China’s largest oil producer. Read more »

How India Can Help in Afghanistan

by Alyssa Ayres Friday, April 14, 2017
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and Afghanistan's president Ashraf Ghani inspect the guard of honour in Herat province, Afghanistan June 4, 2016. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster will head to Afghanistan, and reportedly Pakistan and India as well, this weekend. In the wake of Thursday’s Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb drop in Afghanistan, targeting Islamic State cave-and-tunnel hideouts on the border with Pakistan, McMaster will have much to discuss with his Afghan interlocutors on the security front. Read more »