CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of September 19, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, September 19, 2014
A British Airways airplane flies past a signage for pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in London on April 22, 2014. (Luke MacGregor/Courtesy Reuters) A British Airways airplane flies past a signage for pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in London on April 22, 2014. (Luke MacGregor/Courtesy Reuters)

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

1. China fines GlaxoSmithKline nearly $500 million for bribery. A Chinese court fined British pharmaceuticals firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) 3 billion yuan ($489 million) after the one-day, closed-door trial ended, finding the company guilty of bribery. Several officials of the company, including Mark Reilly, the former head of GSK in China, were also given suspended jail sentences. GSK said that it remained committed to operating in China despite the ruling. The company is also being investigated in the United States under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and has been accused of corrupt practices on smaller scales in Poland, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. By some estimates, GSK’s actions in China led to over $150 million in illegal revenues. Read more »

Protests Threaten Democracy in Asia, in a Bizarre Reversal of Democratic Norms

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, September 19, 2014
islamabad protest A supporter of the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, Imran Khan, gestures while chanting with others during what has been dubbed a "freedom march" in Islamabad on September 13, 2014. Pakistan's opposition leaders ordered thousands of their supporters on Saturday to resist any government attempt to quash their protests against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, deepening a political crisis in the coup-prone nation (Faisal Mahmood/Courtesy: Reuters).

Although I am not CFR’s South Asia expert, the past month of protests in Pakistani by Pakistani politician Imran Khan, who has been camped out close to parliament along with his supporters, brings to mind many other similar protests that have happened in Asia in the past ten years—in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other countries. What is notable about these new types of street protests, which Khan’s demonstrations fall into, is that unlike decades of protests that called for various reforms to political systems, these protests actually in many ways are designed to subvert and possibly overthrow democracy. Indeed, the region, and some other developing nations like Egypt, has witnessed the rise of anti-democratic protests. Read more »

China’s Mixed Messages to India

by Alyssa Ayres Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Map of the Himalayas locating disputed borders and territory between China and India (Courtesy: Reuters). Map of the Himalayas locating disputed borders and territory between China and India (Courtesy: Reuters).

As India welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping today, it’s hard to miss the mixed messages coming from China. On the one hand, India and China have had a difficult security relationship over the past half-century, with a still-unresolved border dispute over which they fought a war in 1962. On the other hand, their trade and economic ties have rapidly expanded in the last decade, such that China has become India’s largest trade partner in goods with approximately $70 billion in two-way trade. The disjuncture between these two parallel tracks—unresolved security challenges along one, with rapid progress economically along the other—has become a truism for all analyses of India-China relations. Read more »

Jokowi’s Priorities

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Joko Widodo Indonesian president-elect Joko Widodo speaks to the media at a press briefing in the garden of his home in Jakarta on August 21, 2014 (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters).

As the new president of Indonesia (don’t tell Prabowo Subianto), Joko Widodo has a full plate. The economy is slowing down, the education system is one of the worst in the region, the country’s physical infrastructure is crumbling, the region is looking to Indonesia as a natural leader, and the man defeated in the presidential election is vowing to use his power in parliament to block every move the president makes. And Jokowi himself, despite his credentials as a democrat and his success as a mayor, has little national or international experience. He also will be spending most of these first months trying to bolster his support in parliament and pick off members of Prabowo’s coalition rather than getting down to governing and policy. Read more »

The U.S.-DPRK Hostage Stalemate

by Scott A. Snyder Friday, September 12, 2014
kenneth-bae-interview Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary who has been detained in North Korea for more than a year, appears before a limited number of media outlets in Pyongyang in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 20, 2014 (KCNA/Courtesy: Reuters).

Note: This post was published prior to Matthew Miller’s trial. On Sunday, September 14, Miller was found guilty in North Korean court and sentenced to six years’ hard labor.

North Korea has announced the trial next week of Matthew Miller, an American currently detained in North Korea for ripping up his tourist visa and claiming asylum. This announcement follows interviews last week on CNN that the DPRK hurriedly arranged with Miller, detained tourist Jeffrey Fowle, and convicted American Kenneth Bae, who have become three American pawns in the ongoing nuclear standoff between Washington and Pyongyang. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of September 12, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, September 12, 2014
U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice (L), shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing September 9, 2014. REUTERS/Andy Wong/Pool (CHINA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY) U.S. national security advisor Susan Rice (L), shakes hands with Chinese president Xi Jinping during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing on September 9, 2014. (Andy Wong/Courtesy Reuters)

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

1. U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice visits Asia. Susan Rice is in Beijing for three days of meetings, including a forty-five minute private session with Chinese president Xi Jinping, in preparation for U.S. president Barack Obama’s visit to China in November. Much of the conversation focused on the close calls between U.S. and Chinese military ship and aircraft in recent years, and a senior Chinese military officer told Rice that the United States should stop its close-up aerial and naval surveillance of China. Read more »

The Failures of the ASEAN Economic Community

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, September 12, 2014
jakarta-international-container-terminal A worker walks at the Jakarta international container terminal in Tanjung Priok port in this file photo from July 26, 2012. Southeast Asia has sought to overcome competing national interests and form a European Union-style economic community by 2015 (Supri/Courtesy: Reuters).

Next year, the long-awaited ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will come into effect, welcomed surely by fanfare both from the organization and from all of the ten member states. Long promised by ASEAN countries but repeatedly delayed in its launch, the AEC is supposed to be a single market for all ten member states, similar in some respects to the early days of the European Union’s single market. In theory, the AEC would provide a major boost to intra-regional trade, which lags behind its potential, and also would help woo foreign investment region-wide. Read more »

U.S. Policy Options Toward Thailand

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, September 9, 2014
thai-government-house A Thai soldier uses his walkie-talkie as he stands guard at the Government House before the first cabinet meeting in Bangkok on September 9, 2014 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy: Reuters).

In my previous post on the rule of Prayuth Chan-ocha, I noted that, in this “hard coup,” army rule could last a considerably long time–two years, and possibly even more. Some Thai observers are suggesting that Prayuth and the army will retain power for as much as five years. As I mentioned previously, in this “hard coup,” the military is likely to take more draconian action against any opponents in the next year as well, since the army has overseen somewhat of an economic rebound, has muffled most of the Thai press, and has gotten relatively little criticism from Asian countries like Japan, Indonesia, and India. I expect to see activists detained for longer periods of time, and treated much more roughly under army detention than they have been so far. I also expect Thaksin sympathizers to be purged from the civil service and the armed forces, and many leading pro-Thaksin politicians to be charged with offenses and actually sent to jail, a rarity in the past for Thai elites of any political persuasion. Read more »

Three Things for Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe to Read

by Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, September 8, 2014
Demonstrators chant slogans and carry a Chinese national flag as they march past riot police outside the main entrance to the Japanese embassy in Beijing September 17, 2012. Chinese police used pepper spray, tear gas and water cannon to break up an anti-Japan protest in southern China on Sunday as demonstrators took to the streets in scores of cities across the country in a long-running row with Japan over a group of disputed islands. REUTERS/David Gray (CHINA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS) Demonstrators chant slogans and carry a Chinese national flag as they march past riot police outside the main entrance to the Japanese embassy in Beijing on September 17, 2012. (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters)

With the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in early November approaching rapidly, hopes are high for a meeting between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. The downturn in relations between Japan and China has been a lose-lose proposition for both countries. Japanese investment in China has dropped off dramatically at a time when Beijing can ill-afford another hit to its sputtering economy, and many Japanese companies have hitched their future to China and are suffering as a result of current political tensions. Moreover, the potential for military conflict to erupt around the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands remains significant. The summit, which will be held in Beijing, offers an important opportunity for President Xi and Prime Minister Abe to begin to bring their countries’ derailed relations back on track. Read more »