CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

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 (WHO) declared that China has achieved the MDG 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 »

Indonesian Legislative Elections: Muddled Results, Not Positive for Policymaking

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, April 11, 2014
A woman places a hand on a list of candidates for members of parliament at a polling station during voting for parliamentary elections in Jakarta on April 9, 2014. Indonesians voted for a new parliament on Wednesday in a poll that was dominated by the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), boosting the chances of its popular candidate in a presidential election three months from now (Beawiharta/Courtesy: Reuters). A woman places a hand on a list of candidates for members of parliament at a polling station during voting for parliamentary elections in Jakarta on April 9, 2014. (Beawiharta/Courtesy Reuters)

In terms of logistics and the quality of the actual voting day, Wednesday’s legislative elections in Indonesia were of a very high standard, with few irregularities reported across the massive country. The election once again shows that, in terms of the election day itself, Indonesia has moved toward consolidating its democracy and can be trusted to hold fair and relatively well-run polls. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 11, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, April 11, 2014
india-electonic-voting-booth A voter looks at an electronic voting machine before casting his vote inside a booth at a polling station in Bhangel village on the outskirts of New Delhi on April 10, 2014. Around 815 million people have registered to vote in the world's biggest election—a number exceeding the population of Europe and a world record—and results of the mammoth exercise, which concludes on May 12, are due on May 16 (Adnan Abidi/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. Indian election underway. With over 814 million eligible voters, India’s election is the largest democratic undertaking in history and will take place over a period of five weeks in nine phases—three of which were completed this week. On Thursday, constituencies were at stake in eleven of India’s states and three federally administered territories. India’s Election Commission reported impressive voter turnout in most regions, including over 60 percent turnout in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. Read more »

Hunter Gross: Despite Cyber Espionage, U.S.-China Relations Are Business as Usual

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, April 10, 2014
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) shakes hands with Chinese Minister of Defense Chang Wanquan at the end of a joint news conference at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters in Beijing on April 8, 2014. (Alex Wong/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. secretary of defense Chuck Hagel (L) shakes hands with Chinese minister of defense Chang Wanquan at the end of a joint news conference at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters in Beijing on April 8, 2014. (Alex Wong/Courtesy Reuters)

Hunter Gross is an intern for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Just as U.S. president Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping were set to meet in The Hague, documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency installed backdoors in the computer networks of the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei. Despite extensive U.S. media coverage and angry reactions from Chinese news sources such as Xinhua and the Global Times, this revelation follows the pattern of previous cyber-related disclosures; the issue first flares up, and then quickly fades until the next disclosure. Why does such a divisive issue neither strain U.S.-China relations or trigger significant actions to address the problem? Read more »

How to Spot A Shadowy North Korean Business

by Scott A. Snyder Thursday, April 10, 2014
Workers are seen inside a North Korean flagged ship Chong Chon Gang docked at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon City on July 16, 2013. Panama detained the North Korean–flagged ship from Cuba as it headed to the Panama Canal and said it was hiding weapons in brown sugar containers, sparking a standoff in which the ship's captain attempted to commit suicide (Carlos Jasso/Courtesy: Reuters). Workers are seen inside a North Korean flagged ship Chong Chon Gang docked at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon City on July 16, 2013. Panama detained the North Korean–flagged ship from Cuba as it headed to the Panama Canal and said it was hiding weapons in brown sugar containers, sparking a standoff in which the ship's captain attempted to commit suicide (Carlos Jasso/Courtesy: Reuters).

The latest UN Panel of Experts report reveals that North Korean businesses connected with the illicit arms trade are most effective when they hide their North Korean colors and blend in to the international trading environment as nondescript entities. Their North Korean origins may be concealed by a web of false fronts, dizzying name changes, and layered ownership structures that distance them from their North Korean origins. In other cases, some North Korean companies may continue to operate openly despite having been sanctioned by the UN. Without sufficient due diligence, unwitting companies could be doing business with North Korean firms in violation of UN sanctions on North Korean nuclear, missile, and conventional arms traders. Read more »

Obama in Malaysia: A Strategic Partnership?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, April 8, 2014
najib-and-obama-in-2011 U.S. president Barack Obama meets with Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, on November 18, 2011 (Jason Reed/Courtesy: Reuters).

During his upcoming late April trip to Asia, President Obama will visit two nations in Southeast Asia, Malaysia and the Philippines, in addition to stops in Northeast Asia. The White House already has been briefing reporters on the overall messaging of the trip, and the specific themes the president plans to hit in Malaysia and the Philippines. In Malaysia, it appears from several news reports and from speaking with several administration officials, President Obama will add to the Malaysian government’s self-promotion that Kuala Lumpur is a successful and democratic nation, an example of other Muslim-majority countries, and a force for moderation in the world. The president apparently plans to hit these themes despite the regional anger at Malaysia’s handling of the Malaysia Airlines vanished plane, which exposed to the world many of the problems with Malaysia’s governance. Read more »

What Briefing Chinese Officials on Cyber Really Accomplishes

by Adam Segal Monday, April 7, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and China's President Xi Jinping talk during a family photo at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague March 25, 2014. (Doug Mills/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and China's President Xi Jinping talk during a family photo at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague March 25, 2014. (Doug Mills/Courtesy Reuters)

David Sanger wrote an interesting article in the New York Times about Washington’s efforts to prevent escalating cyberattacks with Beijing. According to Sanger, U.S. officials have tried to allay the concerns of their Chinese counterparts about the buildup of Pentagon capabilities through greater transparency. They have briefed them on the “emerging doctrine for defending against cyberattacks against the United States—and for using its cybertechnology against adversaries, including the Chinese.” We should, however, be clear about their real purpose. These briefings have more to do with deterring China than assuring it. Read more »