CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

The Pivot and Democratic Regression in Southeast Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, October 1, 2014
cambodia opposition youth supoprt A young supporter of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) holds a Cambodian national flag during the last day of a three-day protest at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh on September 17, 2013 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

This past week’s serious challenges to democracy in Indonesia, on the heels of what had been a successful presidential election in July, should serve as a reminder that, while the region has made strides since the 1980s and early 1990s, democracy is far from entrenched in Southeast Asia. Retrograde forces, like the coalition of politicians allied with Prabowo Subianto in Indonesia, continue to stand in the way of democratic reforms. In some Southeast Asian nations, such as Thailand and Malaysia, anti-democratic forces have been highly successful in reversing progress toward democratization. Read more »

Podcast: Remarks by Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, October 1, 2014
park won-soon Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon speaks during a news conference for foreign media in Seoul in this file photo from November 9, 2011 (Lee Jae-Won/Courtesy: Reuters).

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon spoke at a CFR Korea Program roundtable on the future of Seoul, as partner with its neighbors and role in engaging with North Korea on September 24, 2014. Listen to his opening remarks here.

 

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What Beijing Should Do About Hong Kong

by Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, September 29, 2014
Joshua Wong, a 17-year-old who heads the group leading a pupils' protest, Scholarism, addresses a rally in Hong Kong September 26, 2014. Hundreds of children joined students demanding greater democracy for Hong Kong on Friday, capping a week-long campaign that has seen a large cut-out depicting the territory's leader as the devil paraded through the city and calls for him to resign. The Chinese characters on the background read "Fate". REUTERS/Bobby Yip (CHINA - Tags: POLITICS EDUCATION CIVIL UNREST) Joshua Wong, a seventeen-year-old who heads the group leading a pupils' protest, Scholarism, addresses a rally in Hong Kong on September 26, 2014. (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters)

Hong Kong is not Beijing, 2014 is not 1989, and Civic Square is not Tiananmen Square. Still, the images of tens of thousands of Hong Kong Chinese demonstrating in the streets for democratic reform cannot help but bring back memories of a quarter century ago. Like the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations in Beijing, those in Hong Kong are spearheaded by extraordinarily passionate, articulate, and inspiring young leaders. Both movements include Chinese people from all walks of life. And both movements, while at heart represent a call for fuller democracy and more direct political participation, also engage issues of economic well-being and inequities within the system. Read more »

Indonesia’s Democracy Takes a Hit

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, September 29, 2014
joko widodo-swearing in Indonesia's president-elect and current Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo looks up as he leaves a swearing-in ceremony of new local legislators at the city council in Jakarta on September 26, 2014. Indonesia's parliament on Friday approved a measure ending direct elections for governors and mayors, a move Widodo criticized as a "big step back" for democracy in the country. Indonesia introduced direct elections for regional leaders in 2005, allowing the emergence of a new breed of politician free of links to the political elite, with Widodo being the best-known example (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters).

Last week, I warned that the passage of a proposed law by Indonesia’s parliament that would end direct elections of local officials would be a major blow to Indonesian democracy. The legislation had been championed by the most retrograde elements in Indonesia, and in particular by the party of the losing presidential candidate in this past July’s election, Prabowo Subianto. Direct election of local and provincial officials had been a critical post-Suharto reform, a major part of Indonesia’s decentralization process, and a vital element of political empowerment. Direct elections had helped create a new group of younger Indonesian political leaders who actually had to serve their local publics or—horrors!—risk being booted out of office, and it also (somewhat) shifted the political balance of power away from Jakarta and out across the archipelago. Such a process of decentralization only made sense in a vast and diverse country.  Allowing for more local and provincial elections did increase the possibility of graft in holding more polls, as I noted in my book Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline in Representative Government. But, for most Indonesians, this was a reasonable price to pay to (generally) get more responsive local government. And in any event, earlier methods of selecting local leaders—basically, they were hand-chosen by Suharto and his allies—still had led to enormous amounts of rent-seeking. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of September 26, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, September 26, 2014
Students in Chennai pose with banners featuring Mars and Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) scientists as they celebrate India's Mars orbiter successfully entering the red planet's orbit on September 24, 2014 (Babu/Courtesy: Reuters). Students in Chennai pose with banners featuring Mars and Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) scientists as they celebrate India's Mars orbiter successfully entering the red planet's orbit on September 24, 2014 (Babu/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. India becomes the first Asian nation to reach Mars. India’s space program celebrated a huge victory this week, successfully launching an orbiter to Mars on its first attempt. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) managed to send the Mars Orbitor Mission, affectionately nicknamed MOM, on a budget of  $74 million; many have been quick to point out that it cost less than the production of the Hollywood hit movie, Gravity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a celebration of the mission’s success, and schools in India organized programs to commemorate the entry of MOM into Mars’s orbit. The first images of the red planet were uploaded to Twitter, sparking a Twitter conversation between Modi and ISRO’s orbiter. Read more »

Indian Prime Minister Modi in the United States: What to Watch

by Alyssa Ayres Thursday, September 25, 2014
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) gestures during the launch of the 'Make in India' campaign in New Delhi on September 25, 2014 (Adnan Abidi/Courtesy: Reuters). Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) gestures during the launch of the 'Make in India' campaign in New Delhi on September 25, 2014 (Adnan Abidi/Courtesy: Reuters).

Indian Prime Minister Modi arrives in the United States this weekend, for a five-day visit split between New York and Washington, DC. He’ll have a full program in New York to start, with a speech at the UN General Assembly, numerous meetings with CEOs, speeches here at CFR and at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, and the headline-topping gathering of his closest 18,000 friends in the Indian American community at Madison Square Garden (to be simulcast in Times Square as well). That would be a heady program on its own. Read more »

The Lucky Country Is About to Run out of Luck

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, September 25, 2014
australia mining A stacker/reclaimer places coal in stockpiles at the coal port in Newcastle, Australia, in this file photo taken on June 6, 2012 (Daniel Munoz/Courtesy: Reuters).

I don’t often write about Australia, partly because Australian politics are so stable and the country such a solid partner for the United States, but also because Australia has for twenty years basically avoided the ups and downs of the world economy. Alone among rich nations, Australia was basically unaffected by the global economic and financial crises of 2008-9 and the country also has not faced the kind of long-term economic slowdown challenges that confront Europe, the United States, and Japan. Unemployment today in Australia is around 6 percent, and earlier this year it was under 6 percent. Most forecasters project that Australia will grow by at least 3 percent in 2014, which is well above projections for most other developed economies. Read more »

Three Take-Home Messages from China’s Glaxo Verdict

by Yanzhong Huang Thursday, September 25, 2014
A Chinese national flag flutters  in front of  a GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) office building in Shanghai on July 12, 2013. (Aly Song/Courtesy Reuters) A Chinese national flag flutters in front of a GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) office building in Shanghai on July 12, 2013. (Aly Song/Courtesy Reuters)

The investigation of GlaxoSmithKline’s corruption scandal ended last Friday with China fining the British drug maker nearly $500 million. The verdict revealed three important messages that multinational pharmaceuticals do not want to miss. Read more »

Climate Change: What Is China Doing and Not Doing?

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli speaks during the Climate Summit at the U.N. headquarters in New York September 23, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENVIRONMENT) Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli speaks during the Climate Summit at the U.N. headquarters in New York on September 23, 2014. (Mike Segar/Courtesy Reuters)

At the UN Climate Summit this week in New York, Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli said it all: “China will make greater effort to more effectively address climate change;” announce further actions “as soon as we can;” and achieve “the peaking of total carbon dioxide emissions as early as possible.” According to one Western environmental NGO official, “China’s remarks at the Climate Summit go further than ever before. Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli’s announcements to strive to peak emissions ‘as early as possible’ is a welcome signal for the cooperative action we need for the Paris Agreement.” Other media outlets trumpeted: “China pledges to cut emissions at UN climate summit” and “China shifts stance on climate change.” Read more »

South Korea-U.S. Nuclear Cooperation: How to Move Forward

by Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, September 23, 2014
shin kori 3 and 4_au The Shin Kori No. 1 reactor of state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) are seen in Ulsan, about 255 miles southeast of Seoul. Picture taken on September 3, 2013 (Lee Jae-Won/Courtesy: Reuters).

South Korea’s vibrant civilian nuclear sector, which consists of 23 reactors that supplied approximately 30 percent of its electricity in 2012, was built through cooperation with the United States. The United States shared know-how and technology that enabled the construction and operation of South Korea’s first reactors in the 1960s. American companies such as Westinghouse and the former Combustion Engineering worked closely with South Korean counterparts over decades to build a vibrant nuclear power generation capacity in South Korea, a country that has virtually no indigenous energy production resources. Read more »