CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Malaysia’s Growing Climate of Repression Gets Ignored

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, October 24, 2014
malaysia lawyer protest march Malaysian lawyers march during a protest calling for the repeal of the Sedition Act in Kuala Lumpur on October 16, 2014. The Sedition Act has been used to arrest at least 30 people since last March, local media reported (Olivia Harris/Courtesy: Reuters).

Amidst the gushing over the inauguration of new Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the first outsider, non-elite president in Indonesia’s democratic era, there is a significant void of international interest in neighboring Malaysia, where the climate for freedom of expression and assembly has deteriorated badly in the past year. Over the past year, the government of Prime Minister Najib tun Razak, which in Najib’s first term had promised to improve the climate for civil liberties and abolish long-hated laws that allowed detention without trial, has shifted course. The government has pursued a sodomy case against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim that, next week, almost surely will end with Anwar being sentenced to jail, though the case was a comedy of ridiculous “evidence” and coached witnesses. (To be clear—I don’t think sodomy should be a crime, but it is in Malaysia; even so, there was no verifiable evidence Anwar actually engaged in this “crime.”) Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of October 24, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, October 24, 2014
Jeffrey Fowle (C) and his wife (R) are greeted by U.S. Air Force 88 Air Base Wing Commander Col. John Devillier upon arrival at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio early on October 22, 2014 (Courtesy: Reuters). Jeffrey Fowle (C) and his wife (R) are greeted by U.S. Air Force 88 Air Base Wing Commander Col. John Devillier upon arrival at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio early on October 22, 2014 (Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. North Korea releases U.S. prisoner. On Tuesday, Pyongyang released Jeffrey Fowle, one of three Americans currently detained in North Korea. Fowle, a fifty-six-year-old road maintenance worker from Ohio, was detained after he was found to have left a Bible in his hotel during a tour of North Korea; ownership of Bibles and missionary-related activities are illegal in North Korea. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was no deal made for Fowle’s release and urged Pyongyang to release the two other detainees, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller. Read more »

Maxine Builder: South Korea’s Response to Ebola—From Panic to Pledges

by Guest Blogger for Yanzhong Huang Thursday, October 23, 2014
South Korea's Second Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Tae-yul (1st L) presides over a meeting regarding sending medics to Africa in response to Ebola, at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul October 20, 2014. (Kim Hong-JI/Courtesy Reuters) South Korea's Second Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Tae-yul (1st L) presides over a meeting regarding sending medics to Africa in response to Ebola, at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul October 20, 2014. (Kim Hong-JI/Courtesy Reuters)

Maxine Builder is a research associate for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

When the Ebola outbreak in West Africa began receiving international attention in August, South Korea panicked.

Read more »

Why Is the Obama Administration Planning Cobra Gold 2015 with Thailand?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, October 21, 2014
prayuth sept 30 Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha waves after a handover ceremony for the new Royal Thai Army Chief at the Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok on September 30, 2014 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

Despite the fact that Thai junta leader–turned prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha recently let slip that the current Thai regime might not hold elections until 2016 or later, U.S. policy toward the kingdom remains largely the same as before the coup. Some in the State Department and other parts of the administration have urged the U.S. government to take a tougher line against Thailand, noting that there should be a clear U.S. response to the overthrow of an elected government. But recent reports suggest that the Obama administration is not going to cancel the 2015 Cobra Gold military exercises with Thailand next year or move it to another country, which would be a serious blow to the prestige of the Thai armed forces. Moving Cobra Gold, in fact, would be a much tougher response to the coup than the mild sanctions put in place by the Obama administration thus far. The administration plans merely to scale Cobra Gold down. Read more »

Are Americans Overreacting to the Ebola Virus?

by Yanzhong Huang Monday, October 20, 2014
Protestor Jeff Hulbert of Annapolis, Maryland holds a sign reading "Stop the Flights" as he demonstrates in favor of a travel ban to stop the spread of the Ebola virus, in front of the White House in Washington October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Bourg (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) A protestor holds a sign reading "Stop the Flights" as he demonstrates in favor of a travel ban to stop the spread of the Ebola virus, in front of the White House in Washington on October 16, 2014. (Jim Bourg/Courtesy Reuters)

Compared with the havoc wreaked by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the virus thus far has only led to three confirmed cases in the United States. The fear and anxiety however has spread much faster. Earlier this month, seventy-five airplane-cabin cleaners at LaGuardia Airport walked off their jobs partly due to concerns about the risk of exposure to the virus. Last week, a woman who vomitted in the Pentagon parking lot triggered a health scare that forced the temporary shutdown of the building entrance and the setup of a quarantine and decontamination tent in front of the hospital where she was admitted—and later found not to have Ebola. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of October 17, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, October 17, 2014
Health workers in protection suits wait in the corridor near a quarantine ward during a drill to demonstrate the procedures of handling Ebola victims, at a hospital in Guangzhou, Guangdong province on October 16, 2014 (Courtesy: Reuters). Health workers in protection suits wait in the corridor near a quarantine ward during a drill to demonstrate the procedures of handling Ebola victims, at a hospital in Guangzhou, Guangdong province on October 16, 2014 (Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. Asia responds to Ebola crisis. In preparation for the possible spread of Ebola into East Asia, governments in the region are building on lessons learned from SARS and other Asia-based health epidemics, stepping up aid to Africa, and taking precautions at home. This week, China sent thousands of doses of an experimental Ebola drug to Africa. South Korean President Park Geun-hye announced she will send medical personnel to Africa. Read more »

Thailand’s Elections? How About…Never. Is Never Good for You?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, October 17, 2014
thai senate elections Officials wait for voters at a polling station in Bangkok during a vote for a new Senate earlier this year, March 30, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

On his way to meetings in Europe this week, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who still seems to believe all reporters will simply accept his word without question as if they were in the military, stopped to briefly lecture journalists. Reporters have been asking Prayuth about the junta government’s roadmap for a return to electoral democracy, a question that, like all inquires, seems exasperating to Prayuth. In the course of his lecture, Prayuth basically let slip that, though he had earlier promised that elections would be held by October 2015, that date might have been overambitious, and Thailand actually might not have elections before 2016. Prayuth left open the possibility that even 2016 might be too soon for elections, or that elections might not happen at all. Read more »

Ten Fun and Fascinating Facts About Xi Jinping

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Residents hold posters of the newly appointed chief of China's Communist Party Xi Jinping and the disputed islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan (R), during a "Shehuo" performance to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, February 22, 2013. "Shehuo", which originated from the Han Dynasty, is a kind of folk performance with a long history to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, begun on February 10 this year and marks the start of the year of the snake, according to the Chinese zodiac. REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA - Tags: SOCIETY POLITICS) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA Residents hold posters of the newly appointed chief of China's Communist Party Xi Jinping during a "Shehuo" performance to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, on February 22, 2013. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

A friend recently dropped off a hot-off-the-press copy of Xi Jinping: The Goverance of China. It is a compilation of speeches, main points of speeches, pictures, interviews, and a biographical sketch of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Several different parts of the Chinese government bureaucracy participated in producing the book, which runs more than 500 pages. While I can’t do justice to all the material presented, here are some things I learned from reading through Xi’s musings and the musings of others about him. Read more »

More on Selling Vietnam Lethal Arms

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, October 13, 2014
Crewmen aboard Vietnam coastguard ship 8003 monitor radar of Chinese ships in disputed waters close to China's Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig in the South China Sea,in this photo from July 15, 2014 (Martin Petty/Courtesy: Reuters). Crewmen aboard Vietnam coastguard ship 8003 monitor radar of Chinese ships in disputed waters close to China's Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig in the South China Sea,in this photo from July 15, 2014 (Martin Petty/Courtesy: Reuters).

Last week, after the Obama administration’s decision to begin selling Vietnam limited amounts of lethal arms, a shift in the policy that has been in place since the end of the Vietnam War, I noted in a blog post that I believed the administration had made the right move, despite Vietnam’s serious—and worsening—rights abuses. Administration officials note that any further lethal arms sales, and closer relations with Vietnam and the Vietnamese military, will be contingent on Vietnam making progress in tolerating dissent of all types. Indeed, according to a report on the lethal arms sales in the New York Times: Read more »

Kim Jong-un’s Absence: Who Should Be Worried?

by Scott A. Snyder Saturday, October 11, 2014
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un looks through a pair of binoculars during an inspection of the Hwa Islet Defense Detachment standing guard over a forward post off the east coast of the Korean peninsula, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on July 1, 2014 (KCNA/Courtesy: Reuters). North Korean leader Kim Jong-un looks through a pair of binoculars during an inspection of the Hwa Islet Defense Detachment standing guard over a forward post off the east coast of the Korean peninsula, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on July 1, 2014 (KCNA/Courtesy: Reuters).

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has not been seen in public for over one month, failing to participate in a major Supreme People’s Assembly gathering and anniversary commemorations of the founding of the Korean Workers’ Party. These are the same sorts of events that his father, Kim Jong-il, failed to attend six years ago following a stroke from which it took months for him to recover. North Korea’s official media has publicly acknowledged Kim’s “discomfort.” Read more »