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Asia Unbound

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

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Podcast: China’s Environmental Health Crisis – Challenges and Politics

by Yanzhong Huang
Women wear face masks on the Bund in front of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower during a hazy day in downtown Shanghai January 26, 2015. (Aly Song/Courtesy Reuters) Women wear face masks on the Bund in front of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower during a hazy day in downtown Shanghai January 26, 2015. (Aly Song/Courtesy Reuters)

After more than three decades of rapid industrialization and modernization, China is on the cusp of potentially becoming the world’s largest economy. Yet China’s economic miracle has imposed tremendous costs on the environment and public health. Topping this list is extensive air pollution, water pollution, and soil contamination—outdoor air pollution, for example, has been linked to 1.2 million premature deaths in China. The result, as shown in the recent viral documentary “Under the Dome,” has been an environmental health crisis that has profound economic, social, and political ramifications. The ascending popularity of the documentary, followed by its quick disappearance from all major websites in China, beget a series of questions on China’s environmental health crisis: What is the nature and magnitude of the crisis? What are its causes and consequences?  What is the response of the Chinese government to the crisis and is this response sufficient to the challenges at hand? Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 8, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Security forces and rescue workers inspect an abandoned camp at a rubber plantation near a mountain in Thailand's southern Songkhla province on May 7, 2015 (Surapan Boonthanom/Courtesy: Reuters). Security forces and rescue workers inspect an abandoned camp at a rubber plantation near a mountain in Thailand's southern Songkhla province on May 7, 2015 (Surapan Boonthanom/Courtesy: Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Mass graves of human trafficking camp unearthed in Thailand. Police exhumed twenty-six bodies at a mass grave located in the jungles of Songkhla province this week. Most of the migrants once held at the now abandoned site were Rohingya Muslim refugees from western Myanmar and Bangladesh. According to reports, this camp was made up of “bamboo cages, watchtowers and what Thai police described as a torture room.” Even as the grave was discovered, more than fifty Thai police officers were punished over suspected links to human trafficking networks. The mass grave was hardly the first indicator that Thailand has a booming human trafficking business and it remains to be seen if the Thai government can successfully undertake steps necessary to combat human trafficking. Read more »

South Koreans’ Outlook on China and the United States

by Scott A. Snyder
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a Veterans Day event at the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, on November11, 2010. (Jim Young/Courtesy: Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a Veterans Day event at the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, on November11, 2010. (Jim Young/Courtesy: Reuters)

This post was co-authored by Darcie Draudt, research associate for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

On April 20, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul released its latest report on South Korean public views on the United States. Overall, the numbers track fairly consistently with recent annual polls (Asan has tracked this data in 2012, 2013, and 2014): South Koreans polled view the United States as the major political and military, if not also economic, leader in the region. However, an overwhelming number of South Koreans expect that Chinese economic power will necessarily rise and U.S. economic power is declining; 70.5 percent believe China will be the future economic superpower while a mere 20.2 percent chose the United States. Read more »

China’s Secret Plan to Supplant the United States

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Members of People's Liberation Army (PLA) coastal defence force shout as they practise during a drill to mark the upcoming 87th Army Day at a military base in Qingdao, Shandong province July 29, 2014. The PLA Army Day falls on August 1 every year. Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to strike hard against graft in the military, urging soldiers to banish corrupt practices and ensure their loyalty to the ruling Communist Party, state media reported on Friday. Picture taken July 29, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS ANNIVERSARY) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA Members of People's Liberation Army (PLA) coastal defence force shout as they practise during a drill to mark the upcoming 87th Army Day at a military base in Qingdao, Shandong province, on July 29, 2014 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

We are entering the season of presidential primary politics, and many of the candidates—or at least their advisors—might benefit from a fresh look at the current crop of foreign policy books. China should be at or near the top of every candidate’s bedside reading list. With that in mind, I have begun to make my way through the mounting pile of new books and reports on U.S.-China relations that has accumulated over the past few months and thought I might offer a few reflections on what is novel and most useful—or not—from each. For those of you who have already read one of books, I welcome your thoughts. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 24, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (R) greets China's President Xi Jinping during the arrival for the opening ceremony of the Asian African Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, 22 April 2015. The 60th Asian-African Conference is held in Jakarta and Bandung from 19 to 24 April 2015. REUTERS/Mast Irham/POOL Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (R) greets China's President Xi Jinping during the arrival for the opening ceremony of the Asian African Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 22, 2015 (Mast Irham/Courtesy Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Xi Jinping visits Indonesia and Pakistan. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Pakistan and Indonesia this week. In Pakistan, he signed agreements worth more than $28 billion as part of the new “Silk Road,” an ambitious land and maritime economic corridor connecting China to Europe and the Middle East. Pakistan will invest part of the money in infrastructure proejcts, including a deepwater port at Gwadar and railroads from Baluchistan into western China. In Indonesia, Xi attended the Asian-African Conference. Xi Jinping and  Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo held bilateral talks on the sidelines of the conference to discuss investments in Indonesian development. This pledge came on the heels of Jokowi’s announcement that Indonesia plans to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Bank. At the conference, Xi spoke about the importance of developed countries investing in the developing world “with no political strings attached,” while Jokowi, in his keynote address, called for a new world order not dominated by Western-controlled financial institutions. Xi also met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, despite a speech by Abe in which he warned against powerful nations imposing on the weak. Read more »

The Anti-Corruption Drive and Risk of Policy Paralysis in China

by Yanzhong Huang
China's Politburo Standing Committee members (2nd row from bottom, L to R) Wang Qishan, Zhang Dejiang, President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, Liu Yunshan and Yu Zhengsheng (bottom row, 2nd R) sing Chinese national anthem at the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 13, 2015. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Courtesy: Reuters) China's Politburo Standing Committee members (2nd row from bottom, L to R) Wang Qishan, Zhang Dejiang, President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, Liu Yunshan and Yu Zhengsheng (bottom row, 2nd R) sing Chinese national anthem at the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 13, 2015. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Courtesy: Reuters)

Like it or not, President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign is extremely popular among Chinese people. According to an online survey, “combating corruption” trails “income distribution” as the top two concerns of the Chinese public. There are already reports suggesting that the campaign has helped reduce the transaction cost for ordinary people to get things done in China. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 17, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Local residents and their supporters celebrate after the Fukui District Court issued an injunction to prevent the restart of two nuclear reactors at Takahama nuclear power plant, in front of the court in Fukui, northwestern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo April 14, 2015. (Kyodo/Courtesy: Reuters) Local residents and their supporters celebrate after the Fukui District Court issued an injunction to prevent the restart of two nuclear reactors at Takahama nuclear power plant, in front of the court in Fukui, northwestern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo April 14, 2015. (Kyodo/Courtesy: Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Japan court blocks reopening of nuclear reactors. A Japanese district court issued orders for two nuclear reactors in western Fukui prefecture to stay offline, rejecting regulators’ safety approval of the planned restart later this year. The court criticized the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s lax safety standards, particularly in the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima crisis. Kansai Electric, the operators of the reactors in Fukui, plan to file a protest asking the court to reverse its decision. With all forty-eight commercial reactors in Japan still offline, the decision may further delay Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to restart nuclear reactors. Abe has said the shutdown damages the struggling Japanese economy, forcing Japan to import expensive fossil fuels to compensate for the existing energy deficit. Read more »

Podcast: China’s Influence on the North Korean Economy

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A female North Korean soldier guards the banks of the Yalu River near the Chongsong county of North Korea opposite the Chinese border town of Hekou, northeastern China's Liaoning province May 31, 2009. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Saturday the United States would not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea and he warned Pyongyang against transferring nuclear material overseas. REUTERS/Jason Lee (NORTH KOREA POLITICS MILITARY IMAGES OF THE DAY) A female North Korean soldier guards the banks of the Yalu River near the Chongsong county of North Korea opposite the Chinese border town of Hekou, northeastern China's Liaoning province on May 31, 2009 (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters).

China and North Korea historically have had a close relationship—as close as “lips and teeth,” as leaders in both countries were fond of saying during the Cold War. To this day, China is North Korea’s largest trading partner, energy provider, and source of aid. Despite these close ties, however, the past eighteen months have revealed fissures in the relationship. Since coming to power, neither Chinese President Xi Jinping nor North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has made an official state visit to see his counterpart; Xi even chose to visit South Korea first. In Pyongyang, the execution of Jang Song-taek, a major proponent of engagement with China, caused consternation in Beijing.  Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 10, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
A ship (top) of Chinese Coast Guard is seen near a ship of Vietnam Marine Guard in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) off shore of Vietnam May 14, 2014. Vietnamese ships were followed by Chinese vessels as they neared China's oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea on Wednesday, Vietnam's Coast Guard said. Vietnam has condemned as illegal the operation of a Chinese deepwater drilling rig in what Vietnam says is its territorial water in the South China Sea and has told China's state-run oil company to remove it. China has said the rig was operating completely within its waters. (Nguyen Minh/Courtesy: Reuters) A ship (top) of Chinese Coast Guard is seen near a ship of Vietnam Marine Guard in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) off shore of Vietnam May 14, 2014. Vietnamese ships were followed by Chinese vessels as they neared China's oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea on Wednesday, Vietnam's Coast Guard said. Vietnam has condemned as illegal the operation of a Chinese deepwater drilling rig in what Vietnam says is its territorial water in the South China Sea and has told China's state-run oil company to remove it. China has said the rig was operating completely within its waters. (Nguyen Minh/Courtesy: Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. U.S. Secretary of Defense wraps up inaugural visit to Northeast Asia. Recently confirmed Secretary of Defense Ash Carter arrived in East Asia this week, reinforcing the importance of the rebalance policy under his watch at the Pentagon. On his way to the region from Washington, Carter spoke at the McCain Institute at Arizona State University on Monday, where he underscored the importance of U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific through both military strength and economic growth. Read more »

Rotenberg and Di: Ali Health Offers a Revolutionary Moment for China’s Healthcare Industry

by Guest Blogger for Yanzhong Huang
Alibaba Group Holding Ltd chairman Jack Ma gestures during a talk by Our Hong Kong Foundation in Hong Kong, February 2, 2015. The head of China's commerce regulator met with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd chairman Jack Ma last Friday to discuss combating fake products, the official Xinhua news agency reported, with the two adopting a conciliatory tone after a row over illegal business on the Internet company's platforms. (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters) Alibaba Group Holding Ltd chairman Jack Ma gestures during a talk by Our Hong Kong Foundation in Hong Kong, February 2, 2015. The head of China's commerce regulator met with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd chairman Jack Ma last Friday to discuss combating fake products, the official Xinhua news agency reported, with the two adopting a conciliatory tone after a row over illegal business on the Internet company's platforms. (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters)

Ariella Rotenberg is a research associate for U.S. Foreign Policy, and Peng Di is an intern for Global Health Governance at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Private sector actors in China, first and foremost Alibaba, are taking significant steps to do what they believe will earn a handsome profit in the growing Chinese healthcare industry. With a market estimated to reach one trillion dollars by 2020, companies are working fast to secure their slice of the expanding Chinese healthcare pie. Read more »