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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: The Life and Death of John Birch

by Elizabeth C. Economy
John-Birch-A-Life

When most Americans hear the name John Birch, they immediately think of the John Birch Society: an anticommunist, right-wing advocacy group that flourished in the 1950s and 60s. But who was John Birch, and what did the society have to do with him? On this week’s Asia Unbound podcast I speak with Terry Lautz, visiting professor at Syracuse University, about his new book, John Birch: A Life. Read more »

Podcast: Environmental Degradation and Political Change in China

by Yanzhong Huang
Air-pollution-shanghai A woman wears a mask as she takes pictures on the Bund on a hazy day in Shanghai, China, March 7, 2016. (Aly Song/Reuters)

China’s economic miracle has imposed tremendous social costs.  In December 2015, as levels of PM2.5—the deadliest airborne particles—were forecast to be more than twenty times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization, the Beijing municipal government issued its first-ever red alert for pollution (the most serious on a four-tier system), closing schools and restricting the number of cars on the road. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of June 3, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
A man points to water and soil which turned red after being contaminated by industrial waste from a closed dye factory, amid heavy rainfall at a mountain in Ruyang county, Henan province September 15, 2014. According to the local government, the dye factory was operating without proper licenses and was shut down by the authority last year after an explosion which caused dye leakage and polluted the underground water. Picture taken September 15, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer A man points to water and soil which turned red after being contaminated by industrial waste from a closed dye factory, amid heavy rainfall at a mountain in Ruyang county, Henan province on September 15, 2014. According to the local government, the dye factory was operating without proper licenses and was shut down by the authority last year after an explosion which caused dye leakage and polluted the underground water. The Chinese government released a new action plan to address soil pollution this week (Stringer/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Theresa Lou, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. China releases ambitious plan to clean up polluted soil. In 2014, the Chinese government disclosed that approximately 20 percent of its arable land was contaminated, primarily with heavy metals and agricultural chemicals from industry and farming. This Tuesday, the central government released a long-awaited action plan as a first major step to control and remedy the widespread problem, known as the last of the “three big campaigns” in Chinese environmental protection along with air and water pollution. The plan aims to stabilize and improve soil quality so that 90 percent of contaminated sites are safe for use by 2020, and 95 percent by 2030. Read more »

Forty-Five Minutes With Joshua Wong

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Joshua Wong, leader of the student movement, delivers a speech as protesters block the main street to the financial Central district, outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong October 1, 2014. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters thronged the streets of Hong Kong on Wednesday, some of them jeering National Day celebrations, and students threatened to ramp up demonstrations if the city's pro-Beijing leader did not step down. REUTERS/Carlos Barria Joshua Wong, leader of the student movement, delivers a speech as protesters block the main street to the financial Central district, outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong on October 1, 2014. Since the Umbrella Revolution, Wong has gone on to found the new political party Demosisto. (Carlos Barria/Reuters).

Four years ago, when he was just fifteen years old, Joshua Wong launched a campaign to prevent Beijing from enforcing its own version of history in Hong Kong schools. Along with other student activists involved in his “Scholarism” group, he managed to rally one hundred and twenty thousand people in protest and eventually beat back the government’s initiative. During that effort, Scholarism raised one million Hong Kong dollars in just one day—with 25-40 year olds as the most supportive demographic. For Wong, it was a signal that young people really could achieve change. (Less well known, perhaps, is that Wong cut his activist teeth protesting against a high-speed rail link between Hong Kong and the mainland when he was only thirteen years old.) Since then, of course, Wong has become world-renowned for his effort in helping lead the Occupy Central movement, which called for universal suffrage in Hong Kong. For his actions, he has been vilified by the Chinese government, assaulted, and arrested—all by the age of eighteen. Read more »

Podcast: How State Capitalism is Transforming the World

by Elizabeth C. Economy
State-Capitalism-Kurlantzick

In this week’s Asia Unbound podcast I speak with Joshua Kurlantzick, CFR’s senior fellow for Southeast Asia, about his new book, State Capitalism: How the Return of Statism is Transforming the World. Kurlantzick explains that although state capitalism has been around for more than two decades, it has entered a new era of popularity. Read more »

How Much Can We Learn From Taiwanese Inauguration Speeches?

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen walks on the podium before addressing during an inauguration ceremony in Taipei, Taiwan May 20, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen walks on the podium before addressing during an inauguration ceremony in Taipei, Taiwan on May 20, 2016. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Pei-Yu Wei is an intern for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The inauguration speech of Tsai Ing-Wen, the new president of Taiwan, on May 20, drew much attention from audiences both at home and abroad who hoped to glean information about the future path that Taiwan’s China policy might take. Tsai, the island’s first female president, is the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a party known for its more independent stance vis-a-vis China, and Beijing has so far regarded her rise with wariness. But how indicative are Taiwanese inaugural speeches of policies down the line? Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of May 27, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Obama-Vietnam-speech Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (L-R), Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 25, 2015. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Theresa Lou, Gabriella Meltzer, Pei-Yu Wei, and James West look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. Obama offers subtle criticisms in Vietnam. Much of the coverage of U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to Vietnam this week centered around the lifting of the lethal weapons ban and tensions in the South China Sea. However, Obama also used his visit to address concerns surrounding human rights violations and autocratic governance in Vietnam. Read more »

China’s Surprising New Refugee Debate

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Syrian refugees stuck between the Jordanian and Syrian borders waiting to cross into Jordan, walk at a camp, after a group of them crossed into Jordanian territory, near the town of Ruwaished, at the Hadalat area, east of the capital Amman, May 4, 2016. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed Syrian refugees walk at a camp as they wait to cross into Jordan on May 4, 2016. In a new survey from Amnesty International, Chinese respondents were the most willing to personally host refugees, suggesting that perhaps China could resettle more Syrian refugees. (Muhammad Hamed/Reuters)

Rachel Brown is a research associate in Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

China ranks first in many things – population, greenhouse gas emissions, foreign treasury holdings – but openness toward refugees is one arena in which it has not traditionally been considered a leader. It therefore came as surprise when China ranked first in Amnesty International’s recently released “Refugees Welcome Index,” a survey that polled over 27,000 people in twenty-seven nations on their attitudes toward refugees. This put it ahead of nations such as Germany and Canada that have already taken in thousands of Syrian refugees. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of May 20, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Sri-Lanka-floods Villagers pull a boat with people after rescuing them on a flooded road in Biyagama, Sri Lanka, May 17, 2016. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Theresa Lou, Gabriella Meltzer, Ayumi Teraoka, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. Sri Lanka reeling from massive flooding and mudslides. Sri Lanka is currently experiencing its heaviest rains in twenty-five years, leading to flooding and landslides that have devastated twenty-one out of the country’s twenty-five districts. The death toll as of today has reached nearly seventy people, over 300,000 have been displaced from their homes, and 220 families are still reported missing beneath the mud, which in some places reaches up to thirty feet. Read more »

Podcast: The Hacked World Order

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Hacked-World-Order-Segal-2

In this week’s Asia Unbound podcast I speak with my longtime colleague Adam Segal, Maurice R. Greenberg senior fellow for China studies and director of the digital and cyberspace policy program here at CFR, about his new book, The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age. In our discussion, Segal clearly and concisely deconstructs the framework of U.S.-China cyber relations and describes the global implications of the geopolitics of cyberspace. Read more »