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Asia Unbound

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

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

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
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 »

Beijing’s Arctic Play: Just the Tip of the Iceberg

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A whale dives into sea off the coast of Greenland's capital Nuuk October 17, 2012. By a remote fjord where icebergs float in silence and hunters stalk reindeer, plans are being drawn up for a huge iron ore mine that would lift Greenland's population by four percent at a stroke - by hiring Chinese workers. The $2.3-billion project by the small, British company London Mining Plc would also bring diesel power plants, a road and a port near Greenland's capital Nuuk. It would supply China with much needed iron for the steel its economy. With global warming thawing its Arctic sea lanes, and global industry eyeing minerals under this barren island a quarter the size of the United States, the 57,000 Greenlanders are wrestling with opportunities that offer rich rewards but risk harming a pristine environment and a traditional society that is trying to make its own way in the world after centuries of European rule. Yet a scramble for Greenland already may be under way, in which some see China trying to exploit the icebound territory as a staging ground in a global battle for Arctic resources and strategic control of new shipping routes. Picture taken October 17, 2012. To match Insight GREENLAND/ REUTERS/Alistair Scrutton (GREENLAND - Tags: BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT) A whale dives into sea off the coast of Greenland's capital Nuuk on October 17, 2012. (Alistair Scrutton/Courtesy Reuters)

If you pay attention, Chinese foreign policy rarely surprises. Of course there is the odd moment when Beijing catches the world unaware: for example, its declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea in late 2013. Generally speaking, however, the Chinese telegraph their long-term strategic intentions through their smaller tactical maneuvers. It is just that the rest of the world sometimes misses the signals or doesn’t know what to do with the information. Such is the case with China’s emerging play in the Arctic. Read more »

Assessing John Kerry’s Visit to Jakarta

by Joshua Kurlantzick
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry takes a selfie with a group of students before delivering a speech on climate change in Jakarta on February 16, 2014. (Pool New/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry takes a selfie with a group of students before delivering a speech on climate change in Jakarta on February 16, 2014. (Pool New/Courtesy Reuters)

Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit this weekend (U.S. time) to Jakarta was brief, packed into his whirlwind Asia trip. His short stay in Jakarta was understandable—I think Kerry, despite criticism that he has focused too much on the Middle East, has put in enough of the face time in Asia to justify his claim that he has continued the administration’s policy of re-engagement with Southeast Asia. The fact that Kerry chose to give a speech in front of an audience of students at a cultural center highlighted some of the American embassy in Jakarta’s soft power efforts in the archipelago. And I certainly would agree with most of what Kerry said in his speech on climate change and the threat of global warming—that climate change is a near-apocalyptic threat to the world, that the science about global warming is settled, that Indonesia is one of the developing nations most likely to be affected by climate change, that global warming could prove a death blow to many parts of the archipelago. Read more »

Assessing the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) and the Sustainability of South Korea’s Contribution

by Scott A. Snyder
South Korea's president Lee Myung-bak delivers a speech at an inaugural meeting of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) in Seoul. (Courtesy Reuters) South Korea's president Lee Myung-bak delivers a speech at an inaugural meeting of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) in Seoul. (Courtesy Reuters)

When South Korean president Lee Myung Bak first offered to serve as a bridge between developing and industrialized countries on climate change issues in a speech August of 2008, it seemed implausible that South Korea, as a smaller country in the global climate change discussion, could have an influence on either group. In fact, the speech ultimately seemed more targeted at a domestic rather than an international audience, since it spawned the establishment of a Blue House-led Green Growth Committee tasked to reform national energy policy across all sectors (including the National Asssembly’s adoption of an emissions trading scheme) and to promote policies of adaptation through enhanced energy efficiency and promotion of Korean development of renewables. Read more »

China Tries to Breathe Free

by Elizabeth C. Economy
The National Stadium, also known as the 'Bird's Nest', can be seen next to a tower bearing the Olympic rings and a building under construction on a high air pollution day in Beijing on June 6, 2012. The National Stadium, also known as the 'Bird's Nest', can be seen next to a tower bearing the Olympic rings and a building under construction on a high air pollution day in Beijing on June 6, 2012. (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters)

After one day in Beijing, I had a sore throat. After two days, I had a cough. In nine days, the sun never made an appearance. So, when I returned to New York from Beijing earlier this week, I wasn’t surprised to learn from a friend who tracks China’s air quality that the pollution in the country’s capital during my stay had been among the worst since 2007.

There really isn’t any mystery as to why Beijing’s air pollution is so bad. Read more »

Time to Move Bangkok?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra gestures to residents during her visit to a flooded area at Don Muang district in Bangkok.

Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra gestures to residents during her visit to a flooded area at Don Muang district in Bangkok (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters).

The flooding in Bangkok shows little sign of getting better, and its impact on Thailand’s economy and the global supply chain of many computer and automotive components has yet to be fully tallied. Japanese companies in particular have made enormous investments in Thailand and have been particularly hard hit by the flooding, but all computer disk drive makers and many car manufacturers have been affected. People are stranded throughout Bangkok, the government’s messages are still confusing and hard to understand, and the divisions in Thai political society have prevented the type of unity in the political system that should be necessary at such a time of crisis. In addition, diseases carried by the fetid water are beginning to be a problem in Bangkok and the outlying suburbs. Many foreign investors will now rethink their decisions to place so much of their supply chain in Thailand.

But even more worrying, these floods, which are the worst in Thailand in fifty years, could be a harbinger of the future.

Read more »

ROK Green Growth Quarterly Update: July–September 2011

by Scott A. Snyder
Global Green Growth Institute chairman Han Seung-soo of South Korea delivers a keynote speech during the Global Green Growth Summit 2011 in Seoul June 20, 2011.

Global Green Growth Institute chairman Han Seung-soo of South Korea delivers a keynote speech during the Global Green Growth Summit 2011 in Seoul June 20, 2011 (Courtesy Global Green Growth Institute).

South Korean president Lee Myung-bak has made great strides internationally in propagating an international vision for green growth, especially through the work of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI). The Council on Foreign Relations has published a new report on South Korea’s green growth policies by Jill Kosch O’Donnell which describes South Korea’s newly emerging green growth partnerships with Denmark, the UAE, and the World Bank, as well as more mixed progress in implementing green growth strategies domestically. The report can be found here.

Read more »

China’s Great Rebalancing Act

by Evan A. Feigenbaum

A resident cycles past the Wumen Gate of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Reuters/Jason Lee.

As Vice President Biden meets with Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders this week, his number one economic talking point is almost certain to be about “rebalancing.”  Nearly all of Washington’s principal economic concerns, from currency valuation to Chinese industrial policy, touch this central issue.  But, quite frankly, rebalancing is not just an American goal.  It is, too, a Chinese objective because Beijing’s existing growth model—predicated on the two pillars of exports and capital-intensive investment—is delivering diminishing returns, and China’s savvy leaders know it.

A major new report from Eurasia Group, China Great Rebalancing Act, explains why.

First, a little truth in advertising:  I’m the head of the Asia practice group at Eurasia Group, so I helped write the report.  But our team’s report is well worth reading because it provides a very comprehensive overview of the forces and dynamics shaping the future of China’s political economy.

Read more »

The Rise of the Rest—what’s new what’s not?

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A couple walk at the seafront in Mumbai on May 11, 2009.

A couple walk at the seafront in Mumbai on May 11, 2009. (Punit Paranjpe/Courtesy Reuters)

I’m just back from a conference in Berlin, organized by my colleague Stewart Patrick, where the talk was all about the opportunities and challenges for the United States and European Union posed by the rise of the rest (the highly popular term popularized by Fareed Zakaria to describe the large emerging economies, such as China, India, Brazil, etc.). The conference included scholars and former officials from a number of the emerging economies, as well as the EU and U.S.

It was a fascinating set of discussions, primarily because there was so little agreement, and it seems to me, so little empirical work done on the topic. What constitutes the rest?  Where are the real issues of commonality among the countries?

A few fundamental issues to think about:
Read more »

China’s Economy and the Water Crisis—A Fresh Take

by Elizabeth C. Economy
The algae-filled Chaohu Lake is seen in Hefei, Anhui province, on August 3, 2010.

The algae-filled Chaohu Lake is seen in Hefei, Anhui province, on August 3, 2010. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

While China’s economy continues to grab headlines, a new report, “Choke Point: China,” suggests  that we ought to be spending a bit more time on an often-ignored economic fundamental: water.   China’s environment has been a long-standing passion of mine, both as a research focus and as an area to promote U.S.-China cooperation. While China’s poor air quality has received a lot of attention in the West—we can all see the pollution in Beijing or read about the pollution clouds that travel from China across the Pacific to the United States—the issue of greatest concern for China is access to clean water.

We know a fair amount about China’s water challenge already. Both municipal and industrial demand for water continues to grow, as both the economy and middle class expand, and levels of pollution throughout many of China’s major river systems and largest lakes make the water unusable even for agriculture or industry (forget about fishing or drinking). China is sinking as underground aquifers are drawn down, with the result that buildings are tilting, highways cracking, and people relocating as their coastal villages sink beneath sea level. Water is a source of societal concern: the public health costs from polluted water are mounting, and water pollution remains a source of significant social unrest in rural China. Civil society in China, in the form of environmental NGOs, has made enforcement of water pollution control regulations one of their top priorities.

Read more »