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Asia Unbound

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

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Showing posts for "Disasters"

Japan’s Reconstruction Planning

by Sheila A. Smith
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan (2nd R) attends a cabinet meeting on environment and energy in Tokyo June 22, 2011.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan (2nd R) attends a cabinet meeting on environment and energy in Tokyo June 22, 2011. (Courtesy Reuters/Frank Robichon/Pool)

Without a doubt, this is a complex moment for the Japanese people. This is both a country struggling with critical governance challenges, and a society recovering from the shock and devastation of a tremendous set of disasters. As I travel, I have been amazed—both at the scale of Japan’s governance problems, and at the immense effort and creativity that has been ongoing across Japanese society since March 11.   Read more »

A Dimmer Tokyo

by Sheila A. Smith
Lights are turned off to save energy before rolling blackouts in Tokyo, March 17, 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan. Tokyo Electric Power Co has announced rolling blackouts after its power generation was cut due to damage from an earthquake and tsunami to its Fukushima Daiichi power plant, where it is struggling to prevent reactor meltdowns.

Lights are turned off to save energy before rolling blackouts in Tokyo, March 17, 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan. (Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters)

I arrived in Tokyo several days ago, and was immediately struck by both the mood and the changes visible in the city itself. The hotels are nearly empty, elevators are turned off, and lighting everywhere is dimmer. Quite literally, Tokyo’s sparkle has been muted in an effort to conserve energy.

But dimmer, too, is the mood. In my early conversations here, the on-going challenges to cope with the effects of March 11 and its aftermath top the agenda. Daily coverage of the effort to clean up coastal cities in Tohoku is heartbreaking still. 86,000 or so Japanese are still in evacuation shelters three months after the tsunami hit. Resettling people by the end of the summer continues to be the goal, but temporary housing may fall short of current needs. Read more »

Unnatural Selection

by Joshua Kurlantzick
People gather in front of City Bank to buy tickets for the cricket World Cup in Dhaka on January 2, 2011.

People gather in front of City Bank to buy tickets for the cricket World Cup in Dhaka, Bangladesh on January 2, 2011. (Andrew Biraj/Courtesy Reuters)

In today’s Financial Times, I have a review of the new book Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendahl. The book looks at what is one of the most pressing – and undercovered – security challenges in Asia today: The growing gender imbalances in pivotal countries, from India to China to Vietnam. As sex ratios become more and more skewed, all of these nations are going to have to deal with the consequences of having millions of unmarriageable men, including human trafficking, rising social instability, and possibly even war.

The review can be seen here. Read more »

The Truth about the Three Gorges Dam

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A worker clears floating garbage on the Yangtze River near the Three Gorges Dam in Yichang, Hubei province on August 1, 2010.

A worker clears floating garbage on the Yangtze River near the Three Gorges Dam in Yichang, Hubei province on August 1, 2010. (China Daily Information Group/Courtesy Reuters)

It has only taken ninety years, but China’s leaders have finally admitted that the Three Gorges Dam is a disaster.  With Wen Jiabao at the helm, the State Council noted last week that there were “urgent problems” concerning the relocation effort, the environment and disaster prevention that would now require an infusion of US$23 billion on top of the $45 billion spent already.

Despite high-level support for the project since Sun Yat-sen first proposed it in 1919, the dam has had serious critics within China all along. One of China’s earliest and most renowned environmental activists, Dai Qing, published the book Yangtze! Yangtze! in 1989, which explored the engineering and social costs of the proposed dam. The book was a hit among Tiananmen Square protestors, and Dai spent a year in prison for her truth-telling. In 1992, when the dam came up for a vote in the National People’s Congress, an unprecedented one-third of the delegates voted against the plan.

Once the construction began in 1994, the problems mounted.  Read more »

A Time for Daffodils—But No Taxes, Please

by Sheila A. Smith
Japan's Empress Michiko (top R) talks with evacuees as she visit an evacuation shelter in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, April 27, 2011. Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko met and chatted with survivors of last month's massive earthquake and tsunami on Wednesday, offering comfort and solace in a role that has helped keep the country's ancient monarchy relevant in modern times.

Japan's Empress Michiko (top R) talks with evacuees as she visit an evacuation shelter in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, April 27, 2011. Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko met and chatted with survivors of last month's massive earthquake and tsunami on Wednesday, offering comfort and solace in a role that has helped keep the country's ancient monarchy relevant in modern times. (Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool/Courtesy Reuters)

The effort to breathe fresh energy into Japan’s recovery was poignantly demonstrated yesterday when the emperor and empress of Japan visited Miyagi prefecture. One of the evacuees at a shelter in Sendai presented Empress Michiko with a bunch of daffodils, freshly picked that morning from the garden of her devastated home. Amidst the rubble, spring flowers are blooming all across Tohoku, and across Japan the idea that recovery will indeed be possible is gradually taking hold. Read more »

Warning: Political Bickering Dangerous to Japan’s Health

by Sheila A. Smith
Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan reacts he he feels an earthquake in the upper house of parliament in Tokyo on March 11, 2011.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan reacts he he feels an earthquake in the upper house of parliament in Tokyo on March 11, 2011. (Toru Hanai/Courtesy Reuters)

 

It has been a month since the terrible earthquake/tsunami shock of March 11. Across the country, there is a palpable desire to reach out to the Tohoku region, and to bring the country together. 

But politics are returning to Tokyo. Last Sunday was the first of two sets of local elections scheduled for April. Before the crisis, the Kan government was weakened as it sought to pass the national budget. For the LDP and the New Komeito, opposition parties that had formed the coalition government up until the DPJ’s victory in 2009, these elections posed an opportunity to demonstrate their electoral strength, and challenge the prime minister. Read more »

NGO Efforts to Meet Japan’s Needs

by Sheila A. Smith
A girl holds her soft toy at an evacuation center in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, northern Japan, March 31, 2011

A girl holds her soft toy at an evacuation center in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, northern Japan, March 31, 2011 (Kim Kyung Hoon/Courtesy Reuters)

The March 11 disaster in Japan has prompted a broad effort at civic support, both within and without Japan, to provide assistance to the stricken Tohoku region. In a country where non-governmental organizations have struggled to create space for civic involvement in public affairs, today there seems to be a profusion of groups engaged in the disaster relief effort.

Japan has for decades supported disaster relief efforts abroad. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the national government’s agency tasked with administering Official Development Assistance, has staffed disaster relief efforts in countries as far afield as Pakistan, Mexico, Philippines and Haiti. Moreover, the JICA staff has worked closely with a growing group of Japanese NGOs organized to provided medical and technical assistance to those in need around the globe. Peace Winds Japan, for example, has played a significant role in post-conflict reconstruction activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Sudan.

But today, the roles are reversed. Read more »

Operation Tomodachi

by Sheila A. Smith
Sailors load food and humanitarian supplies onto a helicopter aboard the USS Ronald Reagan which is off the coast of Japan providing humanitarian assistance as directed in support of Operation Tomodachi, March 18, 2011.

Sailors load food and humanitarian supplies onto a helicopter aboard the USS Ronald Reagan which is off the coast of Japan, providing humanitarian assistance as directed in support of Operation Tomodachi, March 18, 2011. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

[Click here for information on how to locate friends and family in Japan, and here for how you can help]  

Last week, I discussed the front line role of Japan’s Self Defense Force, and received many emails from Japanese friends in Tokyo asking that I do the same for the U.S. government personnel, uniformed and civilian, that are providing much needed assistance to Japan.  

Operation Tomodachi—a broad disaster relief operation in support of Japan’s response to the triple crises—is growing by the day, and is a remarkable testament to the full throttle U.S. government effort to help the Japanese people. From the beginning the U.S. military was quickly on the scene; the U.S. Forces Japan stationed in country organized themselves for immediate support and Pacific Command forces outside Japan regrouped to lend assistance. An aircraft carrier task force, led by the USS Ronald Reagan, headed immediately for Japan, followed by eight other ships stocked with emergency relief equipment and supplies.  Read more »

Remembering Katrina and Sichuan Amidst Japan’s Crisis

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A man walks through the flooded Terme area of New Orleans, lying under several feet of water on August 29, 2005.

A man walks through the flooded Terme area of New Orleans, lying under several feet of water on August 29, 2005. (Rick Wilking/Courtesy Reuters)

As I watched the Japan crisis unfold in rapid succession—the earthquake, the tsunami and then the collapsing nuclear reactors at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima—I was struck by the absolute dignity and unity of the Japanese people. My colleague Sheila Smith has an excellent post on this, so no need for me to repeat.

Instead, I want to raise the issue of context, or the lack thereof.

For much of the past ten days, I have felt as though I was in an alternative reporting reality. Particularly in the early days, the western news media focused almost exclusively on the failures within the Japanese system: the failure of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to share information; the failure of the Prime Minister to stay on top of the crisis, and the failure of the Japanese people to retain hope and not hoard groceries. There was little to no reporting on the strength and resilience of the people. Yet many voices from Japan suggested this. How did we miss half the story?
Read more »

Voices from Inside Japan—No Panic, Simply Strength and Kindness

by Sheila A. Smith
A student volunteer holds a sign in front of instant noodles for evacuees from Futaba, a city near the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, at the evacuees' new shelter Saitama Super Arena, near Tokyo March 20, 2011, nine days after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan.

A student volunteer holds a sign in front of instant noodles for evacuees from Futaba, a city near the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, at the evacuees' new shelter Saitama Super Arena, near Tokyo March 20, 2011, nine days after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. (Jo Yong hak/Courtesy Reuters)

[Click here for information on how to locate friends and family in Japan, and here for how you can help] 

There are so many issues to discuss, but this morning, I thought I ought to share with you the voices I heard throughout the past week—on blogs, in conversation, and in the flowing emails to those of us outside the country—that ran counter to the speculation and panicky shrillness of our media’s coverage of the situation inside Japan. 

Read more »