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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 "Global Order"

Democracy in Decline

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Protesters shout anti-government slogans during a pro-democracy demonstration organised by the "February 20 Movement", who are demanding political reforms, in Casablanca May 29, 2011.

Protesters shout anti-government slogans during a pro-democracy demonstration organised by the "February 20 Movement", who are demanding political reforms, in Casablanca May 29, 2011. (Macao/Courtesy Reuters)

The Arab Spring has, in recent months, raised hopes that a new wave of democratization will sweep across the developing world, akin to 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In China, online activists inspired by events in the Middle East have called for a “jasmine revolution.” In Singapore, one of the quietest countries in the world, opposition activists called for an “orchid evolution” in the run-up to this month’s national elections. The Middle East uprisings could herald “the greatest advance for human rights and freedom since the end of the Cold War,” argued British foreign minister William Hague. Indeed, at no point since the end of the Cold War—when Francis Fukuyama penned his famous essay, The End of History, positing that liberal democracy was the ultimate destination for every country—has there been so much triumphal talk about the march of global freedom.

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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:
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The S&ED No-Holds Barred: China’s Deplorable Human Rights and the Simple American People

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Timothy Geithner gather for a portrait before a banquet for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue at the State Department in Washington on May 9, 2011.

Timothy Geithner gather for a portrait before a banquet for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue at the State Department in Washington on May 9, 2011. (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)

So, the title of my post is a bit misleading. The Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) was actually pretty much what I thought it was going to be, namely pretty tame stuff. Together, the U.S. and China identified a wide range of issues on which the two sides hope to cooperate. The range of issues, in fact, was breathtaking—or some might call it weird—everything from Sudan and North Korea to smart grid to the China garden project. I would guess that the China garden project will break ground before spring comes to North Korea.

The “no-holds barred” part of the S&ED came not at the S&ED itself, but rather courtesy of the U.S. media. First, there was a well-timed piece in the Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg, in which he interviewed Secretary of State Clinton. Although the bulk of the interview had nothing to do with China, Secretary Clinton’s remarks about China have gotten all the attention. Both Goldberg and fellow Atlantic writer James Fallows appear rather shocked at the Secretary’s comment that China’s human rights record is “deplorable” and that in holding off reform, the Chinese are on “a fool’s errand,” by “trying to stop history.” Goldberg likens Clinton’s remarks to those of the Cold War Reagan era. Fallows, in turn, implies that Clinton is reinforcing Beijing’s belief that the United States is trying to contain China and, in the process, acting outside the realm of traditional U.S. public diplomacy.

I have to say that I think the Atlantic duo is off-base here. Read more »

National Brotherhood Week Comes to China

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A man walks past a signage decoration for the BRICS summit outside Sheraton Hotel, the venue for the third BRICS summit in Sanya, Hainan province on April 14, 2011.

A man walks past a signage decoration for the BRICS summit outside Sheraton Hotel, the venue for the third BRICS summit in Sanya, Hainan province on April 14, 2011. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters)

Growing up, I could never get enough of the mathematician/humorist/lyricist Tom Lehrer. Even today, his songs sometimes pop into my head. And so it was that while watching the pageantry attending the BRICS summit this past week, Lehrer’s “National Brotherhood Week” came to mind.  It’s basically a riff on how all the peoples of the world, who actually don’t like each other much, come together for one week and make nice.

I think Lehrer could have been singing about Hainan.  Despite all the media proclaiming the arrival of a new united geopolitical force and the threat to established powers such as the United States, what I saw was a number of countries that are not particularly in political or economic sync, trying hard to get along. Read more »

Why America No Longer Gets Asia

by Evan A. Feigenbaum

The author chats with Chinese traders in the Kara-Suu Bazaar, near Osh, Kyrgyzstan, October 2006. (Photo from the author)

I have a new article out in The Washington Quarterly, with a slightly provocative title, “Why America No Longer Gets Asia.”

It’s a think piece. And so it probably won’t be 100 percent persuasive to 100 percent of its readers in 100 percent of its aspects. But the article pulls together the strands of a lot of themes I’ve harped on in recent years, from speeches I was giving while at the State Department to a few years’ worth of articles and blogs. I also worked on an array of projects directly related to these themes while serving in the U.S. government, especially during the period from 2003 to 2007.

Here’s the headline: Asia is reintegrating, but the United States simply isn’t adapting quickly enough. And it is essential to adapt U.S. policy to the contours of change in Asia if the United States wishes to remain vital and relevant there.

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Could Burma Be Egypt?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party shout during a protest outside the house of their leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon on November 13, 2010.

Members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party shout during a protest outside the house of their leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon on November 13, 2010. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

In today’s Asia Times, longtime Burma activist Aung Din wonders whether Burma, surely one of the most repressive states in the world, could follow the example of Arab protestors in countries from Egypt to Oman to Libya. The Burmese, after all, have not been shy about standing up before, from the massive 1988 protests that eventually led to a free election in 1990 that was annulled to the “Saffron Revolution” of tens of thousands of monks in Rangoon four years ago. And, as Aung Din notes, there are some similarities between regimes like Egypt and Burma – the nepotism and venality of high levels of the government: In Burma, a video leaked to YouTube showed the wedding of Senior General Than Shwe’s daughter, an almost-royal affair in which she was showered with gifts and wore enough diamonds to shame even Naomi Campbell.

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Is China Eating Our Lunch?

by Evan A. Feigenbaum

An attendant fills the tank of a vehicle at a Sinopec gas station in Changzhi, Shanxi province March 28, 2010. Sinopec, Asia's top oil refiner, will buy a stake in upstream assets in Angola for $2.46 billion and said it wanted more such deals, which could shield it from high oil prices that hit margins in the fourth quarter. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

My latest “DC Diary” column is out in India’s leading financial newspaper, the Business Standard. The column plays off a rather extraordinary back-and-forth from Hillary Clinton’s budget testimony last week.

The Secretary of State told Congress that China is not just competing with the United States around the world but, for all intents and purposes, is eating America’s lunch.

“Let’s just talk, you know, straight realpolitik,” Mrs. Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “We are in a competition with China. Take Papua New Guinea: huge energy find … ExxonMobil is producing it. China is in there every day in every way, trying to figure out how it’s going to come in behind us, come under us.”

But how effective is the China model, anyway? And is China’s approach really quite so uniform?

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Why China Is More Like the Middle East Than We Think

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Policemen watch a crowd that gathered outside a McDonald's restaurant after internet social networks called for a "Jasmine Revolution" protest in central Beijing on February 20, 2011.

Policemen watch a crowd that gathered outside a McDonald's restaurant after internet social networks called for a "Jasmine Revolution" protest in central Beijing on February 20, 2011. (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters)

I was down in Washington, D.C. last Friday to testify before the Economic and Security Review Commission on the roots of social unrest in China, a particularly timely session given everything that has been transpiring in the Middle East and percolating in China.

The gist of my remarks was that social unrest in China was less about any one issue—forced relocation, the environment, or corruption—than about the systemic weakness of the country’s governance structure. There are over 100,000 protests every year in China not because the pollution is terrible (which it is) but rather because there is a lack of transparency, official accountability and the rule of law that make it difficult for public grievances to be effectively addressed.

By looking at the protests as a systemic problem, rather than as an issue-based problem, the relationship between the revolutions cascading through the Middle East and the not-quite flowering Jasmine Revolution in China is not as tenuous as it might first appear.

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Libya: China’s New Middle East Conundrum

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A man is arrested by police in front of the Peace Cinema, where internet social networks were calling to join a "Jasmine Revolution" protest, in downtown Shanghai on February 20, 2011.

A man is arrested by police in front of the Peace Cinema, where internet social networks were calling to join a "Jasmine Revolution" protest, in downtown Shanghai on February 20, 2011. (Carlos Barria/Courtesy Reuters)

It has been fascinating to watch as Beijing traverses the tricky ground of revolution in the Middle East. Even as the United States is clearly struggling to find its voice on the dramatic changes underway, China’s leadership has found itself caught between the potential advantages that might accrue to the country and the challenges that it may well face.
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Europe Talks China

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez, and Spain's Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian talk during the signing of commercial agreements between China and Spain at Madrid's Moncloa Palace January 5, 2011.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez, and Spain's Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian talk during the signing of commercial agreements between China and Spain at Madrid's Moncloa Palace on January 5, 2011. (Susana Vera/Courtesy Reuters)

It is always good to get out in the world to gain a little perspective. I’ve spent the past week in Europe, and from London, to Stockholm to Davos, the message seems remarkably similar: as an economy, China rocks; as a global political player, not so much. While the Chinese Foreign Ministry has not acknowledged any missteps in its year of living dangerously — indeed Foreign Ministry officials are hewing very closely to the more assertive line that got them in trouble in the first place — the rest of the world is clearly a bit nonplussed.
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