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Asia Unbound

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

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Abe’s Yasukuni Visit: The Consequences?

by Sheila A. Smith
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) is led by a Shinto priest as he visits Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo December 26, 2013 Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe (C) is led by a Shinto priest as he visits Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo December 26, 2013 (Toru Hanai/Courtesy Reuters).

On December 26, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an official visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, drawing harsh criticism from Japan’s neighbors and a public rebuke from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Now that he has done it, what are the likely policy consequences? Read more »

Why Resurrect the Divisive Politics of Yasukuni?

by Sheila A. Smith
Japan's deputy prime minister Taro Aso (2nd R) bows as he visits the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo April 21, 2013 (Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters). Japan's deputy prime minister Taro Aso (2nd R) bows as he visits the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo April 21, 2013 (Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters).

Just as I thought I could put the finishing touches on my book manuscript, Japanese Domestic Politics and the Rise of China (Columbia University Press), which has a chapter on Yasukuni, the issue erupted again to confound Japan’s diplomatic relations.

The revival of Yasukuni Shrine visits presents a serious diplomatic setback for Tokyo. The costs have been high and the benefits hard to find. (Jennifer Lind wrote a great piece on this in March before this week’s headlines.)

More importantly, it reveals the reactive nationalisms afoot in Northeast Asia that are dangerous and unpredictable. Read more »

Sixty-seven Years After WWII, Northeast Asian Nationalisms Flare Again

by Sheila A. Smith
A Japan Coast Guard patrol ship sails around a Hong Kong fishing boat near the disputed islands in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Japan or Diaoyu in China A Japan Coast Guard patrol ship sails around a Hong Kong fishing boat near the disputed islands in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Japan or Diaoyu in China August 15, 2012 (Japan Coast Guard/Courtesy Reuters).

August 15 marks the anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia. Japan’s defeat was complete, and its losses unprecedented. Today, Japanese television coverage traced the final days of devastation, with those who lived through the war (now in their 80s) narrating accounts of the firebombing that ruined most of Tokyo and the atomic bombing that obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For Japanese it continues to be a day of national mourning for those lost, and an annual opportunity to remind the nation and its neighbors of Japan’s postwar commitment to peace. Read more »

South Korea’s Small Think With Japan

by Scott A. Snyder
South Korean president Lee Myung-bak visits a set of remote islands called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese South Korean president Lee Myung-bak visits a set of remote islands called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese August 10, 2012. (The Blue House/Courtesy Reuters)

Lee Myung-bak broke new ground by making a presidential visit to Tokdo, but should the visit be considered as a big statement of Korea’s place in the world or is it a product of small thinking about how South Korea can get what it wants from Japan?

The trouble I had with Lee’s visit to the island, as significant as it may be for many South Koreans, is that with Lee as South Korea’s president I have grown used to Korean “big think” on national security issues and on its place in the world. Hosting the G20 and the Nuclear Security Summit. The idea of a Global Korea. Read more »

China’s March Madness—Not Jeremy Lin but Lei Feng

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A portrait of Chinese national folk-hero, Lei Feng looks out over a busy intersection in a central Beijing shopping district in June of 1998. A portrait of Chinese national folk-hero, Lei Feng looks out over a busy intersection in a central Beijing shopping district in June of 1998. (Natalie Behring/Courtesy Reuters)

In late February, New York-based Global Times writer Rong Xiaoqing published a piece on Jeremy Lin and the “Hunger for Heroes in the U.S.” In her piece, Rong argues that the United States—and democracy more broadly—favors the hero-centered narrative because it needs strong hands “to hold the wheel steady” and “to help avoid endless arguments at times of crisis.” According to Rong, “Americans badly need new superheroes.” Read more »

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.

Read more »

Henry Kissinger’s On China

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Chinese President Jiang Zemin talks to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a luncheon address to U.S. business groups in New York October 23, 1995.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin talks to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a luncheon address to U.S. business groups in New York October 23, 1995. (Jim Bourg / Courtesy Reuters)

A month or so ago, a publicist for Henry Kissinger’s new book On China sent along an advance copy for me to review on Asia Unbound.  Since the book runs over 500 pages, it took me a while to find the time to sit down and plow through it.  In the meantime, some excellent reviews by Jonathan Spence and the Economist, as well as a fascinating interview between Kissinger and Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, have been published that bear reading.

After picking up and putting down the book several times over the past few days, what struck me most were not the amusing anecdotes and insights—and there were certainly some to be found—but rather the very narrow lens through which Mr. Kissinger views China. The result is that he illuminates one aspect of the country exceedingly well, but obfuscates easily as much in the process. 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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China: Harmony & War

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Chinese students walk past a statue of Confucius in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei province, on June 7, 2007.

Chinese students walk past a statue of Confucius in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei province, on June 7, 2007. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

So I didn’t come up with this clever title myself. Rather Harmony & War is the title of a terrific new book by Yuan-Kang Wang, an assistant professor at Western Michigan University. The book is one of a rare breed of books on China that is both substantively rich and eminently readable. As an added bonus for the author, it is very timely.

The essence of the book is an exploration of the role of Confucian precepts of pacifism in Chinese history. A bit esoteric? In theory maybe. However, Wang’s book may well prove to be the reality check needed by both Chinese leaders and the rest of the world.
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Do We Need a Khmer Rouge Tribunal?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
People watch the court proceedings in the sentencing session of former Khmer Rouge cadre Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, at the ECCC

Chor Sokunthea/courtesy Reuters

The first conviction of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge tribunal, of Tuol Sleng prison commandant Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, only sparked more criticism, and seemed to resolve little for survivors of the genocide. Duch’s relatively light sentence – he was given 19 years in jail, after taking into account time already served – infuriated many survivors. Many average Cambodians did not seem to understand how the tribunal, a mix of foreign and Cambodian judges, had come to this decision about a man who’d overseen a “prison” that was in reality a death camp from which only a handful of people survived.

That incomprehension highlights one of the many failings of the tribunal. In contrast to tribunals held regarding the Balkan wars, the Cambodian tribunal has proven woefully inadequate in educating average Cambodians about its workings, perhaps because Prime Minister Hun Sen has little interest in showing the workings of a fair tribunal to a people accustomed to his compliant courts. The tribunal’s budget for public education most years has been miniscule, and the court facilities themselves, located far from central Phnom Penh, are intimidating to average Cambodians. Worse, the Cambodian members of the tribunal, again possibly with the prodding of the government, have resisted expanding the number of potential defendants, which might have allowed for a slightly broader examination of the Khmer Rouge’s crimes. Again, such broader investigations would have been uncomfortable for Hun Sen, since many of his top associates are former KR cadres themselves.

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