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Asia Unbound

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

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The Top Ten Stories in South Asia, 2015

by Alyssa Ayres
Afghans listen to a radio broadcast run by the Islamic State militants, in the eastern city of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on December 19, 2015. Islamic State militants in eastern Afghanistan have taken to the airwaves to win recruits as they try to build strength and replace the Taliban as the leading force in the Islamist insurgency. Officials have been increasingly concerned by the broadcasts, which encourage young people to find a sense of direction in the radical movement (Parwiz Parwiz/Reuters). Afghans listen to a radio broadcast run by the Islamic State militants, in the eastern city of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on December 19, 2015. Islamic State militants in eastern Afghanistan have taken to the airwaves to win recruits as they try to build strength and replace the Taliban as the leading force in the Islamist insurgency. Officials have been increasingly concerned by the broadcasts, which encourage young people to find a sense of direction in the radical movement (Parwiz Parwiz/Reuters).

Each of the past two years, I’ve done a roundup of the developments and stories that mattered the most in South Asia. In 2014, India’s historic national election and the coming together of Afghanistan’s hard-won unity government topped my list. The year before, Indian women’s political activism, and Nawaz Sharif’s election in Pakistan’s first transfer of power from one civilian to another, were my top two picks. Looking back at those posts compared with the ten events I’ve selected for 2015, this year suggests a markedly less hopeful mood. The most chilling development has been the steady trickle of reports about the self-proclaimed Islamic State and its presence in the region, particularly in Afghanistan, border areas of Pakistan, and possibly in Bangladesh. Other developments in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Maldives present a mixed picture of both progress and setbacks. Here is my selection of 2015’s most consequential stories in South Asia: Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of November 13, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Afghan-protests - 11-13-15 Men carry one of the coffins for the seven people who were killed by unknown militants, during a protest procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, November 10, 2015. (Mohammad Ismail/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Sungtae “Jacky” Park, Ariella Rotenberg, Ayumi Teraoka, and Gabriel Walker look at the top stories in Asia this week.

1. Afghans protest beheadings. Thousands of protesters gathered outside the presidential palace in Kabul on Wednesday following the beheading of seven Afghans in the southern state of Zabul. The individuals were taken hostage in the central city of Ghazni and relocated as many as fifty-six times before being killed with razor wire. An affiliate of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan is believed to have conducted the beheadings, although it has not yet taken responsibility. Read more »

Fresh Upheavals in the South Asian Region

by Alyssa Ayres
Birgunj, Nepal: Madhesi protesters block the highway connecting Nepal to India in a general strike against Nepal’s new constitution on November 4, 2015 (Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters). Birgunj, Nepal: Madhesi protesters block the highway connecting Nepal to India in a general strike against Nepal’s new constitution on November 4, 2015 (Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters).

From the day he assumed office, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made clear his priority on establishing strong ties across the South Asian region. His open invitation to the leaders of all the South Asian countries to attend his inauguration set the tone for a foreign policy focused on building economic ties and regional connectivity, a pragmatic bid to overcome South Asia’s longstanding problem as one of the least economically integrated regions in the world. Initial Indian diplomacy with Bangladesh and Nepal helped deliver gains toward a more consolidated South Asian region, at peace and focused on development and economics. Political change in Sri Lanka ended the divisive Rajapaksa era, one of increased tensions with India, and Colombo’s new government immediately expanded ties—with a strong trade component—with India. The South Asian Area of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in November 2014 resulted in region-wide agreements on transportation connectivity, an important infrastructure step to enhancing economic ties. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of October 16, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Ma-Ba-Tha-rally - 10-16-15 Leaders of radical Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha arrive during a celebration of the recent establishment of four controversial bills decried by rights groups as aimed at discriminating against the country's Muslim minority, at a rally in a stadium at Yangon, October 4, 2015. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Sungtae “Jacky” Park, Ayumi Teraoka, and Gabriel Walker look at the top stories in Asia this week.

1. Hard-line Buddhist monks sway politics in Myanmar. One of the most influential groups in Myanmar’s upcoming election may not be a political party, but a nationalist Buddhist group called the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion. The group, better known by the acronym Ma Ba Tha, does not officially back any party. However, the controversial monk and Ma Ba Tha member Ashin Wirathu, who was imprisoned for stoking anti-Muslim attacks in 2003, has expressed support for the Union Solidarity and Development Party rather than Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of October 2, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Xi-Jinping-United-Nations-10-2-15 President Xi Jinping of China addresses attendees during the seventieth session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN Headquarters in New York, September 28, 2015. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Sungtae “Jacky” Park, Ariella Rotenberg, and Gabriel Walker look at the top stories in Asia this week.

1. China commits billions to international development. Addressing a United Nations conference on the UN sustainable development goals late last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China would pledge $2 billion in aid to the United Nations to help developing countries. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of September 18, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Japan-debates-military-bills Masahisa Sato (top C), a member of the upper house special committee on security, and other lawmakers shout as they crowd around Yoshitada Konoike, chairman of the upper house special committee on security, during a vote at an upper house special committee session on security-related legislation at the parliament in Tokyo, Japan, September 17, 2015. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Sungtae “Jacky” Park, Ariella Rotenberg, Ayumi Teraoka, and Gabriel Walker look at the top stories in Asia this week.

1. Japan clashes over military bills. A heated brawl broke out in Japan’s upper house of parliament on Thursday over contentious legislation that signaled the most dramatic shift in Japanese military policy since the end of World War II. The package of eleven bills, which the lower house passed earlier this year under similarly contentious circumstances, will allow the Japanese military, known as the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), to fight overseas and defend allied nations. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of August 28, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
china-stock-plunge An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information of Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index at a brokerage house in Beijing, August 26, 2015. Asian shares struggled on Wednesday as investors feared fresh rate cuts in China would not be enough to stabilize its slowing economy or halt a stock collapse that is wreaking havoc in global markets. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Lauren Dickey, Ayumi Teraoka, and Gabriel Walker look at the top stories in Asia this week.

1. China’s stock plunge. Chinese stocks plunged this week, with the Shanghai Composite Index falling 22 percent between August 19 and August 24. The market’s drop on what was deemed “Black Monday” erased the gains made over the past year. Until June, the Shanghai Composite Index had risen nearly 150 percent in one year and state media had assured that this was just the start of a bull market. The Chinese market’s tumble rattled stock markets around the world. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of July 31, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy guided missile destroyer Haikou (171) arrives at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam to participate in the multi-national military exercise RIMPAC 2014, in Honolulu, Hawaii, June 24, 2014. (Hugh Gentry/Reuters) The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy guided missile destroyer Haikou (171) arrives at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam to participate in the multi-national military exercise RIMPAC 2014, in Honolulu, Hawaii, June 24, 2014. (Hugh Gentry/Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Lincoln Davidson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. China conducts live fire drills in the South China Sea. More than one hundred naval vessels, dozens of aircraft, and units from China’s information warfare forces and missile corps participated in the live fire exercises Tuesday, which one Australian expert called a “needlessly excessive show of force.” Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of June 12, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Zhou Yongkang, China's former domestic security chief, stands between his police escorts as he listens to his sentence in a court in Tianjin, China, in this still image taken from video provided by China Central Television and shot on June 11, 2015. According to CCTV, Zhou was sentenced to life imprisonment on Thursday, deprived of his political rights for life and his personal assets confiscated, for accepting bribes, abusing power and deliberately disclosing state secrets, the Tianjin Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People's Court ruled in its first instance. Zhou pleaded guilty and will not appeal. REUTERS/China Central Television via REUTERS TV Zhou Yongkang, China's former domestic security chief, stands between his police escorts as he listens to his sentence in a court in Tianjin, China, in this still image taken from video provided by China Central Television and shot on June 11, 2015 (CCTV/Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lincoln Davidson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. China’s ex-domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang to serve life sentence. The former Politburo Standing Committee member was convicted of abuse of power, accepting bribes, and revealing state secrets and sentenced to life in prison Thursday, just shy of a year after his arrest. While officials initially suggested Zhou’s trial would be open and transparent, it wasn’t, with Xinhua adopting the amusing terminology “non-public open trial” (in Chinese) to describe the proceedings. Zhou is the most senior Chinese official to be convicted of graft in PRC history, but this isn’t likely to be the end of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign (tigers beware!). Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 29, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Men sleep on a temporary shade built over a drain next to a slum on a hot summer day in New Delhi, India, May 28, 2015. A heat wave in India has killed at least 1,371 people this week as temperatures soar above 47 Celsius (116.6 Fahrenheit), and doctors' leave has been cancelled to help cope with the sick. (Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee) Men sleep on a temporary shade built over a drain next to a slum on a hot summer day in New Delhi, India, May 28, 2015. A heat wave in India has killed at least 1,371 people this week as temperatures soar above 47 Celsius (116.6 Fahrenheit), and doctors' leave has been cancelled to help cope with the sick. (Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee)

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Death toll in India’s heat wave nears two thousand. Hospitals across India are struggling to meet the needs of victims of the most severe heatwave the country has seen in twenty years. With temperatures hovering above 110 degrees Fahrenheit for over a week, Indian citizens are anxiously waiting for monsoon rains to cool the smoldering air. Pictures of melting roads with swirled and distorted road markings illustrate the shocking intensity of the heat. Day workers, the homeless, and elderly people face severe danger, unable to take a day off from work or to find adequate shelter. Although heatwaves are not uncommon in India, climate change has led to more frequent and intense heatwaves in recent years. India’s Meteorological Department recorded temperatures just five degrees short of the nation’s record. Read more »