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Human Rights Conditions of Overseas Laborers from North Korea

by Scott A. Snyder
North Korean men look up as they work along the banks of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, in this photo taken September 8, 2014. (Jacky Chen/Courtesy: Reuters) North Korean men look up as they work along the banks of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, in this photo taken September 8, 2014. (Jacky Chen/Courtesy: Reuters)

The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) has released a new report entitled Human Rights and North Korea’s Overseas Laborers: Dilemmas and Policy Challenges, by Yoon Yeosang and Lee Seung-ju This report provides the most comprehensive picture to date on the scope and conditions under which North Koreans are contracted for overseas labor assignments. The report was discussed at an event last week in Washington held at the Korea Economic Institute of America. Read more »

Grading Global Governance: Implications for East Asia

by Scott A. Snyder
Models of a North Korean Scud-B missile (center) and South Korean Hawk surface-to-air missiles are seen at the Korean War Memorial Museum in Seoul in this photo from April 14, 2009. (Jo Yong-Hak/Courtesy: Reuters) Models of a North Korean Scud-B missile (center) and South Korean Hawk surface-to-air missiles are seen at the Korean War Memorial Museum in Seoul in this photo from April 14, 2009. (Jo Yong-Hak/Courtesy: Reuters)

The Council of Councils (CoC), a network of think tanks that mirrors the membership of the G20, released this week a thought-provoking report card assessing the state of global governance. The report evaluates the performance of global institutions in addressing ten international challenges, ranks the seriousness of these global challenges, and assesses prospects for breakthrough in international efforts to deal with these issues. The report card accurately captures the issue overload and prioritization challenges on the global agenda, provides a compelling snapshot of the scope of challenges to global governance and reveals the major gaps that will likely continue to challenge the international community. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 8, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Security forces and rescue workers inspect an abandoned camp at a rubber plantation near a mountain in Thailand's southern Songkhla province on May 7, 2015 (Surapan Boonthanom/Courtesy: Reuters). Security forces and rescue workers inspect an abandoned camp at a rubber plantation near a mountain in Thailand's southern Songkhla province on May 7, 2015 (Surapan Boonthanom/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. Mass graves of human trafficking camp unearthed in Thailand. Police exhumed twenty-six bodies at a mass grave located in the jungles of Songkhla province this week. Most of the migrants once held at the now abandoned site were Rohingya Muslim refugees from western Myanmar and Bangladesh. According to reports, this camp was made up of “bamboo cages, watchtowers and what Thai police described as a torture room.” Even as the grave was discovered, more than fifty Thai police officers were punished over suspected links to human trafficking networks. The mass grave was hardly the first indicator that Thailand has a booming human trafficking business and it remains to be seen if the Thai government can successfully undertake steps necessary to combat human trafficking. Read more »

Stories of Ordinary North Koreans and Human Rights

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder
A woman holding an umbrella walks past near damaged houses by flooding in Kujang district, in the province of North Pyongan, in this photo taken on August 28, 2012. (Courtesy: Reuters) A woman holding an umbrella walks past near damaged houses by flooding in Kujang district, in the province of North Pyongan, in this photo taken on August 28, 2012. (Courtesy: Reuters)

Darcie Draudt is a research associate for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Last Thursday at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the U.S. delegation convened a meeting on the human rights situation in North Korea that featured testimony of North Korean escapees. The event was part of North Korean Freedom Week, hosted annually since 2004 by a coalition of U.S. and South Korean NGOs focused on increasing awareness and mobilizing action to promote freedom for the North Korean people. The UN meeting took a turn when the testifiers were interrupted by a statement the DPRK delegation, who had previously been assured they would have an opportunity to speak following the defectors and faced vehement objections most notably from U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 1, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in front of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 29, 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy: Reuters). Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in front of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 29, 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. Shinzo Abe visits the United States. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the United States this week to discuss the future of U.S.­-Japan relations. Increased security cooperation as well as relations with China topped the agenda. Abe delivered the first-ever speech by a Japanese prime minister to a joint session of Congress. In his speech, Abe described his vision for a stronger alliance between the United States and Japan and expressed his condolences for Japanese behavior in World War II. He announced his determination to “take more responsibility for peace and stability in the world.” Read more »

Podcast: China’s Influence on the North Korean Economy

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A female North Korean soldier guards the banks of the Yalu River near the Chongsong county of North Korea opposite the Chinese border town of Hekou, northeastern China's Liaoning province May 31, 2009. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Saturday the United States would not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea and he warned Pyongyang against transferring nuclear material overseas. REUTERS/Jason Lee (NORTH KOREA POLITICS MILITARY IMAGES OF THE DAY) A female North Korean soldier guards the banks of the Yalu River near the Chongsong county of North Korea opposite the Chinese border town of Hekou, northeastern China's Liaoning province on May 31, 2009 (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters).

China and North Korea historically have had a close relationship—as close as “lips and teeth,” as leaders in both countries were fond of saying during the Cold War. To this day, China is North Korea’s largest trading partner, energy provider, and source of aid. Despite these close ties, however, the past eighteen months have revealed fissures in the relationship. Since coming to power, neither Chinese President Xi Jinping nor North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has made an official state visit to see his counterpart; Xi even chose to visit South Korea first. In Pyongyang, the execution of Jang Song-taek, a major proponent of engagement with China, caused consternation in Beijing.  Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of March 6, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
A policeman stands guard in front of the U.S. embassy in central Seoul after Ambassador Mark Lippert was slashed in the face by a Korean nationalist on March 4, 2015 (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy: Reuters). A policeman stands guard in front of the U.S. embassy in central Seoul after Ambassador Mark Lippert was slashed in the face by a Korean nationalist on March 4, 2015 (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. U.S. Ambassador to South Korea attacked in Seoul. A South Korean man identified as Kim Ki-jong, a fifty-five-year-old South Korean with a record of violent activism, slashed U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert with a knife across the face and hand on Thursday morning local time. Lippert received eighty stitches on his face, from chin to cheek and is reported to be in good condition as of Friday. The assailant told reporters he attacked the ambassador to protest regular U.S.-ROK joint military exercises. U.S. diplomats have varied levels of security details, and though Seoul is considered a “low-threat” post, a security team was accompanying Lippert at the time of the attack. Lippert, who took up his post in Seoul in October 2014, has taken a proactively friendly approach toward his post, taking his dog Grigsby on regular walks in the city, maintaining an active Twitter account, and giving his son, born in Seoul in January 2015, a Korean middle name. Read more »

North Korea’s Food Situation: Stable and Improving

by Scott A. Snyder
A North Korean farmer rests with his tractor in a rice paddy field in this photo taken May 31, 2014. (Todd Mecklem/Courtesy: Flickr) A North Korean farmer rests with his tractor in a rice paddy field in this photo taken May 31, 2014. (Todd Mecklem/Courtesy: Flickr)

When asked in his January 22 interview with YouTube [9:00 ff.] about the likely effects of greater sanctions on North Korea following the Sony hack, President Obama repeated a mantra widely associated with North Korea that as a result of its isolated, authoritarian leadership, “the country can’t really even feed its own people” and that “over time, a regime like this will collapse.” But the latest reports show that North Korea’s food situation is stable, and the leadership probably thinks it is doing better, not worse. Read more »

South Korea’s Self-Defense Needs: Does China Get a Veto?

by Scott A. Snyder
A missile is fired from a naval vessel during the test-firing of a new type of anti-ship cruise missile to be equipped at Korean People's Army naval units in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on February 7, 2015 (KCNA/Courtesy: Reuters). A missile is fired from a naval vessel during the test-firing of a new type of anti-ship cruise missile to be equipped at Korean People's Army naval units in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on February 7, 2015 (KCNA/Courtesy: Reuters).

During his visit to Seoul on February 4, PRC Defense minister Chang Wanquan is reported to have raised objections with South Korean counterparts to the potential deployment of a THAAD (Theater High-Altitude Area Defense) battery  to South Korean territory, and Xi Jinping reportedly raised the issue during his July 2014 summit meeting with Park Geun-hye. Read more »

Sony Hack: North Korea’s “Toughest Counteraction” to Obama’s “Proportional” Response

by Scott A. Snyder
the-interview-open General Manager Brandon Delaney looks up at the marquee sign after the announcement that the Plaza Theatre would be showing the movie "The Interview" beginning Christmas Day in Atlanta, Georgia on December 23, 2014. Sony Pictures said on Tuesday it will release "The Interview" to a limited number of theaters on December 25, less than a week after it canceled the comedy's release following a devastating cyberattack blamed on North Korea. (Tami Chappell/Courtesy: Reuters)

For most Americans and for President Obama, the turn of events over the last few days feels like a happy ending:  1) Sony and Seth Rogen have defended the American right to free speech, regardless of its quality; 2) the bad guys and their leader have been deprived of their internet connection for at least nine hours, plus the deplorable North Korean human rights record made its debut Monday on the agenda of the UN Security Council; 3) the Obama administration can claim victory for giving Sony and a few independent theaters some backbone while helping to formally expose North Korea’s human rights tragedy to the light of day. But, the North Koreans being North Koreans, it is unlikely that this story will end on Christmas Day. Read more »