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Asia Unbound

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

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Podcast: China’s Unlikely Partners on the Road to Reform

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Unlikely-Partners-edit Cover: Harvard University Press

Over the past forty years, the Chinese economy has undergone a striking transformation. In 1976, in the wake of Mao’s death and the Cultural Revolution, planned production and fixed pricing stifled market forces. Today, thriving capitalism vies for dominance with the socialist tenets of China’s past. What forces, and which individuals, brought about such a dramatic evolution? Read more »

Podcast: A Great Place to Have a War

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A Buddhist monk poses next to unexploded bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in Xieng Khouang in Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva A Buddhist monk poses on September 3, 2016, next to unexploded bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War in Xieng Khouang in Laos. The United States dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos in the course of the war. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

While Vietnam and Cambodia loom large in American memories of the Vietnam War, neighboring Laos recedes into the background. But during the 1960s and 1970s, the tiny, landlocked nation was the site of the CIA’s transformation from a loosely organized spy agency to a powerful paramilitary organization. Read more »

Podcast: North Korea’s Information Underground

by Elizabeth C. Economy
north-korea-balloon-leaflets Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector and leader of an anti-North Korea civic group, prepares to release a balloon containing leaflets denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un near the demilitarized zone in Paju, South Korea, April 29, 2016. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

On this week’s Asia Unbound podcast, Jieun Baek, author of North Korea’s Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground is Transforming a Closed Society, tells the story of the outlawed political and social information that is penetrating North Korea’s hermetic borders. Through dozens of interviews with North Korean defectors, Baek finds that everyday North Koreans crave news and entertainment from the outside world—from romantic television dramas to basic weather reports. Most of all, the foreign knowledge they seek helps to dismantle the façade of total information control the North Korean government has tried to erect around its citizens. Read more »

Podcast: In China, What’s New and What’s Old?

by Elizabeth C. Economy
confucius-umbrellas Students holding umbrellas walk past a statue of Confucius after the morning session on the second day of the National College Entrance Exams in Wuhan, Hubei province, on June 8, 2009. (Stringer/Reuters)

According to Jeffrey Wasserstrom, professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, and editor of the recently published Oxford Illustrated History of Modern China, China is a place that lends itself to misconceptions. With shifting borders, crisscrossing cultural traditions, and a winding history of more than 5,000 years, it is easy for outside observers to oversimplify the country’s ongoing evolution. Read more »

Podcast: A Chinese Perspective on the U.S. Election

by Elizabeth C. Economy
chinese-consulate-election-watch Chinese visitors look at a screen showing live results of the U.S. presidential election at an event held at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, China, on November 9, 2016. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

It has been a busy few weeks for foreign policy analysts in Beijing as they struggle to determine how China should best approach relations with the incoming U.S. president. On this week’s Asia Unbound podcast, Chen Dingding, professor of international relations at Jinan University and the founding director of the newly established Intellisia Institute, offers his advice on how Chinese leaders should approach a Trump administration. Read more »

Podcast: Xi Jinping’s Team of Rivals

by Elizabeth C. Economy
xi-jinping-li-keqiang-team-of-rivals Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Premier Li Keqiang attend a medal ceremony marking the seventieth anniversary of the Victory of Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, for World War II veterans, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, September 2, 2015. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

“Sometimes if you want to purge a leader, start with his mishu [secretary].” Cheng Li, director of the Brookings Institution’s John L. Thornton China Center, is one of the last true practitioners of “Pekingology”—the careful study of the inner workings of China’s top leadership. Li’s new book, Chinese Politics in the Xi Jinping Era: Reassessing Collective Leadership, explores the intricate connections between Xi Jinping and Xi’s former classmates, close advisors, and political rivals. Read more »

China’s Environmental Health Crisis: The International and Comparative Perspective

by Yanzhong Huang
Protesters walk during an anti-nuclear rally in front of the nuclear power plant Gundremmingen March 11, 2012, to mark the first anniversary of Japan's earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands and set off a nuclear crisis. (Michaela Rehle/Reuters)

China faces a daunting environmental health crisis due to its economic rise that has polluted its air, water, and soil. That being said, many industrialized and other developing nations have successfully overcome their environmental challenges. To what extent do China’s problems follow a similar path to those strategies undertaken by other countries, and what are the prospects of success in achieving similar outcomes? Read more »

Podcast: The Origins of the American Alliance System in Asia

by Elizabeth C. Economy
U.S. and Japan Self-Defence Force's soldiers listen a speech by U.S. President Barack Obama during his visits at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, enroute to Hiroshima, Japan May 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria U.S. and Japan Self-Defence Force's soldiers listen a speech by U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, enroute to Hiroshima, Japan on May 27, 2016. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Harvard Professor Joseph Nye once said that “security is like oxygen: you do not tend to notice it until you begin to lose it.” Alliances also often function like oxygen, with the security and stability they provide going underappreciated argues Victor Cha, the director of Asian studies and D.S. Song-Korea Foundation professor of government and international affairs at Georgetown University. Read more »

Podcast: Fifteen Minutes With Joshua Wong

by Elizabeth C. Economy
joshua-wong-demosisto Student leader Joshua Wong celebrates after candidate Nathan Law won a seat in the Legislative Council election in Hong Kong, September 5, 2016. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

When Hong Kong police cleared the streets of Umbrella Movement protestors in December 2014, many feared for the fate of the city’s democracy movement. But two years later, in September’s elections, a handful of those same protestors won triumphant victories in Legislative Council elections. Joshua Wong, the twenty-year-old secretary general of the political party Demosistō, sat down with me last week to stress the importance of this moment to his shared fight for self-determination. Will democracy advocates be able to accomplish their aims through their new positions? And how far is Beijing willing to go in order to intervene in Hong Kong affairs and suppress democratic activities? Read more »

Podcast: The True Story of North Korea’s Abduction Project

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A rally celebrating the success of a recent nuclear test is held in Kim Il Sung square in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 13, 2016. KCNA/via Reuters A rally held in North Korea’s Kim Il Sung square in an undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang (KCNA/via Reuters)

On this week’s Asia Unbound podcast, Robert Boynton, the author of The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea’s Abduction Project, takes us inside Pyongyang’s strange and sinister program to recruit spies and language teachers by seizing foreign nationals. More than a dozen Japanese citizens vanished from coastal cities without a trace in the 1970s and 1980s. Read more »