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Asia Unbound

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

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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of August 23, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai stands trial inside the court in Jinan, Shandong province, on August 22, 2013. (Jinan Intermediate People's Court/Courtesy Reuters) Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai stands trial inside the court in Jinan, Shandong province, on August 22, 2013. (Jinan Intermediate People's Court/Courtesy Reuters)

Will Piekos and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia this week.

1. Bo Xilai defiant in trial. Standing trial on charges of bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power, former Communist Party official Bo Xilai was surprisingly defiant during his two days in court. The trial, which began on Thursday, was expected to be simply another piece of scripted Chinese political theater—albeit one with much more press and its own official microblog—but Bo put on a spirited defense, refuting testimony and casting doubt on his wife’s mental state. Some analysts have postulated that Bo might have agreed to a predetermined prison sentence in exchange for the opportunity to express himself at the trial. Read more »

Salvaging of Kaesong: A Potential “Reset” for Inter-Korean Relations

by Scott A. Snyder
North Korean workers make shoes at a factory of a South Korean shoes company in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. (Lee Jin-man/courtesy Reuters) North Korean workers make shoes at a factory of a South Korean shoes company in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. (Lee Jin-man/courtesy Reuters)

Following seven rounds of arduous working-level negotiations stretching over the last six weeks that involved plenty of stubbornness and brinkmanship on both sides, North and South Korea announced a joint agreement today that establishes a new framework for reopening and jointly managing the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC). The complex has remained shuttered and immobilized since North Korea pulled its workers from the complex on April 9. The agreement paves the way for the resumption of operations at the complex, but more importantly it constitutes a potential “reset” both for how the complex is managed and helps to stabilizeinter-Korean relations. Read more »

Abe’s Diplomatic Agenda

by Sheila A. Smith
Visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe inspects the honour guard during the state welcoming ceremony in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur July 25, 2013 Visiting Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe inspects the honor guard during the state welcoming ceremony in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur July 25, 2013 (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters).

Now that the Upper House election is over, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition has control over both houses in parliament, many expect Abe to begin addressing the difficult domestic policy issues on his agenda. In an article I published yesterday for the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, I point out that Abe’s foreign policy choices will also greatly affect Japan’s future, particularly when it comes to how he manages three critical relationships: China, South Korea, and the United States. The first two will require Abe to address issues of deep historical distrust, while the last will test Abe’s ability to move forward long-overdue conversations on Japan-U.S. military cooperation. Read more »

Sean Connell: Lessons from KORUS for Japan and TPP

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith
U.S. president Barack Obama and South Korean president Lee Myung-bak tour the General Motors Orion assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan—which produces the Sonic sub-compact car, a joint venture with GM Korea—following congressional approval of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement U.S. president Barack Obama and South Korean president Lee Myung-bak tour the General Motors Orion assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan—which produces the Sonic sub-compact car, a joint venture with GM Korea—following congressional approval of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement October 14, 2011 (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters).

The agreement by the eleven Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) member nations on April 22 to include Japan in their ongoing negotiations was a significant breakthrough, both for advancing the high-standard “21st century” regional trade agreement envisioned in TPP and for Japan’s quest to revitalize its economy. With Japan now formally participating in the negotiating rounds, TPP covers 40 percent of global GDP, increasing its potential to shape the Asia-Pacific regional economic environment and global trade rules. Read more »

North Korea’s Next Provocation: When and Why?

by Scott A. Snyder
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un salutes during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-3 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. (KCNA/courtesy Reuters) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un salutes during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-3 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. (KCNA/courtesy Reuters)

Following an extended period of North Korean threats and inter-Korean tension during March and April of this year, North Korea prepared then abandoned a missile launch opting instead to shift back to charm diplomacy. Low-level inter-Korean talks over a possible restart of Kaesong drag on, as the North Korean leadership has turned its focus toward economic improvement, and Kim Jong-un presided over an unprecedented military “fatherland victory” parade to mark the sixteeth anniversary of the armistice in late July. But it would be a mistake to think that recent calm will be sustained. Read more »

The Korean Armistice: Sixty Years of “War By Other Means”

by Scott A. Snyder
A South Korean soldier stands guard as he faces the North Korea side at the border village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. (Wally Santana/courtesy Reuters) A South Korean soldier stands guard as he faces the North Korea side at the border village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. (Wally Santana/courtesy Reuters)

This weekend President Obama will commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the war fight on the Korean peninsula. But in so doing, he will have no choice to acknowledge that the war has not ended despite dramatic changes in both the international context and local conditions on the Korean peninsula. In my own thinking about the significance of an enduring armistice alongside dramatic changes surrounding the Korean peninsula, I found Sheila Miyoshi Jager’s new book Brothers at War particularly useful. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of June 28, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Australia's new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, gestures at a news conference at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Brisbane on February 24, 2012. Australia's new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, gestures at a news conference at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Brisbane on February 24, 2012. (Renee Melides/Courtesy Reuters)

Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week.

1. Julia Gillard is ousted as Australia’s prime minister, replaced by Kevin Rudd. Australia’s first female prime minister was ousted by the Labor Party on Thursday over fears that the party would lose September’s election with her at the helm. She was replaced by Kevin Rudd, who previously served as prime minister until a 2010 party coup. Chief among the Labor Party’s concerns is Australia’s faltering economy and slowing mining boom. Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker, also urged China to finalize a free trade agreement with Australia. Chinese farmers are worried that their businesses could be hurt by the free trade agreement because of the size of Australia’s agricultural output. Read more »

China and the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula

by Scott A. Snyder
South Korean president Park Geun-hye (R) and Chinese president Xi Jinping inspect Chinese honor guards during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing June 27, 2013. Park is on a visit to China from June 27 to 30. (Wang Zhao / courtesy Reuters) South Korean president Park Geun-hye (R) and Chinese president Xi Jinping inspect Chinese honor guards during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing June 27, 2013. Park is on a visit to China from June 27 to 30. (Wang Zhao / courtesy Reuters)

People’s Republic of China president Xi Jinping has taken a noticeably stronger rhetorical stand against North Korea’s nuclear program since he came to office in March on the heels of North Korea’s third nuclear test on February 12, 2013. China backed a new UN Security Council resolution condemning North Korea’s test and clearly distanced itself from North Korea, in contrast to its decision to embrace and defend North Korea as a strategic asset following North Korea’s second nuclear test in 2009. There has been a slowdown in high-level contacts with Kim Jong-un and a striking chilliness to Sino-DPRK interaction following meetings in July and November 2012 between Kim Jong-un and high-level Chinese officials in Pyongyang. Last week DPRK Vice Minister held a “strategic dialogue” with his PRC foreign ministry counterpart Zhang Yesui that was devoid of the party-to-party interaction that has long made China-DPRK interactions “special” rather than “normal.” Read more »

North Korea’s Defiant Proposal for Denuclearization Talks

by Scott A. Snyder
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) poses with troops of Korean People's Army Unit 405 at an undisclosed location. (KCNA/courtesy Reuters) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) poses with troops of Korean People's Army Unit 405 at an undisclosed location. (KCNA/courtesy Reuters)

Only one week after proposing and then pulling the plug on inter-Korean dialogue over protocol differences, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)’s National Defense Commission on June 16 issued a surprise proposal for “high-level” U.S.-DPRK talks on easing of military tensions, establishment of a peace regime, and “various other issues both parties want to address, including the building of a nuclear-free world proposed by the United States.” Read more »

Newer Economic Models

by Joshua Kurlantzick
An employee works at a textile mill in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, China on March 28, 2013. China's factory activity likely expanded at its fastest rate in 11 months in March 2013, with an anticipated pick-up in both domestic and external demand set to bolster the case that its economic recovery is gathering pace, not simply stabilizing. An employee works at a textile mill in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, China on March 28, 2013. China's factory activity likely expanded at its fastest rate in 11 months in March 2013, with an anticipated pick-up in both domestic and external demand set to bolster the case that its economic recovery is gathering pace, not simply stabilizing. (China Daily/Courtesy Reuters)

In the Asian Review of Books, editor Peter Gordon reviews both my new book Democracy in Retreat and a forthcoming book by longtime China journalist Joe Studwell, How Asia Works; Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region. I have always found Studwell’s work to be among the most thought-provoking and contrarian on Asia – the two often go together – and his new work is no exception. It adds to the growing literature suggesting that the modern state capitalists, like China, are pursuing models of development not only sharply different from those advocated by the West but also different from the Asian tigers and tiger cubs – many China-watchers have suggested that China’s model is simply an updated version of what worked earlier, for nations like South Korea. I will be adding my own contribution to the state capitalism debate in the next year. Read the whole review here.