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Asia Unbound

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

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A Sharper Choice on North Korea

by Scott A. Snyder
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 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)

The Council on Foreign Relations has just released a report of an independent task force on policy toward North Korea, titled A Sharper Choice on North Korea: Engaging China for a Stable Northeast Asia,  directed by Adam Mount, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and co-chaired by retired Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, and former Senator Sam Nunn (R-GA). The task force grapples comprehensively with all the dimensions of U.S. policy toward North Korea, breaking new ground in its recommendations in several areas and confirming the stepped up efforts by the Barack Obama administration and Congress to reinvigorate the U.S. response in others. The product benefits from the participation of a diverse group of specialists and former policymakers who bring a wealth of experience to the elusive task of effectively addressing the challenge to U.S. and South Korean interests posed by the North Korean regime, both through its nuclear development and its human rights practices. Read more »

North Korea’s Nuclear Ambition Lives in the Gap between the United States and China- So Close It

by Scott A. Snyder
A cut-out of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set on fire during an anti-North Korea rally in central Seoul, South Korea, September 10, 2016. (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji) A cut-out of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set on fire during an anti-North Korea rally in central Seoul, South Korea, September 10, 2016. (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)

The direction of North Korea’s nuclear program has been clear for more than a decade, since it first tested a nuclear device in October 2006. But the pace has quickened, with two nuclear tests and tests of several missile platforms that will reduce warning time and extend North Korea’s capability to credibly deliver a nuclear weapon. The North Koreans have insisted that they are a “permanent” nuclear state and have signaled that the United States is their ultimate target, threatening nuclear strikes on the mainland. Read more »

North Korea’s Fifth Nuclear Test and the International Response

by Scott A. Snyder
Ryoo Yong-gyu, Earthquake and Volcano Monitoring Division Director, points at where seismic waves observed in South Korea came from, during a media briefing at Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul, South Korea, September 9, 2016.  (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji) Ryoo Yong-gyu, Earthquake and Volcano Monitoring Division Director, points at where seismic waves observed in South Korea came from, during a media briefing at Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul, South Korea, September 9, 2016. (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)

North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test (second in 2016) on September 9, 2016, the sixty-eighth anniversary of the country’s founding. North Korea claimed the test would enable it to build a nuclear warhead that is “able to be mounted on strategic ballistic rockets.” South Korean President Park Geun-hye condemned the “fanatic recklessness” of the North Korean leadership. U.S. President Barack Obama stated that North Korea’s actions would have “serious consequences.” The Chinese foreign ministry stated that it was “resolutely opposed to North Korea’s latest nuclear test and strongly urges North Korea to stop taking any actions that will worsen the situation.” Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of August 12, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
A Thai electoral worker starts counting ballots at a polling station during a constitutional referendum vote in Bangkok, Thailand August 7, 2016. REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa A Thai electoral worker starts counting ballots at a polling station during a constitutional referendum vote in Bangkok, Thailand on August 7, 2016. (Kerek Wongsa/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Lincoln Davidson, Bochen Han, Theresa Lou, and Gabriella Meltzer look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. New Thai constitution passed in referendum. In their first opportunity to vote since the 2014 military coup that toppled Yingluck Shinawatra’s democratically-elected government, the Thai people gave a resounding “yes” to the new military-drafted constitution. The results, with over 61 percent voting in favor, may not have been surprising given that the junta did its all to drown out the opposition, arresting and detaining dozens of activists and politicians in the lead-up to the vote. Experts were also quick to point out that approval did not equal widespread endorsement of the junta, as most people had never even seen a draft of the document and merely wanted a return to political normalcy. Read more »

A Trilateral on the Mend

by Sheila A. Smith
U.S. President Barack Obama stands behind as South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (L) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands at the end of their trilateral meeting at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington March 31, 2016 (KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS). U.S. President Barack Obama stands behind as South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (L) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands at the end of their trilateral meeting at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington March 31, 2016 (KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS).

For the second time, President Barack Obama brought together President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a trilateral summit on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit. The first time in 2014 the president was facilitating a meeting the two leaders could not have on their own, but last week the improving relations between Seoul and Tokyo were obvious. While the United States has facilitated some of these improvements, ultimately it is North Korea and its provocations that brought the two U.S. allies back to the table. Whether the future of this trilateral can be bolder and more resilient remains to be seen. Read more »

How China Sees THAAD

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder
A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency. THAAD provides the U.S. military a land-based, mobile capability to defend against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, intercepting incoming missiles inside and outside the earth's atmosphere. (Reuters/U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency/Handout via Reuters) A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency. THAAD provides the U.S. military a land-based, mobile capability to defend against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, intercepting incoming missiles inside and outside the earth's atmosphere. (Reuters/U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency/Handout via Reuters)

Sungtae “Jacky” Park is research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In February, the United States and South Korea decided to begin official discussions on deploying the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on the Korean Peninsula. In response, Chinese Ambassador to South Korea Qiu Guohong said that deployment of the system could destroy the Beijing-Seoul relationship “in an instant.” The floor leader of South Korea’s ruling Saenuri party, Won Yoo-cheol, calling Qiu’s remarks “rude,” said that they “disregarded the sovereignty and the security of the Republic of Korea.” While some analysts see China’s blunt position on this issue as a way to drive a wedge in the U.S.-Korea alliance, Beijing’s motivations are in fact defensive. China’s leadership is concerned about THAAD at the strategic level and sees the system as part of a broader U.S. strategy to contain China. Read more »

THAAD: The Moment of Decision Has Arrived

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder
A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency. THAAD provides the U.S. military a land-based, mobile capability to defend against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, intercepting incoming missiles inside and outside the earth's atmosphere. (Reuters/U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency/Handout via Reuters) A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency. THAAD provides the U.S. military a land-based, mobile capability to defend against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, intercepting incoming missiles inside and outside the earth's atmosphere. (Reuters/U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency/Handout via Reuters)

Sungtae “Jacky” Park is research associate for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and is the author of The Korean Pivot and the Return of Great Power Politics in Northeast Asia. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of January 22, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Bacha-Khan-protest Civil society members take part in protest against the attack on Bacha Khan University at a demonstration in Peshawar, Pakistan, January 21, 2016. (Khuram Parvez/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Ariella Rotenberg, Ayumi Teraoka, Gabriel Walker, and James West look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. Terrorists kill twenty-one in attack on Pakistani university. On Wednesday, gunmen stormed Bacha Khan University in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Charsadda district, killing twenty-one people and injuring dozens more. Four attackers were killed in an hours-long gun battle with security guards, local police, and the army in the attempt to secure the campus. Read more »

North Korea’s H-Bomb and the Costs of American Indifference

by Scott A. Snyder
People watch a huge screen broadcasting the government's announcement in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo January 6, 2016. North Korea said it successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen nuclear bomb on Wednesday, claiming a significant advance in its strike capability and setting off alarm bells in Japan and South Korea. Mandatory credit (Courtesy REUTERS/Kyodo) People watch a huge screen broadcasting the government's announcement in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo January 6, 2016. North Korea said it successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen nuclear bomb on Wednesday, claiming a significant advance in its strike capability and setting off alarm bells in Japan and South Korea. Mandatory credit (Courtesy REUTERS/Kyodo)

The White House moved quickly to debunk North Korea’s exaggerated claim that a Jan. 5 “artificial earthquake” at the site where Pyongyang had conducted three previous nuclear tests was a breakthrough detonation of a hydrogen bomb. The size of the blast was similar to that of North Korea’s January 2013 test and had a yield thousands of times lower than the yield expected of a hydrogen blast. But in downplaying North Korea’s claim so as not to feed Kim Jong-un’s cravings for international attention, the Barack Obama administration risks underplaying the growing danger posed by North Korea’s unchecked efforts to develop nuclear and missile capabilities needed to threaten a nuclear strike on the United States. Read more »

Domestic Political Obstacles and the U.S. Role in Improving Japan-Korea Relations

by Scott A. Snyder
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye listen during the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) dialogue at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila, Philippines November 18, 2015. (Courtesy REUTERS/Wally Santana/Pool) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye listen during the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) dialogue at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila, Philippines November 18, 2015. (Courtesy REUTERS/Wally Santana/Pool)

Despite the resumption of high-level Japan-South Korea ties with the holding of a “cold summit” in Seoul last month between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, prospects for a breakthrough in Japan-South Korea relations remain distant on the fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic normalization between Seoul and Tokyo. If anything, the gap between Park and Abe on how to address the issue of comfort women has grown deeper, despite a realization on the part of both governments that the issue must be managed as one part of a broader relationship rather than be allowed to block all forms of cooperation between the two sides. Read more »