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Asia Unbound

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

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Showing posts for "Asean"

What Happens Now in the South China Sea?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Filipino fishermen wave from a fishing boat bound to fish near Scarborough Shoal in Masinloc (Erik de Castro/courtesy Reuters) Filipino fishermen wave from a fishing boat bound to fish near Scarborough Shoal in Masinloc (Erik de Castro/courtesy Reuters)

Although the meltdown of the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh last week seemed like an unmitigated disaster, and already has resulted in a flurry of press coverage blasting the organization, the situation in the South China Sea is not necessarily headed for a steep descent into real conflict. To be sure, both sides seem likely to send more “fishing vessels” and other boats that straddle the line between civilian and military vessels into the disputed waters, raising the possibility of further skirmishes. Meanwhile, in the wake of the summit Philippine opinion leaders, and the Philippine media, are both livid at Cambodia for allegedly scuttling any joint position and increasingly aware of how vulnerable the Philippines is, having allowed their armed forces to deteriorate badly over the past two decades. Read more »

ASEAN’s Failures on the South China Sea

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong addresses the closing ceremony of the 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Phnom Penh (Pring Samrang/courtesy Reuters) Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong addresses the closing ceremony of the 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Phnom Penh (Pring Samrang/courtesy Reuters)

In the wake of the disastrous break-up of last week’s ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Phnom Penh, at which ASEAN failed to agree to any statement summarizing their position on the South China Sea, even some of the most ardent backers of the Southeast Asian organization have begun to wonder whether ASEAN’s traditional consensus way is now totally defunct. This emphasis on consensus, of course, allows even one country, no matter how small, to block any joint position taken by ASEAN – in this case, probably Cambodia and Laos, which are increasingly close to China, blocking any joint statement that criticized Beijing. But this is hardly the first time the consensus approach has proven utterly counterproductive: ASEAN failed for years to strengthen their charter to include strong new clauses on human rights, almost surely because of the objections of more repressive ASEAN members like Myanmar. ASEAN failed, in the past, to take strong positions even on conflict within Southeast Asia, as occurred in East Timor in 1999, because of this adherence – some might say slavish devotion – to consensus and noninterference, a sharp contrast from some other regional organizations like the African Union. Read more »

Economics and Indian Strategy

by Evan A. Feigenbaum
Leaders of Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Thailand pose for a picture at the second summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) in New Delhi, November 13, 2008. (B Mathur / Courtesy Reuters) Leaders of Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Thailand pose for a picture at the second summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) in New Delhi, November 13, 2008. (B Mathur / Courtesy Reuters)
South Asia is among the least economically integrated regions of the world, in part because partition cleaved apart various natural economic communities. Regions, such as Bengal, which had been well integrated historically, suffered considerable economic ill effects. And post-1947 policies have only exacerbated the problem through tariffs, production restrictions, and various trade controls.

Actually, the lack of economic integration in South Asia is endemic. It’s not just a challenge for India and Pakistan but for many other countries in South Asia as well. Read more »

Timor-Leste’s Tenth Anniversary

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A youth pastes stickers of Timor-Leste's presidential candidate and former military commander Taur Matan Ruak on his face during a campaign rally in Dili March 10, 2012. A youth pastes stickers of Timor-Leste's presidential candidate and former military commander Taur Matan Ruak on his face during a campaign rally in Dili March 10, 2012. (Lirio Da Fonseca/Courtesy Reuters)

A fine overview in The Economist this week outlines the challenges facing Timor-Leste this month, on the tenth anniversary of it becoming an independent state. On the surface, Dili and other parts of Timor seem to have made solid, hopeful progress; they are relatively quiet, and commerce is flourishing again. This looks like positive change compared to even five years ago, when on a visit I found much of Dili still deserted, the streets totally unsafe at night, and the ruins of not only the 1999 fighting but also battles between different militia groups contesting Dili. Many people I met in Timor then feared that the country, so small, and with so few capable administrators and other educated people, would not even survive, and would remain a ward of the international community indefinitely. Read more »

What to Expect in Asia in 2012

by Evan A. Feigenbaum

Traders stand near a screen showing the Indonesia Stock Exchange Composite Index during the first day of trading for 2012 in Jakarta January 2, 2012. Courtesy Reuters/Stringer.

It’s been a fascinating year for Asia. The region has continued to consolidate its role as the essential player driving global recovery. Developing Asia, including China, India, and the major ASEAN economies, maintained robust growth, in contrast to the advanced economies’ collective anemic growth over the same period.

But 2012 promises to be more fraught as domestic politics take command amid new challenges to growth.

Here are twelve trends I see coming for Asia in 2012—risks, opportunities, and emerging patterns that will shape Asia during the next twelve months, and beyond.

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Myanmar’s Curious Opening

by Joshua Kurlantzick
U.S. President Obama looks back at Myanmar's President Thein Sein as they participate in a group photo of leaders at the East Asia Summit in Nusa Dua.

U.S. President Obama looks back at Myanmar's President Thein Sein as they participate in a group photo of leaders at the East Asia Summit in Nusa Dua (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

Over the past year, Myanmar’s political opening has surprised even the most sophisticated observers and analysts of the country. Few expected the November 2010 election, which was hardly free or fair, to lead to real political reform, which now increasingly seems to be occurring. And so, in its seemingly unexpected transition, Myanmar is calling into question many accepted ideas about democratization.

In a new piece in the Boston Globe’s Sunday Ideas section, I examine the reasons for Myanmar’s surprising year of change, and look at how it has upended much conventional wisdom on policy toward the country.

You can read the whole piece here.

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Burma’s Reforms Starting to Appear More Real

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Mynamar's Aung San Suu Kyi meets President Thein Sein at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw.

Mynamar's Aung San Suu Kyi meets President Thein Sein at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw. (Myanmar News Agency/Courtesy Reuters)

A front-page article in Friday’s New York Times, entitled “Detecting a Thaw in Myanmar, U.S. Aims to Encourage Change” captures the frankly shocking new spirit of reform emerging in recent weeks in Burma. The pace of the apparent reforms has surprised many cynics, including myself – I have long warned that any reforms should be seen as superficial and likely to be rolled back, as has happened many times in Burma’s modern history. Other doubters, including many in the Obama administration, the U.S. Congress, and the human rights community, including exiled Burmese reformers, also are starting to put aside some of their (well-earned) skepticism. Indeed, this is by far the most optimistic period for Burma in at least two decades, and the optimism is bracing among Burmese who are used to nothing but political stasis and economic misery and mismanagement.

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ASEAN Kicks the South China Sea Dispute down the Road

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Anti-China protesters hold a Vietnamese flag (top) and a Chinese flag with an image of the pirate skull and crossbones (bottom) during a demonstration around Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi July 24, 2011.

Anti-China protesters hold a Vietnamese flag (top) and a Chinese flag with an image of the pirate skull and crossbones (bottom) during a demonstration around Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi July 24, 2011. (Peter Ng/Courtesy Reuters)

In the wake of the recent ASEAN Regional Forum in Bali, both Southeast Asian nations and China celebrated the drafting of an agreement between Southeast Asian states and China to resolve South China Sea disputes peacefully. As Voice of America reported, American officials also hailed the deal:

“U.S. officials are expressing relief over the accord, which they say should ease tensions between China and several ASEAN member states including U.S. defense treaty ally, the Philippines.”

Of course, any dampening of tensions in the South China Sea, where there has been one incident after the next in recent months, is welcome. The Philippines, Vietnam, and China had been ratcheting up tensions, and some Chinese analysts even began talking of a “limited war” with Vietnam to teach the country a lesson about claims in the Sea.

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Are Multilateral Groups Missing the Point?

by Evan A. Feigenbaum

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (center, L) and Defense Secretary Robert Gates (center, R) co-host the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto (L, back to camera) and Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa (R, back to camera) at the State Department in Washington, June 21, 2011. Courtesy Reuters/Kevin Lamarque.

At the June 21 meeting of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, Washington and Tokyo jointly agreed to promote trilateral strategic dialogue with India. And that announcement provided a nice opportunity to use my latest “DC Diary” column in India’s financial daily, the Business Standard, to revisit a theme from The United States in the New Asia, the CFR Special Report I wrote with Bob Manning in 2009.

What’s the point of all this geometry, anyway?  Innovation has been sadly lacking in the creation of various new Asian geometries, no matter whether they are large or small, trilateral or multilateral.

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The Continuing Impotence of ASEAN

by Joshua Kurlantzick
ASEAN leaders walk after they held a retreat at the 18th ASEAN Summit in Jakarta May 8, 2011.

ASEAN leaders walk after they held a retreat at the 18th ASEAN Summit in Jakarta May 8, 2011. (Supri Supri/Courtesy Reuters)

This past week’s ASEAN Summit in Jakarta only further highlighted the organization’s continuing impotence at a time when the United States is reengaging with ASEAN and, Indonesia, returning to its role as regional power, is trying to make ASEAN work more effectively. The first U.S. ambassador to ASEAN has arrived, and Indonesian officials have become more involved in everything from Myanmar to the ongoing border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia.

Yet the organization itself still lacks coherence, strong leadership, and speed, and it increasingly appears likely that it will never have these characteristics. Despite Indonesia’s best intentions, ASEAN mediation has produced few results in the Thai-Cambodian dispute, and the organization has not been able to resolve another lingering problem: Myanmar is in line to host the 2014 ASEAN summit, which would almost surely mean the U.S. president will not attend any meetings with ASEAN that year, since he or she will not want to appear to support Myanmar. Some of the more democratic members of ASEAN, including the Philippines and Indonesia, wanted Myanmar to relinquish this right, as it had in the past, but as usual with ASEAN, the organization could reach no consensus–ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan just endorsed Myanmar’s right to host –and so the likely result will be some kind of muddle.

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