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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 October 31, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
A member of a military rescue team pauses during search operations at the site of a landslide at the Koslanda tea plantation near Haldummulla on October 30, 2014. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Courtesy Reuters) A member of a military rescue team pauses during search operations at the site of a landslide at the Koslanda tea plantation near Haldummulla on October 30, 2014. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Courtesy Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Andrew Hill, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Vietnam and India strengthen defense and energy ties amid territorial disputes with China. The two nations signed a number of agreements following a meeting this week between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. Most notably, Vietnam agreed to further open its oil and gas sector to India, while India agreed to provide Vietnam with four off-shore patrol vessels. Prior to his two-day state visit, Dung called for a larger Indian role in the South China Sea, in spite of criticism from China. Both Hanoi and New Delhi are embroiled in territorial disputes with Beijing: Vietnam in the South China Sea and India along the Himalayas. Read more »

What Has Gone Wrong in Southeast Asia?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai-coup-protest A protester, who was briefly detained and then released, walks back toward others protesting against military rule near the Victory Monument in Bangkok on May 24, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

What has gone wrong in Southeast Asia? Between the late 1980s and the late 2000s, many countries in the region were viewed by global democracy analysts and Southeast Asians themselves as leading examples of democratization in the developing world.

By the late 2000s, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore all were ranked as “free” or “partly free” by the monitoring organization Freedom House, while Cambodia and, perhaps most surprisingly, Myanmar had both taken sizable steps toward democracy as well. Read more »

Singapore Goes Underground

by Joshua Kurlantzick
People walk through Ion, a mall on Orchard Road in Singapore on May 7, 2011. The mall has many stores located underground. (Russell Boyce/Courtesy Reuters) People walk through Ion, a mall on Orchard Road in Singapore on May 7, 2011. The mall has many stores located underground. (Russell Boyce/Courtesy Reuters)

On Wednesday, the New York Times had an extensive article about how Singapore, which hopes to expand its population from around 5.4 million today to around seven million people in fifteen years, plans to house its mushrooming population given its severe scarcity of land. Singapore is, of course, an island, it has already reclaimed large portions of land from the sea around it, it has a reputation for maintaining green space that is critical to its ability to attract companies from around the world, and it already has built nearly fifty skyscrapers in the downtown area, with more to come. So, in Singapore’s classically planned-to-the-hilt style, the city-state is considering building an extensive underground complex including shopping malls, walking areas, bike paths, and research and development areas. Read more »

Southeast Asia’s Purple Haze

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A worker stands as he looks on at fire from burning trees planted for palm oil, during haze in Indonesia's Riau province on June 24, 2013. A worker stands as he looks on at fire from burning trees planted for palm oil, during haze in Indonesia's Riau province on June 24, 2013. (Beawiharta/Courtesy Reuters)

Even before several of my CFR colleagues and I arrived in Indonesia earlier this week for discussions on regional security and governance, headlines in the region’s media were dominated by the haze that was blanketing Singapore and Malaysia—not to mention parts of Indonesia—as a result of the slash-and-burn practices in Sumatra. In an effort to clear land to plant new crops, farmers there burn crop residue, timber, and peat. The result is hundreds of “hotspots,” or fires that contribute to a thick, toxic haze that travels throughout the region. This is despite a government effort to promote “zero burning” and a moratorium on all deforestation in much of the country. Read more »

ASEAN’s Haze Shows the Organization’s Futility

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A tourist wearing a face mask passes the hazy skyline of the Marina Bay Sands casino and resort in Singapore on June 18, 2013. (Edgar Su/Courtesy Reuters) A tourist wearing a face mask passes the hazy skyline of the Marina Bay Sands casino and resort in Singapore on June 18, 2013. (Edgar Su/Courtesy Reuters)

Haze continues to spread across Southeast Asia, the result primarily of burn-offs from farming by individuals and agribusinesses in Indonesia, combined with the dry summer weather and urban pollution in the region’s largest cities. As Yanzhong Huang notes, air pollution levels in some parts of penisular Southeast Asia have reached record highs this past week; the more proactive governments in the region, like Singapore, have taken health precautions like pushing nearly all residents to wear masks while outdoors and setting up centers across the city-state for low-income and elderly residents to get free face masks they can use. As Yanzhong notes, Singapore also is vowing to pursue companies that use polluting practices and cause this haze. Overall, countries in the region, like Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, appear to be pointing fingers at each other and engaging in diplomatic recriminations rather than collaborating to address the haze crisis and its causes. Read more »

Haze Crisis in Southeast Asia (and China)

by Yanzhong Huang
An aerial view of burning lands in Palalawan district in Riau province June 21, 2013. An aerial view of burning lands in Palalawan district in Riau province June 21, 2013. Indonesia deployed military planes to fight raging forest fires on Friday that blanketed neighbouring Singapore in record levels of hazardous smog for a third straight day in one of Southeast Asia's worst air-pollution crises. (Fikih Nauli//Courtesy Reuters)

Having just arrived in Jakarta for a joint CSIS-CFR workshop on emerging Indonesia and rising regionalism, I was greeted by hot and humid weather conditions and horrible traffic. However, this is nothing compared to the severe haze that has blanketed Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, Malaysia, and Singapore, sending air pollution there to record high levels. Read more »

The World’s Imminent Deglobalization?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
People attend a demonstration against the government’s proposed plan for increased immigration at Speakers' Corner in Singapore February 16, 2013. People attend a demonstration against the government’s proposed plan for increased immigration at Speakers' Corner in Singapore February 16, 2013 (Edgar Su/Courtesy Reuters).

On Saturday, 3,000 demonstrators turned out in Singapore—in one of the biggest protests in the country’s history—to protest the government’s new plan to increase the tiny nation-state’s immigrant population by nearly two million people by 2030. And who are this proposal’s greatest opponents? The Singaporean middle class, which has increasingly seen its political capital and purchasing power strangled by the influx of wealthy immigrants, mainly from China. Read more »

Southern Philippines Deal a Lesson for Southern Thailand?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
People leave the scene after a car bomb exploded in southern Thailand's Sai Buri district. People leave the scene after a car bomb exploded in southern Thailand's Sai Buri district (Surapan Boonthanom/Courtesy Reuters).

In the wake of the Philippines government announcing last weekend that Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had agreed upon a peace plan after fifteen years of negotiations and forty years of war, many Thai news outlets are wondering whether Manila could teach Bangkok a lesson in how to deal with the southern Thailand insurgency. The Nation today, in an editorial titled “A Lesson for Thailand from the Philippines,” offers that the Philippine agreement has many key points for Thai policymakers to learn from, a mantra echoed by several other Thai media outlets. Yet there are key differences between southern Thailand and southern Philippines that, at this point, will make it hard to apply many of Manila’s lessons to Thailand: Read more »

The Rise of Innovative State Capitalism

by Joshua Kurlantzick
In his new article for Bloomberg Businessweek, Kurlantzick argues that the Chinese government has intervened effectively to promote skilled research and development in advanced industries. In his new article for Bloomberg Businessweek, Kurlantzick argues that the Chinese government has intervened effectively to promote skilled research and development in advanced industries (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters).

Although government-led economic intervention runs counter to established wisdom that the market is best for promoting ideas, the international rise of state capitalism in recent years has suggested that state-supported industries are indeed capable of fostering innovation.

In my new piece for Bloomberg Businessweek, I explore the rise of state capitalism, its innovative potential, and the lessons that U.S. and European businesses and governments should draw from this phenomenon. You can read the piece in its entirety here. 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.

Read more »