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Asia Unbound

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

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Hillary Clinton Meeting With Thein Sein Major Success

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Myanmar's president Thein Sein addresses the sixty-seventh United Nations General Assembly at the UN Headquarters in New York. Myanmar's president Thein Sein addresses the sixty-seventh United Nations General Assembly at the UN Headquarters in New York (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters).

As reported yesterday, following a meeting with Myanmar president Thein Sein, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States would now be easing the American ban on imports from Myanmar, which will be enormously beneficial to the Myanmar economy. This follows a similar move by the European Union, which now has allowed Myanmar to join the Generalized System of Preferences scheme it has for poor countries to access the EU market.

Though the announcement was important, just as important was the fact that Clinton met with Thein Sein during his trip to the United States —the United Nations General Assembly period is packed with bilaterals, and it would not have been hard for her to skip one more bilateral—and publicly handed Myanmar a reward that reflected positively on President Thein Sein. Read more »

A New Twist on Chinese Foreign Policy: Beijing Mixing Business with Politics?

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Filipinos chant anti-China slogans as they march towards the Chinese consulate in Manila's Makati financial district on May 11, 2012. Filipinos chant anti-China slogans as they march towards the Chinese consulate in Manila's Makati financial district on May 11, 2012 (Erik de Castro / Courtesy Reuters).

One of the cardinal rules of Chinese diplomacy is that China doesn’t mix business with politics. The precept fits in nicely with the primacy that China places on sovereignty, respecting the right of a country—or at least the leaders of the moment—to determine how things ought to work. And, of course, it also provides Beijing with the opportunity to rationalize its lack of enthusiasm for tough foreign policy action in places such as Iran, Syria, Sudan, or Zimbabwe as a matter of principle. 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 »

Guest Post: Taiwan and the TPP: Don’t Count Your Chickens

by Elizabeth Leader
AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt greets Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou at the Presidential Office in Taipei. AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt greets Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou at the Presidential Office in Taipei. (Central News Agency/Courtesy Reuters)

Following the recent reelection of Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou, media outlets worldwide have speculated about the president’s economic posture in his second term: Will he continue to advance relations with the mainland, or shift his gaze outward toward Taiwan’s neighbors in the Pacific? Hence, it is no surprise that the announcement of President Ma’s intent to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) has been cast by the media as a hot button issue. 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 »

Southeast Asia: What to Expect in 2012

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Women use sparklers to draw "2012" for photographers as they celebrate New Years Eve in Manila December 31, 2011.

Women use sparklers to draw "2012" for photographers as they celebrate New Years Eve in Manila December 31, 2011 (Romeo Ranoco/Courtesy Reuters).

The year 2011 saw some of the biggest political developments in Southeast Asia in decades. Burma finally seemed poised for real change, while Thailand continued to move closer to the brink of self-immolation, as political in-fighting worsened. The United States, China, and ASEAN nations continued to raise the stakes in the South China Sea, to a point where, now, it seems unlikely anyone can back off their claims and truly sit down at the table to negotiate some kind of agreement. Singapore had its most competitive election in generations, while in Malaysia massive street protests clearly have rattled the government. Even smaller states faced political turmoil: Papua New Guinea went for weeks with two prime ministers and the potential for civil strife, before the situation was resolved.

What, then, should we expect for an encore? Here are several trends to watch:

  1. China will bring back the charm. Over the past two years, Beijing has cost itself much of the gains it made in Southeast Asia in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when it appeared to be a good neighbor, trading partner, and investor. Through its belligerent approach to the South China Sea and, to some extent, the Mekong River, Beijing has scared many Southeast Asian nations enough that they have welcomed back a greater role for the United States in the region, even though their populations have not exactly become pro-American. Read more »

The KORUS-FTA Ratification Stalemate: Implications for Korea’s Election 2012

by Scott A. Snyder
Union workers from Korean Confederation of Trade Unions shout slogans during a demonstration in Seoul

Union workers from Korean Confederation of Trade Unions shout slogans during a demonstration in Seoul. Banners read: "Abolish the South Korea-U.S. FTA!" (red) and "Can't tolerate! Lee Myung-bak out!" (blue) November 13, 2011 (Jo Yong-hak/Courtesy Reuters).

South Korean president Lee Myung-bak showed admirable patience in the months he waited for the U.S. Congress to ratify the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and two other trade pacts on October 12. In the end, his visit to Washington was the action forcing event that broke the congressional stalemate. But the political ground in Seoul has shifted in recent months as represented by the outcome of October 26th Seoul mayoral bi-election, is posing new obstacles to Korean National Assembly ratification. In the first of a series of essays examining South Korean public opinion and implications for issues in U.S.-Korea relations, Kim Chi-wook analyzes the implications of this shift in South Korean public opinion from policies that emphasize growth to those that emphasize distribution.

Read more »

The United States in the New Asia … Revisited

by Evan A. Feigenbaum

For the next several days, President Obama is hosting leaders from around the Asia-Pacific region in Hawaii for the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. So this seemed like a good time to repost a Council on Foreign Relations special report on Asian regionalism that I co-wrote with my colleague, Bob Manning, in the run up to the 2009 meeting.

Our report, The United States in the New Asia, is two years old. But in my view, it’s still deeply relevant.

You can download the report here.

Some good things have happened since we wrote our paper in 2009. For one, the United States has joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, and that is a decidedly good thing. There isn’t likely to be a successful Doha Round nor is another global trade round likely anytime soon. So TPP can fill in some of the gaps between global trade liberalization and bilateral and regional agreements. The United States has also—finally—completed the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS).

And yet the larger questions Bob and I raised about the United States and Asian regionalism remain important and mostly unanswered.

Read more »

South Korea’s Mayoral Election: Setback for KORUS-FTA?

by Scott A. Snyder
Lawmakers from opposition parties and civic group members chant slogans during a rally opposing the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade agreement (FTA) talks at the National Assembly in Seoul October 12, 2011.

Lawmakers from opposition parties and civic group members chant slogans during a rally opposing the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade agreement (FTA) talks at the National Assembly in Seoul October 12, 2011. The front banner reads: "Oppose the handling without debate over the U.S.-South Korea FTA talks!" (Jo Yong-Hak/Courtesy Reuters).

South Korean president Lee Myung-bak’s visits to Washington, we have learned through hard experience, may not always have the same positive effects in South Korea that they have had in the United States. Lee’s first visit to Washington in the spring of 2008 resulted in a strong endorsement of the alliance, but it also resulted in a backlash over opening of the Korean beef market that resulted in weeks of public protests and gridlock in Seoul.

President Lee’s state visit to Washington two weeks ago catalyzed Congressional ratification of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS-FTA), but it has coincided with a Seoul mayoral bi-election won by independent opposition candidate Park Won-soon over ruling party candidate Na Kyung-won in a campaign that has marked the unofficial opening of a year-long presidential election campaign. This has complicated calculations regarding how and whether South Korea’s National Assembly will be able to ratify the KORUS-FTA as the last step required for the agreement to go into effect.

Read more »

Asia’s Landlocked Spaces

by Evan A. Feigenbaum

A Kyrgyz customs officer talks on a radio in front of workers as they reload cargo from a Chinese truck to Kyrgyz one at the Irkeshtam border crossing in southern Kyrgyzstan. Courtesy Reuters/Vladimir Pirogov.

Chris Rickleton, a Bishkek-based journalist, has a fascinating piece up on EurasiaNet about prospective Chinese rail construction in Kyrgyzstan. The piece cuts directly to tough political choices—namely, the push and pull between Russian and Chinese interests in Central Asia and, more important, how politicians in landlocked countries, like Kyrgyzstan, must try to balance among the larger countries on whom their economies depend for transit.

I’ve written a lot on efforts to reconnect trade and transit routes across continental Asia. You can read some of what I’ve argued herehereherehere, and here.

But Rickleton’s piece got me thinking about two questions:

(1) Since the obstacles to continental trade and transit are so high, is the game really worth the candle?

This is especially relevant because Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is vigorously promoting a “New Silk Road” concept, drawing heavily on a decade of prior efforts and experiences.

(2) With so much focus on the interests of the outside powers—Russia, China, Iran, and the United States, among others—what about the interests of the landlocked countries themselves?

Read more »