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Asia Unbound

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

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One Week after the Bangkok Bombing, What do We Know?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
erawan-shrine A police officer stands in front of the Erawan shrine, the site of a deadly blast, in central Bangkok, Thailand, on August 18, 2015. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

A week after the bombing at central Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine that killed twenty people, wounded at least 125 more, and set off a massive manhunt for a suspect identified in CCTV video, a man who apparently left a backpack at the shrine shortly before the explosion, no one has been arrested. In fact, amidst a constant swirl of rumors about possible leads, the Thai authorities appear no closer to solving the case. Read more »

What’s Missing in the China Story?

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Rescue workers wearing chemical protective suits walk at the site of the explosions at the Binhai new district in Tianjin, China, August 14, 2015. Rescuers on Friday pulled one survivor from the wreckage of a warehouse in northeast China's Tianjin that was hit by two massive blasts, a city official told reporters at a briefing. REUTERS/Jason Lee Rescue workers wearing chemical protective suits walk at the site of the explosions at the Binhai new district in Tianjin, China, August 14, 2015. Rescuers on Friday pulled one survivor from the wreckage of a warehouse in northeast China's Tianjin that was hit by two massive blasts, a city official told reporters at a briefing. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past month, there has been a lot of “China drama.” The volatility in the Chinese stock market, the yuan devaluation, and now the Tianjin warehouse explosion have all raised China chatter to a new level of anxiety. Some of the anxiety is understandable. These events have real consequences—above all for the Chinese people. At the urging of the Chinese government, tens of millions of Chinese moved to stake their fortunes not on real estate but on the stock market—the most unfortunate used their real estate as leverage to invest in the market and are now desperate for some good news. The Tianjin warehouse explosion has thus far left 121 Chinese dead, more than seven hundred injured, and over fifty still missing. Globally, the yuan devaluation has triggered a rate rethink by central bankers in Europe and the United States, and the stock market slide has contributed to steep drops in Asian and U.S. markets.

Read more »

Malaysia’s Political Crisis Deepens

by Joshua Kurlantzick
najib-razak-1MDB Men walk past a 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) billboard at the funds flagship Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 1, 2015. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)

This past week, the crisis in Malaysia’s governing coalition has only grown deeper, with the sacking of several prominent ministers in a scene that could remind one of the Nixon administration’s October, 1973 Saturday Night Massacre. As stories continued to emerge alleging improprieties in Malaysia’s state 1MDB fund, including the alleged deposit of funds into the personal accounts of Prime Minister Najib tun Razak, sentiment in the governing coalition about Najib appeared to be split. Read more »

Three Geopolitical Constraints on South Korea’s Foreign Policy

by Scott A. Snyder
South Korean Ruling (Saenuri) Party Chairman Kim Moo-Sung speaks at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC, on July 27, 2015. (Courtesy: Woodrow Wilson Center) South Korean Ruling (Saenuri) Party Chairman Kim Moo-Sung speaks at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC, on July 27, 2015. (Courtesy: Woodrow Wilson Center)

Ruling (Saenuri) Party Chairman Kim Moo-Sung led a South Korean National Assembly delegation visit to Washington this week and gave a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.  His speech included three points that nicely summarize the constraints South Korea is currently facing in its foreign policy. Read more »

The Rising Anti-Intellectualism in China: Part II

by Yanzhong Huang
Graduates dressed up as red guards, wait for their picture to be taken, in front of a statue of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong at a university in Shanghai, June 19, 2015. (Reuters/Aly Song) Graduates dressed up as red guards, wait for their picture to be taken, in front of a statue of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong at a university in Shanghai, June 19, 2015. (Reuters/Aly Song)

In my last blog post, I examined the rise of anti-intellectualism in China from a historical perspective. As if to corroborate my argument, last week police in China’s Jiangxi province detained Wang Lin, a semi-illiterate qigong (a Chinese spiritual martial art) mystic, for his role in the alleged kidnapping and murder of one of his former “disciples.” What dragged Wang into the limelight was not the incident itself, but the laundry list of his followers and clients exposed after Wang’s fall. They included Jack Ma, Jet Li, and a number of other celebrities and high-profile businessmen. Chinese websites also circulated photos showing Wang with high-ranking government officials, including several former Politburo Standing Committee members and at least four former central government ministers. Among them was the now disgraced railway minister Liu Zhijun, to whom Wang promised to set up a magic stone in his office so that he would never fall from power. Read more »

Vietnam’s Top Party Leader Meets Obama

by Joshua Kurlantzick
nguyen-phu-trong-obama U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong following their meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington on July 7, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

After yesterday’s meeting between top Communist Party leader Nguyen Phu Trong and President Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden, the United States-Vietnam relationship seems poised to reach a new level. As the Washington Post noted, it is rare for the president to welcome at the White House a foreign leader who is not the head of state or head of government. But an exception was made for the Vietnamese leader, since Hanoi is becoming increasingly important to U.S. strategic interests in Asia, and since Nguyen may well wield as much power as Vietnam’s president or prime minister within Hanoi’s opaque leadership structure. Read more »

The Rising Anti-Intellectualism in China: Part I

by Yanzhong Huang
Graduates, in academic dress, pose for pictures in front of a statue of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong at a university in Shanghai, June 19, 2015. (Reuters/Aly Song) Graduates, in academic dress, pose for pictures in front of a statue of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong at a university in Shanghai, June 19, 2015. (Reuters/Aly Song)

On June 10, a blogger named Zhou Xiaoping was elected to head the newly established China Online Writers Association in Sichuan Province. He thus followed the career path of another popular blogger, Hua Qianfang, who was elected the Vice Chairman of the Writers Association of Fushun City in Liaoning Province in November 2014, an honor that is usually reserved for professional writers whose achievements in literature are well recognized. While both of them received only secondary school education, Zhou and Hua were invited to join the seventy most famous writers and artists in attending a symposium on art and literature in Beijing last year.  Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 22, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
A Rohingya child who recently arrived by boat has his picture taken for identification purposes at a shelter in Kuala Langsa in Indonesia's Aceh province on May 18, 2015. (Roni Bintang/Courtesy: Reuters) A Rohingya child who recently arrived by boat has his picture taken for identification purposes at a shelter in Kuala Langsa in Indonesia's Aceh province on May 18, 2015. (Roni Bintang/Courtesy: Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Plight of migrants in Andaman Sea continues. As many as three thousand refugees, mostly Rohingya minority Muslims fleeing state-sanctioned persecution in Myanmar and Bangladeshi economic migrants, remain stranded in the waters in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Myanmar and Thailand. An estimated seven thousand refugees were abandoned by human traffickers during the past week without food or water in overcrowded boats; as many as fifty thousand attempt the trip each year. Read more »

Little Chance of a Regional Solution for the Rohingya

by Joshua Kurlantzick
rohingya-indonesia-aceh Rohingya migrants, who arrived in Indonesia by boat, queue up for their breakfast inside a temporary compound for refugees in Kuala Cangkoi village in Lhoksukon, Indonesia's Aceh Province on May 18, 2015. (Beawiharta/Courtesy: Reuters)

In the wake of the latest horrific reports of Rohingya fleeing Myanmar, the United States government has called Southeast Asian nations to come together and adopt a region-wide strategy for addressing the refugee crisis. “This is a regional issue. It needs a regional solution in short order,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters last week, according to the Associated Press. As of today, thousands of Rohingya reportedly remain at sea, off the coasts of Malaysia and Indonesia, on rickety boats, after human smugglers abandoned them; Malaysia and Indonesia refuse to accept any more of the refugees stranded at sea. Read more »

Podcast: China’s Environmental Health Crisis – Challenges and Politics

by Yanzhong Huang
Women wear face masks on the Bund in front of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower during a hazy day in downtown Shanghai January 26, 2015. (Aly Song/Courtesy Reuters) Women wear face masks on the Bund in front of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower during a hazy day in downtown Shanghai January 26, 2015. (Aly Song/Courtesy Reuters)

After more than three decades of rapid industrialization and modernization, China is on the cusp of potentially becoming the world’s largest economy. Yet China’s economic miracle has imposed tremendous costs on the environment and public health. Topping this list is extensive air pollution, water pollution, and soil contamination—outdoor air pollution, for example, has been linked to 1.2 million premature deaths in China. The result, as shown in the recent viral documentary “Under the Dome,” has been an environmental health crisis that has profound economic, social, and political ramifications. The ascending popularity of the documentary, followed by its quick disappearance from all major websites in China, beget a series of questions on China’s environmental health crisis: What is the nature and magnitude of the crisis? What are its causes and consequences?  What is the response of the Chinese government to the crisis and is this response sufficient to the challenges at hand? Read more »