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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: Five Stories From the Week of April 29, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
An Afghan athlete performs during a sporting event at a stadium in Kabul March 8, 2014. Despite decades of conflict in Afghanistan, and several recent militant attacks, the country's capital Kabul is home to a vibrant youth scene of musicians, artists, athletes and activists. Shopping malls and cafes stand in the city, which is nonetheless beset by infrastructure problems and instability. Afghanistan is preparing for an election on April 5 that should mark the first democratic transfer of power in the country's history, but it has been hit by a tide of violence as the Islamist Taliban movement has ordered its fighters to disrupt the vote and threatened to kill anyone who participates. Picture taken March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: SOCIETY POLITICS SPORT) A female Afghan athlete performs during a sporting event at a stadium in Kabul on March 8, 2014. Afghanistan’s women’s sports programs have recently encountered greater challenges. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Gabriella Meltzer, Gabriel Walker, and Pei-Yu Wei look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. Afghan female athletes forced to the sidelines. Despite annual donations to the tune of $1.5 million from the American government and other Western donors to women’s sports in Afghanistan, these programs have proven to be an abject failure in the promotion of women’s empowerment and equal participation. The efforts have been riddled by corruption; the cricket program “consist[s] of little more than a young woman with a business card and a desk” and the women’s soccer team has not played an international match in years. 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 »

Pharmaceutical PPPs and China’s Contribution to Global Health Security

by Yanzhong Huang
Shelves displaying medicines are seen at a pharmacy in Shanghai, China, November 27, 2015. China may more actively participate in global health innovation if it takes up more pharmaceutical public-private partnerships. Picture taken November 27, 2015. (Aly Song/Reuters) Shelves displaying medicines are seen at a pharmacy in Shanghai, China, November 27, 2015. China may more actively participate in global health innovation if it takes up more pharmaceutical public-private partnerships. Picture taken November 27, 2015. (Aly Song/Reuters)

One of the major challenges in developing new medical countermeasures against threats to global health security—be it a new flu pandemic or rapid spread of a neglected disease—is the lack of an underlying commercial market to support the financial investment needed for expeditious drug development and scale-up. This challenge was demonstrated at the outset of the 2014 Ebola outbreak: even though the lethal virus was known for nearly forty years, there was no cure or vaccine on the market. Paradoxically, while political attention to global health issues has revved up since the Ebola outbreak, funding is as short as ever when it comes to research and development (R&D) to address novel or neglected diseases. The funding shortage could be exacerbated by competing global challenges such as the need to raise money for funding the initiatives of the COP21 and implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of March 4, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Harry-harris-Abe Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) shakes hands with U.S. Navy Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., Commander of the United States Pacific Command, before talks at Abe’s official residence in Tokyo, Japan, February 16, 2016. (Franck Robichon/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. U.S. admiral proposes reviving naval coalition with Australia, India, and Japan. On Wednesday, Admiral Harry B. Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, proposed reviving an informal strategic coalition between the U.S., Australian, Indian, and Japanese navies. Although Harris did not specifically name China in the proposal, and instead mentioned powerful nations seeking to “bully smaller nations,” the alliance would likely serve as a military tool to balance China’s maritime expansion in the Indo-Pacific region. Read more »

Thailand’s Universal Eye Screening in Action

by Guest Blogger for Yanzhong Huang
Three elementary school girls at a primary school in Samutprakan, Thailand. This school was one of the pilot sites for the HITAP program for refractive eye screening. (Courtesy: Ariella Rotenberg) Three elementary school girls at a primary school in Samutprakan, Thailand. This school was one of the pilot sites for the HITAP program for refractive eye screening. (Courtesy: Ariella Rotenberg)

Ariella Rotenberg is a research associate in U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As of January 9, 2016, Thailand has implemented refractive error eye screening in first-grade classrooms nationwide. Additionally, any student that is identified with vision impairment through the refractive error screening, is guaranteed to be seen at the local hospital by an ophthalmologist and provided with glasses to correct for their impaired vision. Under this policy, it is estimated that 260,000 Thai children will be able to access spectacles that they need but may not have otherwise received. With the exceptions of South Korea and Iran, Thailand stands way ahead of the pack among Asian countries in having universal eye screening for children. Last September, the World Health Organization (WHO) hosted a meeting focused on promoting universal eye health across the Western Pacific region specifically because the region lags in providing universal vision care.

Read more »

Off-Label Use of Drugs and Access to Medicines for All: A Thailand Example

by Yanzhong Huang
A worker makes his way on a bridge at Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche plant. Roche is the manufacturer of Avastin, a cancer medication used for off-label treatment for macular disease in place of the more expensive Lucentis. (Christian Hartmann/Reuters) A worker makes his way on a bridge at Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche plant. Roche is the manufacturer of Avastin, a cancer medication used for off-label treatment for macular disease in place of the more expensive Lucentis. (Christian Hartmann/Reuters)

Several years ago an Indonesian girl named Widya posted a message on my blog. She asked where she could obtain the drug Sorafenib for her father, who was terminally ill with liver cancer. Her family had already spent a significant sum on her father’s healthcare and could not afford further treatment. I forwarded the message to a pharmaceutical executive in Jakarta, who responded that Sorafenib was available in Indonesia but a month’s dosage would cost around $4,500 (the average monthly salary in Jakarta is about $1,180). “I hope the patient has health insurance coverage, otherwise the family will have to pay out of pocket,” he said.

Read more »

China’s Nuclear Ambitions Go Global

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
China-nuclear-global-ambitions A worker looks on as the dome roof of a generator unit is lifted to be installed, at Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant, in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China, September 26, 2015. (Stringer/Reuters)

Gabriel Walker is a research associate in Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Chairman of the World Association of Nuclear Operators Laurent Stricker suggested that “overconfidence” could undermine the safety of nuclear power plants. While the Chinese nuclear industry may not necessarily be overconfident, its ambition is undeniable: the country has brought nearly twenty reactors online in the past decade and has around two-hundred proposed or planned in an all-out push to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. And after twenty-five years of developing nuclear power domestically, Chinese companies are now seeking to export their technology abroad. 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 »

Podcast: Pivotal Countries, Alternate Futures

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A man looks at the Pudong financial district of Shanghai, November 20, 2013. (Carlos Barria/Reuters) A man looks at the Pudong financial district of Shanghai, November 20, 2013. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Uncertainty is at the heart of China today: uncertainty over its economic reforms, over its political situation, and over its ultimate foreign policy objectives. In this podcast, I interview New York University professor Michael Oppenheimer about his new book, Pivotal Countries, Alternate Futures, in which he outlines a set of scenarios for the future of China and the implications of those scenarios for U.S. policy. Listen to our discussion for his fascinating assessment of where Beijing is, where it is likely to go, and what he thinks the United States ought to do to ensure that its interests are advanced whatever the future trajectory of China. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of January 15, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Taiwan-elections Supporters of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) react as the chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen addresses the crowd during a final campaign rally ahead of the elections in Taipei, Taiwan, January 15, 2016. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

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

1. Taiwan takes to the polls. Tomorrow, the island’s citizens will choose between the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Tsai Ing-wen, the Kuomintang’s (KMT) Eric Chu, and the People First Party’s (PFP) James Soong when they turn out to vote for a new president. Tsai, who lost the 2012 presidential race to incumbent KMT president Ma Ying-jeou, is expected to win with a significant margin this year. Read more »