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Asia Unbound

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

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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 »

The Anti-Corruption Drive and Risk of Policy Paralysis in China

by Yanzhong Huang
China's Politburo Standing Committee members (2nd row from bottom, L to R) Wang Qishan, Zhang Dejiang, President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, Liu Yunshan and Yu Zhengsheng (bottom row, 2nd R) sing Chinese national anthem at the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 13, 2015. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Courtesy: Reuters) China's Politburo Standing Committee members (2nd row from bottom, L to R) Wang Qishan, Zhang Dejiang, President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, Liu Yunshan and Yu Zhengsheng (bottom row, 2nd R) sing Chinese national anthem at the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 13, 2015. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Courtesy: Reuters)

Like it or not, President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign is extremely popular among Chinese people. According to an online survey, “combating corruption” trails “income distribution” as the top two concerns of the Chinese public. There are already reports suggesting that the campaign has helped reduce the transaction cost for ordinary people to get things done in China. Read more »

Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore’s Future

by Joshua Kurlantzick
lee-kuan-yew-singapore Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew makes a speech during the 12th International Conference on 'The Future of Asia' in Tokyo on May 25, 2006. (Kiyoshi Ota/Courtesy: Reuters)

In the wake of the death of Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, many obituaries lauding Lee’s role in transforming the city-state also have argued that Singapore faces high hurdles to continuing Lee’s revolution. As Forbes’ Joel Kotkin writes, Lee’s achievements during his three decades as prime minister were extraordinary, but in Singapore today the “durability of his legacy is in question.” Read more »

What the Delhi Elections Mean for Indian Foreign and International Economic Policy (Not Much, Yet)

by Alyssa Ayres
Supporters of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) hold portraits of AAP chief and its chief ministerial candidate for Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, during the celebrations outside their party office in New Delhi on February 10, 2015 (Anindito Mukherjee/Courtesy: Reuters). Supporters of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) hold portraits of AAP chief and its chief ministerial candidate for Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, during the celebrations outside their party office in New Delhi on February 10, 2015 (Anindito Mukherjee/Courtesy: Reuters).

Delhi voters just elected—by a landslide—the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to lead their state assembly. What’s more, the chief minister will again be quirkily charismatic Arvind Kejriwal, who led the new anti-corruption party to a strong showing in Delhi in December 2013 but abandoned governance for street sit-ins and staged public protests. He then quit government after forty-nine days and plunged the state into a long period of uncertainty. Despite this, wielding brooms and wrapping a scarf (“muffler” in India, hence his nickname “Mufflerman”) around his head during winter, Kejriwal campaigned aggressively to root out corruption and provide free water, half-rate electricity, and a better jobs deal for the poor. It worked. Read more »