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Asia Unbound

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

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Challenges in Designing an Effective North Korean Human Rights Policy

by Scott A. Snyder
refugee-interview-photos North Korean refugees provide some of the mounting evidence against systemic human rights abuses in North Korea. Here, one refugee shows pictures of his family in North Korea. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy Reuters).

There is no more vexing issue than the challenge of how to support the improvement of human rights in North Korea, a country that has consistently ranked at the bottom of international indices rating human freedom around the world.  The U.S. Congress passed the North Korea Human Rights Act almost a decade ago, the United Nations has appointed a rapporteur to examine the human rights situation inside North Korea for almost as long, and the Korean Institute for National Unification has published an ever-growing annual white paper on North Korean human rights since 1996.  This year the UN Human Rights Council appointed a Commission of Inquiry that has held public hearings in Seoul, Tokyo, London, and Washington, DC; the commission will report back to the UN Human Rights Council with its assessment and recommendations by spring of next year.  But the stream of North Korean refugee testimony to unspeakable atrocities and evidence of systemic abuses inside North Korea continues to grow. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of September 20, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Government soldiers escort residents who were taken hostage and used as human shields by Muslim rebels of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) during fighting with government soldiers, in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines on September 17, 2013. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters) Government soldiers escort residents who were taken hostage and used as human shields by Muslim rebels of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) during fighting with government soldiers, in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines on September 17, 2013. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

Will Piekos and Sharone Tobias look at the top five stories in Asia this week.

1. Chinese President wraps up trip to Central Asia.  President Xi Jinping ended a ten-day trip to Central Asia with a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) last weekend. Xi signed a number of bilateral economic and energy deals with countries in the region, and the SCO reached consensus on a number of foreign policy issues (largely in line with Chinese and Russian interests). With the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2014, Central Asia is a region ripe for Chinese leadership. Read more »

North Korea’s Next Provocation: When and Why?

by Scott A. Snyder
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un salutes during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-3 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. (KCNA/courtesy Reuters) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un salutes during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-3 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. (KCNA/courtesy Reuters)

Following an extended period of North Korean threats and inter-Korean tension during March and April of this year, North Korea prepared then abandoned a missile launch opting instead to shift back to charm diplomacy. Low-level inter-Korean talks over a possible restart of Kaesong drag on, as the North Korean leadership has turned its focus toward economic improvement, and Kim Jong-un presided over an unprecedented military “fatherland victory” parade to mark the sixteeth anniversary of the armistice in late July. But it would be a mistake to think that recent calm will be sustained. Read more »

Paula Briscoe: Greenland—China’s Foothold in Europe?

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
A lab manager at Activation laboratories prepares samples of mines to check ore grades of minerals in Nuuk, Greenland, on October 15, 2012. A lab manager at Activation laboratories prepares samples of mines to check ore grades of minerals in Nuuk, Greenland, on October 15, 2012. (Alistair Scrutton/Courtesy Reuters)

Paula Briscoe is the National Intelligence Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

China’s current and planned investments in Greenland raise concerns, not only about Chinese access to more of the world’s resources but also about China’s longer term objectives and the foothold in Europe that a strong partnership with Greenland could provide for Beijing. Read more »

South Korea’s Launch and North Korean Satellite Envy: Take Two

by Scott A. Snyder
South Korea's first space rocket is launched from its launch pad at the Naro Space Centre in Goheung. (Ho/Courtesy Reuters) South Korea's first space rocket is launched from its launch pad at the Naro Space Centre in Goheung. (Ho/Courtesy Reuters)

In a previous post from last month, I asserted that South Korea’s efforts to launch its own satellite would likely enrage North Korea, which is banned from conducting similar launches under UN Security Council Resolutions 1695, 1718, and 1874. That post highlighted an essay by Clay Moltz of the Naval Postgraduate School that we posted last month. Read more »

South Korea’s Satellite Launch and North Korean Satellite Envy

by Scott A. Snyder
South Korea's first space rocket is launched from its launch pad at the Naro Space Centre in Goheung (courtesy Reuters) South Korea's first space rocket is launched from its launch pad at the Naro Space Centre in Goheung (courtesy Reuters)

South Korea tries for the third time to successfully launch its own satellite into earth orbit using Russian technology this Friday, October 26, 2012. A new essay by the Naval Postgraduate School’s Clay Moltz analyzes South Korea’s space strategy in a new U.S.-Korea program essay. The essay analyzes South Korea’s program achievements and strategic challenges in the context of rapidly advancing Chinese, Indian, and Japanese programs. Moltz also analyzes opportunities and challenges to enhanced U.S.-ROK cooperation in space as part of my edited volume released earlier this year entitled The US-South Korea Alliance: Meeting New Security Challenges. Read more »

Myanmar Cabinet Reshuffle: Thein Sein for Real

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Myanmar's President Thein Sein (C) visits Laem Chabang port, in Chonburi province, east of Bangkok July 22, 2012. Myanmar's President Thein Sein (C) visits Laem Chabang port, in Chonburi province, east of Bangkok July 22, 2012. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters)

News this week that Myanmar president Thein Sein had reshuffled his cabinet, removing several key ministers, seems to suggest that Thein Sein is for real, that he is indeed committed to the long-term economic and political reforms the country desperately needs. All of the appointments to the posts in the president’s office are reformers and at the same time he seems to have demoted hard-liners in this reshuffle. Thein Sein’s moves, and his commitment, do not mean that Myanmar might not regress; just because he is committed to reform, the military still remains a critical player, and as we have seen in other countries in the region, such as Thailand, if democratization coincides with weak growth or the alienation of critical interest groups (i.e., the Thai upper class), these interest groups can wind up turning against the democratic process altogether. Read more »

Gu Kailai Trial: Drama Ended?

by Yanzhong Huang
Gu Kailai, wife of ousted Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Bo Xilai, attends a trial in the court room at Hefei Intermediate People's Court in this still image taken from video Gu Kailai, wife of ousted Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Bo Xilai, attends a trial in the court room at Hefei Intermediate People's Court in this still image taken from video on August 20, 2012. (Courtesy Reuters)

The murder trial of Bo Xilai’s wife Gu Kailai ended with a local Chinese court delivering a suspended death sentence for her killing of a British citizen Neil Heywood. While Gu only received a two-year reprieve for the execution, anybody with some knowledge of the operation of the Chinese officialdom knows that this is tantamount to life in prison. Provided “good behavior” during her imprisonment, Gu could be released after serving fewer than a dozen years. Gu was apparently satisfied with the verdict. It is ironic, of course, that she demonstrated no respect for the law by taking another person’s life, but is now praising the court for showing “immense respect for the law, reality and life.” Read more »

Trip by Panetta Affirms Shifting U.S. Stance

by Guest Blogger for Joshua Kurlantzick
U.S. defense secretary Leon Panetta sits next to USNS Richard E. Byrd chief mate Fred Cullen as they take a water taxi to the ship in Cam Ranh Bay. U.S. defense secretary Leon Panetta sits next to USNS Richard E. Byrd chief mate Fred Cullen as they take a water taxi to the ship in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam (Jim Watson/Courtesy Reuters).

Elizabeth Leader is a Research Associate for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

The visit of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to Southeast Asia last week reaffirmed the Obama administration’s commitment to an expanding U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific.  Although the administration has remained relatively mum in recent weeks about the so-called “pivot” (leading some to speculate that the strategy’s political viability was undergoing reassessment), and despite the looming threat of massive cuts to the U.S. defense budget,  Panetta asserted the position in a June 2 address in Singapore: “Make no mistake — in a steady, deliberate, and sustainable way the United States military is rebalancing and bringing an enhanced capability development to this vital region.” Read more »

The Great East Japan Earthquake and South Korean Support

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder
South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak prays for the victims at the area which was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture (Koichi Kamoshida/Courtesy Reuters). South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak prays for the victims at the area which was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture (Koichi Kamoshida/Courtesy Reuters).

Park Cheol-hee is an associate professor at Seoul National University.

NHK live broadcasts on the tsunami that swept coastal villages in Eastern Japan on March 11, 2011, were a shocking scene to the South Korean people. Japan now confronts the aftermath of triple natural disasters—an earthquake of a record 9.0 magnitude, a devastating tsunami, and the threat of radioactive contamination—that have left 11,417 dead, 16,273 missing, and more than 350,000 people struggling to survive at crowded shelters. Read more »