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Asia Unbound

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

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What Will Happen in Rakhine State after Myanmar’s Election?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
myanmar-elections-Rakhine Supporters react as Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi gives a speech during her campaign rally for the upcoming general elections in Toungup, Rakhine state, on October 16, 2015. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

Myanmar’s election last Sunday has been hailed, by the world, as a major step forward for the country’s young democracy. The excitement on the ground in Myanmar in the days leading up to the election, and on Election Day, was intense—Myanmar residents reported a kind of giddy feeling in many cities and towns, as people thrilled to the idea of voting in a real national election for the first time in twenty-five years. On the campaign trail, Aung San Suu Kyi and other National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders drew enormous and often jubilant crowds, similar to the situation before the 1990 national elections. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of November 6, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Xi-Ma-summit - 11-6-15 Activists holding a placard showing the merged faces of Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou and China's President Xi Jinping protest against the upcoming Singapore meeting between Ma and Xi, in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan, November 6, 2015. (Pichi Chuang/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Ariella Rotenberg, Ayumi Teraoka, and Gabriel Walker look at the top stories in Asia this week.

1. Chinese and Taiwanese leaders meet for the first time in decades. Tomorrow, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou will hold a historic summit in Singapore, the first meeting of its kind since the Chinese Communist revolution of 1949. The leaders will exchange views on “some important issues” under delicate circumstances, referring to each other as “mister” to avoid the issue of Taiwanese sovereignty and splitting the dinner bill to avoid the appearance that one country is hosting the other. Read more »

Tu Youyou: An Outlier of China’s Scientific and Technological System

by Yanzhong Huang
Tu Youyou, 84, has become the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize, for her work in helping to create an anti-malaria medicine. (Flickr) Tu Youyou, 84, has become the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize, for her work in helping to create an anti-malaria medicine. (Flickr)

On October 5, a native Chinese scientist, Tu Youyou, won the Nobel Prize in medicine for her role in developing an antimalarial drug that saves millions of lives in Africa and Asia. The award is considered a milestone in China’s history of science and technology as Tu is not only the first Chinese citizen but also the first Chinese-trained scientist ever to be awarded the most prestigious award in science. In fact, unlike other Chinese Nobel laureates in science, all of whom had overseas training, Tu had neither study nor research experience abroad. The most important research that led to the discovery of the medicine for which she was awarded the prize, artemisinin, was conducted in China. Surprised but exalted, many Chinese have attributed this prize to China’s scientific and technological (S&T) regime. Already, social media in China is flooded with discussions on who will be the next Chinese scientist to win the prize. Read more »

Thailand Slashes Its Economic Growth Forecast

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Somkid Jatusripitak_Thailand_economy Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak gestures during an interview with Reuters at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, on September 21, 2015. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

On Friday, Thailand’s central bank slashed its growth forecast for the Thai economy for 2015, to 2.7 percent. As noted in a summary of the bank’s report in The Diplomat, this was the third time this year that the Bank of Thailand (BoT) has cut its growth forecast, and the BoT’s projected growth for 2015 is about half what it had expected for the Thai economy before the year started. A growth rate of 2.7 percent for the year would almost surely make Thailand the worst performing economy for 2015 in Southeast Asia. Read more »

China’s Think-Tank Great Leap Forward

by Yanzhong Huang
Released balloons are pictured near a Chinese flag during a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, September 3, 2015. (Rolex Dela Pena/Reuters) Released balloons are pictured near a Chinese flag during a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, September 3, 2015. (Rolex Dela Pena/Reuters)

China is experiencing a think-tank great leap forward. Governments, universities, and non-governmental actors have all jumped on the bandwagon of growing and creating think tanks. In responding to the government’s call to build fifty to a hundred high-end think tanks “with Chinese characteristics,” existing think tanks were quick to release reform and rebuilding plans, while new think tanks mushroomed in China. Just this month, at least ten new think tanks were reported to have been launched. In addition to those housed by universities, many are affiliated with government agencies (e.g., China National Tourism Administration) or media groups (e.g., Phoenix media group). As Professor Yan Xuetong of Tsinghua University observed, nowadays “each unit is building a think tank, and all universities are building think tanks.” It was reported that even some academic institutions focusing on studying history and archaeology have sought to transform themselves into think tanks. Read more »

The UN Sustainable Development Goals: An Opportunity for Niche Diplomacy by Middle-Power Korea

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder
South Korea's President Park Geun-hye addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 24, 2014. (Mike Segar/Reuters) South Korea's President Park Geun-hye addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 24, 2014. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Brendan Howe is a professor at Ewha Womans University’s Graduate School of International Studies.

From September 25 to 27, South Korean President Park Geun-hye will be attending the United Nations (UN) Development Summit in New York, where she will be giving the keynote address. Much of the summit will focus on the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The SDGs are a set of proposals that look to build on two high profile international governance agendas: [1] international development cooperation, dominated since 2000 by the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set to expire at the end of 2015; and [2] twenty years of environmental cooperation since the landmark United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). Read more »

Singapore’s General Election: More Continuity than Change

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Lee-Hsien-Loon-singapore-elections Secretary-General of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) Lee Hsien Loong gestures to his supporters at a lunchtime rally in the central business district in Singapore on September 8, 2015. Singaporeans will go to the polls on September 11. (Edgar Su/Reuters)

In advance of Singapore’s general elections on September 11, both of the major parties contesting the poll argue that this election will be definitive, even historic. At a press conference on September 1, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled Singapore since the country was formed five decades ago, told reporters, “The country is at a turning point. Question is, in what direction do we now go?” Sylvia Lim, one of the leaders of the Workers Party that comprises the main opposition party (there are also other small opposition parties such as the Singapore Democratic Party), also says the election will be a turning point. Read more »

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 »