CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Preparing for Jokowi’s Visit to Washington

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, May 12, 2015
jokowi-WEF Indonesia's President Joko Widodo gestures as he delivers a speech during the interactive session of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta on April 20, 2015. (Beawiharta/Courtesy: Reuters)

Two weeks ago, a senior aide to Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo confirmed that the Indonesian leader plans to make his first visit to Washington as president in June. Thus far, despite hopes in Washington that Jokowi’s term as president might usher in closer ties to the United States, the U.S.-Indonesia relationship has remained roughly where it was before Jokowi took office. The bilateral relationship is generally warmer than it was in the 1990s and early 2000s, but the two countries’ strategic, economic, and cultural relations still lag far behind those the United States enjoys with many other partners in Southeast Asia. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 8, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, May 8, 2015
Security forces and rescue workers inspect an abandoned camp at a rubber plantation near a mountain in Thailand's southern Songkhla province on May 7, 2015 (Surapan Boonthanom/Courtesy: Reuters). Security forces and rescue workers inspect an abandoned camp at a rubber plantation near a mountain in Thailand's southern Songkhla province on May 7, 2015 (Surapan Boonthanom/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. Mass graves of human trafficking camp unearthed in Thailand. Police exhumed twenty-six bodies at a mass grave located in the jungles of Songkhla province this week. Most of the migrants once held at the now abandoned site were Rohingya Muslim refugees from western Myanmar and Bangladesh. According to reports, this camp was made up of “bamboo cages, watchtowers and what Thai police described as a torture room.” Even as the grave was discovered, more than fifty Thai police officers were punished over suspected links to human trafficking networks. The mass grave was hardly the first indicator that Thailand has a booming human trafficking business and it remains to be seen if the Thai government can successfully undertake steps necessary to combat human trafficking. Read more »

The Coup One Year On: Why Has Thai Democracy Regressed?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, May 7, 2015
Thailand-coup-protests Soldiers take position along roads blocked around the Victory Monument, where anti-coup protesters were gathering on previous days, in Bangkok on May 30, 2014. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters)

On a hot spring afternoon in 1999 at the investigative reporting section of the Bangkok Post, one of Thailand’s two English-language dailies, the section’s editor marked off a long list of stories on a white board. The section had plenty of targets in its sights—police corruption, Thailand’s drug trade and many other subjects. Read more »

Stories of Ordinary North Koreans and Human Rights

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder Thursday, May 7, 2015
A woman holding an umbrella walks past near damaged houses by flooding in Kujang district, in the province of North Pyongan, in this photo taken on August 28, 2012. (Courtesy: Reuters) A woman holding an umbrella walks past near damaged houses by flooding in Kujang district, in the province of North Pyongan, in this photo taken on August 28, 2012. (Courtesy: Reuters)

Darcie Draudt is a research associate for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Last Thursday at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the U.S. delegation convened a meeting on the human rights situation in North Korea that featured testimony of North Korean escapees. The event was part of North Korean Freedom Week, hosted annually since 2004 by a coalition of U.S. and South Korean NGOs focused on increasing awareness and mobilizing action to promote freedom for the North Korean people. The UN meeting took a turn when the testifiers were interrupted by a statement the DPRK delegation, who had previously been assured they would have an opportunity to speak following the defectors and faced vehement objections most notably from U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. Read more »

Is the Mass Grave a “Turning Point” for Thai Policy on Trafficking?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Thailand-Songkhla A member of the security forces is seen at an abandoned camp in a jungle some three hundred meters from the border with Malaysia, in Thailand's southern Songkhla province on May 2, 2015. (Surapan Boonthanom/Courtesy: Reuters)

Last Friday, Thai police discovered a mass grave near the country’s southern border with Malaysia. Twenty-six bodies have been exhumed from the grave thus far. According to a report in the New York Times, the mass grave was located in an abandoned detention camp that was likely used by human smugglers. These camps, primarily for Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, are common in southern Thailand. This one, the Times reported, was “made up of bamboo cages, watchtowers and what the Thai police described as a ‘torture room,’ without giving more details.” Read more »

Prime Minister Abe’s Very Good Visit

by Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 29, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy: Reuters) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 29, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy: Reuters)

This post was co-authored with Brad Glosserman, executive director of Pacific Forum CSIS. A version of this post also appeared as a Pacific Forum CSIS PacNet publication, and can be found here.

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s trip to the United States last week was about as productive and positive a state visit could hope to be. The trappings and status of the visit were second to none. It affirmed the importance of the U.S.-Japan partnership. It produced critical, forward-looking documents to chart the course of the U.S.-Japan relationship. Abe delivered remarks to enthusiastic and approving audiences. Significantly, there were no gaffes to muddy the message or the image he sought to present to the United States, Japan, and the rest of the world. Prime Minister Abe and his entourage should be delighted with the results. Read more »

South Koreans’ Outlook on China and the United States

by Scott A. Snyder Monday, May 4, 2015
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a Veterans Day event at the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, on November11, 2010. (Jim Young/Courtesy: Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a Veterans Day event at the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, on November11, 2010. (Jim Young/Courtesy: Reuters)

This post was co-authored by Darcie Draudt, research associate for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

On April 20, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul released its latest report on South Korean public views on the United States. Overall, the numbers track fairly consistently with recent annual polls (Asan has tracked this data in 2012, 2013, and 2014): South Koreans polled view the United States as the major political and military, if not also economic, leader in the region. However, an overwhelming number of South Koreans expect that Chinese economic power will necessarily rise and U.S. economic power is declining; 70.5 percent believe China will be the future economic superpower while a mere 20.2 percent chose the United States. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 1, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, May 1, 2015
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in front of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 29, 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy: Reuters). Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in front of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 29, 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. Shinzo Abe visits the United States. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the United States this week to discuss the future of U.S.­-Japan relations. Increased security cooperation as well as relations with China topped the agenda. Abe delivered the first-ever speech by a Japanese prime minister to a joint session of Congress. In his speech, Abe described his vision for a stronger alliance between the United States and Japan and expressed his condolences for Japanese behavior in World War II. He announced his determination to “take more responsibility for peace and stability in the world.” Read more »

Myanmar’s Election Day May Be Only a Step Toward Democracy

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, May 1, 2015
shwe mann-aung hlaing-suu kyi-myanmar Shwe Mann (C), speaker of Myanmar's Lower House of Parliament, Myanmar's military Commander-in-chief Senior General Ming Aung Hlaing (L) and Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrive for Myanmar's top six-party talks at the Presidential palace in Naypyitaw on April 10, 2015. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy: Reuters)

In the end of October, Myanmar will hold what will be probably its first truly free national election in twenty-five years. Several reports released this week on the upcoming election suggest that, for all the problems with Myanmar’s reform process over the past five years, the actual Election Day is likely to be relatively fair. A new International Crisis Group (ICG) report on the upcoming election notes that the election commission has, thus far, operated transparently and consulted widely and that the government has reached out to credible international observers to help ensure Election Day is fair. Read more »

China’s Secret Plan to Supplant the United States

by Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, May 1, 2015
Members of People's Liberation Army (PLA) coastal defence force shout as they practise during a drill to mark the upcoming 87th Army Day at a military base in Qingdao, Shandong province July 29, 2014. The PLA Army Day falls on August 1 every year. Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to strike hard against graft in the military, urging soldiers to banish corrupt practices and ensure their loyalty to the ruling Communist Party, state media reported on Friday. Picture taken July 29, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS ANNIVERSARY) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA Members of People's Liberation Army (PLA) coastal defence force shout as they practise during a drill to mark the upcoming 87th Army Day at a military base in Qingdao, Shandong province, on July 29, 2014 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

We are entering the season of presidential primary politics, and many of the candidates—or at least their advisors—might benefit from a fresh look at the current crop of foreign policy books. China should be at or near the top of every candidate’s bedside reading list. With that in mind, I have begun to make my way through the mounting pile of new books and reports on U.S.-China relations that has accumulated over the past few months and thought I might offer a few reflections on what is novel and most useful—or not—from each. For those of you who have already read one of books, I welcome your thoughts. Read more »