CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Selling Vietnam Lethal Arms: The Right Move

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, October 8, 2014
vietnam military An officer checks the alignment of the honor guard at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on October 6, 2014 (Nguyen Huy Kham/Courtesy: Reuters).

Last Friday, the Obama administration partially lifted the U.S. ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam, which had been in place since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. According to the Associated Press, on Friday, “State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters the United States will now allow sales of lethal maritime security capabilities and for surveillance on a case-by-case basis.” These lethal arms sales will, for now, remain relatively limited, though the United States could sell Vietnam boats and planes, which would theoretically be used for Vietnam’s coast guard. Read more »

The U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong: Part of a Trend of Weakness on Democracy

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, October 6, 2014
hong kong occupy central People walk near a blocked area outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on October 6, 2014. Pro-democracy protests in Chinese-controlled Hong Kong subsided on Monday as students and civil servants returned to school and work after more than a week of demonstrations, but activists vowed to keep up their campaign of civil disobedience (Carlos Barria/Courtesy: Reuters).

As protests have mounted in Hong Kong, with a possible violent resolution in sight, the U.S. Consulate in the SAR has done little more than issue tepid statements on the demonstrations, which had been largely peaceful and orderly until the past two days. “We do not take sides in the discussion of Hong Kong’s political development, nor do we support and particular individuals or groups involved in it,” the consulate’s most notable statement said. The statement’s anodyne weakness basically suggested that the United States did not care whether the democracy movement succeeded in Hong Kong, or whether Hong Kong people were granted the real universal suffrage and political rights promised them under the 1984 handover agreement. And as the New York Times reported on Saturday, when President Obama briefly met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week, they discussed a wide range of issues to be examined during Obama’s upcoming trip to Beijing; Hong Kong appeared to be just an afterthought for Obama and clearly would be an afterthought in Obama’s conversations in Beijing. Read more »

Modi’s Tale of Two Visits: Drama in One, Pragmatism and Continuity in the Other

by Alyssa Ayres Friday, October 3, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama smiles as he hosts a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on September 30, 2014 (Larry Downing/Courtesy: Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama smiles as he hosts a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on September 30, 2014 (Larry Downing/Courtesy: Reuters).

The five-day U.S. visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded earlier this week. He is already back in India, busy launching a new “Clean India” campaign complete with before-and-after photos on Twitter. Mr. Modi’s New York program was extensively covered by the media, U.S. as well as Indian. The high-profile nature of his appearances at Madison Square Garden, the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, and his UN and Council on Foreign Relations addresses showcased an Indian prime minister in demand at the policy podium as well as alongside celebrities like Hugh Jackman, speaking to his homeland as well as to a global audience. One U.S. congressman, Pete Sessions even said that Modi “will become the next Ronald Reagan for the world.” Jon Stewart’s Daily Show picked up this quote, and more, in a special segment titled, “America’s Next Top Modi.” Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of October 3, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, October 3, 2014
Protesters sit under umbrellas at a main street at Mongkok shopping district after thousand of protesters blocked the road in Hong Kong on October 1, 2014. (Tyrone Siu/Courtesy Reuters) Protesters sit under umbrellas at a main street at Mongkok shopping district after thousand of protesters blocked the road in Hong Kong on October 1, 2014. (Tyrone Siu/Courtesy Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Andrew Hill, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Pro-democracy protests continue in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy protests have engulfed Hong Kong over the past week, focusing on China’s announcement that candidates for the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s leader will be selected by a pro-Beijing committee. In addition to the right to freely elect the city’s next leader, the demonstrators are demanding the removal of Hong Kong’s current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, widely seen as Beijing’s lackey. Read more »

Darcie Draudt: South Korean Multiculturalism and the Next Step in Civic Nationalism

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder Thursday, October 2, 2014
seoul women's migrant center Foreign brides from Vietnam take part in a Korean conversation class at the Women Migrants Human Rights Centre in Seoul in this photo from May 27, 2008 (Jo Yong-Hak/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

On September 29, the United Nations special rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere, began the first-ever official UN Human Rights Council mission to South Korea. Ruteere is scheduled to present his preliminary findings at a press conference on October 6, at the end of his visit. South Korea has increasingly aroused scrutiny for its myopic depiction of foreigners in media and treatment of foreigners in workplaces and public spaces. But the situation is more complicated than meets the eye, and the special rapporteur is likely to find a nation confronted with new, unfamiliar choices in defining itself as it continues to deepen and broaden exchange on the global stage. Read more »

Maclachlan and Shimizu: Shinzo Abe’s Tug-of-War With the Farm Lobby

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith Thursday, October 2, 2014
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe drives a rice planting machine at a a paddy field in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture. (Courtesy Kyodo/Reuters) Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe drives a rice planting machine at a a paddy field in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture. (Courtesy Kyodo/Reuters)

Last week, ministerial negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between Japan and the United States ended abruptly after the two sides failed to reach an agreement on key sticking points, including the removal of tariffs on sensitive Japanese farm products. The failure of the talks disappointed both sides, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has long upheld TPP as a fundamental component of his structural reform agenda. Read more »

The Pivot and Democratic Regression in Southeast Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, October 1, 2014
cambodia opposition youth supoprt A young supporter of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) holds a Cambodian national flag during the last day of a three-day protest at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh on September 17, 2013 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

This past week’s serious challenges to democracy in Indonesia, on the heels of what had been a successful presidential election in July, should serve as a reminder that, while the region has made strides since the 1980s and early 1990s, democracy is far from entrenched in Southeast Asia. Retrograde forces, like the coalition of politicians allied with Prabowo Subianto in Indonesia, continue to stand in the way of democratic reforms. In some Southeast Asian nations, such as Thailand and Malaysia, anti-democratic forces have been highly successful in reversing progress toward democratization. Read more »

Podcast: Remarks by Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, October 1, 2014
park won-soon Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon speaks during a news conference for foreign media in Seoul in this file photo from November 9, 2011 (Lee Jae-Won/Courtesy: Reuters).

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon spoke at a CFR Korea Program roundtable on the future of Seoul, as partner with its neighbors and role in engaging with North Korea on September 24, 2014. Listen to his opening remarks here.


Read more »

What Beijing Should Do About Hong Kong

by Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, September 29, 2014
Joshua Wong, a 17-year-old who heads the group leading a pupils' protest, Scholarism, addresses a rally in Hong Kong September 26, 2014. Hundreds of children joined students demanding greater democracy for Hong Kong on Friday, capping a week-long campaign that has seen a large cut-out depicting the territory's leader as the devil paraded through the city and calls for him to resign. The Chinese characters on the background read "Fate". REUTERS/Bobby Yip (CHINA - Tags: POLITICS EDUCATION CIVIL UNREST) Joshua Wong, a seventeen-year-old who heads the group leading a pupils' protest, Scholarism, addresses a rally in Hong Kong on September 26, 2014. (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters)

Hong Kong is not Beijing, 2014 is not 1989, and Civic Square is not Tiananmen Square. Still, the images of tens of thousands of Hong Kong Chinese demonstrating in the streets for democratic reform cannot help but bring back memories of a quarter century ago. Like the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations in Beijing, those in Hong Kong are spearheaded by extraordinarily passionate, articulate, and inspiring young leaders. Both movements include Chinese people from all walks of life. And both movements, while at heart represent a call for fuller democracy and more direct political participation, also engage issues of economic well-being and inequities within the system. Read more »

Indonesia’s Democracy Takes a Hit

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, September 29, 2014
joko widodo-swearing in Indonesia's president-elect and current Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo looks up as he leaves a swearing-in ceremony of new local legislators at the city council in Jakarta on September 26, 2014. Indonesia's parliament on Friday approved a measure ending direct elections for governors and mayors, a move Widodo criticized as a "big step back" for democracy in the country. Indonesia introduced direct elections for regional leaders in 2005, allowing the emergence of a new breed of politician free of links to the political elite, with Widodo being the best-known example (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters).

Last week, I warned that the passage of a proposed law by Indonesia’s parliament that would end direct elections of local officials would be a major blow to Indonesian democracy. The legislation had been championed by the most retrograde elements in Indonesia, and in particular by the party of the losing presidential candidate in this past July’s election, Prabowo Subianto. Direct election of local and provincial officials had been a critical post-Suharto reform, a major part of Indonesia’s decentralization process, and a vital element of political empowerment. Direct elections had helped create a new group of younger Indonesian political leaders who actually had to serve their local publics or—horrors!—risk being booted out of office, and it also (somewhat) shifted the political balance of power away from Jakarta and out across the archipelago. Such a process of decentralization only made sense in a vast and diverse country.  Allowing for more local and provincial elections did increase the possibility of graft in holding more polls, as I noted in my book Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline in Representative Government. But, for most Indonesians, this was a reasonable price to pay to (generally) get more responsive local government. And in any event, earlier methods of selecting local leaders—basically, they were hand-chosen by Suharto and his allies—still had led to enormous amounts of rent-seeking. Read more »