CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of June 3, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, June 3, 2016
A man points to water and soil which turned red after being contaminated by industrial waste from a closed dye factory, amid heavy rainfall at a mountain in Ruyang county, Henan province September 15, 2014. According to the local government, the dye factory was operating without proper licenses and was shut down by the authority last year after an explosion which caused dye leakage and polluted the underground water. Picture taken September 15, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer A man points to water and soil which turned red after being contaminated by industrial waste from a closed dye factory, amid heavy rainfall at a mountain in Ruyang county, Henan province on September 15, 2014. According to the local government, the dye factory was operating without proper licenses and was shut down by the authority last year after an explosion which caused dye leakage and polluted the underground water. The Chinese government released a new action plan to address soil pollution this week (Stringer/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Theresa Lou, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. China releases ambitious plan to clean up polluted soil. In 2014, the Chinese government disclosed that approximately 20 percent of its arable land was contaminated, primarily with heavy metals and agricultural chemicals from industry and farming. This Tuesday, the central government released a long-awaited action plan as a first major step to control and remedy the widespread problem, known as the last of the “three big campaigns” in Chinese environmental protection along with air and water pollution. The plan aims to stabilize and improve soil quality so that 90 percent of contaminated sites are safe for use by 2020, and 95 percent by 2030. Read more »

Duterte’s Policies Take Shape

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, June 3, 2016
rodrigo-duterte-economic Philippines' President-elect Rodrigo Duterte answers questions during a news conference in Davao City, southern Philippines on May 31, 2016. (Lean Dava/Reuters)

The new president-elect of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, came into office without a clear policy platform. On the campaign trail, Duterte had vowed to get tough on crime, duplicating his efforts as mayor of Davao on a national level. He had made vague promises of changing the Philippines’ political system to reduce the power of entrenched elites, and he had offered contradictory, sometimes confusing statements on the Philippines’ major security challenges—the ongoing threat of militant groups in the southern Philippines, and the growing contest with China over control of disputed parts of the South China Sea. Read more »

Forty-Five Minutes With Joshua Wong

by Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, June 3, 2016
Joshua Wong, leader of the student movement, delivers a speech as protesters block the main street to the financial Central district, outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong October 1, 2014. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters thronged the streets of Hong Kong on Wednesday, some of them jeering National Day celebrations, and students threatened to ramp up demonstrations if the city's pro-Beijing leader did not step down. REUTERS/Carlos Barria Joshua Wong, leader of the student movement, delivers a speech as protesters block the main street to the financial Central district, outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong on October 1, 2014. Since the Umbrella Revolution, Wong has gone on to found the new political party Demosisto. (Carlos Barria/Reuters).

Four years ago, when he was just fifteen years old, Joshua Wong launched a campaign to prevent Beijing from enforcing its own version of history in Hong Kong schools. Along with other student activists involved in his “Scholarism” group, he managed to rally one hundred and twenty thousand people in protest and eventually beat back the government’s initiative. During that effort, Scholarism raised one million Hong Kong dollars in just one day—with 25-40 year olds as the most supportive demographic. For Wong, it was a signal that young people really could achieve change. (Less well known, perhaps, is that Wong cut his activist teeth protesting against a high-speed rail link between Hong Kong and the mainland when he was only thirteen years old.) Since then, of course, Wong has become world-renowned for his effort in helping lead the Occupy Central movement, which called for universal suffrage in Hong Kong. For his actions, he has been vilified by the Chinese government, assaulted, and arrested—all by the age of eighteen. Read more »

The Global Democratic Regression and Wealthy Democracies

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, June 2, 2016
donald-trump-2 U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Sacramento, California, U.S. June 1, 2016. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

As the presidential election moves into general mode, Donald Trump’s blowtorch style has led many critics to accuse him of bringing dangerous 1930s-style politics to America. But in reality, Trump’s rise does not signal a return of fascism, and his political style does not exactly parallel that of Mussolini. Instead, Trump is part of a modern-day, worldwide democratic retreat, one that has been going on for a decade now in the developing world—and is now making its way to America and Western Europe. Read more »

Podcast: How State Capitalism is Transforming the World

by Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, June 2, 2016
State-Capitalism-Kurlantzick

In this week’s Asia Unbound podcast I speak with Joshua Kurlantzick, CFR’s senior fellow for Southeast Asia, about his new book, State Capitalism: How the Return of Statism is Transforming the World. Kurlantzick explains that although state capitalism has been around for more than two decades, it has entered a new era of popularity. Read more »

How Much Can We Learn From Taiwanese Inauguration Speeches?

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, June 2, 2016
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen walks on the podium before addressing during an inauguration ceremony in Taipei, Taiwan May 20, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen walks on the podium before addressing during an inauguration ceremony in Taipei, Taiwan on May 20, 2016. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Pei-Yu Wei is an intern for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The inauguration speech of Tsai Ing-Wen, the new president of Taiwan, on May 20, drew much attention from audiences both at home and abroad who hoped to glean information about the future path that Taiwan’s China policy might take. Tsai, the island’s first female president, is the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a party known for its more independent stance vis-a-vis China, and Beijing has so far regarded her rise with wariness. But how indicative are Taiwanese inaugural speeches of policies down the line? Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of May 27, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, May 27, 2016
Obama-Vietnam-speech Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (L-R), Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 25, 2015. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Theresa Lou, Gabriella Meltzer, Pei-Yu Wei, and James West look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. Obama offers subtle criticisms in Vietnam. Much of the coverage of U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to Vietnam this week centered around the lifting of the lethal weapons ban and tensions in the South China Sea. However, Obama also used his visit to address concerns surrounding human rights violations and autocratic governance in Vietnam. Read more »

A Personal Reflection on Today in Hiroshima

by Sheila A. Smith Friday, May 27, 2016
President Barack Obama, flanked by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, talks with atomic bomb survivor Sunao Tsuboi (Toru Hanai/REUTERS). President Barack Obama, flanked by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, talks with atomic bomb survivor Sunao Tsuboi (Toru Hanai/REUTERS).

I woke up early this morning, before 4 a.m. in fact, to head to NPR to be live when President Barack Obama spoke in Hiroshima. As I drove across a dark and quiet Washington, DC, the president was already beginning what has to be his most moving speech to date. As my city was waking up, the entire Japanese nation was listening to our president, the first sitting U.S. president to visit the site of the atomic bombings. If you have not heard it, you should take a moment to read it here. Read more »

China’s Surprising New Refugee Debate

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, May 26, 2016
Syrian refugees stuck between the Jordanian and Syrian borders waiting to cross into Jordan, walk at a camp, after a group of them crossed into Jordanian territory, near the town of Ruwaished, at the Hadalat area, east of the capital Amman, May 4, 2016. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed Syrian refugees walk at a camp as they wait to cross into Jordan on May 4, 2016. In a new survey from Amnesty International, Chinese respondents were the most willing to personally host refugees, suggesting that perhaps China could resettle more Syrian refugees. (Muhammad Hamed/Reuters)

Rachel Brown is a research associate in Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

China ranks first in many things – population, greenhouse gas emissions, foreign treasury holdings – but openness toward refugees is one arena in which it has not traditionally been considered a leader. It therefore came as surprise when China ranked first in Amnesty International’s recently released “Refugees Welcome Index,” a survey that polled over 27,000 people in twenty-seven nations on their attitudes toward refugees. This put it ahead of nations such as Germany and Canada that have already taken in thousands of Syrian refugees. Read more »

The Final Normalization of U.S.-Vietnam Relations

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Obama-Vietnam-trip U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang after an arrival ceremony at the presidential palace in Hanoi, Vietnam on May 23, 2016. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

After a period of broken diplomatic ties following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the United States and Vietnam re-established formal diplomatic relations in 1995. Since then, the two nations have built increasingly close strategic and economic ties, to the point that Hanoi is now one of the United States’s closest security partners in Asia. With a professional military and a highly strategic location, Vietnam is gradually becoming as important to U.S. security interests in the region as longtime allies and partners like Thailand and Malaysia. Read more »