CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

U.S. Policy Options Toward Thailand

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, September 9, 2014
thai-government-house A Thai soldier uses his walkie-talkie as he stands guard at the Government House before the first cabinet meeting in Bangkok on September 9, 2014 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy: Reuters).

In my previous post on the rule of Prayuth Chan-ocha, I noted that, in this “hard coup,” army rule could last a considerably long time–two years, and possibly even more. Some Thai observers are suggesting that Prayuth and the army will retain power for as much as five years. As I mentioned previously, in this “hard coup,” the military is likely to take more draconian action against any opponents in the next year as well, since the army has overseen somewhat of an economic rebound, has muffled most of the Thai press, and has gotten relatively little criticism from Asian countries like Japan, Indonesia, and India. I expect to see activists detained for longer periods of time, and treated much more roughly under army detention than they have been so far. I also expect Thaksin sympathizers to be purged from the civil service and the armed forces, and many leading pro-Thaksin politicians to be charged with offenses and actually sent to jail, a rarity in the past for Thai elites of any political persuasion. Read more »

Three Things for Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe to Read

by Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, September 8, 2014
Demonstrators chant slogans and carry a Chinese national flag as they march past riot police outside the main entrance to the Japanese embassy in Beijing September 17, 2012. Chinese police used pepper spray, tear gas and water cannon to break up an anti-Japan protest in southern China on Sunday as demonstrators took to the streets in scores of cities across the country in a long-running row with Japan over a group of disputed islands. REUTERS/David Gray (CHINA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS) Demonstrators chant slogans and carry a Chinese national flag as they march past riot police outside the main entrance to the Japanese embassy in Beijing on September 17, 2012. (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters)

With the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in early November approaching rapidly, hopes are high for a meeting between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. The downturn in relations between Japan and China has been a lose-lose proposition for both countries. Japanese investment in China has dropped off dramatically at a time when Beijing can ill-afford another hit to its sputtering economy, and many Japanese companies have hitched their future to China and are suffering as a result of current political tensions. Moreover, the potential for military conflict to erupt around the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands remains significant. The summit, which will be held in Beijing, offers an important opportunity for President Xi and Prime Minister Abe to begin to bring their countries’ derailed relations back on track. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of September 5, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, September 5, 2014
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) talks with Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi (L) and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi as they prepare for a photo session at his official residence in Tokyo on September 3, 2014. (Toru Hanai/Courtesy Reuters) Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) talks with Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi (L) and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi as they prepare for a photo session at his official residence in Tokyo on September 3, 2014. (Toru Hanai/Courtesy Reuters)

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

1. Japan reshuffles Cabinet. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled his inner circle on Wednesday, the first such move since he returned to office nearly two years ago. While key members of the previous cabinet, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, retained their posts, notable new appointments include a new minister of defense and a newly created post of security legislation minister, as well as five new female ministers. Read more »

Japan’s Infra Bet on India Shows U.S. Constraints

by Alyssa Ayres Friday, September 5, 2014
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (front L) shakes hands with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe during a signing ceremony at the state guest house in Tokyo on September 1, 2014 (Courtesy: Reuters). Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (front L) shakes hands with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe during a signing ceremony at the state guest house in Tokyo on September 1, 2014 (Courtesy: Reuters).

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s five-day visit to Japan was a resounding success. Both the Indian and Japanese press have lauded the visit and its accomplishments—notably, the elevation of the India-Japan relationship to a “special” strategic and global partnership, and the big-ticket investments in Indian infrastructure announced to the tune of U.S. $35 billion in assistance over five years. From a Washington perspective, the India-Japan relationship is a positive development and one that the United States has fully supported. What the visit also shows, however, is the way the state-directed economic policy tools countries like Japan (and China as well) are mobilizing to further their relations with India substantially exceed comparable U.S. approaches. Read more »

State Capitalism Stays in Control

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, September 5, 2014
bank-of-china A man is silhouetted in front of a Bank of China's logo at its branch office in Beijing in this file photo from July 14, 2014 (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Courtesy: Reuters).

Over the past year, leadership changes in many of the world’s biggest emerging markets have created vast hopes—both among citizens of these countries and among foreign investors—of dramatic economic liberalization in India, China, Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand, and other countries with new presidents and prime ministers. In some cases, as in India and China, many local analysts and investors believe that the new men in charge—Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, and Chinese president Xi Jinping—are potentially once-in-a-generation economic reformers who could streamline even the biggest, most lumbering economies, slashing state enterprises and drastically reducing waste. Read more »

What Will Prayuth Do as Prime Minister?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, September 4, 2014
prayuth chan-ocha Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha waits for his cabinet members for a group photo session after an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Government House in Bangkok on September 4, 2014. Thailand's new military-stacked cabinet met King Bhumibol in Bangkok on Thursday, marking the formal start of an administration that will spend at least a year overhauling the Thai political system before calling a fresh election (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy: Reuters).

To the surprise of few Thai observers, in August Thailand’s legislative assembly, packed with military men and military allies, chose coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha to be the prime minister, until elections supposedly to be called late next year or early in 2016. Prayuth thus became the first Thai coup leader in decades to take the job as prime minister in Thailand, rather than finding a fig leaf civilian as interim prime minister, solidifying the notion that this was indeed a “hard” coup more similar to the draconian authoritarian rule in Thailand in the 1950s and 1960s than the “soft” coup that took place in 2006. The military, Bangkok elites, and the royal family supposedly learned from the 2006 “soft” coup that only a “hard” coup could really wipe out Thaksin Shinawatra’s organization in Thailand and entrench elite rule for at least another generation. The 2006 coup was followed by a new constitution and then elections that resulted in a pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party winning power again,  thus defeating–in the minds of Bangkok elites–the very purpose of the coup. Read more »

Human Rights Watch Reports Thailand Indefinitely Detaining Thousands of Migrant Children

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, September 2, 2014
rohingya-in-thailand Rohingya people from Myanmar, who were rescued from human traffickers, are kept in a communal cell at the Songkhla Immigration Detention Centre in Thailand near the border with Malaysia in this photo from February 13, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

As if Thailand’s international image hadn’t suffered enough, with a coup government trying to turn the clock back forty years, the country’s seafood industry being exposed as one of the worst examples of human trafficking and outright slavery in the world, and even neighboring Myanmar’s politics looking good by comparison, Human Rights Watch today released a lengthy report on the detention of migrant children in Thailand. The report is available here. Read more »

Japan’s Pivot to India

by Sheila A. Smith Tuesday, September 2, 2014
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a signing ceremony at the state guest house in Tokyo September 1, 2014.  (Shizuo Kambayashi/Courtesy Reuters) India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a signing ceremony at the state guest house in Tokyo September 1, 2014. (Shizuo Kambayashi/Courtesy Reuters)

India’s newly elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, made his first geostrategic move in Asia’s complex new dynamics this week, and together with Prime Minister Abe, catapulted the Japan-India relationship into a “special strategic and global partnership.”  Two goals focused their attention: bolstering their national economies and contending with China’s growing influence. Read more »

Chinese Drop-Off in U.S. Graduate Schools Triggers False Alarm

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Bo Guagua, son of fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai, receives his masters degree in public policy from Senior Lecturer John Donohue (R) at the John F. Kennedy School of Government during the 361st Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts May 24, 2012. Bo graduated from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government on Thursday, capping a tumultuous academic year that also placed him in the center of his homeland's biggest leadership crisis in two decades. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: EDUCATION POLITICS) Bo Guagua, son of fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai, receives his masters degree in public policy from Senior Lecturer John Donohue (R) at the John F. Kennedy School of Government during the 361st Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 24, 2012.

The Chronicle of Higher Education blog first sounded the alarm on August 21: a just-released survey by the Council of Graduate Schools reported that graduate school admission offers to Chinese students had plateaued. As a result, the Chronicle made clear: “Chinese appetite for American higher education may have finally hit a saturation point. That could spell trouble for American universities who have come to rely on students from China, who account for one in three foreign graduate students….” Read more »

Darcie Draudt: The Sewol Controversy and Parliamentary Deadlock in South Korea

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, August 27, 2014
sewol-response Police officers stand guard at a pier, as yellow ribbons dedicated to missing and dead passengers on board the capsized Sewol ferry are tied to its handrails, at a port in Jindo on April 28, 2014 (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

On Tuesday, South Korea’s main opposition party, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), began a sit-in in support of a controversial bill that aims to organize an investigation into April’s Sewol Ferry incident. The bill, proposed in July by NPAD representative Jeon Hae-cheol, stipulates compensation for victims and their families. This bill also includes plans for an investigatory committee that would be comprised of civilians, which the ruling Saenuri Party argues is unconstitutional. Read more »