CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Beijing’s Arctic Play: Just the Tip of the Iceberg

by Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, April 4, 2014
A whale dives into sea off the coast of Greenland's capital Nuuk October 17, 2012. By a remote fjord where icebergs float in silence and hunters stalk reindeer, plans are being drawn up for a huge iron ore mine that would lift Greenland's population by four percent at a stroke - by hiring Chinese workers. The $2.3-billion project by the small, British company London Mining Plc would also bring diesel power plants, a road and a port near Greenland's capital Nuuk. It would supply China with much needed iron for the steel its economy. With global warming thawing its Arctic sea lanes, and global industry eyeing minerals under this barren island a quarter the size of the United States, the 57,000 Greenlanders are wrestling with opportunities that offer rich rewards but risk harming a pristine environment and a traditional society that is trying to make its own way in the world after centuries of European rule. Yet a scramble for Greenland already may be under way, in which some see China trying to exploit the icebound territory as a staging ground in a global battle for Arctic resources and strategic control of new shipping routes. Picture taken October 17, 2012. To match Insight GREENLAND/ REUTERS/Alistair Scrutton (GREENLAND - Tags: BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT) A whale dives into sea off the coast of Greenland's capital Nuuk on October 17, 2012. (Alistair Scrutton/Courtesy Reuters)

If you pay attention, Chinese foreign policy rarely surprises. Of course there is the odd moment when Beijing catches the world unaware: for example, its declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea in late 2013. Generally speaking, however, the Chinese telegraph their long-term strategic intentions through their smaller tactical maneuvers. It is just that the rest of the world sometimes misses the signals or doesn’t know what to do with the information. Such is the case with China’s emerging play in the Arctic. Read more »

Total Breakdown in Myanmar’s Arakan State

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, March 31, 2014
rakhine-state-violence A warehouse of the United Nation Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is seen damaged by the recent violence in Sittwe on March 28, 2014. Protesters in Myanmar's Rakhine State opposed to a census attacked offices and houses used by international aid groups after reports a European staff member from one group had removed a Buddhist flag used as a symbol to boycott the operation, witnesses said. The violence broke out late on Wednesday and continued into Thursday. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy: Reuters).

Over the weekend, according to Radio Free Asia and other news reports, nearly all international aid groups operating in western Myanmar’s Arakan, or Rakhine, State, fled the state capital or hid in police stations and other (supposedly) secure locations. They had to flee or hide as mobs of angry Arakanese Buddhists attacked several aid workers, and threatened many other offices of international aid agencies. This comes on the heels of several other attacks on international aid agencies operating in Arakan State and on the government’s decision to bar Doctors Without Borders, the leading health care provider to internally displaced people in Arakan State, from operating in the state. The Irrawaddy has a summary of the events here. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of March 28, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, March 28, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama holds a trilateral meeting with President Park Geun-hye of the South Korea (L) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan (R) after the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on March 25, 2014. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama holds a trilateral meeting with President Park Geun-hye of the South Korea (L) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan (R) after the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on March 25, 2014. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Charles McClean, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Obama holds trilateral talks with Japan and Korea. U.S. president Barack Obama led trilateral talks with the leaders of Japan and South Korea on Tuesday in hopes of improving the relationship between Seoul and Tokyo. It was the first time South Korean president Park Geun-hye and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe have met face-to-face as leaders. The meeting took place in The Hague on the side of the Nuclear Security Summit. Read more »

Bruce Bechtol: Nukes Aren’t the Only Weapons in North Korea

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder Friday, March 28, 2014
north-korea-mid-range-missile Models of a North Korean Scud-B missile (right) and South Korean missiles are displayed at the Korean War Memorial Museum in Seoul in this photo from March 2012. In February and March 2014, North Korea continued to maintain its ballistic missile capabilities with a series of test launches off its east coast (Lee Jae-Won/Courtesy: Reuters).

Bruce E. Bechtol, Jr., is associate professor of political science at Angelo State University and president of the International Council on Korean Studies.  His is the author of North Korea and Regional Security in the Kim Jong-un Era.

During the latter part of February, North Korea conducted test launches of a new long-range 300 mm multiple rocket launcher (MRL) system. These launches from North Korea’s east coast were followed up by still more launches in following weeks. Since then, North Korea has launched Scud missiles from its east coast, 300 mm MRLs, 240 mm MRLs, and Free Rocket Over Ground (FROG) systems. This week, North Korea launched Rodong ballistic missiles.  All systems were launched from the east coast, and all tests were conducted even as North Korea appeared to be moving toward a more reasonable attitude toward the United States and its neighbor to the South. Read more »

The President as Facilitator in Chief

by Sheila A. Smith Wednesday, March 26, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama holds a tri-lateral meeting with President Park Geun-hye of the South Korea (L) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan (R) after the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague March 25, 2014 U.S. president Barack Obama holds a tri-lateral meeting with President Park Geun-hye of South Korea (L) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan (R) after the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague March 25, 2014. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

As if on cue, Pyongyang yet again emphasized the importance of trilateral cooperation between the United States, Japan, and South Korea when it fired two Nodong missiles into the Sea of Japan. The timing was perfect—President Barack Obama was meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Park Geun-hye at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague. The focus of their talks? North Korea’s threat to regional security. Read more »

Obama’s Upcoming Trip to Malaysia: Going to Be Prickly and Tough

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, March 26, 2014
najib-razak Since taking office last year, Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak has become more indebted to hardline, conservative elements in the ruling coalition, which has undercut the previously promised economic reforms that many, including the White House, had praised. (Edgar Su/Courtesy: Reuters).

After canceling a trip to Southeast Asia last fall because of the U.S. government shutdown, President Obama is now planning to travel to the region in late April. (He will travel to Northeast Asia as well.) The president plans to visit Malaysia, where last year he had to skip a summit of entrepreneurs where he had promised to speak. The Washington Post recently had a piece summarizing the upcoming trip and noting that Obama will be the first sitting president to visit Malaysia in about fifty years. This is supposed to be a celebratory occasion. Read more »

Despite North Korean Political Risks, Sino-DPRK Trade Shows Stable Growth

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, March 26, 2014
sinuiju-trade North Koreans sit beside bags of chemical fertilizer in Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, in March 2013. In 2013, China stepped up checks on shipments to and from North Korea almost two months after agreeing to new U.N. sanctions that demand greater scrutiny of trade, but the flow of goods in and out of the reclusive state appears largely unaffected. Picture taken March 29, 2013 (Jacky Chen/Courtesy: Reuters).

North Korea’s dependency on China for energy and food has long been cited as a source of Chinese political leverage and a primary factor that could influence North Korean stability.  But if North Korea depends on China for the bulk of its food and fuel, why does China not punish tiny North Korea for biting the hands that feed it?  On the contrary, underlying trends run in the opposite direction, possibly due in part to China’s energy demand and in part to North Korea’s growing foreign currency need. Read more »

Wenchi Yu: President Ma’s Communications Problem

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou speaks during a news conference about protesters' occupation of Taiwan's legislature, at the Presidential Office in Taipei on March 23, 2014. (Minshen Li/Courtesy Reuters) Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou speaks during a news conference about protesters' occupation of Taiwan's legislature, at the Presidential Office in Taipei on March 23, 2014. (Minshen Li/Courtesy Reuters)

Wenchi Yu is a former U.S. Department of State official and an Asia Society and Project 2049 Institute fellow. Previously, she was a legislative assistant in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, and she grew up in Taiwan. Follow her on Twitter: @WenchiY.

Taiwan is in the news again, this time because of a standoff between Taiwan’s government and protesters over a trade pact with China. For those who are concerned about Taiwan’s future, this is an opportunity to examine why Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou’s government has failed to lead. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of March 21, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, March 21, 2014
Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese president Xi Jinping, looks on as U.S. first lady Michelle Obama writes calligraphy in a class at the Beijing Normal School on March 21, 2014. (Andy Wong/courtesy Reuters) Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese president Xi Jinping, looks on as U.S. first lady Michelle Obama writes calligraphy in a class at the Beijing Normal School on March 21, 2014. (Andy Wong/courtesy Reuters)

Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Charles McClean, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Michelle Obama visits China. U.S. first lady Michelle Obama arrived in Beijing on Thursday and will spend six days in China. Accompanied by her mother and two daughters, Obama toured Beijing with Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese president Xi Jinping. Obama will stay away from politicized topics such as human rights, and instead promote cultural and educational exchanges, particularly for young people. Read more »

Is Peng Liyuan China’s Evita?

by Yanzhong Huang Friday, March 21, 2014
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, pose for a photograph as they visit Forbidden City in Beijing on March 21, 2014. (Andy Wong/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, pose for a photograph as they visit Forbidden City in Beijing on March 21, 2014. (Andy Wong/Courtesy Reuters)

Dean of the People’s Liberation Army Art Academy. Goodwill Ambassador of the World Health Organization. Renowned Soprano Singer. Practitioner of Buddhism. China’s anti-smoking ambassador. Member of the China’s upper house (CPPCC). It is rare to see a Chinese first lady wear so many hats and be defined in so many ways, but Peng Liyuan, who is hosting U.S. first lady Michelle Obama in her visit to Beijing, can be described as such. Read more »