CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

The Wishes of the Heisei Emperor

by Sheila A. Smith Thursday, August 11, 2016
Japan's Emperor Akihito (2nd R) and Empress Michiko (R) talk with evacuees from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, at Tokyo Budoh-kan, currently an evacuation shelter, in Tokyo, March 30, 2011 ( Issei Kato/Reuters). Japan's Emperor Akihito (2nd R) and Empress Michiko (R) talk with evacuees from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, at Tokyo Budoh-kan, currently an evacuation shelter, in Tokyo, March 30, 2011 ( Issei Kato/Reuters).

On Monday, in a ten-minute video, Japan’s emperor spoke directly to his people, asking them to allow him to give up the throne prior to his death. In the closed world of Japan’s imperial family, where the Imperial Household Agency largely manages and represents the family’s affairs, Akihito’s decision to challenge precedent seems striking. Yet he also spoke directly to the Japanese people. Now in his eighty-second year, Emperor Akihito has sat on the throne for twenty-seven years, assuming his position upon the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito, and ushering in a new era in Japan’s history. His reign is called Heisei—roughly translated as an era where peace can be realized—and yet the Heisei years have been full of change—and challenge—for the Japanese people. Read more »

Olympic Grit in India

by Alyssa Ayres Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Gymnastics - Olympics Qualifier - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 18/4/2016 - Dipa Karmakar of India performs during her vault in the women's apparatus final (Sergio Moraes/REUTERS). Gymnastics - Olympics Qualifier - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 18/4/2016 - Dipa Karmakar of India performs during her vault in the women's apparatus final (Sergio Moraes/REUTERS).

Since the Rio Olympics began, I have been glued to the television during primetime, cheering for the American athletes who have already made history—the women’s gymnastics team, Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, and women’s volleyball, just to start. Performing at this level, breaking world records and achieving scores or times untouchable by the runners-up, requires years of dedicated practice, and as importantly, a family and national infrastructure that supports developing world-class sports talent. Read more »

Thailand’s Next Year: Meet the New Boss…

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, August 10, 2016
prayuth-referendum Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha casts his ballot at a polling station during a constitutional referendum vote in Bangkok, Thailand on August 7, 2016. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

After the junta-managed referendum was approved by voters earlier this week, Thailand plans to hold elections in November 2017, according to the military regime. As I wrote earlier, the charter contained numerous provisions that seem designed to weaken the power of the two biggest political parties, the Democrat Party and Puea Thai. The new charter will potentially make the lower house of parliament nearly unmanageable, and possibly pave the way for the unelected upper house, the judiciary, the military, and the bureaucracy to wield the real levers of power in the kingdom. Read more »

Getting Rid of the Ghosts in Our Constitutional Debate

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Article Nine (to the edge of left) is seen on the replica of an official original copy of the Constitution of Japan, during a photo opportunity at National Archives of Japan in Tokyo on May 21, 2013 (Issei Kato/REUTERS). Article Nine (to the edge of left) is seen on the replica of an official original copy of the Constitution of Japan, during a photo opportunity at National Archives of Japan in Tokyo on May 21, 2013 (Issei Kato/REUTERS).

This blog post is part of a series entitled Will the Japanese Change Their Constitution?, in which leading experts discuss the prospects for revising Japan’s postwar constitution. Shinichi Kitaoka, a leading Japanese diplomatic historian, is currently the president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency. He has led various government advisory panels including the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security [PDF], appointed by Prime Minister Abe to consider the legal and policy issues surrounding the right of collective self-defense,  and the Advisory Panel on the History of the Twentieth Century and on Japan’s Role and the World Order in the Twenty-first Century [PDF], a panel convened in advance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement on the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II.   Read more »

China’s Limited Retaliation Options Against the THAAD Deployment in South Korea

by Scott A. Snyder Monday, August 8, 2016
China-limited-response-to-THAAD Seoungju residents protesting against the government’s decision on deploying a U.S. THAAD anti-missile defense unit in Seongju, South Korea. The banner reads “Desperately oppose deploying THAAD.” (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

The Chinese Ambassador to South Korea gave a rather dramatic warning to the leader of South Korea’s opposition Democratic Party on February 25 that a decision to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system would put China–South Korean relations at risk. Thus, it should not be surprising that threats of Chinese retaliation toward South Korea would surface following the July 8 U.S.-ROK announcement that the governments had decided to deploy THAAD in South Korea in response to North Korea’s growing missile threats. Despite emotional assertions that South Korea has compromised Chinese interests by pursuing self-defense against North Korea’s growing missile capabilities, China does not have the capability to punish South Korea without damaging its own economic and strategic interests on the Korean peninsula. Read more »

At China’s G20, G Stands For Green

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, August 5, 2016
G20-finance-meeting-flowers G20 finance ministers and central bank governors pose for a group photo during a conference held in Chengdu in southwestern China’s Sichuan province, July 24, 2016. (Ng Han Guan/Reuters)

Gabriel Walker is a research associate for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This is the second part of a series on China’s role in international development. Read the first part here.

One month from today, leaders and policymakers from the world’s largest economies will be rubbing shoulders in Hangzhou for the eleventh annual Group of Twenty (G20) summit. For China, which presides over the group in 2016, the event is the culmination of nine months of diplomatic hard work to realize broad goals like “breaking a new path for growth” and fostering “inclusive and interconnected development.” Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of August 5, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, August 4, 2016
Yurike-election-victory Yuriko Koike (R) and her supporters celebrate her win in the Tokyo governor election in Tokyo, Japan, July 31, 2016. (Kyodo/Reuters)

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

1. Tokyo elects first female governor. On Sunday, Yuriko Koike was elected as the first female governor of Tokyo with 2.9 million votes, nearly one million more than her closest competitor. Although she is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), she ran as an independent when the LDP endorsed rival candidate Hiroya Masuda instead. Koike has previously been mocked for lack of commitment to a given political party, earning her comparisons to a conveyer belt sushi restaurant or migratory bird. Read more »

A Nobel Peace Prize for Article Nine

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith Thursday, August 4, 2016
The audience listen as President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso delivers a speech during the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at City Hall in Oslo December 10, 2012 (Suzanne Plunkett/REUTERS). The audience listen as President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso delivers a speech during the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at City Hall in Oslo December 10, 2012 (Suzanne Plunkett/REUTERS).

This blog post is part of a series entitled Will the Japanese Change Their Constitution?, in which leading experts discuss the prospects for revising Japan’s postwar constitution. The following six essays will present various voices that shape Japan’s debate over its constitution and the prospect of revising it. Contributing their views are: Naomi Takasu, an advocate of protecting the constitution and of nominating Article Nine for the Nobel Peace Prize; Shinichi Kitaoka, a leading Japanese diplomatic historian who served as the vice chairman of the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security, a panel convened by the Abe cabinet to consult before it passed a cabinet resolution on the right of collective self defense; Karin Koretsune, a graduate student of Japan Women’s University and a member of the Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs); Keigo Komamura, a constitutional law scholar and vice president of Keio University; and Masatoshi Asaoka and Ayumi Teraoka, intern and research associate for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Read more »

Bangladesh and Global Terror

by Alyssa Ayres Thursday, August 4, 2016
Relatives and friends leave after attending the funeral prayer of the victims who were killed in the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery and the O'Kitchen Restaurant, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 4, 2016 (Adnan Abidi/REUTERS). Relatives and friends leave after attending the funeral prayer of the victims who were killed in the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery and the O'Kitchen Restaurant, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 4, 2016 (Adnan Abidi/REUTERS).

News continues to emerge about the terrorist threat in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim country of 160 million, and it is alarming for two reasons: one, the apparent international dimension, more significant than previously imagined, and two, the profile of the terrorists themselves. Read more »

What Happens After Thailand’s Referendum?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, August 4, 2016
Thai-protestor-referendum A student activist is detained during a silent protest in Bangkok after Thailand’s election commission filed charges against a group for posting “foul and strong” comments online criticizing a military-backed draft constitution, April 27, 2016. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

On August 7, Thais hold a national referendum on a new charter. As I noted in my previous blog post, Thailand has had twenty different constitutions since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. Constitutions have been shredded by military governments after coups, rewritten during times of political upheaval, and even (as in the mid-1990s) written with thought and considerable public input and implemented under elected governments. Now, the junta, which took power in May 2014, has stage managed the drafting of a new proposed charter. Read more »