CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of June 19, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, June 19, 2015
Flagbearers lower a Chinese national flag beside a banner set up by pro-democracy protesters outside Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China June 16, 2015. Hong Kong's leader warned on Tuesday that violence will not be tolerated, a day after authorities arrested 10 people and seized suspected explosives ahead of a crucial vote on a China-backed electoral reform package this week. Security has been stepped up across the Chinese-ruled city, including at government buildings and train stations, as it braces for a fresh showdown over plans for how its next leader is elected in 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY Flagbearers lower a Chinese national flag beside a banner set up by pro-democracy protesters outside Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China, on June 16, 2015 (Bobby Yip/Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lincoln Davidson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Hong Kong legislators reject a proposed framework for electing the next chief executive. The plan would have allowed the people of Hong Kong to elect a chief executive from a slate of three candidates chosen by a pro-Beijing nominating committee. While the measure was expected to fail—it needed to pass by a two-thirds majority—a botched attempt to boycott the vote by pro-Beijing lawmakers resulted in an embarrassing defeat of 28-8 that left one legislator in tears. Read more »

Myanmar’s Multiple Domestic Challenges

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, June 19, 2015
Myanmar-migrants-regional Migrants from Bangladesh who were found at sea carry their belongings as they cross the Myanmar-Bangladesh friendship bridge to return to Bangladesh, in Taungpyo, northern Rakhine state on June 8, 2015. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

Over the past month, Myanmar’s multiple domestic crises have spilled over into the region, highlighting setbacks in the country’s reform process just before highly anticipated national elections. The outflow of Rohingya, fleeing violence and discrimination in western Myanmar against their ethnic group and Muslims in general, has attracted the most global news coverage. Read more »

Toward a Solution to the Rohingya Crisis

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, June 18, 2015
migrants-rakhine-myanmar Migrants, who were found at sea on a boat, collect rainwater during a heavy rain fall at a temporary refuge camp near Kanyin Chaung jetty, outside Maungdaw township, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar on June 4, 2015. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

So far, despite global coverage of Southeast Asia’s desperate migrants, Myanmar leaders continue to try to cast doubt on the idea that there is a migration crisis at all, though Myanmar officials attended the regional conference on the migration crisis held in Thailand in late May. Still, Myanmar officials reportedly refused to attend the meeting unless it was pitched as a broad discussion about migration, rather than a meeting to address the crisis of fleeing Rohingya. At the meeting, Myanmar “categorically refused to discuss its role as a cause for the crisis,” notes Matthew Davies of Australian National University, an expert on human rights in Southeast Asia. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of June 12, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, June 12, 2015
Zhou Yongkang, China's former domestic security chief, stands between his police escorts as he listens to his sentence in a court in Tianjin, China, in this still image taken from video provided by China Central Television and shot on June 11, 2015. According to CCTV, Zhou was sentenced to life imprisonment on Thursday, deprived of his political rights for life and his personal assets confiscated, for accepting bribes, abusing power and deliberately disclosing state secrets, the Tianjin Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People's Court ruled in its first instance. Zhou pleaded guilty and will not appeal. REUTERS/China Central Television via REUTERS TV Zhou Yongkang, China's former domestic security chief, stands between his police escorts as he listens to his sentence in a court in Tianjin, China, in this still image taken from video provided by China Central Television and shot on June 11, 2015 (CCTV/Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lincoln Davidson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. China’s ex-domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang to serve life sentence. The former Politburo Standing Committee member was convicted of abuse of power, accepting bribes, and revealing state secrets and sentenced to life in prison Thursday, just shy of a year after his arrest. While officials initially suggested Zhou’s trial would be open and transparent, it wasn’t, with Xinhua adopting the amusing terminology “non-public open trial” (in Chinese) to describe the proceedings. Zhou is the most senior Chinese official to be convicted of graft in PRC history, but this isn’t likely to be the end of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign (tigers beware!). Read more »

Australia’s Foreign Aid Cuts Could be Costly

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, June 12, 2015
australia-aid Australian defence force and emergency services personnel sit next to emergency relief supplies onboard an Australian Air Force (RAAF) C-17A Globemaster as it heads towards Port Vila, the capital city of the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on March 16, 2015. (Dave Hunt/Reuters)

An article this week in the Financial Times effectively summarizes the situation for Australia’s foreign aid agencies, noting that Canberra has “earmarked $8.4 billion in foreign aid cuts” for the years up until 2018. The reductions in Australia’s aid budget will reduce Australia’s overseas aid by about one third, as compared to aid figures in 2012, according to research by Australian National University. The cuts are being made as Canberra is struggling to maintain budget discipline, and as the Australian economy is buffeted by a global fall in commodity prices and the slowdown in the Australian real estate market. Read more »

Small Steps Forward on the Rohingya Crisis

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, June 8, 2015
indonesia-myanmar-aung san suu kyi An Indonesian student holds a poster of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a protest against what they say is the killing of Muslims in Myanmar, as police stand guard in front of the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia on May 29, 2015. (Beawiharta/Reuters)

For more than three years, as Rohingya in western Myanmar have faced violent attacks, seizure of their homes, and a growing climate of intolerance in public discourse, leaders across the Myanmar political spectrum have either remained silent or actually encouraged discrimination. The Myanmar government surely deserves much of the blame for this environment. Thein Sein’s government participated in last month’s regional crisis meeting in Bangkok on migration only reluctantly, and only after the scope of the meeting was publicly changed so that it addressed migration generally and not the Rohingya. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of June 5, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, June 5, 2015
Rescue workers stand on the river bank as the capsized cruise ship Eastern Star is pulled out of the Yangtze against sunset, in Jianli, Hubei province, China, June 5, 2015. Only 14 survivors, one of them the captain, have been found after the ship carrying 456 overturned in a freak tornado on Monday night. A total of 103 bodies have been found. REUTERS/China Daily CHINA OUT. Rescue workers stand on the river bank as the capsized cruise ship Eastern Star is pulled out of the Yangtze against sunset, in Jianli, Hubei province, China, on June 5, 2015 (China Daily/Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lincoln Davidson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Up to 440 presumed dead after Chinese cruise ship capsizes. A Yangtze River cruise ship sank during a torrential rainstorm in Hubei Province Monday evening. While emergency services rushed to respond, four days later only fourteen passengers have been rescued, making this the most deadly peacetime maritime disaster in China’s recent history. Read more »

With Little Fanfare, India Makes Big Security Advances Toward the East

by Alyssa Ayres Friday, June 5, 2015
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (R) and Indian Minister of Defense Manohar Parrikar shake hands after the signing of agreements ceremony in New Delhi on June 3, 2015 (Adnan Abidi/Reuters). U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (R) and Indian Minister of Defense Manohar Parrikar shake hands after the signing of agreements ceremony in New Delhi on June 3, 2015 (Adnan Abidi/Reuters).

It’s been a stellar week for Indian security. First, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visited India, and formally renewed the bilateral framework for defense cooperation with his counterpart Minister of Defense Manohar Parrikar. This entire trip resulted in a brief, eight-point joint press release, which has garnered little attention, but cements forward progress in deepening security ties between New Delhi and Washington. But second, no less importantly, Prime Minister Modi set off for Dhaka on a visit slated to at last resolve one of the world’s most complex borders, and reset India’s ties with the world’s eighth-largest country. The two developments this week mark an intensification of India’s focus on its Asia-Pacific future, and U.S. support for an India with stronger links to its east. Read more »

Guest Post: With the Gaokao, Hacking and Drones Are Just a Way to Get Ahead

by Guest Blogger for Adam Segal Friday, June 5, 2015
A police officer displays a pair of glasses (R) with a hidden camera and a tiny receiver attached to a coin, which are both exam cheating equipment confiscated by the police, in Shenyang, Liaoning province November 22, 2013. Chinese authorities vowed harsh treatment for organizing or helping cheating in the national college entrance exam, which took place on June 7 and 8 this year. Education and police authorities will continue to investigate crimes including stealing and selling examination papers, leaking information to exam sitters, providing equipment designed for cheating, and cyber attacks on exam websites. The Ministry of Education warned that cheating students would be stripped of the enrollment qualification for a period ranging from one to three years, Xinhua News Agency reported. Picture taken November 22, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA - Tags: EDUCATION CRIME LAW SOCIETY) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA A police officer displays a pair of glasses (R) with a hidden camera and a tiny receiver attached to a coin, which are both exam cheating equipment confiscated by the police, in Shenyang, Liaoning province, on November 22, 2013 (Stringer/Reuters).

By Lincoln Davidson

Lincoln Davidson is a research associate for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Each year, millions of Chinese high school graduates take a two-day college entrance examination, colloquially known as the gaokao, that determines whether they’ll be able to attend university. The nine-hour test—which covers history, English, calculus, physics, chemistry, political theory, and more—is highly competitive, and students in the past have resorted to stolen questions and even IV drips to help them prepare. But as this year’s exam approaches, the test’s high stakes are pushing some to resort to technological means to give their score a boost. Read more »

China’s Muddled Message on the South China Sea

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy on May 21, 2015 (U.S. Navy/Reuters).

If the recent Shangri-La Dialogue demonstrated one thing—aside from the fact that Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong can deliver an important speech that is both strong and subtle—it is that mitigating tensions in the South China Sea remains a problem with no solution in sight. As the Chinese have continued with their reef reclamation and low-level militarization of small islands in the South China Sea, a number of Chinese scholars and foreign policy officials have sought to clarify the reasons behind Beijing’s actions. Yet what emerges from all the disparate voices is a sense that there is no compelling rationale—or at least not one that the foreign policy community can acknowledge. Instead, there is significant effort to impute an acceptable rationale to the country’s destabilizing behavior. Read more »