CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Can Abe Build Support for Security Reforms?

by Sheila A. Smith Monday, July 14, 2014
Empty voting boxes are seen at a ballot counting center for the upper house election in Tokyo July 21, 2013 Empty voting boxes are seen at a ballot counting center for the upper house election in Tokyo July 21, 2013. (Yuya Shino/Courtesy Reuters)

Even as regional challenges to Japan’s security have intensified, the domestic debate over security reforms continues to reveal deep divisions in Japan. Since coming into office a year and a half ago, the Shinzo Abe cabinet has sought an overhaul of its security policy, including a revision of the U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation guidelines that shape alliance military planning. Abe’s predecessor, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), argued for similar alliance reforms. Upgrading alliance cooperation has not been an easy process as political change in Japan has created a complex legislative balance in the Diet. Read more »

Jokowi’s High Road a Mistake

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, July 14, 2014
A vendor sells newspapers to motorists the day after the Indonesian presidential election in Jakarta on July 10, 2014 (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters). A vendor sells newspapers to motorists the day after the Indonesian presidential election in Jakarta on July 10, 2014 (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters).

In the wake of July 9’s voting in Indonesia’s presidential elections, both candidates, Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, and Prabowo Subianto have declared that, according to quick counts, they have won the presidential election. For those who are not familiar with Indonesian elections, a quick count is not the same thing as an exit poll, common in Western elections; a primer on quick counts is available on New Mandala. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of July 11, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, July 11, 2014
Villagers line up to vote in the country's presidential election at Bojong Koneng polling station in Bogor July 9, 2014. Indonesians began voting on Wednesday in a presidential election that has become a closely fought contest between the old guard who flourished under decades of autocratic rule and a new breed of politician that has emerged in the fledgling democracy. Only the third direct election for president in the world's fourth-most populous nation, the contest pits former special forces general Prabowo Subianto against Jakarta Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who have been running neck-and-neck in opinion polls. REUTERS/Beawiharta (INDONESIA - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS) Villagers line up to vote in the country's presidential election at Bojong Koneng polling station in Bogor on July 9, 2014. (Beawiharta/Courtesy Reuters)

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

1. Indonesians await official results of presidential election. Joko Widodo, known popularly as Jokowi, seems to have won Indonesia’s presidential election against Prabowo Subianto, a self-described military strongman. Though unofficial quick count tallies appear split on the winner of the election, the more respected polling firms point to a Jokowi victory; the official results will be released on July 22. Read more »

Podcast: A Conversation with Aqil Shah

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Pakistan's newly appointed army chief General Raheel Sharif (R) and outgoing army chief General Ashfaq Kayani (L) talk during the change of command ceremony at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi November 29, 2013. Pakistan named Sharif, a career infantry officer considered a moderate as army chief, on Wednesday as the country fights a Taliban insurgency and seeks accord with the United States on how to stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that Raheel Sharif, brother of a war hero, would take charge of the world's sixth-largest army, with a formal handover from General Ashfaq Kayani on Friday. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed (PAKISTAN - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY) Pakistan's newly appointed army chief General Raheel Sharif (R) and outgoing army chief General Ashfaq Kayani (L) talk during the change of command ceremony at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi on November 29, 2013. (Mian Khurseed/Courtesy Reuters)

The second installment of Asia Unbound’s new podcast series. Our guest is Aqil Shah, lecturer at Princeton University’s Department of Politics and author of The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan (Harvard, 2014). Dan Markey, senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, spoke with him on arguments made in his book, which examines the military’s contentious relationship with Pakistan’s civilian government. Read more »

Disputed Indonesian Election a Possible Disaster

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Supporters of Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto cheer after Prabowo declared victory in the country's presidential election in Jakarta on July 9, 2014. Both Prabowo and Joko "Jokowi" Widodo claimed victory in Indonesia's presidential election (Beawiharta/Courtesy: Reuters). Supporters of Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto cheer after Prabowo declared victory in the country's presidential election in Jakarta on July 9, 2014. Both Prabowo and Joko "Jokowi" Widodo claimed victory in Indonesia's presidential election (Beawiharta/Courtesy: Reuters).

Although the official results of Indonesia’s presidential election yesterday will not be known until July 20, both candidates, Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto, now have claimed victory based on exit polling and quick counts. In the past, such as in previous parliamentary elections, these quick counts have been relatively accurate. But now their accuracy is coming into question. Some of the quick counts appear to show Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, as the winner by around three to six percentage points nationally, while Prabowo claims other counts show him as the winner. Since the race came down to the wire too close to call, it is hard to completely trust any of the quick counts or exit polling. Many election experts have criticized Jokowi for claiming victory too quickly. Read more »

How Jokowi Blew It

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Indonesian presidential candidate Joko "Jokowi" Widodo runs on the stage after delivering a speech in front of his supporters at Gelora Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta on July 5, 2014 (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters). Indonesian presidential candidate Joko "Jokowi" Widodo runs on the stage after delivering a speech in front of his supporters at Gelora Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta on July 5, 2014 (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters).

As we arrive at the last week of campaigning before Indonesia’s July 9 presidential election, the race continues to narrow, and many liberal Indonesians, activists, diplomats, businesspeople, and academics live in fear of a Prabowo Subianto presidency. As I have discussed in previous posts, they worry that Prabowo, despite his claims to the contrary, is not a committed democrat, and will attempt to return Indonesia to the guided democracy/de facto autocracy of the country’s first five decades. Prabowo also has never effectively addressed the numerous allegations of past involvement in human rights abuses, back when he was head of the army’s strategic reserve command. Read more »

Time to Fold SRAP into the SCA Bureau

by Alyssa Ayres Wednesday, July 2, 2014
A pin is seen on a world map on the wall of the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood, where the Bergdahl family regularly attends, in Ketchum, Idaho on June 1, 2014 (Patrick Sweeney/Courtesy: Reuters). A pin is seen on a world map marking the border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan on June 1, 2014 (Patrick Sweeney/Courtesy: Reuters).

Secretary of State John Kerry formally announced today that the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), Ambassador Jim Dobbins, would retire from the position at the end of this month. His deputy, Dan Feldman, will succeed him as special representative. This is as good a time as any, given the reduced role of the United States and the changing international presence in Afghanistan today, not to mention in the coming years, to fold the special representative role back into the regional bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA). Doing so will permit better policy coordination within the State Department and across the U.S. government on South and Central Asia in the years to come. Read more »

Erwin Li: Better Together? Two Approaches to LGBT Activism in China

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Shi tou (not her real name), a lesbian, is seen in front of a rainbow flag during a campaign to promote the acceptance of homosexuality in Beijing February 14, 2008. For a number of Beijing's gay and lesbian community, Valentine's Day is not just a day to celebrate loving relationships, but also an ideal time to campaign for same-sex marriages and the acceptance of homosexuality in China. REUTERS/Jason Lee (CHINA) A lesbian woman is seen in front of a rainbow flag during a campaign to promote the acceptance of homosexuality in Beijing on February 14, 2008. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters)

Erwin Li is an intern for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In just its sixth year, Shanghai Pride has emerged as a major celebratory event for China’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. The weeklong festival features art exhibits, panel discussions, and even a marathon-picnic—all of whose locations span across many of the city’s most popular areas. But there’s more to the celebration than just fun. Shanghai Pride aims to promote awareness about China’s sexual minorities by openly addressing the unique social and cultural challenges that they face. For example, this year’s film festival displayed works on transgender identity and homophobic violence, while a panel discussion asked parents and relatives of LGBT children to share their stories of support and acceptance. In a society still dominated by traditional views on gender, Shanghai Pride thus offers a rare chance for solidarity, and an avenue towards greater social acceptance. Read more »

Reinterpreting Japan’s Constitution

by Sheila A. Smith Wednesday, July 2, 2014
A protester raises a placard as they gather at a rally against Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to expand Japan's military role in front of Abe's official residence in Tokyo June 30, 2014 A protester raises a placard as they gather at a rally against Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe's push to expand Japan's military role in front of Abe's official residence in Tokyo June 30, 2014. (Issei Kato/Courtesy Reuters)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has proposed a reinterpretation of Japan’s postwar constitution to allow the military to use force alongside other national militaries, a right that postwar Japanese leaders have to date refused their Self-Defense Force (SDF). Japan’s decision will shape the way the SDF cooperates not only with the U.S. military but with other militaries in Asia, where relations are increasingly fraught. Japan has already expanded its security consultations with a variety of regional powers, including Australia, South Korea, the Philippines, and India, and has relaxed restrictions on the transfer of military technology. Now, the SDF could play a role in building regional military coalitions. Read more »

Can Beijing and Seoul Become Strategic Partners?

by Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, July 1, 2014
park-xi-2013 South Korean president Park Geun-Hye (right) and Chinese president Xi Jinping inspect Chinese honor guards during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 27, 2013. Park visited China in June 2013, and Xi will pay a return visit to Seoul this week (Wang Zhao/Courtesy: Reuters).

China’s President Xi Jinping will complete an exchange of state visits with South Korean President Park Geun-hye in the space of a little less than a year. This is a remarkable intensification of the relationship between Seoul and Beijing, especially when one considers that Xi Jinping has yet to visit Pyongyang or receive Kim Jong-un. Likewise, routinized summits between Seoul and Tokyo have vanished as Seoul-Beijing relations have intensified, raising questions in Tokyo about whether Seoul might prefer Beijing over the United States and Japan. But despite a burgeoning trade relationship between Seoul and Beijing that is larger than the combined value of South Korea’s trade with the United States and Japan, what future can Xi and Park forge for China-South Korea relations going forward, and to what purpose? Read more »