CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

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 »

Next Steps in the U.S.-Vietnam Relationship

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, June 3, 2015
ash-carter-vietnam U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Vietnam's Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh (L) review the guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony at the Defense Ministry in Hanoi, Vietnam on June 1, 2015. (Hoang Dinh Nam/Reuters)

After this week’s Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore, which featured the U.S.-China war of words that has come to characterize the security meeting, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter traveled on to Vietnam to meet with Hanoi’s defense minister. Carter visited Vietnam’s Naval Command and the city of Haiphong, becoming the first U.S. Defense Secretary to do so. Haiphong harbor famously—or infamously—was mined by the U.S., in 1972, during the Vietnam War. Read more »

Does MERS Pose a Serious Threat to China?

by Yanzhong Huang Tuesday, June 2, 2015
A health worker with protective suits sitting with people who came into close contact with the Korean MERS patient arrive at Lady MacLehose Holiday Village in Sai Kung, where they will spend two weeks in quarantine, in Hong Kong, China May 30, 2015. China said on Friday a 44-year-old South Korean man had tested positive for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), China's first confirmed case, but that it had not found any symptoms in 38 people who had been in close contact with him. (Reuters/Tyrone Siu) A health worker with protective suits sitting with people who came into close contact with the Korean MERS patient arrive at Lady MacLehose Holiday Village in Sai Kung, where they will spend two weeks in quarantine, in Hong Kong, China May 30, 2015. China said on Friday a 44-year-old South Korean man had tested positive for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), China's first confirmed case, but that it had not found any symptoms in 38 people who had been in close contact with him. (Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

Last Friday, China confirmed its first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in Guangdong province. The now-confirmed South Korean MERS patient, who ignored travel warnings and lied about his conditions when flying to China, had been in close contact with seventy-seven people in the province. As of June 1, sixty-four have been quarantined while the thirteen others remain to be found. Read more »

Korea and the AIIB

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder Monday, June 1, 2015
Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the Korea China Investment Forum at a hotel in Seoul on July 4, 2014. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy: Reuters) Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the Korea China Investment Forum at a hotel in Seoul on July 4, 2014. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy: Reuters)

Min Hyung Kang is a former intern for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

South Korea’s decision to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as a founding member reminded observers of Korea’s place as a middle power caught between great powers. Korea’s interest in joining the AIIB is indicative of improving Korea-China relations, one of the determinants for security of the Korean peninsula. However, to the United States, South Korea’s strongest ally, Korea’s involvement in the AIIB may not be very pleasing especially when the AIIB seems like a mechanism designed to oppose U.S. influence in Asia. It seems that Korea is at a critical moment that may either extensively benefit or severely undermine its national interest. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 29, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, May 29, 2015
Men sleep on a temporary shade built over a drain next to a slum on a hot summer day in New Delhi, India, May 28, 2015. A heat wave in India has killed at least 1,371 people this week as temperatures soar above 47 Celsius (116.6 Fahrenheit), and doctors' leave has been cancelled to help cope with the sick. (Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee) Men sleep on a temporary shade built over a drain next to a slum on a hot summer day in New Delhi, India, May 28, 2015. A heat wave in India has killed at least 1,371 people this week as temperatures soar above 47 Celsius (116.6 Fahrenheit), and doctors' leave has been cancelled to help cope with the sick. (Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee)

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

1. Death toll in India’s heat wave nears two thousand. Hospitals across India are struggling to meet the needs of victims of the most severe heatwave the country has seen in twenty years. With temperatures hovering above 110 degrees Fahrenheit for over a week, Indian citizens are anxiously waiting for monsoon rains to cool the smoldering air. Pictures of melting roads with swirled and distorted road markings illustrate the shocking intensity of the heat. Day workers, the homeless, and elderly people face severe danger, unable to take a day off from work or to find adequate shelter. Although heatwaves are not uncommon in India, climate change has led to more frequent and intense heatwaves in recent years. India’s Meteorological Department recorded temperatures just five degrees short of the nation’s record. Read more »

No Movement on Rohingya From Myanmar Government

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, May 27, 2015
myanmar-rohingya-protests Monks and protesters participate in a march to denounce foreign criticism of the country's treatment of stateless Rohingya Muslims, in Yangon, Myanmar on May 27, 2015. (Aubrey Belford/Reuters)

Over the past week, the worldwide news coverage of Rohingya migrants at sea in Southeast Asian waters has helped convince some of the region’s governments to take action to prevent an imminent crisis. Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia last week agreed to take in around 7,000 migrants, at least temporarily, and the Thai government is apparently considering taking in migrants as well. The United States and other donors apparently will cover some of the costs of providing shelter and care for the migrants temporarily. Read more »

Thailand’s Coup, One Year On

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, May 26, 2015
thailand-coup-anniversary-protests Police move in to detain protesters gathered in central Bangkok on May 22, 2015. Thai authorities detained dozen of activists protesting against military rule on Friday, a year after the army seized power from an elected government. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

This past week marks one year since Thailand’s most recent military coup, either the 19th or the 18th in the kingdom’s modern history, depending on how one counts putsch attempts. The year since the coup has revealed a range of lessons, most of which bode poorly for Thailand’s future. Read more »

Modi, Turnaround Artist: U.S.-India Ties Revived After Slump

by Alyssa Ayres Tuesday, May 26, 2015
U.S. President Barack Obama and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) wave during a photo opportunity ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi January 25, 2015 (Adnan Abidi/Courtesy: Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) wave during a photo opportunity ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi January 25, 2015 (Adnan Abidi/Courtesy: Reuters).

May 26 marks the completion of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first full year in office. Indian and international media have used the anniversary to take stock. In India, Modi has generally gotten high marks for foreign policy but some notches below that for slower than expected economic reform. The Economist devoted its cover this week to Modi (“India’s One-Man Band”) and urged more dramatic action to transform India lest the window of opportunity close. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 22, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, May 22, 2015
A Rohingya child who recently arrived by boat has his picture taken for identification purposes at a shelter in Kuala Langsa in Indonesia's Aceh province on May 18, 2015. (Roni Bintang/Courtesy: Reuters) A Rohingya child who recently arrived by boat has his picture taken for identification purposes at a shelter in Kuala Langsa in Indonesia's Aceh province on May 18, 2015. (Roni Bintang/Courtesy: Reuters)

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

1. Plight of migrants in Andaman Sea continues. As many as three thousand refugees, mostly Rohingya minority Muslims fleeing state-sanctioned persecution in Myanmar and Bangladeshi economic migrants, remain stranded in the waters in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Myanmar and Thailand. An estimated seven thousand refugees were abandoned by human traffickers during the past week without food or water in overcrowded boats; as many as fifty thousand attempt the trip each year. Read more »

Human Rights Conditions of Overseas Laborers from North Korea

by Scott A. Snyder Friday, May 22, 2015
North Korean men look up as they work along the banks of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, in this photo taken September 8, 2014. (Jacky Chen/Courtesy: Reuters) North Korean men look up as they work along the banks of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, in this photo taken September 8, 2014. (Jacky Chen/Courtesy: Reuters)

The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) has released a new report entitled Human Rights and North Korea’s Overseas Laborers: Dilemmas and Policy Challenges, by Yoon Yeosang and Lee Seung-ju This report provides the most comprehensive picture to date on the scope and conditions under which North Koreans are contracted for overseas labor assignments. The report was discussed at an event last week in Washington held at the Korea Economic Institute of America. Read more »