CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

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 »

The Indian Elections and Indian Foreign Policy: What Tamil Nadu Parties Have to Say

by Alyssa Ayres Thursday, March 20, 2014
Jayalalithaa File photo: J. Jayalalithaa, current chief minister of Tamil Nadu and leader of Anna Dravida Munnetra Khazhagam (AIADMK), greets her supporters from the balcony of her residence (Babu Babu/Courtesy Reuters).

This post is part of a series on the Indian elections

Campaigning for India’s national elections is in full swing. Parties have begun nominating candidates and 543 races for the lower house of parliament are on. But despite the election fever pitch, the two major national parties—the ruling Congress Party and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party—have not yet released their election platforms, or “manifestos,” as they are called. This leaves voters and observers playing a parlor guessing game on the domestic and foreign policy priorities each will formally prioritize. This year’s manifesto writing process even has a new crowdsourcing twist: Both Congress and BJP are accepting suggestions on the web. Read more »

Lauren Dickey: Is Taiwan the Next Democracy in Crisis?

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Thursday, March 20, 2014
Protestors in Taiwan’s legislature in Taipei hold a banner, “Seventy-five percent of Taiwanese people demand item-by-item review,” on March 19, 2014. (Patrick Lin/courtesy Reuters) Protestors in Taiwan’s legislature in Taipei hold a banner, “Seventy-five percent of Taiwanese people demand item-by-item review,” on March 19, 2014. (Patrick Lin/courtesy Reuters)

Lauren Dickey is a research associate for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang party (KMT) has caused quite the kerfuffle. On Monday, March 17, the KMT retreated from an agreement with the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to push through a service trade pact with mainland China. The two parties had previously agreed to conduct an itemized review of the trade pact, an agreement the KMT has now chosen not to uphold over claims that the DPP is actively blocking “official business” between the island and Beijing. The KMT’s move may come back to affect domestic politics and haunt cross-strait relations. Read more »

Behind the Chong Chon Gang Affair: North Korea’s Shadowy Arms Trade

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, March 19, 2014
uden-oh-snyder The United Nations Panel of Experts on North Korea released their final report on compliance with sanctions on March 6, 2014. CFR Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy Scott Snyder (far right) joined (from left) UN Panel of Experts on North Korea coordinator Martin Uden, Foreign Press Association president and panel moderator, David Michaels, and ROK Mission to the UN in New York representative Ambassador Oh Joon, to discuss the report’s findings and implications at a press conference on March 18, 2014, at the ROK mission to the UN in New York (Courtesy: FPA).

Buried within the annexes of the latest United Nations report by experts impaneled to investigate North Korean efforts to circumvent sanctions placed on the country following its 2009 nuclear test is a tale of subterfuge worthy of a Hollywood thriller. Read more »

Can Malaysia Restore Its Public Image?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, March 19, 2014
malaysia-flight-family-briefing Relatives of passengers onboard missing flight MH370 complain to an official from Malaysia Airlines after the company's briefing to family members at a hotel in Beijing on March 19, 2014. Investigations into the mystery of the missing Malaysian jet appeared to be at a deadlock on Wednesday, with an exhaustive background search of the passengers and crew showing nothing untoward and no sign that the plane could be quickly found (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Courtesy: Reuters).

The Malaysian government probably has done more over the past week to undermine the international image of Malaysia than anyone else in the country’s nearly sixty years as an independent nation.

Of course, for most of those six decades until the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 the country received little international attention. If Malaysia made the news at all, it tended to get a relatively favorable image as a peaceful and multi-ethnic nation that had witnessed some of the strongest economic growth in Asia. Read more »