CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Challenges and Benefits of South Korea’s Middle Power Aspirations

by Scott A. Snyder Wednesday, June 24, 2015
World leaders attend the opening plenary session of the G20 Summit in Seoul on November 12, 2010. (Yonhap Photo/Couresty: Reuters) World leaders attend the opening plenary session of the G20 Summit in Seoul on November 12, 2010. (Yonhap Photo/Couresty: Reuters)

South Koreans have been among the world’s early adopters in globalization over the past two decades, going from outpost to “node” by embracing networks, connectivity, and economic interdependence in startling fashion in a very short period of time. It has been commonplace for most South Koreans to think of themselves as a small country, buffeted by geostrategic factors beyond its control, consigned to its fate as a “shrimp among whales.” This narrative, generally speaking, conforms with the twentieth century historical experience on the Korean peninsula, which witnessed annexation, colonization, subjugation, and a moment of liberation, followed by division, war, and marginalization as an outpost of the Cold War. Outsider impressions of late twentieth century Korea tended to view Koreans as defensive, self-absorbed, xenophobic to varying degrees, and only capable of viewing the outside world through a distinctively “Korean” lens. Read more »

Guest Post: China’s “Back to the Countryside” Policy: A Step Toward Reducing Rural-Urban Disparity

by Guest Blogger for Adam Segal Wednesday, June 24, 2015
china rural villages migrants migrant workers migration entrepreneurship small business entrepreneur policy Farmers plant rice seedlings in a field near a residential compound in Shaxi township, Guangdong province March 29, 2015. China's leaders hope to encourage migrant workers to leave cities and return to their home villages to start small businesses. (Stringer/REUTERS)

By Lincoln Davidson

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

Earlier this week, the Chinese government announced a set of policies aimed at encouraging migrants from rural areas to the cities to return to their hometowns and start businesses. The policy guidelines direct local governments to encourage migrant workers (as well as university graduates and discharged soldiers) to take the capital, skills, and experience they’ve acquired in urban areas back to underdeveloped rural areas and engage in entrepreneurship. These policies—think of them as the newest iteration of Deng Xiaoping’s “let some get rich first”—are a solid step towards promoting genuine market-driven development. Read more »

Japan-South Korea Relations on the Fiftieth Anniversary of Normalization

by Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, June 23, 2015
South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se (left) reaches out to shake hands with Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at the foreign ministry's Iikura guest house in Tokyo on June 21, 2015. (Issei Kato/Courtesy: Reuters) South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se (left) reaches out to shake hands with Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at the foreign ministry's Iikura guest house in Tokyo on June 21, 2015. (Issei Kato/Courtesy: Reuters)

This post was co-authored with Brad Glosserman, executive director of Pacific Forum CSIS.

The Japan-South Korea relationship has been steadily improving in the run up to yesterday’s fiftieth anniversary of normalization.  In recent weeks ministerial–level bilateral contacts have resumed between economic and defense ministers. The relationship has essentially normalized (and the U.S. State Department spokesperson wasted no time in welcoming these developments), but President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have yet to schedule a formal summit (although they have held informal encounters at the November 2014 APEC meeting in Beijing and on the occasion of Lee Kwan Yew’s funeral in Singapore earlier this spring). Read more »

Would a U.S. Failure on TPP be a Strategic Disaster?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, June 22, 2015
TPP-negotiations U.S. President Barack Obama (C) meets with the leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries in Beijing on November 10, 2014. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

As a new congressional vote looms this week that could decide whether the United States participates in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, advocates of the deal, both in the United States and in Asia, are arguing that the stakes could not be higher. During a visit to Washington last week, Singapore foreign minister K. Shanmugam was blunt, telling an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “It’s absolutely vital to get it [TPP] done [in the U.S.] … If you don’t do this deal, what are your levers of power?” Read more »

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 »