CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

North Korea’s H-Bomb and the Costs of American Indifference

by Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, January 19, 2016
People watch a huge screen broadcasting the government's announcement in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo January 6, 2016. North Korea said it successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen nuclear bomb on Wednesday, claiming a significant advance in its strike capability and setting off alarm bells in Japan and South Korea. Mandatory credit (Courtesy REUTERS/Kyodo) People watch a huge screen broadcasting the government's announcement in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo January 6, 2016. North Korea said it successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen nuclear bomb on Wednesday, claiming a significant advance in its strike capability and setting off alarm bells in Japan and South Korea. Mandatory credit (Courtesy REUTERS/Kyodo)

The White House moved quickly to debunk North Korea’s exaggerated claim that a Jan. 5 “artificial earthquake” at the site where Pyongyang had conducted three previous nuclear tests was a breakthrough detonation of a hydrogen bomb. The size of the blast was similar to that of North Korea’s January 2013 test and had a yield thousands of times lower than the yield expected of a hydrogen blast. But in downplaying North Korea’s claim so as not to feed Kim Jong-un’s cravings for international attention, the Barack Obama administration risks underplaying the growing danger posed by North Korea’s unchecked efforts to develop nuclear and missile capabilities needed to threaten a nuclear strike on the United States. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of January 15, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, January 15, 2016
Taiwan-elections Supporters of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) react as the chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen addresses the crowd during a final campaign rally ahead of the elections in Taipei, Taiwan, January 15, 2016. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Ariella Rotenberg, Gabriel Walker, and James West look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. Taiwan takes to the polls. Tomorrow, the island’s citizens will choose between the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Tsai Ing-wen, the Kuomintang’s (KMT) Eric Chu, and the People First Party’s (PFP) James Soong when they turn out to vote for a new president. Tsai, who lost the 2012 presidential race to incumbent KMT president Ma Ying-jeou, is expected to win with a significant margin this year. Read more »

Pivot Missteps

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, January 15, 2016
xi-jinping-speech China's President Xi Jinping speaks during a Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Sandton, Johannesburg, on December 4, 2015. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

When officials in China announced they would open an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to primarily fund big construction projects across the Pacific, they launched a slow-motion freak-out in Washington. As they went around the world inviting governments to join, Obama administration officials pressured their allies in Asia, Europe, and other parts of the world not to. The AIIB, headquartered in Beijing, would allow China to expand its influence throughout Asia, the White House fretted. Read more »

Democracy’s Continuing Struggles

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, January 15, 2016
putin-speech President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a concert of the Children's Choir of Russia in Moscow, Russia, on December 25, 2015. (Reuters/Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin)

After the end of the Cold War, experts who closely studied trends in democratization believed that democracy was destined to sweep the globe. With the Soviet Union gone, there was no clear ideological force opposed to democracy, and no obvious model for economic growth under an autocratic government. Democracy had sunk roots in every corner, including in the poorest countries in Africa and Asia, disproving some theorists who once believed political freedom only worked in wealthy countries. Read more »

The Philippines Reaches a Crossroads

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, January 14, 2016
philippines-aquino-2016 Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Philippine President Benigno Aquino listen during a APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) dialogue at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila, Philippines on November 18, 2015. (Wally Santana/Reuters)

For the past five years, the Philippines, which long lagged behind faster-growing Asian economies like Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia, has posted some of the highest annual growth rates in the region. Although the Philippines’ boom has not received as much attention from investors and the international media as one might have imagined, the numbers are impressive. ANZ Bank projects the country to grow by 6.1 percent in 2016. In 2014, the country’s economy also grew by over six percent, and in 2015 it grew by 5.8 percent, according to World Bank data. Read more »

Podcast: China and the West: Hope and Fear in the Age of Asia

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Chinese-band-great-hall A Chinese military band conductor prepares to perform before the opening ceremony of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing March 5, 2007. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

Three years into Xi Jinping’s tenure as president of China, the world is still grasping for an understanding of who he is and where he is leading the country. Dutch journalist Fokke Obbema takes us inside China in his terrific new book, China and the West: Hope and Fear in the Age of Asia, to help us consider the often competing and contradictory trends in China’s development and the challenge that the West appears to have in managing its relations with this dynamic—and often unpredictable—power. Read more »

What “One Belt, One Road” Could Mean for China’s Regional Security Approach

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Tuesday, January 12, 2016
A Chinese flag marking a railway linked to China is seen in front of a train at the Khorgos border crossing point, east of the country's biggest city and commercial hub Almaty, Kazakhstan, October 19, 2015. Kazakhstan wants to establish itself as a major trading hub between China and Europe and get a share of a $600 billion market, but it will have to end tough, often time-wasting, regulations that hurt its reputation as a cross-border trading partner. Picture taken October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov A Chinese flag marking a railway linked to China is seen in front of a train at the Khorgos border crossing point, east of the country's biggest city and commercial hub Almaty, Kazakhstan, October 19, 2015. Kazakhstan wants to establish itself as a major trading hub between China and Europe. The nation is also a key counterterrorism partner for China. (Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters)

Rachel Brown is a research associate in Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In November, when the Islamic State group executed Chinese hostage Fan Jinghui, a Chinese advertising consultant and self-identified “wanderer,” Chinese netizens quickly vented their frustration over the government’s limited response. One Weibo user wrote, “It’s time for China as a big power to stand up and act.” Although Chinese censors temporarily blocked keywords such as “hostage” and “IS,” the burst of online sentiment raised questions about how the Chinese government would react to the mounting threat posed by terrorism both abroad and within its borders. In particular, would the specter of the Islamic State lead China to change its regional security strategy as it expands its trade and investment presence under its “One Belt, One Road” initiative?

Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of January 8, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, January 8, 2016
North-Korea-nuclear-test Japan Meteorological Agency's earthquake and tsunami observations division director Yohei Hasegawa points at a graph of ground motion waveform data observed in Japan during a news conference on implications that an earthquake sourced around North Korea was triggered by an unnatural reason, January 6, 2016. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Ariella Rotenberg, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. North Korea announces its “H-bomb of justice.” Jaws dropped around the world as news of North Korea’s fourth nuclear test lit up phones, tablets, and televisions on Tuesday. Those in South Korea and China reported tremors caused by the detonation, which registered as a 5.1-magnitude earthquake–almost identical to North Korea’s last nuclear test in 2013. North Korea’s official news agency released a statement claiming a successful test of a hydrogen bomb. Read more »

Where China and the United States Disagree on North Korea

by Scott A. Snyder Friday, January 8, 2016
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi talk before a bilateral meeting at the Putra World Trade Center August 5, 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Courtesy REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool) US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi talk before a bilateral meeting at the Putra World Trade Center August 5, 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Courtesy REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool)

The “artificial earthquake” in North Korea caused by its fourth nuclear test has set off geopolitical tremors in U.S.-China relations, exposing the underlying gap between the two countries that has long been papered over by their common rhetorical commitment to Korean denuclearization. At their Sunnylands summit in June of 2013, Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama vowed to work together on North Korea. Last September in Washington, the two leaders underscored the unacceptability of a North Korean nuclear test. Read more »

North Korea’s Nuclear Theatricality: What Matters Little and What Matters A Lot

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder Thursday, January 7, 2016
Ko Yun-hwa (L), Administrator of Korea Meteorological Administration, points at where seismic waves observed in South Korea came from, during a media briefing at Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul, South Korea, January 6, 2016. (Courtesy REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji) Ko Yun-hwa (L), Administrator of Korea Meteorological Administration, points at where seismic waves observed in South Korea came from, during a media briefing at Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul, South Korea, January 6, 2016. (Courtesy REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)

Sungtae “Jacky” Park is research associate for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and is the author of The Korean Pivot and the Return of Great Power Politics in Northeast Asia.
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