CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

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.
Read more »

Eight Predictions for Southeast Asia for 2016: Part 2

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, January 7, 2016
hun sen-predictions-2016 President of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and Prime Minister Hun Sen (L), greets his supporters before a ceremony at the party headquarters to mark the 37th anniversary of the toppling of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime, in Phnom Penh, on January 7, 2016. (Samrang Pring/Reuters)

Read Part 1 here

6. Of All Southeast Asia Issues, Only Myanmar and the TPP Will Be Discussed in the U.S. Presidential Campaign

Although there are several Republican and Democratic candidates with foreign policy experience, Southeast Asia will mostly go unmentioned during the U.S. presidential primaries and general election. The two exceptions: Myanmar and the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, which include Brunei, Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia, and may in the future include the Philippines and Indonesia as well. Read more »

Eight Predictions for Southeast Asia for 2016: Part 1

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, January 7, 2016
prayuth-predictions-2016 Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha smiles as he reviews the honour guard during a welcoming ceremony for Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 18, 2015. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

It’s that time again—time for resolutions that last a couple weeks into the new year and bold predictions that (surely) will turn out right this year. Right?

1. Najib tun Razak will be Malaysia’s Prime Minister at the End of 2016

For most of 2015, many Malaysian politicians, observers, and activists wrote Najib off, sure that the in-fighting within the governing coalition, the scandals around the 1MDB state fund, and the torrent of criticism of Najib by former prime minister Mahathir would ultimately force Najib out of office. They were wrong. Read more »

India and Pakistan After Pathankot: How Washington Can Help

by Alyssa Ayres Thursday, January 7, 2016
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (L) walks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi after Modi's arrival in Lahore, Pakistan, on December 25, 2015 (Reuters). Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (L) walks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi after Modi's arrival in Lahore, Pakistan, on December 25, 2015 (Reuters).

Just eight days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise Christmas Day stop in Lahore to visit with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, terrorists attacked an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, Punjab. The attack, only the latest strike after a thaw, follows a long-established pattern of spoilers jeopardizing positive openings between India and Pakistan. Since 1998, when both countries tested nuclear weapons, a possible conflict has become more dangerous for the region and the world. Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to harbor a plethora of terrorist groups, and the country’s pursuit of miniaturized “tactical nukes” fuels an already combustible situation. If Modi and Sharif can lead their countries to durably improve their relationship, even modestly, they will realize a goal that has eluded their predecessors. Read more »