CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Poisoning the Well of U.S.-China Relations

by Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Investors look at computer screens showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai, China, July 8, 2015. Chinese stocks dived on Wednesday after the securities regulator said the tumbling stock market in the world's second-biggest economy was in the grip of "panic sentiment" as investors ignored a battery of support measures from Beijing. REUTERS/Aly Song Investors look at computer screens showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai, China, July 8, 2015 (Aly Song/Reuters).

It was bound to happen. As China’s stock market continued its wild ride, dropping 30 percent by early July from a seven-year high only a month prior, rumors started swirling that Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and George Soros, among other vague forces of international capital, were to blame for the stock market plunge. No matter that foreign investors have only limited access to mainland Chinese stock exchanges, the current Chinese leadership has become addicted to the foreigner blame game. The phrase “hostile foreign forces” has become a catch-all for Chinese officials, scholars, and media commentators who cannot acknowledge the reality of China’s current political and economic situation. Read more »

Vietnam’s Top Party Leader Meets Obama

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, July 8, 2015
nguyen-phu-trong-obama U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong following their meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington on July 7, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

After yesterday’s meeting between top Communist Party leader Nguyen Phu Trong and President Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden, the United States-Vietnam relationship seems poised to reach a new level. As the Washington Post noted, it is rare for the president to welcome at the White House a foreign leader who is not the head of state or head of government. But an exception was made for the Vietnamese leader, since Hanoi is becoming increasingly important to U.S. strategic interests in Asia, and since Nguyen may well wield as much power as Vietnam’s president or prime minister within Hanoi’s opaque leadership structure. Read more »

Allegations Against Prime Minister Najib Raise the Political Temperature in Malaysia

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, July 6, 2015
Workmen are pictured on site at the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) flagship Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, March 1, 2015. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak slammed a report that said close to $700 million was wired to his personal account from banks, government agencies and companies linked to the debt-laden state fund 1MDB, claiming this was a "continuation of political sabotage." Picture taken March 1, 2015. REUTERS/Olivia Harris Workmen are pictured on site at the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) flagship Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, March 1, 2015 (Olivia Harris/Reuters).

The past week has almost surely been the most challenging of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib tun Razak’s career. Late last week both the Wall Street Journal and the Sarawak Report, an investigative reporting website about Malaysia, reported that a group of companies linked to debt-ridden state fund 1Malaysian Development Bhd. (1MDB) had made deposits into Najib’s bank accounts. The WSJ further alleged that the biggest deposit into Najib’s account was worth $620 million, and that one of the other deposits was worth over $60 million. Read more »

Jokowi Struggles to Find an Economic Policy

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Indonesia-rupiah A teller holds a stack of Indonesian Rupiah inside a money changer in Jakarta on June 4, 2015. (Nyimas Laula/Reuters)

News this week that Bank Indonesia will prohibit foreign currencies from being used in domestic transactions in Indonesia further added to analysts’ and investors’ concerns about the country’s fragile economy, and about the economic strategy of President Joko Widodo. As the Wall Street Journal reported, the law prohibiting the use of foreign currency in settling domestic transactions was actually passed years ago, but like many Indonesian laws it was not put into practice for years—until now. Read more »

Disdain in Beijing and Edginess in Tokyo

by Sheila A. Smith Tuesday, June 30, 2015
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivers a speech at a session of the World Peace Forum at the Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, June 27, 2015 (China Daily Information Corp/Reuters). China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivers a speech at a session of the World Peace Forum at the Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, June 27, 2015 (China Daily Information Corp/Reuters).

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit late last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping began to restore their nations’ relations, attempting to overcome differences over islands in the East China Sea. Again this year, the leaders of Asia’s two largest powers met at the Bandung Conference, demonstrating a slightly more relaxed and encouraging demeanor, suggesting that the maritime talks between their two governments were bearing some fruit. But it is not the territorial dispute itself that threatens improvement in the Japan-China relationship; it is their deep skepticism of each other’s ambitions in the region. Read more »

Who Else Will Join the TPP?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, June 29, 2015
kerry-TPP U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during a trade speech at Boeing's 737 airplane factory in Renton, Washington, United States on May 19, 2015. (Saul Loeb/Reuters)

After the Obama administration’s victories in Congress the past two weeks, it appears far more likely that the United States will become part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Bilateral negotiations are still taking place between some of the countries negotiating the TPP—the United States and Japan still have major issues to resolve—but the chances of these bilateral hurdles being resolved, and the final agreement being negotiated, have risen substantially now that President Obama has gained fast track authority. Read more »

The Rising Anti-Intellectualism in China: Part I

by Yanzhong Huang Monday, June 29, 2015
Graduates, in academic dress, pose for pictures in front of a statue of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong at a university in Shanghai, June 19, 2015. (Reuters/Aly Song) Graduates, in academic dress, pose for pictures in front of a statue of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong at a university in Shanghai, June 19, 2015. (Reuters/Aly Song)

On June 10, a blogger named Zhou Xiaoping was elected to head the newly established China Online Writers Association in Sichuan Province. He thus followed the career path of another popular blogger, Hua Qianfang, who was elected the Vice Chairman of the Writers Association of Fushun City in Liaoning Province in November 2014, an honor that is usually reserved for professional writers whose achievements in literature are well recognized. While both of them received only secondary school education, Zhou and Hua were invited to join the seventy most famous writers and artists in attending a symposium on art and literature in Beijing last year.  Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of June 26, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, June 26, 2015
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (L-R), Secretary of State John Kerry, China's State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Vice Premier Wang Yang arrive to deliver joint statements at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing July 10, 2014. The leaders were concluding the sixth round of U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. REUTERS/Jim Bourg (CHINA - Tags: POLITICS) U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (L-R), Secretary of State John Kerry, China's State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Vice Premier Wang Yang arrive to deliver joint statements at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing July 10, 2014 (Jim Bourg/Reuters).

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

1. U.S. and China meet in Washington, DC, for annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED). The talks, coming at a time of high tension between the two countries, managed to steer clear of acrimonious charges. The U.S. State Department highlighted 127 issues the two sides agreed upon at the S&ED, but agreements on China’s actions in the South China Sea and conflicting accusations of harmful activity in cyberspace were conspicuously absent. While both sides vowed to continue discussing a potential bilateral investment treaty, little was achieved on the economic side beyond platitudes about the importance of the US$590 billion of annual trade between the two countries. Read more »

What Will the TPP Mean for Southeast Asia?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, June 25, 2015
Australia's Trade Minister Andrew Robb (6th R) speaks at a news conference at the end of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) meeting of trade representatives in Sydney, October 27, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Reed (AUSTRALIA - Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS) Trade representatives speak at a news conference at the end of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) meeting in Sydney, October 27, 2014 (Jason Reed/Reuters).

With Tuesday’s vote in the U.S. Senate to give President Obama fast track negotiating authority on trade deals, the president is likely to be able to help complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), with the United States in the deal, by the end of the year. With fast track authority completed, the United States will be positioned to resolve remaining bilateral hurdles with Japan, the key to moving forward with the TPP. Read more »

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 »