CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore’s Future

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, March 24, 2015
lee-kuan-yew-singapore Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew makes a speech during the 12th International Conference on 'The Future of Asia' in Tokyo on May 25, 2006. (Kiyoshi Ota/Courtesy: Reuters)

In the wake of the death of Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, many obituaries lauding Lee’s role in transforming the city-state also have argued that Singapore faces high hurdles to continuing Lee’s revolution. As Forbes’ Joel Kotkin writes, Lee’s achievements during his three decades as prime minister were extraordinary, but in Singapore today the “durability of his legacy is in question.” Read more »

South Korean Middle Power Diplomacy and the U.S. Rebalance

by Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, March 24, 2015
march-2015-wang-yun Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left) is greeted by his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se during their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on March 21, 2015. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy: Reuters)

The U.S. rebalance to Asia, the post–Sunnylands U.S.-China discussion of a “new type of great power relationship,” and most recently the emergence of an apparent Chinese challenge to U.S. global economic leadership through the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have naturally focused attention on U.S.-China relations. But the AIIB question in particular has highlighted the question of how countries caught between Washington and Beijing, including South Korea, will respond to increasing pressure from each great power on specific issues. The AIIB case also raises the question of whether South Korea’s own interest in middle power diplomacy will ultimately reinforce or conflict with the U.S.-ROK alliance. Read more »

Thailand’s Teflon Economy Finally Seems to Be Cracking

by Joshua Kurlantzick Monday, March 23, 2015
thailand-tourism-campaign Performers take part in a parade during the "2015 Discover Thainess" campaign, an event held to promote tourism, in Bangkok on January 14, 2015. (Chaiwat Subprasom /Courtesy: Reuters)

For nearly fifteen years in the 2000s and early 2010s, Thailand’s economy, once one of the fastest-growing in the world, survived the effects of near-constant political turmoil, natural disasters, and worries about the country’s future in the wake of a looming royal succession. Even after the massive floods in the monsoon season of 2011 that destroyed much of the industrial estates north of Bangkok, home to auto parts, disk drive, and other key manufacturing plants, Thailand’s economy rebounded strongly. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of March 20, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, March 20, 2015
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel talks with South Korea's first Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-Yong (R) during their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on March 17, 2015 (Courtesy: Reuters). U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel talks with South Korea's first Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-Yong (R) during their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on March 17, 2015 (Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. South Korea warns China against interfering amid missile defense debate. On Tuesday a South Korean Ministry of Defense spokesperson asked Beijing to not interfere in its defense policy, an unusual request with an increasingly close regional partner. Washington has been asking Seoul to deploy a ballistic missile defense system, Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), to South Korea. Read more »

Growing Political Crisis in Malaysia?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, March 18, 2015
nurrul-izzah-kuala lumpur-rally Nurul Izzah, daughter of jailed Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, speaks to the crowd during a rally to protest against his imprisonment in Kuala Lumpur on March 7, 2015. (Olivia Harris/Courtesy: Reuters)

The jailing of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in February, though called “politically motivated proceedings under an abusive and archaic law” by Human Rights Watch, appeared to some Malaysian politicians and observers like a challenge to the country’s political opposition. With no one leader ready to completely replace Anwar, the opposition alliance, which has deep internal divisions over social and economic policy, seemed poised to fracture before the next election. Read more »

Frank Mondelli: Can Recent Social Unrest Be Resolved in Okinawa’s Base Problem?

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Protesters shout slogans during a rally against the relocation of a U.S. military base, in front of the Okinawa prefectural government office building, in Naha on the Japanese southern islands of Okinawa, in this photo taken by Kyodo December 27, 2013. Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima approved on Friday landfill work for the relocation of the U.S. military's Futenma air base within his prefecture, going back on his pledge to move the base out of Okinawa, Kyodo news reported. The banner reads, "No recognition of landfill at Henoko". Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo (JAPAN - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY) ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN Protesters shout slogans during a rally against the relocation of a U.S. military base, in front of the Okinawa prefectural government office building, in Naha on the Japanese southern islands of Okinawa, in this photo taken by Kyodo on December 27, 2013 (Kyodo/Courtesy of Reuters).

Frank Mondelli graduated from Swarthmore College in 2014 and is currently a Fulbright Fellow in Okinawa, Japan.

Seventy years into the postwar era, Okinawa is still grappling with the issues stemming from the large U.S. military presence on its soil. Recently, tensions between local citizens and U.S. and Japanese militaries over the construction of a new base have reached a critical point, resulting in an escalating series of incidents. While the U.S.-Japan alliance as a whole benefits strongly from Okinawa’s current role in their partnership, better communication needs to occur between antibase protestors and military officials if they are to peacefully and constructively navigate political and social realities. Read more »

The AIIB Debacle: What Washington Should Do Now

by Elizabeth C. Economy Monday, March 16, 2015
China's Finance Minister Lou Jiwei (L) gives a speech with the guests of the signing ceremony of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing October 24, 2014. REUTERS/Takaki Yajima/Pool (CHINA - Tags: BUSINESS) China's Finance Minister Lou Jiwei (L) gives a speech with the guests of the signing ceremony of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 24, 2014 (Takaki Yajima/Courtesy of Reuters).

It is time for Washington to take a step back and regroup. Its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) strategy, ill-considered from the get-go, has now taken a major hit with the announcement this past week by the United Kingdom that it plans to join the Chinese-led AIIB. Washington’s concerns over the AIIB are well-established: the competition the AIIB poses to pre-existing development institutions such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank; concern over the potential for weak environmental standards and social safeguards within the AIIB; and the opportunity for China to use AIIB-financed infrastructure for greater leverage in the region. Read more »

Kafka in Paradise: Maldives Court Sentences Former President for Terrorism

by Alyssa Ayres Monday, March 16, 2015
March 10, 2014. Photo by Dying Regime licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original. March 10, 2014. Photo by Dying Regime licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.

On March 13, a Maldivian court found Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the Maldives, guilty of terrorism and sentenced him to thirteen years in prison.

The specific act of which Nasheed was accused? Ordering the arrest of a criminal court judge back in 2012 when Nasheed was still president of the island nation of 400,000 people. The mismatch between accusation and conviction beggars belief. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of March 13, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, March 13, 2015
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) talks to Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena at the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo March 13, 2015. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) talks to Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena at the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo on March 13, 2015 (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Courtesy of Reuters).

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

1. U.S. rebukes UK for joining Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The UK announced that it would become a founding member of the China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), despite the urging of the United States. Washington has openly lobbied against the AIIB, influencing South Korea and Australia to eschew membership, but Britain’s decision opens the door for other Western countries to reconsider. Read more »

Thai Junta Seems Ready to Put Elections Off Longer

by Joshua Kurlantzick Friday, March 13, 2015
Prayuth Chan-ocha-thailand-elections Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha toasts during a luncheon organized by Keidanren, Japan Business Federation, in Tokyo on February 9, 2015. (Toru Hanai/Courtesy: Reuters)

In a recent letter to the Washington Post, Thailand’s new ambassador to the United States insisted that despite the May 2014 coup, continued martial law, crackdowns on activists of all types, and an unclear path to election, Thailand remains a democracy. “Thailand has not wavered in its commitment to democracy…progress is being made,” the ambassador insisted. His letter was written in response to a Washington Post editorial entitled “Thailand’s Ineffective Rule by Force,” which argued that the generals are holding hundreds of political prisoners, have mismanaged the Thai economy, have failed to bring stability to the country, and are trying to “permanently hobble democracy” in Thailand. Read more »