CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Podcast: China’s Environmental Health Crisis – Challenges and Politics

by Yanzhong Huang Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Women wear face masks on the Bund in front of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower during a hazy day in downtown Shanghai January 26, 2015. (Aly Song/Courtesy Reuters) Women wear face masks on the Bund in front of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower during a hazy day in downtown Shanghai January 26, 2015. (Aly Song/Courtesy Reuters)

After more than three decades of rapid industrialization and modernization, China is on the cusp of potentially becoming the world’s largest economy. Yet China’s economic miracle has imposed tremendous costs on the environment and public health. Topping this list is extensive air pollution, water pollution, and soil contamination—outdoor air pollution, for example, has been linked to 1.2 million premature deaths in China. The result, as shown in the recent viral documentary “Under the Dome,” has been an environmental health crisis that has profound economic, social, and political ramifications. The ascending popularity of the documentary, followed by its quick disappearance from all major websites in China, beget a series of questions on China’s environmental health crisis: What is the nature and magnitude of the crisis? What are its causes and consequences?  What is the response of the Chinese government to the crisis and is this response sufficient to the challenges at hand? Read more »

Grading Global Governance: Implications for East Asia

by Scott A. Snyder Thursday, May 14, 2015
Models of a North Korean Scud-B missile (center) and South Korean Hawk surface-to-air missiles are seen at the Korean War Memorial Museum in Seoul in this photo from April 14, 2009. (Jo Yong-Hak/Courtesy: Reuters) Models of a North Korean Scud-B missile (center) and South Korean Hawk surface-to-air missiles are seen at the Korean War Memorial Museum in Seoul in this photo from April 14, 2009. (Jo Yong-Hak/Courtesy: Reuters)

The Council of Councils (CoC), a network of think tanks that mirrors the membership of the G20, released this week a thought-provoking report card assessing the state of global governance. The report evaluates the performance of global institutions in addressing ten international challenges, ranks the seriousness of these global challenges, and assesses prospects for breakthrough in international efforts to deal with these issues. The report card accurately captures the issue overload and prioritization challenges on the global agenda, provides a compelling snapshot of the scope of challenges to global governance and reveals the major gaps that will likely continue to challenge the international community. Read more »

Preparing for Jokowi’s Visit to Washington

by Joshua Kurlantzick Tuesday, May 12, 2015
jokowi-WEF Indonesia's President Joko Widodo gestures as he delivers a speech during the interactive session of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta on April 20, 2015. (Beawiharta/Courtesy: Reuters)

Two weeks ago, a senior aide to Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo confirmed that the Indonesian leader plans to make his first visit to Washington as president in June. Thus far, despite hopes in Washington that Jokowi’s term as president might usher in closer ties to the United States, the U.S.-Indonesia relationship has remained roughly where it was before Jokowi took office. The bilateral relationship is generally warmer than it was in the 1990s and early 2000s, but the two countries’ strategic, economic, and cultural relations still lag far behind those the United States enjoys with many other partners in Southeast Asia. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 8, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, May 8, 2015
Security forces and rescue workers inspect an abandoned camp at a rubber plantation near a mountain in Thailand's southern Songkhla province on May 7, 2015 (Surapan Boonthanom/Courtesy: Reuters). Security forces and rescue workers inspect an abandoned camp at a rubber plantation near a mountain in Thailand's southern Songkhla province on May 7, 2015 (Surapan Boonthanom/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. Mass graves of human trafficking camp unearthed in Thailand. Police exhumed twenty-six bodies at a mass grave located in the jungles of Songkhla province this week. Most of the migrants once held at the now abandoned site were Rohingya Muslim refugees from western Myanmar and Bangladesh. According to reports, this camp was made up of “bamboo cages, watchtowers and what Thai police described as a torture room.” Even as the grave was discovered, more than fifty Thai police officers were punished over suspected links to human trafficking networks. The mass grave was hardly the first indicator that Thailand has a booming human trafficking business and it remains to be seen if the Thai government can successfully undertake steps necessary to combat human trafficking. Read more »

The Coup One Year On: Why Has Thai Democracy Regressed?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Thursday, May 7, 2015
Thailand-coup-protests Soldiers take position along roads blocked around the Victory Monument, where anti-coup protesters were gathering on previous days, in Bangkok on May 30, 2014. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters)

On a hot spring afternoon in 1999 at the investigative reporting section of the Bangkok Post, one of Thailand’s two English-language dailies, the section’s editor marked off a long list of stories on a white board. The section had plenty of targets in its sights—police corruption, Thailand’s drug trade and many other subjects. Read more »

Stories of Ordinary North Koreans and Human Rights

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder Thursday, May 7, 2015
A woman holding an umbrella walks past near damaged houses by flooding in Kujang district, in the province of North Pyongan, in this photo taken on August 28, 2012. (Courtesy: Reuters) A woman holding an umbrella walks past near damaged houses by flooding in Kujang district, in the province of North Pyongan, in this photo taken on August 28, 2012. (Courtesy: Reuters)

Darcie Draudt is a research associate for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Last Thursday at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the U.S. delegation convened a meeting on the human rights situation in North Korea that featured testimony of North Korean escapees. The event was part of North Korean Freedom Week, hosted annually since 2004 by a coalition of U.S. and South Korean NGOs focused on increasing awareness and mobilizing action to promote freedom for the North Korean people. The UN meeting took a turn when the testifiers were interrupted by a statement the DPRK delegation, who had previously been assured they would have an opportunity to speak following the defectors and faced vehement objections most notably from U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. Read more »

Is the Mass Grave a “Turning Point” for Thai Policy on Trafficking?

by Joshua Kurlantzick Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Thailand-Songkhla A member of the security forces is seen at an abandoned camp in a jungle some three hundred meters from the border with Malaysia, in Thailand's southern Songkhla province on May 2, 2015. (Surapan Boonthanom/Courtesy: Reuters)

Last Friday, Thai police discovered a mass grave near the country’s southern border with Malaysia. Twenty-six bodies have been exhumed from the grave thus far. According to a report in the New York Times, the mass grave was located in an abandoned detention camp that was likely used by human smugglers. These camps, primarily for Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, are common in southern Thailand. This one, the Times reported, was “made up of bamboo cages, watchtowers and what the Thai police described as a ‘torture room,’ without giving more details.” Read more »

Prime Minister Abe’s Very Good Visit

by Scott A. Snyder Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 29, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy: Reuters) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 29, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy: Reuters)

This post was co-authored with Brad Glosserman, executive director of Pacific Forum CSIS. A version of this post also appeared as a Pacific Forum CSIS PacNet publication, and can be found here.

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s trip to the United States last week was about as productive and positive a state visit could hope to be. The trappings and status of the visit were second to none. It affirmed the importance of the U.S.-Japan partnership. It produced critical, forward-looking documents to chart the course of the U.S.-Japan relationship. Abe delivered remarks to enthusiastic and approving audiences. Significantly, there were no gaffes to muddy the message or the image he sought to present to the United States, Japan, and the rest of the world. Prime Minister Abe and his entourage should be delighted with the results. Read more »

South Koreans’ Outlook on China and the United States

by Scott A. Snyder Monday, May 4, 2015
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a Veterans Day event at the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, on November11, 2010. (Jim Young/Courtesy: Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a Veterans Day event at the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, on November11, 2010. (Jim Young/Courtesy: Reuters)

This post was co-authored by Darcie Draudt, research associate for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

On April 20, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul released its latest report on South Korean public views on the United States. Overall, the numbers track fairly consistently with recent annual polls (Asan has tracked this data in 2012, 2013, and 2014): South Koreans polled view the United States as the major political and military, if not also economic, leader in the region. However, an overwhelming number of South Koreans expect that Chinese economic power will necessarily rise and U.S. economic power is declining; 70.5 percent believe China will be the future economic superpower while a mere 20.2 percent chose the United States. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 1, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy Friday, May 1, 2015
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in front of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 29, 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy: Reuters). Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in front of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 29, 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. Shinzo Abe visits the United States. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the United States this week to discuss the future of U.S.­-Japan relations. Increased security cooperation as well as relations with China topped the agenda. Abe delivered the first-ever speech by a Japanese prime minister to a joint session of Congress. In his speech, Abe described his vision for a stronger alliance between the United States and Japan and expressed his condolences for Japanese behavior in World War II. He announced his determination to “take more responsibility for peace and stability in the world.” Read more »