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May 7, 2013

An Illuminating Graphic

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Speaks for itself, doesn't it? (Via Reddit.)

May 3, 2013

Suicide Is the Number One Cause of Death for South Korean Kids

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Suicide was the leading cause of death for South Koreans aged 15-24, according to a new report. That's 13 suicides for every 100,000 people in this age group -- up from 7.7 in 2001.

According to the Korea Herald, the country's suicide rate has been on the rise since the 1990s.

Not only are Korean youth killing themselves in greater numbers, there are also fewer of them. Young people (ages 9-24) accounted for 20 percent of the country's population in 2013, the lowest it's been since data was collected starting in 1970 (when the country's youth population represented 35 percent of overall numbers).

(AP Photo)

March 21, 2013

Korea Officials Caught in an Orgy of Scandal (Over an Orgy)

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Described as a scene from Eyes Wide Shut, multiple high-level officials in Korea (including a vice minister and police administrators) have been identified in participating in "one of many" orgies hosted by a powerful Korean businessman.

There's evidently video to bolster the accusation (though it has not been publicly released).

If the allegations prove true, it would be one of Korea's biggest sex scandals, according to Kim Jae-won.

Koreans aren't the only Asian officials misbehaving. Last summer, photos and videos of Chinese Communist officials engaging in orgies went viral, before being squelched by China's rigorous censors.

You would think Rule #1 with these kinds of events would be "no cameras."

(The alleged house of ill repute | Yonhap)

March 11, 2013

Asia's Other Economic Miracle

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We're used to hearing about China's amazing 30 year run of blistering GDP growth. But there's another Asian country that has enjoyed 21 straight years of economic growth: Australia.

That's right, it's been 21 years since Australia has had a recession. That is the longest "for any nation at any time," according to Chris Richardson of Deloitte Access Economics.

What's the secret? China.

Australia has profited immensely from China's rise. Its mining industry serves as a key source of raw materials to fuel China's manufacturing industries. Australia's growth has also earned it the distinction of being the fastest growing rich nation in the world, according to Deloitte.

Yet with exports surging, Australia, like China, is trying to "rebalance" its economy to boost domestic consumption, an effort that has yet to yield much success.

And while Australia's economy is closely linked to China, the relationship is still marked by unease. Just today, Australia's central bank reported that it was attacked by hackers possibly operating in China. Australia recently agreed to station U.S. Marines at a base in Darwin and the country's strategic community has been engaged in a passionate debate (encapsulated well by Hugh White's The China Choice and the invaluable blog The Interpreteter) about the role it should play between China and the U.S.

(AP Photo)

March 1, 2013

China Uses a "Stealth Navy" to Ratchet Up Sea Tensions

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With no formal Coast Guard but plenty of coastal waterways in dispute, China has been cultivating its State Oceanic Administration into a "stealth navy" to "challenge existing maritime demarcations," writes Miles Yu.

Yu writes that the Marine Surveillance division of the Oceanic Administration has blossomed into robust fleet consisting of 13 ships, including several 4,000 tonners, and plans to launch 36 more vessels in the coming year. This ostensibly civilian service has 400 vessels, 10 aircraft and a transport plane, Yu notes.

According to a U.S. Navy official quoted by Yu, this fleet's sole purpose is harass other states' boats as it seeks to stake its claim in contested waters. Just last week, Japan claimed three ships from the Marine Surveillance division entered its territorial waters.

(AP Photo)

February 27, 2013

Australian Muslim Activists Were Writing Hate Mail to Dead Soldier's Families

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An Australian court yesterday rejected a case of two Muslim activists who claimed they had a right to send "offensive letters" to families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. The letters in question apparently criticized Australia's involvement in the war and condemned the fallen soldiers.

According to the AP, Australia doesn't have an equivalent to the First Amendment, which may have protected such letters on the grounds that they were political speech, but Australian courts have held for decades that the country's "constitution contains an implied right to free speech because such political communication is essential to democracy."

Australia does have a law about using the postal service "to communicate a message that 'reasonable persons would regard as being, in all the circumstances, menacing, harassing or offensive.'"

Still, as offensive as these letters undoubtedly are, should Australia really punish the senders? The two men face a maximum of 26 and 16 years in prison, respectively.

(Photo: AAP)

February 14, 2013

Now South Korea Is Talking About Getting Nukes

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Following North Korea's successful nuclear test, South Korean politicians are openly mooting the idea of acquiring their own nuclear deterrent, according to a report in the Korea Times.

One such politican, Won Yoo-chul, suggested that the country develop nuclear weapons on the condition "that we immediately scrap them if the North gives up its nuclear program." Another conservative lawmaker described the current state of South Korean defenses as trying to defend your home with a pebble against a gangster with a machine gun.

Other lawmakers prefer to remain under the U.S. nuclear umbrella (the U.S. stopped basing nuclear weapons in Korea in 1991 as efforts to "denuclearize" the Korean Peninsula began). And there are several legal obstacles in front of South Korea: they would have to pull out of the Non Proliferation Treaty and a bilateral nuclear accord with the U.S. before it could obtain nuclear weapons.

Still, one can see the logic of South Korea's nuclear threats: they may just be enough to goad China into taking a tougher line against Pyongyong.

(AP Photo)

February 13, 2013

How Will Obama's Nuclear Cuts Play in Asia?

During his State of the Union address, President Obama pledged to further cut America's nuclear arsenal. The exact figure wasn't specified, but it's been reported that the goal is to reduce the force from the current 1,700 "deployed weapons" down to 1,000, provided some kind of deal can be reached with Russia.

While China's nuclear arsenal is tiny in comparison, it has been undergoing a process of modernization and C. Raja Mohan argues that China will continue to stand aloft from any disarmament talks for the time being:

This approach leaves Beijing much leeway in responding to Obama's latest nuclear initiative. It allows Beijing to hold the high diplomatic ground on supporting the long-term goal of global zero, promising to join multilateral talks on nuclear reductions when it is convenient, and leaving room for its nuclear weapon modernisation in the interim.

Mohan argues that while most of America's close allies in Asia may be worried that America's "extended deterrence" would be weaker with a smaller arsenal, one major player is likely to be heartened by Obama's reductions:

In contrast to some in East Asia, India has every reason to welcome Obama's plans to negotiate deeper nuclear cuts with Russia. Like China, India has seen deep cuts in the US and Russian arsenals as an important first step on the road towards nuclear disarmament.

February 5, 2013

Future U.S. Bases in Asia Will Be at Sea

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As the U.S. turns its strategic eye toward the Pacific, it's facing a new set of defense challenges. One of the major ones, according to Marine Lt. General Terry Robling in an interview with AOL Defense, is sustaining a "persistent presence" despite the massive distances involved yet without the traditional land bases that could alienate key allies:

Many of our partners in the region do not want us to be the Uncle that visited and never returned home. They want us engaged and present but not permanently based in their countries. This means that seabasing and its augmentation is a fundamental requirement.

Another way the U.S. will resolve this potential tension is to simply not call bases "bases," as C. Raja Mohan explains:

Washington is fully aware that full fledged military bases of the traditional kind generate intense political opposition in host countries and is not worth the unending political headache.

The strategy, instead, is to seek ‘places’ through which the US could move its forces on a regular basis, preposition some equipment, and have pre-negotiated arrangements for relief and resupply.

The US is not the only one looking for such ‘places’ to sustain its forward military presence around the world. China, whose economic and political interests in the Indian Ocean are growing, is said to be considering similar arrangements.

Other major powers like Russia, France and Japan have established such facilities in the Indian Ocean littoral.

Elsewhere in the AOL piece, author Robin Laird inadvertently highlights one of the fundamental tensions with U.S. strategy in the Pacific. First, Laird identifies that strategy as "constraining Chinese engagement in the Pacific." Naturally, the Chinese aren't going to appreciate this, so then there's the threat:

We need a strategy to prevail against what the Chinese are doing and likely to do. And the we need to be much clearer about the threat: it is about missiles, their evolution, and the need to combine defense with offense in dealing with these evolving missile threats.

One of the reasons China is working on missile technology is to prevent America's ability to "constrain their engagement" in the Pacific. There's no simple way to work around this tension, which is one reason most realists remain convinced that the security competition between China and the U.S. will only grow more intense with time.

(AP Photo)

January 15, 2013

Is Japan Rearming?

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The anchor of U.S. policy in Asia since the end of World War II has been to prevent the re-militarization of Japan. Since the end of the Cold War and the rise of China this policy has been increasingly called into question as a more powerful Japan could serve as a useful counterbalance to China and a means for the U.S. to more effectively share the burdens of regional security in Asia. Still, any moves by Japan to bolster its military power tend to make people nervous.

So it's not surprising that a recent decision by the newly installed government of Shinzo Abe to request more funds for defense after over a decade of cuts has raised eyebrows.

CFR's Scott Snyder, however, argues that it's not a sign of rising militarism:

There is a serious debate among policymakers as to whether this is actually sufficient to deal with the growing challenges Japan could face in the years ahead. Prime Minister Abe’s new government is widely seen as more hawkish, and thus the interpretation of this budget’s meaning differs widely. Martin Fackler’s NYT piece early in the week sees this as the new prime minister’s effort “to bolster Japan’s declining influence,” while a WSJ article views this week’s announcements in Tokyo as “paltry” and instead admonishes Japan’s new prime minister “to get serious about defense, and fast.” Expect this conversation to continue as the specifics of Japan’s defense policy develop.
The U.S. needs just enough Japanese rearmament to deter China and keep the U.S. tab as low as possible without stoking a confrontation. On the plus side, fears of Japanese "free-riding" may be overblown (although the $1.3 billion increase is pretty small beer as far as these things go). As Snyder notes, we won't know the full contours of Japan's defense policy and any substantive changes Abe plans to make until the government releases its National Defense Program Guidelines document, which is due at the end of 2013.

(AP Photo)

January 3, 2013

A War in Asia Is Worse than Islamic Terrorism

Clifford May argues that Stratfor's Robert Kaplan is wrong to worry about Asia's brewing nationalism:

Similarly, in Asia, Kaplan sees China, Japan, and other nations “rediscovering nationalism,” undermining the notion that “we live in a post-national age.” He adds: “The disputes in Asia are not about ideology or any uplifting moral philosophy; they are about who gets to control space on the map.” True, but is the revival of such nationalistic sentiment really a crisis or even a major problem? Meanwhile, much more significant, Islamists are offering an alternative to both the old nationalist and the newer post-nationalist models.

It seems self-evident to me that Asia's disputes are considerably more worrisome. Islamists may be offering alternative models to discredited pan-Arab movements, but it doesn't mean the countries they lead (or could lead, if they take power) have much in the way of power or influence on a global scale. We know that when militant Islamist groups take power, the country in question tends to fail (see Afghanistan, Iran, etc.). Egypt's Brotherhood may offer an alternative to Taliban-style militancy, but then it will be stripped of the elements that make it dangerous to Western interests. Islamist governments of the kind May fears produce dysfunction, not global power.

The principle threat Islamism poses to the West is sporadic terrorism. There are some worst-case scenarios which could see sweeping upheaval across the Mideast that deposes the Saudi monarchy and plunges the global energy market into a major crisis. There's also the possibility that terror networks in Syria and Iraq could disrupt regional energy resources. That's clearly a danger, but one that carries the seeds of its own solution -- i.e., the more terrorism disrupts Middle East energy supplies, the faster the globe will transition away from Middle East energy. (A smart political class would be trying to head this off now, by reducing the use of oil -- not just producing more of it domestically -- but that's an argument for another day.)

Switching to Asia, the dynamics are just as combustible but the players far more important. It touches on two U.S. treaty allies, South Korea and Japan. It implicates three of the largest economies in the world (China, Japan, and the United States) as well as major maritime trade routes. The potential for conflict is rife, since unlike the Middle East where every country knows who owns what oil field (for the most part), Asia's untapped resources lie in contested waters. There's just as much history and bad blood among the major players in Asia as there is among the Mideast's various rivals (if not more), but unlike the Mideast, Asian states have advanced militaries.

So I think Kaplan has it right: we should be more concerned with Asia's brewing conflicts than Islamism.

November 15, 2012

Is Australia Free-riding on the U.S.?

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First Japan announces a reduction in defense spending, and now Australia has announced plans to trim its own defense bill.

This at a time when the U.S. has just bolstered its military commitment to Australia.

Funny how that works.

The Pentagon believes its defense commitments offer "reassurance" to Asian allies living under the shadow of an increasingly powerful China. Yet as we've seen in Europe, such "reassurance" can eventually degenerate into free-riding where allied defense budgets shrink, confident that Uncle Sam is on hand if the going gets rough.

The U.S. can ill afford more debt. If additional U.S. allies decide they'll trim their own defense tabs too as the U.S. "pivots" into the region, the administration may need a rethink.

(AP Photo)

Will Obama's Pivot to Asia "Score Points" with the Chinese?

Lewis Simons writes in praise of President Obama's "pivot" to Asia:

Mr. Obama, by accepting a friendly invitation to visit Southeast Asia, is choosing instead to deal with China as an equal on neutral turf, rather than seek direct confrontation. No threats. Just a show of smart power.

While his gradualist approach certainly will not be cheered by American conservatives, it is a style that is likely to score points among Chinese and other Asians who see a freshly reminted American president approaching them not with a clenched fist but with an open hand. He proposes refurbishing a long-faded American presence on the Asian mainland, competing again for its raw materials, investments and markets. [Emphasis mine]

While some Asian states have clearly welcomed the administration's "pivot," China hasn't been among them (see also here and this study of Chinese reactions to the pivot here).

President Obama isn't approaching China with as clenched a fist as the U.S. could possibly make, but the signs of a containment regime are unmistakable. It appears to be the case that Chinese officials preferred to deal with Obama than with Romney, but that does not mean their minds will be put at ease with respect to U.S. strategy.

That's not a bad thing, per se. The U.S. does need an approach to China that balances the defense of vital security interests with the need to avoid thoughtless provocation. Still, we shouldn't kid ourselves about what's going on. Certainly, the Chinese understand that the "pivot" is aimed at them and not in a manner designed "to score points."

October 15, 2012

Japan's Noda Takes Hawkish Turn

Speaking at a naval ceremony, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda fired off what some are calling surprisingly hawkish rhetoric:

Surprising even military officials, the address included an expression used in a slogan for naval battles during the Russo-Japan War in the early 20th century. The prime minister also took the unusual step of including in his speech slogans that have been recited by Japanese naval cadets since before World War II.

“The security environment surrounding our nation has become more difficult than ever before,” Mr. Noda told the troops on the destroyer JS Kurama. “We have a neighbor that launches missiles disguised as satellites and engages in nuclear development. We are facing various cases related to territory and sovereignty,” the prime minister said, referring to North Korea, and to territorial disputes with China and South Korea, respectively. The prime minister was wearing a tailcoat, the designated garb for top civilian government officials at formal military ceremonies.

For decades, U.S. foreign policy has been predicated on suppressing signs of Japanese militarism but with China rising and the U.S. drowning in a sea of red ink, it makes sense for front-line states to assume larger security roles. Unfortunately, for all of Japan's bluster, they're not putting their money where Noda's mouth is.

October 8, 2012

Asia Not Knuckling Under to China

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The latest report on arms sales in Asia confirm a trend that has been evident for a while - far from being cowed by a rising China, many Asian states are bulking up their military capabilities:

Indonesia is buying submarines from South Korea and coastal radar systems from China and the United States. Vietnam is getting submarines and combat jets from Russia, while Singapore - the world's fifth-largest weapons importer - is adding to its sophisticated arsenal.

Wary of China and flush with economic success, Southeast Asia is ramping up spending on military hardware to protect the shipping lanes, ports and maritime boundaries that are vital to the flow of exports and energy.

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea, fuelled by the promise of rich oil and gas deposits, have prompted Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei to try to offset China's growing naval power.

Even for those away from that fray, maritime security has been a major focus for Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.

There's a much greater appetite for regional powers to police the commons than many advocates of huge U.S. defense budgets let on, and almost all of those powers are friendly to Washington. Seems like a perfect environment for the U.S. to do some off-shore balancing. (It also makes the "Who Needs a Navy?" argument look a bit facile.)

(AP Photo)

September 6, 2012

Solving the South China Sea Crisis ala Teddy Roosevelt

James Clad and Robert Manning make the case for deft diplomacy in the South China Sea:

Of course, we can keep relying on America's countervailing actions, knowing that China doesn’t play well in a multilateral space. But this game is prone to miscalculations by all sides. Nor does there seem much to gain from spending more time on “confidence building measures” or on a “multilateral security architecture” of regional groupings heavy on acronyms and light on results.

To find something new, we might try looking backwards – to a type of split-the-difference US diplomacy last deployed after Russia and Japan had fought a war in 1905. The next year, Theodore Roosevelt brokered a peace that lasted three decades, allowing China, Europe and the US to adjust to Japan’s rise as a major power.

To achieve something similar today would mean finding ways to facilitate commercial exploitation of the South China Sea. Privately, some chief executives of Chinese energy companies have spoken recently of their desire to form offshore joint ventures with western companies. Such joint exploitation could proceed by means of agreements resting expressly on a “without prejudice” basis – where companies, and the states in which they are domiciled, would make clear that mutual oil and gas exploration and production would occur “without prejudice” to their parent country’s sovereign claims. The competing claimant countries could agree among themselves as to which companies might participate in extraction in the areas in dispute.

Who knows if this would work, but it sounds like an idea worth pursuing.

July 23, 2012

Vietnam Ranked Worst Country for Wildlife Crime

According to a new report from the World Wildlife Federation, Vietnam ranks last among Asian nations when it comes to wildlife crime:

The WWF report said Vietnam is "the major destination" for rhino horns trafficked from South Africa, where 448 rhinos were poached last year. Rhino horn can fetch the US street value of cocaine in Asia, where it is crushed and consumed by people who believe - wrongly, doctors say - that it can cure diseases.

It described South Africa as the "epicentre" in an African rhino poaching crisis, despite strong government efforts there that began in 2009 to stop the killings.

A record 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2011, and this year could be even worse with 262 already lost from January to June, according to WWF.

WWF accused the Vietnamese government of doing very little to stop rhino horns from being imported, describing penalties in Vietnam for buying them as not nearly strong enough to act as a deterrent.

It also said Vietnamese diplomats had been arrested or implicated in South Africa for trying to buy rhino horns.

July 13, 2012

China-Japan War Game Stokes Ire

A new game - Defend the Diaoyu Islands - recently popped up on Apple's app store. According to the Register, the game had players defending islands in the East China Sea from a Japanese invasion. From the game's description:

Defend the Diaoyu Islands, for they are the inalienable territory of China! Recently, the Japanese government has been sabre-rattling, making attempts to seize the Diaoyu Islands and even arresting our fishermen compatriots while selling off fish from the islands. Today, you can vent your anger by trying this game demo, working together to eradicate all Japanese devils landing on the island and turning them back towards their own lands. Defend the Diaoyu Islands!

Given the inflammatory nature of the app, Apple pulled the game from its store. The Diaoyu Islands are known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan.

July 12, 2012

U.S. Lifts Sanctions on Burma

The Obama administration formally eased some sanctions on Burma yesterday. Freedom House's Rhonda Mays and Robert Herman argue that the administration needs to go slow:

The waiver will permit business dealings with highly corrupt and opaque companies like the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), whose profits have bankrolled a succession of brutal military governments. The measure will leave untouched the actual laws underlying the sanctions, essentially granting U.S. businesses exemptions that, in theory, could be revoked should Burma's government stall or backslide in the reform process. However, trying to shut the flood gates after investment has begun to pour into the country would be next to impossible, especially given the influence that the business lobby seems to have exerted over the Obama administration's Burma outlook in recent months.

March 15, 2012

How to Blow Up the Obama Administration's Pivot to Asia

In one simple step:

India has failed to reduce its purchases of Iranian oil, and if it doesn’t do so, President Barack Obama may be forced to impose sanctions on one of Asia’s most important nations, Obama administration officials said yesterday.

A decision to levy penalties under a new U.S. law restricting payments for Iranian oil could come as early as June 28, according to several U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.


I imagine this is going over well in New Delhi.

March 12, 2012

No Pivot to Asia?

Robert Kelly thinks the U.S. won't really "pivot" to Asia:

So the US pivot toward Asia is all the rage in foreign policy now. Obama and Secretary Clinton genuinely seem to believe in this, and there good reasons for it. Briefly put, Asia has the money, people, and guns to dramatically impact world politics in a way that no other region can now. But I think the US Asian pivot won’t happen much nonetheless, because: 1) Americans, especially Republicans, don’t care about Asia, but they really care about the Middle East (a point the GOP presidential debates made really obvious); 2) Americans know less about Asia than any part of the world, bar Africa perhaps; 3) intra-Asian soft balancing (i.e., almost everyone lining up informally against China) means we don’t really need to be that involved, because our local allies will do most of the work; 4) we’re too broke to replicate in Asia the sort of overwhelming presence we built in the Middle East in the last decades.

I would say that supporters of the "pivot" - such as it is - should be gratified that it's not getting as much high-level attention as the Middle East. It's true that the Mideast is bogging down U.S. attention - but it's also bogging down the attention of people with a lot of bad ideas. Better those bad ideas play themselves out in the Mideast than in Asia.

January 30, 2012

Most of Asia Rejects Iran Embargo

Last week we posted a chart highlighting where Iran's oil exports go. After Europe, Asia consumes most of Iran's oil and it appears that they're far less concerned about the risks Iran poses to "global" security than they are about the risks of not having Iranian oil to fuel their economic growth:

Several Asian countries are expressing an unwillingness to join the United States and Europe Union in blocking oil imports from Iran in order to pressure Tehran over its disputed nuclear program.

Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said his country cannot do without Iranian oil and will not be cutting its Iranian imports despite other countries' efforts to punish Tehran for its controversial nuclear activities.

South Korea and China have likewise balked at the prospect of curbing Iranian oil consumption.

December 21, 2011

Obama Beefs Up Firepower of U.S. Allies in Asia

According to John Bennett, the Obama administration is flooding Asia with advanced fighter aircraft:

The culmination of this work will leave Washington with nearly 150 F-35s in the Asia-Pacific region and more than 100 F-16s.

That means about 250 of the world's most advanced warplanes are on their way to the region, even as China is building its own sophisticated jets and anti-aircraft systems.

The U.S. Air Force also has its super-stealthy F-22 fighter stationed in the region, bringing even more firepower as a check on possible Chinese aggression.

What’s more, Japan’s decision to buy 42 F-35s ... "increased the likelihood that South Korea will follow suit, enabling the U.S. to maintain a coalition of friendly forces in the region that operate compatible combat systems,” defense insider Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute wrote in a column on Forbes.com Tuesday.

It's better for the U.S. to sell allies the tech required for self-defense than promise to do it for them, so all-in-all this is a positive development. It also proves, once again, that there is little chance that China's rise is going to create a cascade of states falling into its orbit. Most countries in the region are reacting in just the opposite fashion, which means the U.S. has more leeway to remain the "balancer of last resort."

November 29, 2011

South Korea's New Prison Guards

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It's a well known fact of technological progress that machines have been taking a gradually larger share of human work. South Korea is going to push the boundaries of this trend with robot prison guards. This robot, above, will do duty for a month-long trial in the city of Pohang.

As the BBC reports, it's part of a larger, country-wide effort to promote the Korean robotics industry. This particular model looks like it could take a shank or two, but its designers told the BBC it was designed to "look more friendly" to the inmates.

November 16, 2011

Streaking!

This pretty much speaks for itself. [Hat tip: the Cable]

Obama's Pivot to Asia

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On the whole, I think the Obama administration's plan to rotate U.S. Marines in and out of a base in Australia is sensible. The U.S. should be slowly but surely removing military assets from Europe and especially from the Middle East and diverting some of those assets into Asia (as well as pruning back the defense budget overall). Not everyone sees it that way, of course. Here's the Washington Post:

Yet it was telling that the first question Mr. Obama fielded after summing up the 21-nation summit he hosted was not about the trade deal or the summit or even China. It was about Iran’s nuclear program, which is threatening to trigger yet another war in the Middle East. The message to the president was unintentional but fitting: “Pivoting” to Asia won’t make the threats to U.S. security in the Near East — or the urgency of addressing them — go away.

I don't know anyone who thinks that a U.S. pivot to Asia would suddenly make the Iranian nuclear program "go away." The point is not that such a pivot would solve the problems of the Middle East, the point of the pivot is that the Middle East's problems aren't America's to solve.

Justin Logan does raise a more substantive, longer-term issue: the potential for Asia to take a free-ride on U.S. defense assistance in much the same way Europe does.

The U.S. is seeking to replicate, on a somewhat smaller scale, the strategic dependencies it fostered in Europe. This has led to a deep and damaging imbalance, whereby the U.S. foots an enormous defense bill while Europe uses the savings to invest elsewhere. It makes absolutely no sense today - in an era where Asia is projected to enjoy strong economic growth and America isn't - to underwrite the defense of any Asian state, much less a constellation of them.

But there's a conundrum - the more the U.S. moves military assets into Asia, the more "credible" its commitment to regional balancing. Yet the more credible America's commitment, the greater the potential for free-riding. I suspect the Obama administration is far more concerned about establishing U.S. credibility than it is concerned about the potential for free-riding, but it needs to balance both. The U.S. doesn't have the resources - and China is far from a Soviet-style threat - to simply reprise the Cold War playbook.

(AP Photo)

November 1, 2011

Pentagon Shifting to Asia?

According to John Bennett, an ongoing strategic review at the Pentagon is indicating that future defense investments will flow toward platforms to help boost the U.S. presence in Asia (long-range bombers and ships) and away from counter-insurgency/stability missions (i.e. fewer armored vehicles and a leaner Army). Cyber capabilities will also get a boost.

Seems like a step in the right direction to me.

October 10, 2011

Korean Lawmaker Makes Drunken TV Appearance

Bad form:

Rep. Shin Ji-ho of the governing party resigned as a spokesman for the Seoul mayor candidate of his party. He appeared Friday on a TV talk show under the influence of alcohol. He often gave roaming replies to questions, a clear indication that he went on air after drinking.

He claimed that he was not intoxicated as he took a shower after drinking alcohol before appearing the show. However, his remarks were sometimes pointless.


To be fair, many (most?) politicians make pointless remarks while perfectly sober.

August 4, 2011

U.S. Role in a Tense Asia

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Michael Auslin takes the measure of an increasingly contentious Asia:

Due to its military alliances, the United States will be further drawn into the conflicting webs of distrust and engagement that characterize Asian relations. Asserting its intent to forge closer ties with countries that seek to uphold regional stability and promote the adoption of effective norms of behavior is perhaps America’s best hope of retaining influence and relevance in a rapidly evolving region.

The question is - what happens if smaller Asian states use the presumption of U.S. defense to push maximalist claims against China? That would be just as destabilizing.

Indeed, in recent months we've seen quite clearly that Chinese "assertiveness" hasn't led to the "Finlandization" of her neighbors. Just the opposite: it has sparked outcries, protests and even military moves from the Philippines and Vietnam. For the U.S., this is an ideal recipe for off-shore balancing.

(AP Photo)

July 19, 2011

Korean Unification

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Asia Sentinel looks at the harsh reality of what a potential reunification between North and South Korea would entail:

It is not possible to predict how, when or if such an event could happen although the United Nations World Food Program said in May that the north’s food supply is about to run out and that perhaps a quarter of the country’s people would be at risk of starvation. But if the north does collapse, it is likely to make the reunification problems between East and Western Germany look like a picnic. “What would be likely if that time arrives, however, is a massive outflow of refugees because of the brutal living conditions in the North. South Korea’s struggle to integrate quite small numbers shows what an immense challenge this would be for the region and international actors.”

North Korean defectors, the report says, “are sicker and poorer than their Southern brethren, with significantly worse histories of nutrition and medical care. They have distinctive accents, use different words and have little experience in the daily demands of life in a developed and open society. In the North, their education, employment, marriage, diet, and leisure were determined by the government, which assigned them to a class of people based on family history and political reliability. In the South, the array of choices presents them with endless difficult decisions that can be overwhelming.”

There's often a lot of frustration in the U.S. regarding Chinese and South Korean cooperation on North Korea. But judging from the massive social and economic dislocation that would result from a collapse of the North Korean state, it's little wonder they're not enthusiastic about regime change.

(AP Photo)

July 8, 2011

U.S. Extends Footprint in Central Asia

More isolationism from the Obama administration:

U.S. and Tajik officials have marked the start of construction of a military training center near Dushanbe that is being funded by Washington, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan Ken Gross and Tajik National Guard Commander General Rajabali Rahmonali laid the cornerstone of the live-fire training building at Tajikistan's National Training Center at Qaratogh, about 50 kilometers west of the Tajik capital.

The $3.1 million project is being paid for by the U.S. Central Command (Centcom) and is scheduled to be completed later this year.

Gross said "this project demonstrates the U.S. commitment to supporting Tajikistan's efforts to stem the flow of illegal narcotics and to defend the nation against terrorists." He said the facility will support the training of Tajik counternarcotics and counterterrorism units.

Asked about reports in some Tajik newspapers that the center will become a U.S. military base, Gross said "this [facility] is strictly for the Tajik military and there is no American component to that."

No American component except for the fact that we're paying for it and providing trainers. Other than that - purely indigenous!

April 13, 2011

Difficult Political Games in Malaysia

Here's a fascinating piece from Chris Badeaux on the double game being played in the Malaysian state of Sarawak at the moment. As I wrote a few weeks ago in profiling opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, the challenge in running a campaign whose constituencies include Chinese Christians of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Muslim Brotherhood-allied Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) may be too difficult of a balance for any politician - even a naturally gifted one like Anwar - to strike. The last paragraph here is particularly insightful:

Thus, two nights ago, Anwar spoke to a wildly enthusiastic crowd in one of the local Chinese-majority constituencies, and very carefully avoided mentioning anything remotely about PAS at all. Indeed, his speech had virtually nothing to do with local politics, instead focusing on his second sodomy trial, national politics, and a brief shot at a local incumbent who was running as an independent after his party (PKR) decided not to contest the seat to allow DAP a clean run at it.

When Anwar visits with PAS strongholds in peninsular Malaysia, he is clear to take credit for bringing the Islamic extremists into his coalition; when he visits the Chinese communities in Sarawak, he is not quite so clear that he supports a party that wants to make alcohol illegal, make the murder of a non-Muslim by a Muslim less of an offense than the murder of a Muslim by a non-Muslim, and, oh yes, supports turning Malaysia into an Islamic state. The Chinese community here is one of, if not the greatest, driver of entrepreneurialism and private wealth creation, and private Catholic and Protestant Christian schools are a source of great pride. It is terribly unlikely that they would roar with approval if they knew that Anwar was helping advance the end of those things.

So Anwar plays a double game. Before Islamist constituencies on the peninsula, he is a man who supports the imposition of sh’ria. Before Chinese Christians and moderates in Sarawak, he is a man more sinned against than sinning, a man whose only crime is bringing together an opposition to face off against a governing coalition that is transforming Malaysia into a developed state.

Two-faced politicians are hardly a wholly owned property of the West. But it's more difficult when you're trying to balance constituencies who are not just incompatible, but often pitted directly at odds with one another on matters of policy. And complicating matters further is the factionalism of ethnic communities - as an insightful working paper (pdf) from local professor Faisal Hasis notes in passing, no single ethnic group forms a majority there.

This diverse picture on the ground makes it difficult for the ruling authorities to deploy the patronage which has served them so well in the past, but it also makes the challenge of forming a coherent opposition movement nearly impossible. And should the opposition win, the prospects of forming a government which remains responsive to these disparate needs is unlikely, to say the least.

March 28, 2011

Sex, Lies and Videotape: Malaysia's King of Scandal

Bill Clinton. John Edwards. Larry Craig. Gary Hart. Elliot Spitzer. Mark Foley. Bill Livingston. Marion Barry. A litany of political leaders who bring to mind scandal and straying, grainy videos and uncomfortable tabloid headlines. Political scandals in America are a rich and entertaining tableau, all the way back to the era of the Founders - sometimes sad, often incomprehensible, and occasionally amusing (Craigslist, anyone?). But the names cited above are all pikers compared to Malaysian politics, where what seems like a conglomeration of all the above scandals are gathered around just one person: Anwar Ibrahim.

Like Edwards and Clinton, Anwar's scandals have put his wife, a prominent political leader, into increasingly difficult and precarious public positions. Like Livingston and Hart, Anwar's scandals have arrived at the key moments in his political career, frustrating his attempts at gaining power. Like Craig and Foley, Anwar's scandals have allegedly involved not just other women but other men - a far more controversial issue in a nation where sodomy is illegal. And like Barry, Anwar now faces a challenge involving grainy video footage from a hidden camera, which could spell the end of his career for good.

As the newspapers in Malaysia cull through the current allegations, the question is whether, like Spitzer and others, Anwar will once again endure the uncomfortable sexual nature of his scandals in the public eye -- or whether these persistent explosive situations, just one of which might have claimed the scalp of an American politician, will eventually drag him down for good.

Continue reading "Sex, Lies and Videotape: Malaysia's King of Scandal" »

March 1, 2011

How Will the Mideast Revolts Play Out?

Joshua Kurlantzick compares the Middle East in 2011 to Asia in the 1990s:

Yet today these countries have enjoyed mixed results. Thailand is not truly a democracy, and the military has regained power; Malaysia has retained a soft authoritarianism; the Philippines is essentially an oligarchy; Cambodia has become an authoritarian state; Indonesia has moved toward democracy but faces serious challenges; and South Korea is a vibrant, pluralistic democracy. And throughout Asia, nostalgia for authoritarian rule remains high, according to studies conducted by the Asian Barometer survey series.

Given the hope for widespread democratic change in Asia that existed in the late 1990s, this mixture of consolidation and reversals is hardly inspiring. But Asia offers several critical lessons for today's changes in the Middle East, where it is likely that some countries will build genuine democracies while others will stagger backwards into authoritarian rule or outright chaos.

One lesson he offers is for the U.S. to take a "background role" - something that may happen in places like Tunisia but probably not in Egypt.

February 16, 2011

Russia & Japan Tensions

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In the last few months, Russia and Japan have been trading barbs over the Kuril Islands. This follows heightened tension between Japan and China over the Senkaku Island chain. These territorial dust-ups leads J.E. Dyer to issue the following warning:

Keeping our foreign-policy thinking on autopilot leaves our spokesmen giving narrowly conceived, legalistic responses that are inadequate to a changing situation. America’s core ally in the Far East is under real territorial pressure from both Russia and China — and the reflexive assumption that any given situation will stabilize itself, with little or no inconvenience to the U.S., is increasingly outdated.

If we're speaking about 'reflexive assumptions,' lets discuss Dyer's. I'll state up front that my knowledge of both the Kuril and Senkaku disputes is pretty topical and I couldn't weigh in definitely on which country has the stronger claim (hit the links above for the Wiki-versions of both disputes). But Dyer isn't litigating the cases either, just simply assuming that the U.S. must stand with Japan. Clearly the U.S. is obligated to defend Japan, but that does not mean that the U.S. should defend Japanese claims that have no merit.

(Photo of Kuril Islands via Wikipedia Commons)

December 24, 2010

Balancing China

One argument made by proponents of the U.S. foreign policy status quo is that absent a strong American presence in key regions of the world, democratic allies will wilt under the oppressive influence of autocratic powers. But if we have learned anything in 2010 is that precisely the opposite happens, at least in Asia. China's "assertive" behavior hasn't precipitated a bout of regional appeasement but has instead catalyzed regional states to bulk up their defenses. As Barbara Demick reports:

Chinese behavior in the South China Sea has reversed the alliances of the Vietnam War, with Hanoi now edging toward the United States as it seeks protection. Vietnam is investing in submarines and long-range combat aircraft because of dozens of incidents over the last year in which Chinese vessels have harassed its fishing and oil ships. China's territorial claim to 1 million square miles of the sea has also unnerved Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, pushing them closer to the U.S.

Japan, too, recently announced that its new defense strategy will not entail becoming a satellite state of communist China but instead will be revamped to reflect China's emergence. Arms purchases in Asia are on the rise.

None of this is to suggest that the U.S. should "disengage" from Asia. But it is a telling reminder that if the U.S. were to disengage from, say, Europe, the result wouldn't be the collapse of Western Civilization.

December 10, 2010

Taking on Iran's Supreme Leader

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The war of words and deeds is heating up even further between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s secular Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who is rumored to be a presidential hopeful in 2013, and the mullahs wishing to sustain velayat-e faqih, or guardianship by the clerics, as the sole form of government in Iran.

Previously, Mashaei had criticized the clerics as incompetent politicians and tyrannical administrators who are out of touch with most Iranians. His website even called for their ouster. The mullahs in turn have labeled him a heretic and vowed to block his political ambitions.

Now Mashaei is taking on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei directly.

Lately the Supreme Leader has been denouncing music – both Persian and Western – as unsuitable for the Islamic Republic:

"Teaching and encouraging music is not compatible with the highest values of the sacred system of the Islamic Republic."

Khamenei reportedly prefers prayer and revolutionary chants.

However, Iran’s increasingly independent youth are turning amass to music as a form of rebellion against the Islamic regime and embracing globalization.

The 50-year old Mashaei, who has increasingly been positioning himself as the champion of younger Iranians, ridiculed the Supreme Leader’s anti-music stance while addressing a gathering of artists in the city of Arak (Sultanabad):

When I speak frankly, they [the mullahs] call me a blasphemer. But many of them don’t understand music and so they claim music is religiously unacceptable. They pray so much … that they have become unaware of God. They see not God but an illusion … for they pray facing the wrong Kaaba [in the Grand mosque at Mecca] and so don't understand music either. They are incapable of comprehending the world of poetry and arts which is the pinnacle [of civilization]. Unlike them I am an engineer; consequently I understand the seabed of the arts.

Mashaei is already on record as claiming that those Iranians who focus on religion rather than science will never see heaven.

So despite Supreme Leader Khamenei's attempts at reconciliation between the warring factions of Iran’s ruling class, to preserve his own authority, the breakup continues apace at his expense.

(AP Photo)

December 8, 2010

President for Life, and Then Some

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Joseph Hammond reports that Kazakhstan's President for Life wants an extended term:

[Nursultan] Nazarbaev has repeatedly used his post as president to call for renewed research into medical immortality, most recently in a speech to students marking the opening of Nazarbaev University in Astana.

Nazarbaev spoke of the need for research on a number of topics: "rejuvenation of the organism…the human genome...production of human tissue...the creation of gene-based medicines."

“As for the medicine of the future, people of my age are really hoping all of this will happen as soon as possible," Nazarbaev quipped.

(AP Photo)

November 22, 2010

Engage North Korea?

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Daryl Kimball says that the recent revelations that North Korea has a more sophisticated uranium enrichment capacity than was previously thought means the Obama administration should get back to the negotiating table:

Since there is no viable or prudent pre-emptive strike option and punitive sanctions alone cannot stop North Korea’s nuclear and missile buildup, the latest crisis requires a renewed diplomatic push, led by Washington, combined with the implementation of more effective economic, military, and political sanctions that have the full support of North Korea’s main trading partner, China.

Containing combined North Korean plutonium AND uranium enrichment programs will likely be even more difficult this time around. North Korea’s leadership is difficult to deal with for sure. But it is imperative that U.S. leads talks aimed at freezing and then verifiably dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program without further delay.

There's nothing wrong with re-engaging North Korea per-se, but is it really possible, in 2010, to believe that said talks would lead to the freezing, much less dismantling of the North's nuclear program? During arguably the most fruitful years of diplomatic engagement - President Clinton's Agreed Framework - the U.S. was able to slow, but not stop, North Korea's nuclear pursuits. Now, slowing down North Korea is a very good idea vs. a policy of doing nothing (or relying solely on sanctions and "strategic patience") and watching them gallop along toward a larger and more sophisticated nuclear arsenal. But all too often proponents of engagement tend to fall prey to the same temptations that more hawkish commentators do in overselling the virtues of their preferred solution.

As for China, they have not been all that enthusiastic about putting the screws to North Korea. And that was before President Obama's containment tour Asian tour.

(AP Photo)

November 2, 2010

U.S. Policy in Asia-Pacific

As Secretary Clinton continues her swing through the Pacific Islands, it's worth checking out this testimony from Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs on U.S. policy toward the region:

The U.S. defense relationships in the Asia-Pacific, which form a north-south arc from Japan and South Korea to Australia, depends on our strong relationship with the FAS, which along with Hawaii, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and the smaller U.S. territories comprise an invaluable east-west strategic security zone that spans almost the entire width of the Pacific Ocean. The Freely Associated States contribute to U.S. defense through the U.S. Army base on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands that houses the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense test site, an important asset within the Department of Defense. Furthermore, the FAS’ proximity to Guam is important to US defense interests as the United States has a vital interest in maintaining the ability to deny any hostile forces access to sea lanes that protect our forward-presence in Guam and beyond. Our relationships with the FAS allow the United States to guard its long-term defense interests in the region.

Moreover, while the FAS do not maintain their own military forces, under the terms of our Compacts their citizens are eligible to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. Micronesians, Marshallese and Palauans volunteer to serve in the U.S. military at a rate higher than in any individual U.S. state. We are grateful for their sacrifices and dedication to promoting peace and fighting terrorism.

October 21, 2010

The End of the Welfare State?

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Hamish McRae puts his finger on something important when writing about Britain's massive spending cuts:

You can look at this in two ways. You can see it as a course correction, a violent one to be sure, but one essentially made necessary by past errors. This is the idea that we have to get back on track, that doing so will be painful, but that when we do all will be hunky dory. Or you can see it as something quite new, the early stumbling stages along a path towards redefining the role of government itself – what the state in a Western society does for its citizens, and what it does not or indeed cannot do.

McRae is inclined to the later interpretation and so am I. In quick succession, the financial crisis has exposed three underlying global trends: the failure of lightly regulated, highly globalized financial markets and the free-wheeling capitalism they had come to represent, the unsustainability of the Western welfare state, and the emergence of Asia as the growth engine for the global economy. If these trends continue - if the twin models of Western development (American/British capitalism and the European welfare state) continue to collapse on themselves while Asia continues to boom - than the West is going to have to make significant changes to how it does business.

I tend to think that Western democracy contains the seeds of its own regeneration and will emerge from these trials in tact and not in tatters, but the expectations of many of her citizens are almost certainly going to have to be re-calibrated. And that process can be quite painful and tumultuous.

(And as an obvious caveat: there are a number of events that could postpone this reckoning, not least of all a serious slowdown in Chinese growth or some kind of general collapse of the emerging markets.)

(AP Photo)

October 19, 2010

Global Broadband

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According to the Broadband Forum, there are just shy of 500 million broadband subscribers worldwide:

China, the powerhouse of global broadband in the 21st century so far, was responsible for 43 percent of all net broadband lines added in Q2 and performed far better than the same quarter in 2009 (China includes Mainland China, Hong Kong & Macau). In Western Europe, many markets did better than the equivalent 2009 quarter. Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland and Turkey, amongst others, all reported strong numbers. Central and South American markets have cooled to an extent, but many are still reporting good quarterly growth (of 5-7 percent). However, the US and in particular Canada, broadband growth has significantly slowed, affected by the end of housing stimulus packages. In Canada's case, the market slowed to levels not seen for a decade.


Asia now accounts for 41 percent of broadband subscriptions, followed by Europe with 30 and the Americas with 26 percent. China alone accounts for 120.59 million or over 24 percent of the 500 million broadband subs worldwide. Check out the Gallup/RCW list of the Most Wired Countries for more on global connectivity.

(AP Photo)

October 7, 2010

Optimistic Asia

While the U.S. and Europe fret about decline, Gallup reports that Asia is pretty upbeat:

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September 21, 2010

A Third Way?

There seems to be two emerging themes to America's post-recession national security debate. The first, typified by the Obama administration, is that the U.S. must continue to do everything globally but on a tighter budget and with help from allies. Secretary Clinton rebuffed advocates of restraint in her recent speech at the Council on Foreign Relations:

Which of our great challenges today can be placed on the back burner? Are we going to tell our grandchildren that we failed to stop climate change because our plate was just too full? Or nuclear proliferation? That we gave up on democracy and human rights? That is not what Americans do.

In other words, whatever the administration says about husbanding American resources and rebuilding on the home front, they're still committed, at least rhetorically, to over-stretch.

Then there is the conservative counter-thrust, which is to argue that America must continue to do everything (and more, like bombing Iran) but on a bigger budget - deficits and economic constraints be damned. Hence the continued outrage at Secretary Gates' efforts to redirect the growth of defense spending (which actually won't result in cuts to the defense budget, but in an internal shift in how resources are spent).

Reading this Seth Cropsey piece* on the U.S. Navy reinforced my view that there is a third way - that a constrained U.S. has to do better at picking its spots. This means focusing investment where it will yield the biggest returns and where the international system, and American interests, are most at risk.

Right now, the two poles in the debate oscillate around the worst of all possible worlds. The Obama administration evinces a kind of schizophrenic attitude - paying lip service to the idea that the U.S. needs to shore up its domestic position but insisting it can do so while sustaining America's post-Cold War posture as if nothing has changed (and spare us the talk of allies "doing more" - since when?). The administration's critics, meanwhile, are on red-alert for any hint of walking back any commitment, anywhere.

(*Cropsey himself doesn't appear to be in this third way camp, he insists that the U.S. has to be strong everywhere for the sake of "great power prestige" - I don't know about you, but it gives me a warm feeling to know my tax dollars go to making Washington bureaucrats feel prestigious. But Cropsey, whose piece makes the pitch for a strong navy, reinforces the point that the U.S. has become too focused on land wars and counter-insurgency. Neither will do much good to deter China, should the need arise.)

September 20, 2010

U.S. Leadership Looking Up in Asia

Via Gallup, it seems the Obama administration has made some modest strides in bolstering America's image in Asia:

Approval of U.S. leadership in Asia has seen its share of ups and downs over the last two years as the Bush era ended and the Obama era began. So far in 2010, approval ratings remain higher than they were in 2008 in 10 out of the 18 countries surveyed. Approval increased most in Australia and New Zealand and declined most in Vietnam, Indonesia, and India, where residents are now significantly more uncertain...

In fact, in many other countries in the region where approval is lowest -- Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Indonesia -- about half or more of respondents do not have an opinion about U.S. leadership, but those who do are more likely to approve than disapprove. The number of respondents who express uncertainty about U.S. leadership has increased significantly since 2008 in India, Vietnam, Nepal, and Indonesia.

And where is approval for U.S. leadership the lowest? Pakistan and Afghanistan.

September 9, 2010

Annals of Chutzpah

Via Asia Sentinel:

In 2002, Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, the son of the late strongman Suharto, was sentenced to 15 years in jail after having been convicted of ordering the murder of Syafiuddin Kartasasmita, the judge who had sentenced him to 18 months jail for corruption and illegal weapons possession.

Now the 48-year old convicted murderer, known widely as Tommy Suharto, is suing Garuda Indonesia, the state-owned flag carrier, and the publishers of its in-flight magazine for referring to him as a convicted murderer.

August 30, 2010

Malaysia and the Middle-Income Trap

Michael Schuman of Time recently returned from a trip to Kuala Lampur, the capital of Malaysia, and he brings up a fascinating point about how the nation exemplifies the problem of the "middle-income trap," which lies within the development process.

It's a term you're probably familiar with, but if not, Schuman does an excellent job of summarizing the problem. Essentially, it's a challenge that emerging economies deal with as they rise out of poverty. The elements that have to be present in order to move from a middle-income to a high-income economy are far more challenging than those of moving from a low to a middle-income economy -- think of it as a massive marginal tax on growth. It's easier, and sometimes more appealing, for nations to stay where they are -- to avoid innovation and economic growth -- and in so doing, they get stuck in the trap.

As Schuman writes, "Every go-go economy in Asia has confronted this 'trap,' or is dealing with it now. Breaking out of it, however, is extremely difficult." Success stories include South Korea and Taiwan, but Malaysia is still facing significant challenges. While it has an economy that has performed well, and achieved positive effects for citizens (the poverty statistics are a particular positive), Schuman believes that they're caught in the trap -- destined to be surpassed by other nations in the region unless economic reforms are put in place:

How can Malaysia achieve that? The World Bank report has pages of recommendations. The basics include slicing apart the bureaucratic red tape that stifles competition and suppresses investment, bolstering the education system so it can churn out more top-notch graduates, and funneling more financial resources to start-ups and other potentially innovative firms. To its credit, the government of Malaysia is fully aware of what it needs to do. In March, Prime Minister Najib Razak introduced a reform program called the New Economic Model. You can read the initial report here. The NEM shows that Najib realizes that excessive government interference in the economy is dampening investor sentiment and holding back Malaysian industry. All eyes now are waiting for the more detailed policy recommendations for the NEM (though it is not clear when those might appear).

The report Schuman cites acknowledges this fact:

Malaysia’s economic engine is slowing. Since the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998, Malaysia’s position as an economic leader in the region has steadily eroded. Growth has been lower than other crisis-affected countries, while investment has not recovered ...

Doing business in Malaysia is still too difficult. Cumbersome and lengthy bureaucratic procedures have affected both the cost of investing, and the potential returns on investment. Malaysia’s place within the Global Competitiveness Index dropped to 24th in the 2010 report from 21st previously, indicating that the country is losing its attractiveness as an investment destination.

This kind of clarity shows that at the very least, the drafters of the NEM have a clear view of what's wrong, and the approaches they outline deserve further study. The entire report is worth reading here, or at the very least, the Executive Summary.

One final note: a persistent problem that will have to be resolved if Malaysia is to make their way forward is the politically divisive New Economic Policy -- an affirmative action program designed to benefit local Malays at the expense of the immigrant population. Indeed, Schuman's blog led to a series of comments with contesting views about the effect of the policy on Malaysia's culture and economy. The NEM addresses this issue partially, but more work may be necessary on that front -- it strikes me as exactly the sort of policy which tightens the grip of the trap.

Benjamin Domenech, a former speechwriter for Tommy Thompson and Sen. John Cornyn, is editor of The New Ledger and a research fellow with The Heartland Institute. He writes on defense and security issues for The Compass.

August 20, 2010

The World's Worst Internet Censor

Which country is among the Web's most prolific censors? The answer may surprise you.

[Hat tip: Joshua Kurlantzick]

July 1, 2010

Asia vs. the Middle East

As someone who has spent the past decade getting to know the Arabic-speaking world, I should act in my interests and claim the Arabic-speaking world to be the single most important region from the perspective of U.S. interests. But I can't do that honestly. As I read documents like the National Intelligence Council's 2025 survey, I grow to suspect that specialists of East and South Asia will be far more important to the United States than we would-be Arabists going forward. - Andrew Exum
I think this is right but I don't think we're going to see a steady, linear march away from the Middle East toward Asia. Indeed, Washington's interest in the Middle East is likely to increase over the next decade as the consequences of Iran's nuclear program become apparent and, more importantly, as the world jockeys for increasingly scare energy resources.

We will ultimately get around to giving Asia the attention it deserves in the same way the U.S. tends to handle most strategic shifts - in an ad hoc and crisis-driven manner.

April 15, 2010

The Guam Doctrine, Revisited

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Lowy's Graeme Dobell notes the emergence of a new American security paradigm in Asia:

The Guam stopover will underline the point that the US is spending billions on the island as a fresh assertion of its continuing role as Asia's military guarantor. A previous column offered this translation of the doctrine that will be blessed when Obama makes his Guam touchdown: 'We're going to be here for a long time yet.'

But my translation sentence is deficient because it reflects only the military dimension of the new doctrine. The beauty of what Obama will offer is that it will have a second, multilateral (Concert of Powers) dimension, building on the military framework of the US bilateral alliance system in Asia.

A translation of both dimensions of the Obama doctrine would look like this: 'We're going to be here for a long time yet, but we are certainly ready to talk about new ways to run the neighbourhood.' Or to put it more formally: the new doctrine will link a continuing assertion of US military capability to a willingness to think new thoughts about Asia's security architecture and a concert of powers.

As Dobell notes, the original "Guam Doctrine" enunciated by President Nixon (that countries had to front their own defense against non-nuclear threats) set of a scramble in Asia that continues to this day. Any new doctrine, I think, should enshrine Nixon's admonishment even as it seeks to build more cooperative relationships across the region.

(AP Photo)

April 13, 2010

Kyrgyzstan - Analog or Digital Revolution?

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When the uprising in Kyrgyzstan broke out, Evgeny Morozov wrote a piece in Foreign Policy describing the revolt as an "analog" revolution. Sarah Kenzdior protests:

He compares Kyrgyzstan unfavorably to Iran, noting that the Kyrgyz did not use the internet for strategic purposes, but merely to spread information. He notes that Kyrgyzstan did not rate as highly as a “trending topic” in Twitter as did Iran in the summer of 2009 (while failing to mention that Iran has a population more than ten times larger than Kyrgyzstan’s). Such an evaluative perspective, in which countries are judged winners and losers by virtue of their search ranking, leads to headlines like Andrew Sullivan’s “This Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted” (an article about Morozov’s article). This revolution was tweeted. But unfortunately, the significance of those tweets is decided not by the people who wrote and read them, but by observers in the West. As a result of this, Kyrgyzstan becomes relevant only in its relation to other nations and other revolutions. This is the virtual equivalent of the Great Game, with Central Asia but an afterthought to which people can apply their pet theories. [Emphasis mine.]

What we make of Kyrgyzstan’s internet content may seem irrelevant in light of the enormity of what has happened. But it is indicative of a deeper problem — a refusal to consider Central Asia in terms of Central Asia, a refusal to see the actions and ideas of Central Asians as meaningful in their own right.

A fair point, but couldn't the same be said about Iran or, in fact, most countries that happen to come into the news? Much of the intense interest over Iran's Green Movement lay in the fact that they may have represented an end-run around our problems with the ruling regime. The actual feelings and interests of the "greens" were relevant to most American commentators only insofar as their struggle was bound up in larger geopolitical issues between the U.S. and Iran.

I think it's right to cry foul on a certain parochial attitude about these events (one I'm certainly guilty of) and it's obviously important to try to understand the Kyrgyz revolt on its own terms. But on the other hand, revolutions and mass protests movements do often intersect with American foreign policy and viewing them in that light isn't illegitimate.

(AP Photo)

April 12, 2010

The Great Game

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Philip Pan writes in the Washington Post that Russia played a role in fomenting the unrest in Kyrgyzstan by undermining Bakiyev through constant media attacks highlighting his corrupt rule:

The strategy was a sharp departure from Russia's traditional support for autocratic leaders in its neighborhood. It paid off quickly and dramatically, and it appears to have delivered the Kremlin a rare foreign policy victory.

Not only has Moscow served notice on other wayward autocrats in its back yard -- many of whom also govern Russian-speaking populations that watch Russian television -- it also appears to have gained a greater say over the future of the U.S. air base here, which is critical to supplying the NATO military surge in Afghanistan.

(AP Photo)

April 8, 2010

Kyrgyzstan Rent Seekers and U.S. Foreign Policy

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Via Andrew Sullivan, Scott Harper reflects on the implications of the violence in Kyrgyzstan:


I asked Alex Cooley, a Columbia University professor who has studied the politics of the Manas air base, how he expected these developments to affect the relationship:

The United States has founded its engagement with the Kyrgyz government on providing lucrative contacts–for fuel and other Manas-related services–worth hundreds of millions of dollars to entities controlled by the Bakiyev ruling family. In the event that the government collapses, its successor will deem these contracts improper and will either terminate or renegotiate them. In fact, in the aftermath of the Tulip Revolution, then interim president Bakiyev publicly denounced the airbase deals that the United States had cut with the deposed Akayev family and demanded a huge increase in base-related rent. The larger lesson for the Defense Department should be clear: placating authoritarian regimes with private contracts and pay-offs does not guarantee long-term stability of relations; in volatile political climates like Kyrgyzstan, it may, in fact, sow the seeds for discontent and political challenges to the regime.

But protestors also express anger at OSCE for providing military and police support, as seen in this footage posted by Reuters TV, in which a woman shakes her fist in anger at the heavy-handed techniques of the police, noting that OSCE has trained the police to repress the people.

The unrest in Kyrgyzstan is among other things a test for the short-term, and probably short-sighted, policies behind the U.S./NATO support arrangements in Kyrgyzstan. The United States has curried favor with powerful political figures intent on rent seeking. What happens when those figures buckle and fold in the face of public unrest? The U.S. proclivity for “sweet deals” with those in power will complicate things in time of transition.

To be fair to the U.S., it would be rather obnoxious to ask for a base agreement to support an urgent foreign policy priority only to tell the leaders of the host country that in addition to having the pleasure of assisting the United States they should reform themselves out of power and privilege. Seems like a hard sell.

But this does reinforce the problem of the scale of the effort in Afghanistan. I won't pretend to be intimately familiar with military logistics, but I'm assuming that the more troop-intensive the effort in Afghanistan is, the more important regional basing and resupply facilities become. And so the consequence of waging a large-scale counter-insurgency in Afghanistan (as opposed to the narrower, counter-terrorism war we're currently waging in Pakistan) is to put the U.S. in the awkward position of very publicly cutting unsavory deals with the likes of Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

(AP Photo)

April 7, 2010

Kyrgyzstan & Color Revolutions

Daniel Larison reflects on the unrest in Kyrgyzstan:


These are the fruits of yet another “color revolution” that far too many Westerners enthused about out of misguided idealism, weird anti-Russian hang-ups or ideological fantasies of a global democratic revolution. Perhaps the most absurd expression of the enthusiasm for the so-called “Tulip Revolution” was a Chicago Tribune op-ed celebrating Akayev’s downfall and lauding John Paul II (no, really) as being somehow ultimately responsible, but there was virtual unanimity in the Western press that one more bad authoritarian was succumbing to the inevitable, glorious triumph of democracy. As it turned out, Akayev may have been the best Kyrgyzstan was going to be able to get, and ever since he was deposed Kyrgyzstan has been less stable, governed less well, and now joins Georgia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a new scene of violent repression of civilian protesters by a U.S.-allied government.

Kyrgyzstan Erupts

This news is pretty alarming:

An opposition member in Kyrgyzstan says a mob of angry protesters beat up the Central Asian nation's interior minister, who died shortly afterward.

The AP reports that protests are underway against the authoritarian rule of the country's President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Opposition leaders have reportedly been arrested and protesters have been killed. Kyrgyzstan is home to a U.S. military base currently supporting U.S. operations in Afghanistan. Eurasianet has more.

It's not clear what impact if any the protests will have on the U.S. position in the country. (Russia has a military base inside the country as well and they're reportedly standing pat and calling for calm on all sides.) Nor have any democracy promoters blasted the Obama administration for failing to support the Krygyz opposition in their struggle against tyranny. But it's early still.

March 16, 2010

Protests in Thailand

Joshua Kurlantzick dissects the implications:

Whether the rally succeeds in ousting Abhisit’s government or not, it marks a major milestone in the development of Thai politics. For decades, it was assumed that Thailand’s rural poor had no voice – that people from the rural areas would just accept whatever political decisions were made in Bangkok, even though the Bangkok elites comprised a small minority of the country’s population. By and large, that assumption held: The elites, working through the monarchy, bureaucracy, courts, and Democrat Party, did manipulate Thailand’s political system to ensure they stayed on top, and the rural poor simply went along with any changes. Even when the rural poor elected a leader sympathetic to their interests, elites in Bangkok could bring down the government, through a coup, maneuvers in Parliament, or street protests.

Now, the reverse has happened. The elites have their leader, and the rural poor have come to topple him.

I've haven't read a lot of U.S. commentary damning the Obama administration for not standing with the Red Shirts. Maybe they should have worn green?

February 2, 2010

The View from Asia

With the U.S. poised to sell $6.8 billion worth of arms to Taiwan, Angus-Reid passes along some polling on Taiwan's president Ma Ying-jeou:

Two thirds of people in Taiwan criticize the performance of Ma Ying-jeou, according to a poll by Global Views. 66.3 per cent of respondents are dissatisfied with the president’s leadership, up 4.1 points since December....

In March 2008, Ma won the presidential election with 58.45 per cent of the vote as a candidate for the Kuomintang Party (KMT). Frank Hsieh of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) finished second with 41.55 per cent.

Meanwhile, Gallup has an overview of sentiments in Asia toward their governments in light of the financial crisis. Despite the battering, trust in governments remains high.

January 20, 2010

U.S, Japan and an Obama Doctrine

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A favorite past time of pundits and analysts is the attempt to divine an "Obama doctrine." And while the focus has mostly been on his speeches and his position on America's adversaries, I think a more telling clue lies with how the administration treats U.S. allies, specifically Japan. Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the U.S-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security and it's a fine time to revisit the foundations of the alliance.

Here's Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department, answering questions from reporters about how ties between the two allies have been strained of late:


This is nothing in comparison to what we faced in 1995 and 1996. Let’s keep in mind a few basic things. In the last several weeks, we have seen opinion polling in Japan about the United States and the U.S.-Japan alliance which are the best polls in history ever taken, with support in Japan of the United States in the 80 percentile, 85-86 percent – just enormous – and 70s for other aspects of our alliance. And so if you compare and contrast that with 1995 and 1996, after the tragic rape of the young schoolgirl in Okinawa, when most of Japan had deep, serious, and sustained questions about the viability of the U.S.-Japan alliance, I would argue with you that we are in a much stronger, very stable, and ultimately strong position for the continuation of the U.S.-Japan security relationship.

And it is also the case that as an alliance, it has demonstrated enormous adaptability. It has gone from a situation where it was originally aimed at fears of Soviet expansionism and adventurism in Asia, now it is basically aimed at no specific or particular nation. It serves as the foundation to bring a degree of confidence to the Asia-Pacific region. It’s been enormously successful in this regard. And no, the challenges we face today aren’t – I mean, there were times where we were in offices in the 1990s where people were worried that the entire fabric of the alliance was coming apart. We do not face challenges like that today. This is a process that many have called for, for years, that democratization of Japanese foreign and security policies, a need to explain more clearly to the Japanese public about the choices and challenges that Japan faces, not only in the region but working with the United States. And I think we’re very confident we’re going to get through this and, at the end of it, be stronger because of the process.

A key plank of American national security policy has been to keep allies from re-nationalizing their security policies. Dependency on the U.S., not self-sufficiency, was the watchword. Such a posture was naturally unsustainable, it's hard to imagine nations like Japan and Germany not eventually trying to carve out greater freedom of action for themselves. It's also clearly unnecessary. The Soviet threat that precipitated the strategy is gone and the idea that Eurasia will suddenly become inhospitable to American commerce seems a stretch, since we're already doing a brisk trade with the one nation - China - that could potentially pose a problem in that regard.

The key questions seems to be not whether the Obama administration will let Japan chart a more independent course, with the corresponding reduction of American influence over her national security affairs that entails. It's happening whether they want it to or not. But how they react, and whether they can institutionalize a new, more flexible relationship that affords Japan more freedom of action while still sustaining a strong alliance will be critical to watch. It could be the template for a major restructuring of America's relationship with the rest of the world - one that puts us on the glide path toward sustainability, not over-stretch.

See also: The U.S. and Japan issued a joint statement on the anniversary of the defense treaty, which can be read here.

(AP Photo)

November 25, 2009

Japan Goes Nuclear

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The DPJ government is causing quite a stir:

Japan's new government, already bickering with the United States about the location of a Marine air station on Okinawa, appears intent on revealing evidence of a decades-old secret pact between Tokyo and Washington that allowed U.S. ships and aircraft to carry nuclear weapons on stopovers in Japan.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said that the investigation is in its final stages and that its findings will be announced in January. "We'll be unburdening ourselves of the insistence of past governments that a secret agreement did not exist," Okada said in a speech last weekend.

The pact violates a Japanese law that prohibits nuclear weapons from being made, possessed or stored on its territory.

Japan's new-found assertiveness is causing some heartburn in the U.S. but it could also be an opportunity. As Cato's Justin Logan notes:

But the broader point is that for those of us who have been advocating a larger role in Asia for Japan and a smaller one for the United States, the increasingly independent nature of the new DPJ government ought to be seen as a feature, not a bug. If the Japanese are really feeling their oats and aren’t too excited at continuing the LDP’s lockstep alliance with the United States, more power to them. If they want fewer US troops in Japan, terrific. We’re militarily overextended as it is and have serious economic problems to deal with.

Indeed. For all the worry about other countries not "stepping up" and helping the U.S. lead the international system, Japan seems like an ideal test case of a new way forward. You cannot lead without power and Japan cannot have greater power without greater independence from the United States. If handled correctly, the U.S. could enjoy a twofer: we save money that we're now spending on defending Japan and we get a more capable Japan, albeit one less deferential.

Of course, the hegemonists greatest fears may be realized and a newly empowered Japan may really try to stiff-arm the U.S. out of Asia and take other measures detrimental to our interests.

(AP Photos)

November 5, 2009

Carnegie Forum: Obama Goes to Asia

President Obama will travel to Japan, Singapore, China, and South Korea beginning next week. Continuing uncertainty in North Korea, the violence in Urumqi, and the ongoing fallout in the wake of the global recession indicate that this could be one of the most important trips of his first year in office. In a live streamed event, experts from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace discuss the possible implications and outcomes of the trip for the U.S. strategic and economic relationship with the region.

The event starts at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday. Live streaming here:

Launch in external player

November 4, 2009

Mr. Obama Goes to Asia

Our friends over at the Carnegie Endowment will be hosting an event tomorrow at 12:15 ET on President Obama's upcoming trip to Asia.

Michael Pettis, Douglas Paal, Taiya Smith and Michael Swaine will discuss the possible implications and outcomes of the trip for the U.S. strategic and economic relationship with the region.

RealClearWorld will be live-streaming the event, and if you'd like to submit a question to the panel you can do so HERE.

October 2, 2009

The Savior Strategy

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The crisis in Indonesia following a recent earthquake presents a critical opportunity for the international community to win "hearts and minds." Of course, these "hearts and minds" are probably not viewed as immediately strategically important by various heads of state, because there is no current level of actively aggressive military engagement in the region; however, smart public diplomacy is based on confidence-building initiatives that take place during peace time as well as war time.

Public diplomacy built on the ethos of humanitarianism has already been proven as an effective means to gain global trust. For example, immigration trends toward the United States have for decades reflected a belief by people worldwide that the U.S. was the "promised land." Moreover, effective public diplomacy comes with many other attractive "soft power" benefits.

And the public diplomacy benefits to be reaped from a successful relief effort in Indonesia are likely quite large. After a tsunami struck Indonesia's coast in 2005, a Pew Research Center report discovered a 25-point jump in public support for the United States following U.S.-led relief efforts.

This situation -- along with others similar -- readily present the opportunity to save lives and win hearts and minds in the process. This is the Savior Strategy, a global security and public diplomacy strategy for a world increasingly wracked by natural disasters. Perhaps most importantly though, for these public diplomacy gains to be sustainable, they must be viewed as strategically ancillary to the genuine primary goal of providing effective relief to the victims of natural disasters.

September 3, 2009

The Change Japan Needs?

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So Japan doesn't love the newly empowered Democratic Party of Japan.

Nonetheless, the DPJ is hitting the floor running: currently 1 trillion yen worth in projects are being considered for suspension, with the revenue instead being dedicated toward pro-demographic growth initiatives such as a child-raising allowance. Will such policies be enough to shore up Japan's deficit in "the ultimate resource"? Can the DPJ really support increasing the already seemingly insane debt-to-GDP ratio (200%)? Can the DPJ actually afford to abandon pro-market reforms?

Talk about Japan's economy is always frustrating, largely because Japan remains one of the absolutely most developed countries in the world. With a 5.4 percent unemployment rate, people really do wonder what the future of Japan is supposed to look like. What can it look like? Has Japan reached the final stage of economic development?

I certainly don't know, but I really do like the robots. Perhaps Japan and Steven Spielberg could collaborate on a sequel to A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.

(AP Photos)