Time to double down on the Asia rebalance
April 23rd, 2014
02:06 PM ET

Time to double down on the Asia rebalance

By Daniel M. Kliman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Daniel M. Kliman is a senior advisor with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and a fellow at the Truman National Security Project. The views expressed are his own.

President Barack Obama’s Asia trip, which has started with a visit to Japan, will send an unmistakable signal: the United States remains committed to a region that has become the world’s economic and military center of gravity.

Yet once the afterglow of the visit fades, U.S. allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific are bound once again to question American staying power. True, the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy initiative – the pivot or rebalance to Asia – has achieved many of its initial objectives. Countries in the region recognize this. But they are ultimately more focused on what will come next. And with less than three years of Obama’s presidency remaining, now is the moment to lay out a vision for U.S. Asia policy through 2016.

Two opposing sets of forces have long co-existed in Asia. Deepening economic interdependence, a growing constellation of regional forums, and the spread of democratic values promote peace. At the same time, rising nationalism, territorial disputes, military buildups, and the adverse impact of climate change create an undercurrent of instability.

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Topics: Asia • Barack Obama • China • Japan
Is Asia facing a new wave of religious extremism?
March 28th, 2014
04:50 PM ET

Is Asia facing a new wave of religious extremism?

By Maha Hosain Aziz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Maha Hosain Aziz is a professor of politics (adjunct) in NYU's Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, a senior analyst at geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat and advisory board chairwoman of Afghanistan’s first university e-mentoring program (New Silk Road Generation). The views expressed are her own.

Asked to name organizations tied to extremism, most people would likely list the usual suspects – Islamist militant groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban. But a spate of recent attacks has highlighted a growing problem that is threatening to destabilize parts of Asia, and it hails from what might seem to many a surprising source – a militant strain of Buddhism.

In Sri Lanka, for example, reports surfaced in January that eight Buddhist monks were involved in an attack on two churches in the southern town of Hikkaduwa. Another group, the Buddhist Power Force, is said to have been targeting Muslim minorities, and has pushed to ban headscarves, halal foods and other Muslim businesses. In July 2013, Buddhist mobs reportedly attacked a mosque in the north-central town of Dambulla; in August that year, a mosque was attacked in Colombo, sparking clashes between Buddhists and Muslims that left at least a dozen people injured. Sadly, the response from the Sri Lankan government, distracted as it is by the ongoing fallout since the end of the civil war with the Tamil Tigers, has been muted at best.

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Topics: Asia • Islam • Myanmar • Religion
Can Asia prevent its own Crimea?
March 26th, 2014
05:55 PM ET

Can Asia prevent its own Crimea?

By Bonnie Glaser and Ely Ratner, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bonnie Glaser is senior adviser for Asia in the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ely Ratner is senior fellow and deputy director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. The views expressed are their own.

With the world watching Ukraine with wary eyes, the U.S. Navy’s lead admiral in the Pacific suggested Asia could face a similar crisis if the continent’s other major power continues on its current path.

Since 2009, China has stepped up what Philippine officials have called a “creeping invasion” in the South China Sea. Although less dramatic than Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Beijing has been bullying its neighbors to assert and advance an expansive set of territorial and maritime claims encompassed by its “nine-dash line,” which skirts the coastlines of Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines and gobbles up islands, rocks and resources in the process.

Seeking to make new facts on the ground (or, more literally, on the water), Beijing has permitted and encouraged its paramilitary law enforcement ships and navy to engage in persistent harassment and intimidation of non-Chinese fisherman, military vessels and energy companies seeking to go about their business in the South China Sea. Earlier this month, Chinese coast guard vessels reportedly interfered with the delivery of supplies to Filipino marines stationed on Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged reef near Reed Bank that is believed to be rich in oil and gas. If such incidents are allowed to continue, armed conflict could be around the corner.

But what distinguishes the contest over sovereignty in the Asia-Pacific from events unfolding more than 5,000 miles away in Eastern Europe is that hope remains for a peaceful solution that eschews coercion and force in exchange for international law and diplomacy.

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Topics: Asia • China
Will Dalai Lama meeting hurt Sino-U.S. ties?
March 7th, 2014
04:53 PM ET

Will Dalai Lama meeting hurt Sino-U.S. ties?

By Aakanksha Tangri

GPS intern Aakanksha Tangri speaks with Robert Oxnam, President Emeritus of the Asia Society, about the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to the United States, and what it could mean for relations with China.

What are the likely short-term and long-term impacts on U.S.-China relations after President Barack Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama?

It’s important to note that every U.S. president from Reagan onward has had meetings in the White House with the Dalai Lama.  Clinton had four meetings with His Holiness during his presidency.  Both Clinton and Bush have had post-presidency meetings as well.  Indeed the Dalai Lama recently said “I love George Bush.” So, in 2009, when President Obama did not meet with the Dalai Lama, he was breaking a well-established precedent; and thus his 2014 meeting simply reverted to an older pattern. It’s worth noting that Obama has now had three meetings with the Dalai Lama.

Of course, the Chinese always protest loudly on these occasions because they have a strong interest in asserting Chinese sovereignty over what they call the Tibetan Autonomous Region.  But since Obama explicitly said that neither the United States, nor even the Dalai Lama, wants full independence for Tibet, the sovereignty issue was sidestepped.

I think that Obama was quite correct in asserting his support for Tibetan human rights issues and also properly calling the Dalai Lama “an internationally respected religious and cultural leader.”  By contrast, the Chinese leadership calls His Holiness a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and head of the “Dalai Clique.”

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Topics: Asia • China • United States
History not repeating itself in Afghanistan
February 19th, 2014
05:45 PM ET

History not repeating itself in Afghanistan

By Javid Ahmad and Ahmad K. Majidyar, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Javid Ahmad is a program coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Ahmad K. Majidyar is a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are their own.

Twenty five years ago this month, the last Soviet soldier marched out of Afghanistan, bringing an end to a nine year occupation that cost the lives of 15,000 Soviet troops and more than a million Afghans. With the close of the Cold War, the West lost interest in the region and Afghanistan became a proxy battlefield for subversive regional power play. Infighting between competing Afghan mujahedeen factions brought anarchy, paving the way for the Taliban and al Qaeda. And now, as the drawdown of international forces approaches, there’s growing fear that history might repeat itself.

It doesn’t have to work out the same way.

For a start, while the political system in Afghanistan is far from perfect, it enjoys far greater support and legitimacy among the Afghan people than the communist regime did in the 1980s. While Afghan presidents back then were effectively appointed by the Kremlin, Afghans today have elected their own leader – and will head to the polls in April to pick a successor to Hamid Karzai. And despite growing pessimism in the West about Afghanistan, Afghans generally remain optimistic about their future: an Asia Foundation survey last year found that a majority of Afghans (57 percent) believed their country was moving in the right direction.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Asia
February 15th, 2014
03:10 PM ET

On GPS Sunday: Discussing China's regional tensions. And Summers on U.S. economy

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

On GPS this Sunday: Asia's war of words – Why China has been engaging some heated rhetoric with so many of its neighbors, and whether things could get more serious. Fareed speaks with China experts Elizabeth Economy and The New Yorker's Evan Osnos.

Then, a 1-on-1 interview with former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to discuss new Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen and the state of the U.S. economy.

“I have college-aged children. And occasionally, we have a difference of opinion about how much money they've spent,” Summer says. “And in our family, we discuss whether they're going to pay or whether I'm going to pay. But we don't discuss whether or not Visa should get stiffed, because we know that would be terrible for our family's credit rating and that's just not what we would do.”

And later, is the U.S. safe from cyber crime? Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution explains how the online world is very much like the real one.

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Topics: Asia • Economy • United States
February 6th, 2014
11:47 AM ET

Time to put people before land profits

By Joji Cariño, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Joji Cariño, an Ibaloi-Igorot from the Cordillera region of the Philippines, is director of the Forest Peoples Program. The views expressed are the writers’ own.

At the end of last October, Elisa Lascoña Tulid was shot at point blank range in front of her husband and four-year-old daughter. She died as the result of retaliation for daring to defend the rights of her people to the lands where they live and farm in the Philippines’ Quezon Province.

Her story was not unique in 2013, nor was it limited to the Philippines. In Thailand, assassins reportedly killed Prajob Nao-opas after he demanded a clean-up of dangerous industrial toxins that were polluting farming communities in Chachoengsao Province. In Colombia, gunmen killed Adelinda Gómez Gaviria, who led a campaign against a gold mine that was damaging her community’s farmland. Pedro César García Moreno, another Colombian leader, was shot, likely for his role in resisting yet another mining operation.

The murders of these community leaders took place against a backdrop of an inexorable grab for land in tropical forest regions, and are becoming a prominent feature of investment trends in these countries.

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Topics: Asia
What graying world can teach America
January 30th, 2014
11:48 AM ET

What graying world can teach America

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.

The inexorable aging of the U.S. population has been one of Washington’s rationales for raising the retirement age, reforming health care and cutting the government deficit and debt. Continuing policy debates driven by fears of the economic consequences of a graying society are almost inevitable.

But the fiscal and societal burdens of an aging America are far from unique. Indeed, when it comes to getting older, Europe and increasingly much of Asia face a far more challenging future in which there is a mismatch between demographics and slowing economic growth. Compounding the problem in some nations is public opinion, with expectations of government often out of synch with projected economic growth and the ability of states to foot the bill for their aging populations.

In 2010, 13 percent of the U.S. population was age 65 or older. By 2050, that proportion is expected to grow to 21.4 percent, according to estimates by the United Nations. But notable as those numbers are, they are even more dramatic in Europe – Spain’s retirement age population is expected to grow by about 17 points, to 34.5 percent, while Italy’s elderly population may increase by 13 points to 33 percent. Germany’s 65 and older population, meanwhile, is likely to expand by 12 points, to almost 33 percent.

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Topics: Asia • Demographics • United States
U.S. should speak truth to Japan
January 16th, 2014
09:17 AM ET

U.S. should speak truth to Japan

By Gregg Andrew Brazinsky, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Gregg Andrew Brazinsky is an associate professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University and advisor to the North Korea International Documentation Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The views expressed are his own.

Japan can sometimes be wrong, a basic fact that Washington sometimes seems to have a problem understanding. American officials have long seen Japan as a staunch U.S. ally, one that former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone once suggested could become an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Pacific. But while this may be true, since securing power in December 2012, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has done far more to undermine American strategic interests in Asia than to support them.

Regrettably, the Obama administration’s response to this unfortunate shift in Tokyo’s foreign policy has been weak and confused. It’s time for the U.S. to get serious about reining in Japan.

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Topics: Asia • China • Japan
January 13th, 2014
10:26 AM ET

Four steps to secure lasting peace in Sri Lanka

By Maha Hosain Aziz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Maha Hosain Aziz is a professor of politics (adjunct) in the MA program of NYU’s Politics Department, a senior analyst at geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat and advisory board chairwoman of Afghanistan’s first university e-mentoring program (New Silk Road Generation). The views expressed are her own.

“While building the nation, we have set aside all differences and divisions.  As a result there is today a new political and development culture before the country,” Sri Lanka’s media reported President Mahinda Rajapaksa as saying in his New Year’s message. “Further consolidating this, we must forge ahead in the New Year. Having won freedom and peace for the people, we are committed to give them progress and happiness, too.”

The question many Tamils are no doubt left wondering, four years after the country’s brutal civil war ended, is whether this commitment includes their own happiness. And right now, many appear to have their doubts.

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Topics: Asia
North Korea in 2014: A country on the ledge
December 19th, 2013
04:07 PM ET

North Korea in 2014: A country on the ledge

By Matt Stumpf, Special o CNN

Editor’s note: Matt Stumpf is director of the Asia Society’s Washington office.  The views expressed are his own. This is the fourth in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

If diplomacy is at times the act of building ladders for your opponent to climb down, rarely has a country needed it more urgently than North Korea today.  The leadership in Pyongyang spent 2013 destroying the last rungs of the teetering ladder built by the Six-Party Talks in the mid-2000s.  So, it enters 2014 on a ledge, and there are no obvious ways down.

North Korea finds itself in an ever-more precarious international situation after a disastrous series of decisions in 2013. Not long ago, reasonable analysts saw inklings of North Korean interest in economic reform.  As early as the first days of the new leadership in January 2012, North Korean officials reportedly said: Kim Jong Un was “focused on a ‘knowledge-based’ economy and looking at economic reforms enacted by other nations, including China.” As late as January 2013, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt’s visit suggested that North Korea might believe the country could not prosper while isolated.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • Asia • North Korea • Nuclear
December 16th, 2013
05:20 PM ET

Time for U.S. to press Vietnam over freedoms

By Scott Flipse, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Scott Flipse is the deputy director for policy at the U.S. Commission in International Religious Freedom. The views expressed are his own.

John Kerry is finishing up his first visit to Vietnam as Secretary of State, a trip billed as a chance to “highlight…a growing partnership” against a backdrop of increasingly intertwined bilateral interests. Yet despite the progress over the past decade, Vietnam’s sometimes fierce suppression of free speech, religion, ethnic minorities and independent labor unions complicates closer cooperation. It’s time for the U.S. to use its considerable influence with Vietnam to press for change.

Few Secretaries of State can draw on the kind of goodwill Kerry has built up through his efforts to improve ties between the United States and its former adversary. This, coupled with Vietnamese concerns over China and Hanoi’s need to further develop U.S. economic and security ties, means there is space for U.S. diplomatic efforts to have small but significant impacts on the lives of ordinary Vietnamese, particularly in the area of human rights.

True, the question remains of how realistic it is to hope for such a push given the administration’s insistence that democracy and human rights are no longer “core interests” of the U.S. globally.

Kerry should start by securing the freedom of Le Quoc Quan and fellow dissidents. Quan is a human rights lawyer and blogger who represents a new generation of dissident in Vietnam. It is the third detention for this lawyer and former fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (and, full disclosure, a friend of mine). Over the past five years he has become an irritant to the Communist Party leadership, repeatedly defending dissidents in court, demonstrating with fellow Catholics at confiscated Church properties, and posting articles online about needed legal reforms.

Le Quoc Quan is a priority case for both the Vietnamese-American community and Reporters Without Borders, which organized an appeal signed by a dozen international human rights groups. But he is only one of hundreds of dissidents locked up in Vietnamese jails, and many other prisoners are in poor health.

Like their Communist brethren in Beijing, the Party in Hanoi faces popular dissatisfaction due to lagging economic performance and corruption. Also like Beijing, Vietnam has sometimes restive ethnic and religious minorities – making up almost 20 percent of the population, Khmer, Hmong, Montagnard, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai communities face persistent racism, discrimination, religious persecution and abject poverty in part because they sided with the French or U.S. powers in the past.

Over the past several years, Communist Party leaders have become increasingly sensitive to public criticism and challenges to its political dominance, expanding efforts to silence dissidents and other critics of government policies. They believe that free speech, internet freedom, independent labor unions, and freedom of religion will eventually erode their legitimacy and political power, as it did it with the Communist parties of Eastern Europe.

It is probably too much to ask of U.S. diplomacy to halt all arrests of dissidents, censorship the Internet, or marginalization of minorities when Vietnamese leaders sees such actions as critical to their political survival. Still, the U.S. should be asking Hanoi to pay some price for improved relations. After all, Vietnam depends on U.S. export markets and security cooperation to survive China’s growing economic and military footprint.

Also, Hanoi is actively seeking admission to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) a trade regime that will include the likes of Chile, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia. Vietnam is the clear outlier among largely democratic TPP members. With this in mind, bipartisan coalitions in the U.S. Congress are moving to block Vietnam from TTP membership and additional U.S. trade benefits without measurable human rights improvements.

Hanoi also seeks U.S. military and diplomatic assistance for its conflict with China over territorial jurisdiction in the South China Sea. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, along with a bipartisan groups lead by Senator John McCain, have reportedly conditioned expanded military-to-military ties on human rights improvements. It is unclear whether the second term White House, along with new Secretaries Kerry and Hagel, share this stance, but the U.S. should make clear this linkage to the Vietnamese while promising further backing for Hanoi’s maritime claims.

Ultimately, the leverage exists to encourage meaningful reforms that marry U.S. interests in prosperity and principle. The question, then, is whether Vietnam will simply be allowed to jail hundreds of dissidents, expand internet controls, and marginalize millions of religious and ethnic minorities when the leverage and goodwill exist to stem the rising tide of rights abuses?

Not doing so would be a loss for long-term U.S. interests in East Asia, a blow to the millions of Vietnamese seeking democratic openness and human right and, potentially at least, may shape the way historians view John Kerry’s tenure as Secretary of State.
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Topics: Asia • Human Rights
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