By Howard Cohen
CNN Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson was granted rare access to North Korea last month to attend the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War. GPS intern Howard Cohen spoke with Watson about what he saw.
What kinds of restrictions were placed on journalists during your five day visit to North Korea?
The restrictions were onerous. We weren’t allowed to leave our hotel unless we were on a government organized bus trip. Our three-man crew was assigned two very polite minders who accompanied us everywhere outside of the hotel and made no secret about the fact that they had veto rights if we were to take pictures of something that they didn’t approve of. So they would basically tell us what we could and could not take pictures of.
Was there anything that you saw that really surprised you?
I was surprised by the size and choreography of the military parades and government organized spectacles that we saw. I was also blown away by the scale of the cult of personality of the dynasty that have ruled North Korea for 60 years, the size of the monuments dedicated to the grandfather and the father that ruled the country, and the amount of iconography that was everywhere that we visited. I was also amazed by the spectacles of devotion for the current leader, the grandson of the founder of the country, Kim Jong Un. Just the explosions of cheers at the moment he steps out into the public arena – the devotion that comes from the crowd – I’ve not quite seen anything on that scale before. Then again, I’ve never visited the Korean Peninsula.
By Rupert Abbott, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Rupert Abbott is Amnesty International’s researcher on Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The views expressed are his own.
The scenes in Phnom Penh last week were astonishing. Hundreds of thousands of people, including many young people, welcomed opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who had just returned to Cambodia after four years effectively in exile. Not to be outdone, the very next day, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) staged a huge youth rally and concert in Phnom Penh for more than 10,000 supporters. Amid the election fever that has gripped Cambodia ahead of the national polls on Sunday, one thing is clear – people seem less afraid than ever to voice their opinion.
Anyone in the capital or provincial centers will have seen activists and supporters of the main political parties campaigning peacefully. And no one can have missed the “moto-rallies,” in which hundreds of young people ride around the streets on their motorcycles, loudly promoting their parties and policies. The atmosphere has often been electric, and generally peaceful.
Yet this eagerness to speak out and openly call for “change” may seem surprising, given that Cambodia’s government has not generally looked kindly on critics.
By Scott Flipse and Nguyen Dinh Thang, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Scott Flipse is deputy director for policy at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Nguyen Dinh Thang is executive director of Boat People SOS, a Vietnamese-American community organizing association. The views expressed are their own.
Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang visits the White House on Thursday, and when he does, President Barack Obama should take the opportunity to deliver a clear message: If Vietnam wants expanded trade and security cooperation, then Hanoi will have to demonstrate concrete and substantial improvements in human rights. Prioritizing these rights may prompt some grumbling, but will be overwhelmingly welcomed by the Vietnamese people, the large majority of whom are pro-American and want more freedom.
There is a recent precedent for this approach. In Burma, the administration prioritized human rights improvements as a condition for improved relations. Indeed, given Burma’s recent openness to reform, Vietnam has now been left with the worst human rights record in the Association of Southeast Asian Nation region.
By setting clear human rights benchmarks for Vietnam in exchange for new trade and security benefits from the administration, the U.S. can achieve similar results in Vietnam. In fact, such an approach worked for Vietnam nearly a decade ago, particularly in the arena of freedom of religion.
By Jason Miks
U.S. Congressman J. Randy Forbes (R-Va), chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee and co-chair of the China Caucus, answers GPS readers’ questions on China, the U.S. military and U.S. policy in the Asia-Pacific.
America is losing its air power edge, but its naval supremacy is secure, for now at least. Do you agree?
It’s a difficult question, but I appreciate the challenge. I could simply say that both our airpower and seapower capability are in decline, which I believe they are in certain areas, but it is more complicated than that. First, we need to ask what our global national security interests are and what objectives we have for our policies. When it comes to our defense policy, the answer to this question will inform what sort of military power we need to build. For instance, during various periods of the Cold War we invested in irregular military power, long-range strike, mechanized capabilities, and naval power, among others. And during the last decade we invested heavily in our land power, including counterinsurgency training and capabilities. In other words, we do not just build seapower or airpower for its own sake or because our competitors are.
When I look out over the next decade or two I see a number of trends that will create new demands on our military. First, from the Persian Gulf, to the Indian Ocean, to the South China Sea, to the East China Sea, the character of this global environment strikes me as increasingly maritime. Second, while the United States has enjoyed advantages in areas such as precision-guided munitions, satellite communications, stealth technologies, and cyber, our competitors have found ways to match or undermine these advantages with their own asymmetric investments.
By Lisa Misol, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Lisa Misol is a senior researcher on business and human rights with Human Rights Watch in New York. The views expressed are her own.
Emerging from diplomatic isolation and Western economic sanctions, Myanmar wants to be the “it” destination for foreign investors.
Last month, foreign business leaders flocked to the capital, Naypyidaw, for the World Economic Forum on East Asia, a regional version of the powerhouse gathering. Major global brands have been enticed by Myanmar’s largely untapped potential, and the momentum is still picking up: General Electric, the first American company to sign a deal after U.S. sanctions were lifted last July, formally launched its Myanmar office in late May. On June 4, Coca-Cola opened its first bottling plant in the country in 60 years, on the heels of Carlsberg and Heineken. Then, on June 27, Myanmar’s government awarded highly anticipated licenses to extend cell phone and Internet service to telecommunications firms from Norway and Qatar.
More investors are lining up. In the petroleum sector, dozens of companies from around the world reportedly bid on 30 sought-after offshore oil and natural gas fields last month. A shortlist has not been announced, but prominent American, Asian, and European oil firms are seen as likely contenders. At least 20 more fields are to be offered next.
What should the U.S. and its allies make of China’s rise? What military challenges does it pose? And what kind of shape is America’s military anyway in to respond to changing realities in the Asia-Pacific and elsewhere?
U.S. Congressman J. Randy Forbes (R-Va), chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee and co-chair of the China Caucus, will be taking GPS readers’ questions on these and other issues. Please leave your questions in the comment section below.
By Guy Anderson, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Guy Anderson is Chief Industry Analyst (A&D) for IHS Jane’s. This piece is based on data taken from IHS Jane’s latest study, ‘The Balance of Trade.’ The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Defense cuts expected to be announced by the British government on Wednesday will be only the latest example of how the West is sowing the seed of its own decline in global defense markets, as cuts force industry to export more of the blueprints of its expertise.
True, industry doesn’t really have any choice. But the explosion in exports is still leading Western countries to pile into export markets, devouring each other as they fuel the rise of Asia. Indeed, it’s increasingly clear that in the long term, ongoing defense cuts are putting at risk not just the future job prospects and global influence of the United Kingdom, but also those of European defense and the United States, too.
For a start, these cuts will erode the long term technological advantages that Western countries traditionally hold. Export today is about selling the blueprints of expertise rather than just finding buyers for the finished product – the days of simply selling equipment are gone. Traditionally, countries maintain an edge because government investments encourage research and development, something that has declined sharply in Western markets in recent years.
By Suzanne DiMaggio and Priscilla Clapp
Editor’s note: Suzanne DiMaggio is vice president of global policy programs at the Asia Society. Priscilla Clapp is a retired minister counselor in the U.S. Foreign Service and former Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Burma. The views expressed are their own.
The still nascent transition in Myanmar has emerged as one of the most promising efforts at democratization in the world today. After more than half a century of brutal, debilitating military rule, the country is in the process of a calculated top-down course reversal, which has unleashed a bottom-up awakening of political, economic, and civil society activity.
Notwithstanding the progress to date, from now until the next general election in 2015 the country’s reform leaders – including former general turned President Thein Sein, parliamentarian and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, and speaker of parliament’s lower house Thura Shwe Mann – will face a range of challenges that will test their capacity and threaten the durability of the transition. Among the most urgent priorities are resolving ethnic and sectarian conflicts within Myanmar’s diverse society, creating jobs for the vast majority of the population who live in poverty, continuing to transform the role of the military, tackling corruption, and establishing the rule of law.
By James Holmes, Special to CNN
From the mouths of students comes wisdom. Of Imperial Japan and its depredations, a former student wisecracks: before there was Pokémon, there was Hegemon. This jest should be the watchword for Japanese diplomacy as Tokyo explains its move to a more offensive-seeming military strategy, and its acquisition of more offensive-looking weaponry, to Asian peoples mindful of its imperial forerunner's transgressions. What Japan appears to be doing – amassing the wherewithal to strike back at missile launchers and other enemy sites after riding out an initial assault – makes eminent operational and tactical sense. Convincing foreign audiences of that will be the hard part.
The image republican Japan projects of itself – one of a strictly defensive great power, intent only on keeping what now belongs to it – is something that demands constant upkeep. This is the bequest, and the burden, of the past for contemporary Japan. It will take a convincing, long-term, oft-repeated message to banish lingering memories of Hegemon from discussion of Japanese foreign policy and strategy.
The problem before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his lieutenants is that debates over the offensive or defensive character of a nation's strategy take place on multiple levels. What seems commonsensical on one level may prove controversial or even self-defeating on another.
By Zheng Wang, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Zheng Wang is an associate professor in the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University and a scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Never Forget National Humiliation. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping will have no shortage of opportunities to talk – whether on the sidelines of summits like the G-20 and APEC or during the U.N. General Assembly meeting. U.S. and Chinese leaders have also held relatively frequent summits over the past decade. During Obama's first term, for example, he and Chinese then-President Hu Jintao met with each other a dozen times. But quantity does not always mean quality in affairs of state, and these meetings have generally been formal, brief, and attended by a roomful of officials. Add in the fact that much time is taken up in translation during these meetings, and it’s easy to see why there is often so little depth in the typically one-hour gatherings that take place between the two leaders.
This week’s meeting between Obama and Xi, though, promises to be different. Scheduled over two days in Sunnylands, California, the two presidents have a special opportunity to learn about each other and the beliefs and ideas that underpin their countries. Will they seize this chance to better understand each other?
U.S.-China ties would certainly benefit from an in-depth conversation, one that could bridge the gaping deficit of trust that currently exists. But trust cannot be built during brief, official meetings. For two individuals to better understand where the other is coming from, including heads of state, then it is important that there is an opportunity to linger over important and revealing conversations. The U.S., at least, has recognized this previously, but Hu is said to have been reluctant to accept such an invitation. Xi, though, seems intent on differentiating himself from his predecessor.
By Karunyan Arulanantham, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Karunyan Arulanantham is the executive director of the Tamil American Peace Initiative, an organization of Tamil Americans. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Amid the jungle and sandy beaches of northeast Sri Lanka’s Vanni region lie tragic truths the government has desperately sought to suppress in the four years since its civil war with the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) came to a sudden and gory halt. On the Mullivaikal peninsula, between the Nanthikadal Lagoon and the sea just north of the town of Mullaithivu, the government declared a safe zone, where hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians were trapped as they sought refuge from the bloodshed.
What happened next is almost unimaginable. Seeking to crush the LTTE once and for all, the government proceeded to shell the No Fire Zone and surrounding areas after assuring the world that they would not use heavy weapons. The government declared victory over the LTTE in late May 2009, but in doing so, tens of thousands of innocent Tamil civilians were also killed by government forces.
By J. Berkshire Miller, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: J. Berkshire Miller is a fellow on Japan at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Pacific Forum. The views expressed are his own.
“Japan is back,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced to a packed room at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington back in February. The remarks came during his first visit to the United States since he returned to power in a landslide election in December. But while Abe’s aggressive stimulus policies have sent his approval ratings soaring at home, Japan’s neighbors have been watching much more warily.
Abe, regarded by supporters as a pragmatist, but as a dangerous nationalist by many Chinese and South Koreans especially, is no doubt aware of the trepidation his return to office has engendered in East Asia. Indeed, he took the opportunity during his CSIS speech to temper fears that his hawkish campaign statements over the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute with China would be put into action, declaring “I have absolutely no intention to climb up the escalation ladder.”
Yet despite the soothing words, a series of clumsy remarks over the past few months – and a botched effort at handling the controversial Yasukuni Shrine issue – have eroded much of any benefit of the doubt Abe may have enjoyed on coming to office.