July 17th, 2014
04:02 PM ET

Ball in Abe's court with Japan-South Korea ties

By Benoit Hardy-Chartrand, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Benoit Hardy-Chartrand is a research associate at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, where he contributes to a project on Confidence, Trust and Empathy in Asia-Pacific security. The views expressed are his own.

Japan and South Korea’s bilateral relations are their worst in years. Since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Korean President Park Geun-Hye were elected in December 2012, their only encounter was a trilateral meeting hosted and arranged by U.S. President Barack Obama in March 2014, held on the sidelines of a summit in the Netherlands. The meeting provided for an awkward moment and did little to ease the visible chill between the two leaders.

While a territorial dispute concerning a group of uninhabited islands in the Sea of Japan (or what Koreans prefer to call the East Sea) has contributed to the freeze, the crux of the problem remains Japan’s perceived attempts to whitewash certain aspects of its wartime conduct, particularly with regard to the so-called comfort women. The euphemism refers to the thousands of women, the majority of whom were from Korea, forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. South Koreans feel that Japanese leaders have not properly repented for their country’s past, often contrasting Japan’s handling of history to how Germany dealt with the Nazis’ war crimes.

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Zakaria: U.S. must spend more on education for poorer children
December 4th, 2013
10:39 AM ET

Zakaria: U.S. must spend more on education for poorer children

The latest results of a new global exam given to 15 year-olds showed American students to be average in science and reading and below average in math. There were little or no gains in the last decade, while other countries raced ahead of the United States. Anderson Cooper speaks with Fareed and Amanda Ripley, author of the Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, about why children in Shanghai and Finland seem to be doing so much better. This is an edited version of the transcript.

Fareed, this latest study is one of a continuing string of studies that shows the U.S. educational system lagging behind the rest of the world. What do you make of the results?

Zakaria: The study is very revealing. What it shows is that while we're sort of walking around in one of those people movers going nowhere, the rest of the world, very many countries, are on escalators. What this shows is that it's not so much that we've been doing anything dramatically badly, but in the context in which everybody else is playing to win, we're falling behind badly. And all of a sudden, we look at the difference between us and countries like South Korea and Singapore and it's widening. But increasingly, the gap between us and countries like Poland is also widening.

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Topics: Education • Singapore • South Korea
Iceland's president: Arctic crucial to America
October 3rd, 2013
10:40 AM ET

Iceland's president: Arctic crucial to America

By Jason Miks

GPS digital producer Jason Miks recently sat down with Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson to talk about his decision to launch the Arctic Circle, the new great game in the Arctic,  and why the region matters for U.S. national security.

What’s behind the growing international interest in the Arctic?

First of all, the Arctic is America’s backyard. Just by looking at a map you can see Alaska, the northern part of Canada, Greenland – the region is of crucial strategic, economic and political interest to the United States.

In the Cold War, you didn’t have to explain to U.S. audiences why this backyard was important, because you had the so-called Soviet threat of missiles, submarines. So you had a vast network of military installations throughout the Arctic region. But with the end of the Cold War, the eight Arctic countries, including the U.S., succeeded in creating through the Arctic Council a venue for different organizations and institutions, a very constructive network to discuss how to evolve an area that during the Cold War was one of the most militarized areas into an area of constructive cooperation.

This is important because the Arctic region as a whole is one of the world’s richest in terms of natural resources – minerals, rare metals, clean energy, gas, hydro. With the melting of the Arctic sea ice, it is opening up for at least three or four months of the year a new global sea route which, to some extent, will replace the Suez Canal as a formidable linkage between Asia on the one hand and the U.S. and Europe on the other.

If this isn’t enough for America to be interested, the wake-up call should be that this neighborhood is now becoming crowded, because countries like China, Japan, India, South Korea, Germany, France, the United Kingdom have all in one way or another entered the Arctic and declared their intention of becoming involved in this new economic, political and scientific playing field.

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Topics: Arctic • Asia • Russia • South Korea • United States
Abe's unhelpful historical interventions
May 27th, 2013
09:46 AM ET

Abe's unhelpful historical interventions

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.

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What next with North Korea?
April 24th, 2013
11:28 AM ET

What next with North Korea?

By Jason Miks

After weeks of escalating rhetoric, tensions between North Korea and the United States appear to be easing. But what prompted Pyongyang’s recent provocative statements? How well did the U.S. handle the threats? And what role has China played? James Schoff (@SchoffJ), a senior associate on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Asia Program, answers readers’ questions:

Could Kim Jong Un's recent statements simply be an effort to save face with his own military before entering negotiations, asks “wjm”?

Perhaps to some extent, but there is no reason to think Kim’s idea of “negotiations” are anything close to what would be acceptable to South Korea or the United States. He seems to have gone “all in” with the further pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, which is prompting increased international pressure. So, North Korea's recent threats and military maneuvers are aimed more at bolstering its deterrence and pushing back against this pressure, rather than an opening gambit for talks. If an opportunity for talks emerges, Kim’s goal appears to be gaining some degree of international recognition for North Korea's nuclear status or reducing the bite of current sanctions.

When young Kim took over the leadership role after his father died in late 2011, there was some hope that he might steer the country toward more focus on economic modernization and away from emphasizing the nuclear program. That has proven to be a false hope.

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Topics: Asia • North Korea • South Korea
January 22nd, 2013
10:59 AM ET

China-South Korea ties set to warm?

Editor's Note: Scott A. Snyder is senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He blogs at Asia Unbound, where this piece originally appeared. The views expressed are his own.

By Scott A. Snyder, CFR

Following an early ambassadorial visit and a courtesy call on President-elect Park Geun-hye from China’s special envoy Vice Minister Zhang Zhijun, Park has decided to reciprocate by sending her first special envoys to Beijing during the transition. The exchange illustrates a mutual recognition that Sino-South Korean relations had deteriorated under Lee Myung-Bak and Hu Jintao and that Park and Xi have a chance to start out on the right foot this time.

This early exchange shows that both sides are acutely aware that political problems in the China-South Korea relationship do not serve either country, especially given a bilateral trade relationship that reached $220 billion in 2011. South Korea and China are natural economic partners, but North Korea continues to rear its head as a challenging sticking point between the two sides.

Xi had already reached out to Kim Jong-un in late November through a visit to Pyongyang by sending as an envoy Li Jianguo, the secretary general of the standing committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress. During Li’s meeting with Kim Jong Un (Kim’s second with Chinese visitors), he delivered a letter from Xi that pledged continuity of high-level exchanges and emphasized the importance of “strategic communication” between the two sides. However, it is not clear what sort of communication occurred regarding North Korea’s satellite launch plans, the announcement of which the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson greeted with concern only two days later. With South Korea now on the U.N. Security Council, the question of how to respond to North Korea’s defiance of Security Council resolutions could continue to be a major source of difference in Sino-South Korean relations.

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Koreas in 2013: Watch the generational politics
December 26th, 2012
05:44 PM ET

Koreas in 2013: Watch the generational politics

This is the latest in a series of entries looking at what we can expect in 2013. Guest analysts look at the key challenges facing a selected country – and what next year might hold in store.

By Katharine H.S. Moon, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Katharine H.S. Moon is a professor of political science and Wasserman Chair in Asian Studies at Wellesley College and an Asia Society associate fellow. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

2013 will be the year of dynastic leadership on the Korean peninsula, and the offspring on both sides of the 38th parallel have to make the best out of the baggage their fathers left for them. They can choose to look back and call forth the ghosts of their dads or look forward and forge their own priorities and a practical vision for economic reforms and peace on the peninsula.

What may surprise many about the two new leaders heading into 2013 is that they have more in common than meets the eye. The newly elected president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, was elected on December 18 with a full accounting of votes confirming her ascension on December 19. Likewise, North Korea's Kim Jong Un ascended to power on December 19 a year earlier, upon the public release of news that his father, Kim Jong Il, had died.

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Don’t hyperventilate about Japan turning right
December 18th, 2012
03:00 PM ET

Don’t hyperventilate about Japan turning right

By Michael J. Green, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael J. Green is Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Associate Professor at Georgetown University. The views expressed are his own.

With the landslide victory of Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) this past Sunday, the media is atwitter with warnings of dangerous new friction in Northeast Asia. Shinzo Abe, the man about to return to power after resigning as prime minister five years ago, has said he will get tough with China and might reconsider past apologies for some of Japan’s wartime transgressions. If the new government follows through on some of this overheated rhetoric, it could complicate U.S. foreign policy and hurt Japan’s image abroad. But that does not mean that Japan is becoming a dangerous nation. If anything, the growing realism in Japanese security policy should be welcomed by the United States.

With Chinese defense spending increasing at double digits and an aggressive new Chinese maritime doctrine aimed at pressing outward to control what strategists in Beijing call the “Near Sea,” the current constraints on Japanese defense policies pose more risk than any specter of returning Japanese militarism. Japan spends less than 1 percent of GDP on defense and Abe will likely increase that, particularly to support the Japanese Coast Guard, which is currently overwhelmed trying to track the surge in Chinese ships operating in and around not only the disputed Senkaku islands, but the entire Japanese archipelago.

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South Korea's election paradox
December 18th, 2012
10:10 AM ET

South Korea's election paradox

By John Delury, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: John Delury is an assistant professor at Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies and a senior fellow for the Asia Society Center on U.S.-China Relations. The views expressed are his own.

South Korean voters are about to choose a new president to lead their country for the next five years. It has been a hotly contested campaign, with opinion polls too close to call and voter turnout expected to be upwards of 80 percent. The race has come down to a dead heat between the liberal candidate, Moon Jae-in, and his conservative opponent, Park Geun-hye, and it’s unclear who will win.

But one thing most people do agree on is that, of all the issues that have been fiercely debated, one topic that is seen as marginal to the outcome is what to do about North Korea.
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Topics: North Korea • South Korea
December 14th, 2012
10:43 AM ET

South Korea: A presidential election primer

By Scott Snyder, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Scott Snyder is senior fellow for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and editor of ‘The U.S.-ROK Alliance:  Meeting New Security Challenges.’ The views expressed are his own.

South Korea’s campaign for the December 19 presidential elections formally launched late last month. The field of major candidates was set two days prior to the filing deadline when independent candidate and business entrepreneur Ahn Chulsoo announced that he would concede in his campaign for a unified candidacy among liberals to Democratic Unity Party (DUP) nominee Moon Jae-in, who served as chief of staff to former President Roh Moo-hyun. This announcement paved the way for a two-way race between ruling Saenuri party candidate Park Geun-hye and the DUP’s Moon.

Ahn Chulsoo’s withdrawal had an immediate impact on the framing of the race. Although Ahn is a novice politician and an idealist who wants to effect major political reforms, his selection as the single major candidate opposing Park would have framed the main theme of the election as a candidate of the past (Park is a political veteran who has been on the stage since she occupied the Blue House together with her father in the 1970s) versus the candidate of the future (an IT entrepreneur with the potential ability to clean both computer and political viruses). Moon needs active participation from Ahn’s youthful supporters if he is to be truly competitive with Park, who entered the formal campaign period as the putative frontrunner.

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Topics: South Korea
October 25th, 2012
11:14 AM ET

Why China can't do Gangnam Style

"Fareed Zakaria GPS" this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.

The Gangnam Style phenomenon has been an astonishment to anyone involved in culture in Asia, The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos tells Fareed Zakaria in a GPS web extra.

“This is not a video that anyone expected to be a success. It didn’t come out of the main cultural industry in Korea. This thing came out of nowhere and it’s a phenomenon. The question is, why? And the answer actually tells you a lot about China today,” Osnos says.

“The reason it has been so successful is that it laughs at itself – it has a great sense of humor and it’s making fun of the enormous pop industry in Korea, which is big business, it’s very successful around the world. In China today, the problem ultimately, culturally, for people that are involved in the arts – whether it’s music or filmmaking – is that if you do anything that is truly radical that is making people uncomfortable, then there are so many points when the system will intervene.”

Watch the video for the full take.

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Topics: China • South Korea
How to avoid maritime conflict in Asia
September 7th, 2012
11:54 AM ET

How to avoid maritime conflict in Asia

By Douglas Paal, CEIP

Editor's note: Douglas H. Paal is director for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where this commentary originally appeared. The views expressed are his own.

Rising tensions over maritime claims in the South China Sea have in recent months metastasized once again to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and Dokdo/Takeshima Islets in the Sea of Japan, proving that the origins of the disputes do not all lie with China, although many involve Beijing’s interests, as well as those of Tokyo, Seoul, Hanoi, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, and Bandar Seri Begawan.

The United States fears being dragged into conflicts over minuscule territories, but has an interest in maximum freedom of navigation and preventing aggression. It has urged all parties to show restraint, avoid precipitate behavior, and settle their issues peacefully. All parties pay lip service to a “code of conduct” that would forestall tensions, but a strong and binding code is proving elusive. Given the realities, the situation cries out for a more concrete diplomatic initiative.

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Topics: Asia • China • Japan • South Korea • United States
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