Archive for February, 2013

Asian Powers Comment on the Pope’s Resignation

Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign has evoked much surprise and commentary in the Western media. But in Asia, a region where Catholicism is a minority religion, the reactions have been more subdued. Today’s post compares the responses of South Korea, India and China.


In a country where close to 8% of the population is Catholic, members of Korea’s Catholic community thanked the Pope for his service:

  • “People have a conservative image of Pope Benedict XVI. But through his resignation announcement, I believe he has shown a liberal and reformist mind,” said Priest Lee Kyung-sang of the Archdiocese of Seoul, who teaches church law at the Catholic University of Korea.
  • In a statement by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Korea, Rev. Peter Kang U-il said, “We cannot hide our surprise at the Pope’s abrupt decision to step down, but we know the Pope’s heart is filled with love and care for the church…he has also shown deep interest for people in North Korea and sought to help them through economic aid…we accept his brave and spiritual decision with great respect.”


With 17.3 million Catholics in India, the pope’s resignation has generated some commentary in the press.  (more…)

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Nuclear Debates in Asia Digest: South Korea – New Government, Old Nuclear Debates

Former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once declared that “All politics is local.” While he may not have been thinking of nuclear weapons at the time he coined the phrase, debates over nuclear issues take on local characteristics within Asia.

The Rising Power Initiative’s “Nuclear Debates in Asia” project examines how several countries in Asia grapple with these topics at the domestic political and societal level. Positions on nuclear energy, national security, and nuclear nonproliferation are often linked as a wide range of viewpoints compete for prominence.

In this Nuclear Debates in Asia Digest, there is a prime example of this debate in South Korea and its newly sworn in government led by President Park Geun-hye. In her inaugural address on Monday, President Park proclaimed that “North Korea’s recent nuclear test is a challenge to the survival and future of the Korean people.” She had campaigned on a pledge to ease tensions with Pyongyang and encouraged the hermit kingdom to denuclearize the peninsula if it wished to escape “self-imposed isolation.”

Despite North Korea’s recent provocations, the Park Administration remains interested in denuclearization talks and continuing Seoul’s status as a non-nuclear weapon state. A few days before this ceremony, however, one of South Korea’s largest newspapers – The Korea JoongAng Daily – reported that members of President Park’s own party suggested the need for an indigenous nuclear weapons capability to counter threats from its northern neighbor. Representative Shim Jae-cheol of the Saenuri Party argued last week that the “only way to defend our survival would be to maintain a balance of terror that confronts nuclear with nuclear.” In June 2012, former party chairman and presidential candidate Chung Mong-joon called for a “comprehensive re-examination of our security policy” that should empower Seoul with “the capability to possess” a nuclear arsenal.


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Park Geun-hye Takes the Reins

Park Geun-hye

Photo credit: The Diplomat

RPI Gregg Brazinsky wrote in the The Diplomat on February 23, 2013:

The challenges that will face newly elected South Korean president Park Geun-hye when she takes office are daunting. She is the first woman to lead what has been one of the world’s most male-dominated governments. She must contend with the controversial legacy of her father, Park Chung Hee, a long-ruling dictator revered as the driving force behind South Korea’s economic miracle but reviled for brutally suppressing the opposition. And she must keep the nation safe and prosperous in an era of escalating regional tensions and financial turmoil. Should she fail at any of these tasks, she will have to contend with a notoriously unforgiving political culture. None of her four democratically elected predecessors left office with a high approval rating.

While the new president’s mettle will unquestionably be tested, there are reasons to believe that she can rise to the challenge. Great leaders confront difficulties with equanimity and make the bold moves necessary to break through obstacles to change.  Park has already demonstrated these abilities in the arena of domestic politics. After first being elected to the National Assembly in 1998, she repeatedly trounced her opponents at the ballot box and eventually rose to a position of leadership in the ruling Saenuri Party (formerly known as the Grand National Party). During election years when her party was mired in scandal and the opposition seemed poised to make significant gains, Park engineered surprising victories at the polls that enabled the conservatives to retain power. These impressive performances led the South Korean media to call her “The Queen of Elections.”

Throughout Park’s rise to the top she has gracefully weathered personal attacks, maintaining an almost unflappable demeanor. The success of Park’s presidency will hinge on whether she can transfer her consummate skills as a politician to the realm of policymaking.

Read the full article here

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RPI Author David Shambaugh: “China Goes Global”

Just 30 years ago, China was a poor, isolated nation of rural farmers. The vast majority of its citizens struggled to afford food and clothes. But a series of free market reforms in the 1980s and ’90s transformed China, propelling it to the No. 2 spot in the global economy. China is now the world’s largest manufacturer and has the second biggest military. But a leading China expert and RPI author David Shambaugh says the rise of the Middle Kingdom has been greatly exaggerated. He says China’s influence is limited by isolationism and a focus on low-end manufacturing. NPR’s Diane Rehm and author David Shambaugh discuss the myth of China’s global power.

Listen to the audio and view the transcript here.

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RPI author Mike Mochizuki in The Japan Times: “Outsiders key to resolving Futenma”

With both Japan and the United States unlikely to soon seek new solutions to the stalled relocation of the Futenma air station in Okinawa, progress might be better achieved through discussions by nongovernmental experts, according to a U.S. analyst.

The existing plan to transfer the Futenma base from a crowded residential district in Ginowan to the less-populated coastal area of Henoko within Okinawa is “becoming politically infeasible” amid continued opposition from the local community, said George Washington University professor Mike Mochizuki.

“To push it stubbornly will lead to negative consequences for the U.S.-Japan alliance,” added Mochizuki, who has been studying the issue since 1995.

However, under the current circumstances, neither the Japanese government nor U.S. officials are likely to come up with an alternative option to the agreement reached in 2006. This is where nongovernmental experts should come into the picture, he said.


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French intervention in Mali evokes reactions from Asian powers

France’s military intervention in Mali has evoked mixed reactions from major Asian countries. In today’s post, we highlight commentary from China, India, Japan and Russia.


Chinese reactions have been called “at most tepid and reserved” by Yun Sun, a Chinese visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.

  • Officially, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has expressed support for the deployment of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2085.
  • French intervention, however, is evoking concern. As He Wenping, director of African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote in a Global Times op-ed: “China has certain interests in Mali through its investment projects. It is not necessarily a bad thing for China if France’s decision to send in troops can stabilize the situation in this West African country. However, despite all the potential benefits, there is one possible cause for alarm – French forces’ involvement in Mali will provide the case for legalization of a new interventionism in Africa.”


In contrast, Indian commentary has (uncharacteristically) mostly supported French intervention and larger efforts to combat terrorism. (more…)

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RPI Author Scott Snyder on Regional Implications of North Korea’s Third Nuclear Test

Nuclear test site in North Korea. Credit: Jane’s Defense Weekly, DigitalGlobe

On February 12, North Korea made good on a promise to conduct its third nuclear test. As intelligence services and independent analysts work to determine the exact details of the test — such as what type of fissile material was used and the device’s design and yield specifications — leaders in the United States and Asia are busy crafting their responses.

RPI Nuclear Debates in Asia author Scott A. Snyder provided his quick take on how this provocation will affect regional domestic politics:

The international community greeted the test with widespread condemnation. South Korea and Japan convened emergency meetings of top national security officials, China’s foreign minister stated that China is “strongly and resolutely opposed” to North Korea’s test, and the White House described it as “a highly provocative act . . . that warrants further swift and credible action by the international community.”

Snyder continued:

North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests provide an early challenge to new leaderships in Seoul and Beijing and follow a pattern similar to the one surrounding North Korean 2009 tests. The 2009 tests were designed to take advantage of political leadership transitions and provided an early political test to the Obama administration.

Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea Studies and director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, highlights the motivations and dangers of Pyongyang’s aggressive posture, but also concludes that the present crisis “provides an incentive for enhanced Sino-U.S. cooperation and illustrates the need for international cooperation to limit the incalculable costs that would result if North Korea stays on its current course.”

Read the full blog post here.

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Consequences abound in N. Korea’s obsession with nuclear weapons

Kim Jong UnThe passage of a resolution by the U.N. Security Council on Jan. 22 condemning North Korea’s missile launch of Dec. 12, 2012, and expanding sanctions against the country, has brought about a defiant and ferocious response from Pyongyang.

North Korea issued a series of pronouncements declaring the nullification of the Sept. 19, 2005, agreement on denuclearization, the end of further talks on denuclearization including the six-party talks, and vowing to strengthen its nuclear and missile capabilities by continuing rocket launching and nuclear testing, which North Korea declared explicitly as targeted against the United States.

That North Korea would respond with fury to a U.N. resolution was anticipated, but the barrage of intensified anti-American rhetoric and the blunt declaration to continue the quest for nuclear weapons with ICBM capabilities, especially at this juncture in time, probably came as a surprise to many analysts.

Given North Korea’s explicit renunciation of the agreement on denuclearization, it would be impossible for the United States to entertain any thought of altering the existing policy variously labeled “manage and contain” or “sanctions with limited dialogue” toward a policy of dialogue and engagement. For South Korea, despite President-elect Park Geun-hye’s professed willingness to resume talks with the North without preconditions and to improve the relations with North Korea through a confidence-building process, she will be constrained from pursuing a conciliatory policy of engagement.

It will be so especially since she has insisted she will not tolerate the North’s nuclear program and will deal sternly with North Korean provocations. Similarly for Japan, it is inconceivable for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to consider moderating his hard-line stance toward North Korea.

The impact of North Korea’s policy pronouncements on the policies of China and Russia will be no less significant.


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A realistic approach to issues in Japan


RPI Author Narushige Michishita recently wrote in The Straits Times:

Since Mr Shinzo Abe was elected Prime Minister in December, observers both in Japan and overseas have predicted that he will take the country “to the right”. Will he? My short answer is yes and no. Here is what I mean.

Mr Abe is trying to break away from some traditions of a post- war “pacifist” Japan. He seeks to revise the Constitution drafted by American occupiers after Japan was defeated in the Pacific War. He likes to put a new name, the “National Defence Force”, to Japan’s technically non-military defence organisation – the Self-Defence Force (SDF), and give it a full-fledged military status.

He also wishes to make it possible for Japan to start exercising the “right of collective self-defence”, which is prohibited under the Constitution.

However, true right-wing hardliners would be disappointed to learn what these changes might mean in practice.

Read the full story here.

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Japan’s Shifting Strategic Discourse

In our latest Policy Brief, Richard Samuels writes:

After decades of accepting US supremacy in Asia as the foundation of its foreign and security policies, finding the right distance between the U.S. and China is the most important strategic choice facing Japan today. “Getting it just right” with these two powers will require both military and economic readjustments. But it will not be easy. Some in Japan fret about a Washington-Beijing “G-2” condominium. Others doubt U.S. capabilities and commitments going forward. There are also those who insist that unless Japan accommodates to Chinese power, it will lose influence in the region and globally. Still others are concerned that rivalry with China is unavoidable. Because the debate is often so clamorous, and because the Sino-Japanese relationship is so frequently punctuated by tension, the possibility that improved relations with China might be compatible with sustained close relations with the United States is often lost in the noise.

Read the full Policy Brief here.

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