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Will ASEAN continue as a key player in 2030?

By Amitav Acharya

What will the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) look like in the year 2030? As a durable and successful regional grouping in the developing world, ASEAN is a force for stability and cooperation in Asia. But can we take its longevity and success for granted?

ASEAN’s irrelevance or even death has been predicted several times before. At its birth in 1967, few people thought it would live to see another decade, given that the two previous attempts at regional cooperation in Southeast Asia — the Association of Southeast Asia and the MAPHILINDO (Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia) concept — ended within a few years after their creation.

The Malaysia-Philippines dispute over Sabah in 1969, the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Indochina in 1975, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979, the end of the Cold War in 1991, and the outbreak of the Asian financial crisis in 1997, have all been seen as critical blows to ASEAN.

But ASEAN not only survived, it actually grew a bit stronger each time. So there is precedent, and hope, that ASEAN will be around in 2030.

But surviving is not the same as thriving. In 2030, ASEAN might keep plodding on, but will it be a key player in regional peace, stability and prosperity in Asia — a role that it currently enjoys? Here, the question becomes more difficult to answer.

The answer depends on three key questions. First, what will ASEAN’s relations be with the great powers? (more…)

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Turmoil in Egypt: Views from Japan, China, Russia, Iran and India

As Washington is closely following developments in Egypt, what are other countries saying about events in Egypt and the Middle East? Read about the domestic viewpoints in Japan, China, Russia, Iran and India:

JAPAN

The press appears preoccupied with Japan’s domestic politics, paying surprisingly little attention to events in Egypt.

 

CHINA

The Chinese government has blocked keyword searches of Egypt on the internet, while official reporting and commentary are downplaying any prospects of democratic change.

  • Color revolutions will not bring about real democracy,” runs the headline of an editorial in the Global Times. “Whether the [democratic] system is applicable in other countries is in question, as more and more unsuccessful examples arise,” says the Communist Party-sponsored English daily. (more…)
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Tehran’s hardliners effectively declare nuclear talks dead

By Farideh Farhi

Few observers of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program anticipated a breakthrough from the Istanbul meeting between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the six major powers known as the P5+1 (five members of the Security Council plus Germany). Yet a swift breakdown was not expected either. The assumption was that a difficult negotiating path was possible and perhaps even desired by both sides.

The United States officials continue to insist that the two-track approach — seeking engagement while still putting pressure on Iran through sanctions and other punitive financial actions — will continue until an agreement is reached.

Yet Tehran’s hardliners, currently in charge, effectively declared the structure of negotiations over the country’s nuclear program obsolete.  If Tehran’s Istanbul posture does not change,  P5+1 may – and only may – maintain its utility as a vehicle for yet another round of American-led efforts to impose new UN sanctions on Iran but it will not be useful for negotiations with Iran.

Tehran’s insistence that talks should center on issues of “mutual” or “global” concerns and away from the country’s nuclear program is not new. This approach was initiated when the Bush administration relented in its final year and agreed to U.S. diplomatic presence in the talks. The novelty of Istanbul talks lied in the assertiveness with which Iran’s negotiating team, headed by the Supreme National Security Council’s Secretary Saeed Jalili, challenged the Western two-track approach of engagement and pressure.

By demanding suspension of sanctions and acceptance of Iran’s treaty rights to enrichment, which Jalili called “prerequisites” for further talks, Tehran effectively declared that it is no longer interested in talks in which only Iran stands accused of violations of international norms and rules. (more…)

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Improved atmosphere in US-China relations, but constraints from domestic actors remain

By David Shambaugh

The world is safer this week than last week. The Sino-American summit between presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao succeeded in stabilizing the world’s most important relationship. After more than a year of fluctuating and deteriorating ties, causing unsettling ripple effects throughout the Asia-Pacific region and globally, US-China relations were in dire need of stabilization. 

Now the key question is how long can the new stability achieved at the summit last? Any observer of Sino-American relations should be both cautiously optimistic but skeptical. Establishing equilibrium in ties between the US and China has been hard enough over the years – sustaining it has been even harder. If there’s been one overriding characteristic in the relationship over the past 30 years, it has been fluctuation and disequilibrium.

As a result, this summit could not have come at a more propitious time. The period since President Obama’s state visit to China in November 2009 until this past week has been perhaps the worst period in two decades of relations since the Tiananmen incident of 1989. Both sides took advantage of the opportunity to “reset” the tone of the relationship. Now the hope is that a new tone can result in tangible cooperation. 

There was, in this observer’s view, an implicit wager by the Obama administration going into the summit: The American side would accord President Hu full respect and dignity befitting the leader of the world’s second largest economy – which would, in turn, hopefully produce a less truculent and more compliant Chinese position on a wide range of issues in which Washington sought Beijing’s cooperation. This was the simple, but smart, strategy. (more…)

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Domestic politics and bilateral mistrust prevent a US-China duopoly

By Amitav Acharya

No one should be disappointed by the outcome of the US-China summit in Washington on 19 January, because nothing much was expected from it. For Hu, it was a ‘legacy’ visit, his swansong as the head of the world’s most populous and potentially most powerful nation before stepping down as the leader of the Communist Party of China in 2012. The Obama White House obliged by allowing him to make the first state visit to the White House by a Chinese leader since Jiang Zemin in 1997.

This too is not surprising. During the past year China’s image and soft power have taken a battering, especially in the Asia Pacific, where it rekindled mistrust by asserting claims over South China Sea, refusing to condemn North Korea for its aggressive tactics towards the South and restricting exports of rare earth elements. The US has gained considerable mileage out of these Chinese missteps, despite the Chinese snub to Obama at the Copenhagen climate talks in December 2009, and Beijing’s harsh condemnation of the $6.4 billion US arms sale to Taiwan and the Dalai Lama visit to the White House. As fears of China are rekindled in Asia by Beijing’s own assertiveness, there is a new recognition of America’s role there as the provider of security. The Obama administration could thus afford to look generous and reward China for taking some conciliatory steps in the months leading up to the Hu visit- like letting its currency to appreciate a bit, and allowing a visit to China by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

But for those who see the US and China as leaders of the 21st century global order, the summit holds an important lesson: while the unipolar moment in international relations is over, it will not be replaced by a China-US duopoly, at least not an effective one that addresses the global challenges of our time. (more…)

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Re-Examining Nationality in Aging Asia: Insights from Japan and South Korea

By Aizawa Nobuhiro

Several countries in Asia have recently amended their nationality laws, including the Philippines (2003), India (2003), Indonesia (2006), Taiwan (2006), Thailand (2008), Japan (2008), Vietnam (2009), and South Korea (2010). Was it mere coincidence that these countries reassessed their nationality laws? Or did they have important reasons to discard variously ‘outdated’ clauses in the face of sharp public debates and political contestations over issues of nationhood? This policy commentary provides background and context towards understanding some key issues that motivate changes to nationality laws in Asia, especially in Japan and South Korea. It suggests that the issue of nationality has become bound up with the dynamics and political implications of ‘human flows’ in Asia.

Changing Nationality Laws

The key changes over nationality laws revolve around two points. First, there are moves to redefine the legal status of the children of international marriage and divorce because of the increase in international marriage over the past 20 years in Asia. Second, governments must decide whether to accept dual/multiple nationality status which Asian countries were long reluctant to acknowledge because of Cold War politics and complex colonial legacies.

Two major amendments to nationality laws in Japan and South Korea may serve as good illustrations. (more…)

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Chinese views on Hu Jintao’s upcoming US visit

Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit the United States next week from January 18 to 21. Read what the Chinese expectations are of this trip:

Ahead of Hu Jintao’s visit, the official tone is optimistic and confident, with editorials stressing the the shared interests of China and the United States, although other analysts take a more measured tone:

On military issues, several articles stress that China is not seeking to challenge the U.S., while making clear that China needs to and deserves to develop its military capabilities:

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Crisis on the Korean Peninsula: Views from China, Japan and Russia

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have flared up again since North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on November 23.  Here is a round-up of Chinese, Japanese and Russian views on this latest crisis:

CHINA

The Global Times, the official English newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, has been running daily editorials on the crisis:

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Obama’s Asian Journey: Prospects for US Policy

President Barack Obama’s trip to Asia was a mixed bag of achievements and disappointments. This was the assessment of a panel of experts at a recent public event on “Obama’s Asian Journey: Prospects for US Policy,” co-hosted by the Sigur Center for Asian Studies and the Asia Society. Speaking on the panel, Deepa M. Ollapally, Alasdair Bowie, Gregg A. Brazinsky and Mike M. Mochizuki assessed the outcomes of Obama’s visit to India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan, respectively:

INDIA

Obama’s visit to India was a case of “low expectations, high results.”

Concrete gains for India included: clear support for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council; lifting of nearly all embargos on dual-use technologies; and U.S. commitment to work toward India’s inclusion in a number of nuclear regimes, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group and Missile Technology Control Regime.

More importantly, the visit marked a shift in U.S.-India relations from the narrow, sectoral engagement of the past, to a truly broad spectrum relationship. Obama is the first US President to view relations with India as a multi-layered partnership: (more…)

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Weak Japanese Leadership Prompts Calls for Stronger Ties with U.S.

Despite hosting the APEC summit this month, Japan’s leadership in the region is looking shaky. In this post, we summarize what the Japanese press is saying about Japan’s diplomatic difficulties and the future of Japan-US relations:

Commenting on President Obama’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan in Yokohama, The Daily Yomirui says it was “unfortunate that Japan and the US missed a golden opportunity” to issue a joint declaration on the bilateral alliance’s 50th anniversary, and blames this on the poor diplomacy of the current Japanese administration, led by the Democratic Party of Japan.

Earlier in the month, the visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Kunashir Island had also focused attention on Japan’s relations with the United States:

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