Archive for 'Southeast Asia & ASEAN'

ASIA REPORT: Uncovering Nuclear Thinking in Asia

nuclear-logoThe rise in global demand for nuclear energy is heavily concentrated in emerging and aspiring Asian powers. While nuclear power may alleviate energy shortages and climate change concerns, the promotion of nuclear energy compounds Asia’s nuclear weapon proliferation problems alongside nuclear power safety risks. All this is exacerbated by rising geopolitical tensions in Asia with more assertive policies – especially from China – in the region testing regional stability.

Against this perilous setting, Nuclear Debates in Asia: The Role of Geopolitics and Domestic Processes – a new book by the Rising Powers Initiative (RPI) at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies – questions the extent to which we can infer nuclear thinking simply from external conditions and instead considers policy thinking on nuclear power and proliferation in Asia to be more complex and variegated than often posited. In this Asia Report, we present analysis offered at a recent RPI book launch event at the Elliott School for International Studies at George Washington University (GWU) with commentary by several of the authors on South Korea, Japan, China, and Taiwan. You can also listen to the event’s audio on the Sigur Center’s website.

Five Important Findings in the Book

The Nuclear Debates in Asia book found several illuminating common features across Asia:

  • First, decision making on nuclear issues is still largely centrally controlled in a process dominated by elites in both democratic and authoritarian states.
  • Second, this stranglehold on nuclear decision making has at times been confronted by grassroots level movements often focused on a specific nuclear question (e.g. protests against nuclear power plants or reprocessing facilities, anti-nuclear weapon groups) especially as pluralism is on the rise in parts of Southeast Asia, Japan, India, and even China.
  • Third, nuclear weapons policy has been remarkably consistent despite tremendous external security challenges (particularly China’s ascendancy) and the rise of so-called “resource nationalism” alongside growing energy demands. Instead, nuclear policy appears to be relatively insulated from the whims of populist Nationalism.
  • Fourth, the overall center of gravity in most of the countries studied shows the dominance of a Realist-Globalist coalition.
  • Finally, Pakistan remains the outlier in this trend with nuclear debates essentially dominated by elites with Nationalist


Continue Reading →

Want to support Myanmar? Don’t forget about Mae Sot.

myanmar riverAnyone who follows politics in Myanmar knows that Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK), Nobel laureate and daughter of the liberator Aung San, is now the de facto leader of Myanmar. Things are on the up and up. SIM cards no longer cost hundreds of dollars, the banking system is taking shape, and foreign investment is on the rise.

So what is becoming of the border city Mae Sot in Thailand? Should donors and international NGOs (INGO) pack up and move inside Myanmar? Not so fast. In fact, if donors and INGOs really want to support Myanmar, they should continue supporting community-based organizations and initiatives in Mae Sot.

Along the Thai-Myanmar border, Mae Sot has served as the hub city for thousands of refugees who fled Myanmar after violent crackdowns in the late-1990s. Over the years, Mae Sot has been a focal area for INGOs, community-based organizations, and development workers – to support the over 120,000 Myanmar refugees and over two million migrant workers in Thailand with everything from healthcare, educational support, job training, and legal help.

Now that ASSK’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has won the elections, the public perception is that Myanmar is generally on a quick path to reform, making the work of community-based organizations along the border less and less relevant. (more…)

Continue Reading →

Policy Alert: China’s New Missiles in South China Sea Stir Debate at U.S.-ASEAN Summit  


With South China Sea debates already on the agenda at last week’s U.S.-ASEAN summit, new satellite images showing China deployed missiles to a disputed island tested ASEAN’s ability to manage the maritime domain. A joint statement at the close of the gathering did not mention China by name, but it outlined support for “mutual respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, equality, and political independence of all nations” as well as for “ensuring maritime security and safety, including the rights of freedom of navigation and overflight.” As host for the summit, the role of the United States in these maritime disputes was also center stage with President Barack Obama calling for “tangible steps” from all sides to resolve the region’s evolving maritime disputes “peacefully and through legal means,” including a “halt to further reclamation, new construction, and militarization of disputed areas.”

On February 17, Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense broke the news China deployed two batteries of eight advanced surface-to-air missile launchers and a radar system in recent weeks. Taiwan provided satellite images showing the HQ-9 missile systems with a range of 125 miles now located on Woody Island – called Yongxingdao by China – in the Paracel Islands chain, which has administrated by Beijing since 1974 but is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. The Pentagon confirmed the presence of the missile systems and considered the moves to be “increasing tensions in the region and are counterproductive.” Secretary of State John Kerry pledged to have a “very serious conversation” with China about U.S. concerns Beijing is militarizing the South China Sea.

This Policy Alert covers the reactions in China, India, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam to these developments and is part of our series on Energy and Maritime Security for the Rising Powers Initiative’s project exploring the linkages between energy security debates and maritime strategies in the Indo-Pacific. (more…)

Continue Reading →

Policy Alert: “Philippines v. China”: The Next Round of Energy and Maritime Disputes in the South China Sea

Protesters call for China to cease alleged restrictions on Philippines in the disputed waters (Souce: Getty Images/Dondi Tawatao)

Protesters call for China to cease alleged restrictions on Philippines in the disputed waters (Souce: Getty Images/Dondi Tawatao)

The launch of a UN arbitration tribunal on the China-Philippines maritime dispute has Asian powers watching closely as these debates unfold. From July 7 to 13 at The Hague, the Philippine delegation argued China violated the Philippines’s rights to exploit waters within a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as established by the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The treaty – which set rules on countries’ exercise of maritime activities – counts China, the Philippines, ASEAN countries, and many others as member-states. Sea-lanes through the South China Sea account for $5 trillion in trade every year. Therefore, the case could have a significant impact on many Asian nations, including Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam who attended the hearing as formal observers.

While Beijing refused to formally participate in the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) – the chosen UNCLOS dispute resolution mechanism – Chinese officials have taken opportunities to state their case through formal and informal channels, raising legal questions about whether China can dip its toes in the water without getting drowned by the tribunal’s verdict. Before the tribunal can begin to consider the case, the PAC will first decide if it has jurisdiction over the dispute in question before a later possible hearing to determine the legal merits of the Philippine complaint.

This Policy Alert — written by Timothy Westmyer, the program and research assistant at the Sigur Center, is part of our series on Energy and Maritime Security for the Rising Powers Initiative’s new project: The Linkages between Energy Security and Maritime Strategies in the Indo-Pacific. The research effort looks at how energy security debates shape and influence maritime strategies and vice-versa in China, India, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam and the implications of these linkages for U.S. policy toward the region. (more…)

Continue Reading →

Policy Brief: Can ASEAN Sell Its Nuclear Free Zone to the Nuclear Club?

nukefreezoneOn November 13-14, Myanmar’s President Thein Sein will host the East Asia Summit, the apex of his country’s debut as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Myanmar has inherited a daunting agenda, notably the need to move ASEAN toward completion of an economic community and to maintain dialogue with China on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, however slowly. At the beginning of the year, Myanmar had set as one goal for its chairmanship persuading the five permanent members (P-5) of the U.N. Security Council to sign the protocol to the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ) Treaty, in which they would promise to uphold the treaty’s principles. This has been a continuing but elusive goal for ASEAN since SEANWFZ went into force in 1997.

In this Policy Brief, Catharin Dalpino, Contract Course Chair in Southeast Asian Studies at the Foreign Service Institute and Adjunct Professor at Seton Hall University’s Washington program, discusses whether the ASEAN countries will be able to sell the SEANWFZ to the P-5 nations. She argues that “there is scant evidence that Myanmar will be able to meet its self-imposed goal this year – none of the P-5 has signed the protocol – but the prospects in the future are by no means dim.”

Read the full Policy Brief here

Continue Reading →

Announcing the Launch of the Rising Powers Initiative Research Database

As part of the Rising Powers Initiative’s efforts to analyze and compare the foreign policy thinking in today’s rising powers, we are pleased to announce the launch of the RPI Research Database, a specialized bibliography of books and articles on targeted subjects that reflect the RPI’s ongoing researchEach entry contains an abstract or summary of the article or book. The Database has been compiled by our research staff and is frequently updated with articles and books from 1990 onwards, with emphasis on the latest academic and policy publications.

Countries and regions in the Database include:

  • China
  • India
  • Japan
  • Russia
  • South Korea
  • Southeast Asia and ASEAN
  • Taiwan

Topics and subjects in the Database include:

  • Identity and foreign policy
  • Energy security, maritime security, and Asian security
  • Nuclear energy and nuclear proliferation
  • Regional  political economy
  • U.S. foreign policy in Asia

The Research Database can be accessed here. We hope that this interactive Database is a useful tool for conducting research on rising powers in Asia and for keeping up to date on the latest relevant academic and policy publications. We encourage you to share the Database as a resource with your colleagues, and welcome your feedback and suggestions.

Continue Reading →

Asian Powers React to Territorial Disputes at ASEAN Forum


Ongoing tensions over territorial disputes in Asia were brought to the foreground last week by several events. ASEAN foreign ministers for the first time failed to agree on a final communiqué at their annual meeting, due to divisions amongst members over how to handle disputes in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, tensions between Japan and China flared up over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. On the sidelines of the forum, South Korea, Japan, and the US met to discuss strengthening mechanisms for national security cooperation amidst stalled progress on the Korean peninsula. Our latest post highlights commentary in China, India, Japan, Russia, and South Korea on these developments.

Official Chinese rhetoric at the ASEAN meeting expressed support for formulating a Code of Conduct to address disputes in the South China Sea, while commentary in the state and party-owned newspapers were less accommodating, blaming Vietnam, the Philippines, and more broadly the United States, for the region’s tensions:

On Sino-Japanese relations, the People’s Daily called the Japanese government’s recent proposal to purchase islands a “farce,” saying that “if it develops unchecked, it will surely result in the issue of the Diaoyu Islands spiraling out of control.”

It was widely reported in the Indian press that Vietnam’s decision to extend an oil exploration contract to an Indian company was a sign that Vietnam wants a continued Indian presence in the South China Sea. General commentary on the ASEAN meeting, however, was relatively sparse. (more…)

Continue Reading →

Experts debate policy implications of Asian identities

How do Asia’s rising powers perceive their security environment and the role of theU.S. in regional politics? Have the divergent historical experiences of Asian countries shaped their identities and consequently the range of options they consider in their foreign policies? These questions were debated by an expert group of American and Asian scholars, as well as current and former government officials, at a recent Rising Powers Initiative conference held on April 16, 2012 inWashington,D.C.

Whereas Americans “have come to see security issues in predominantly military and coercive terms,” Asian countries may have a very different view, said Chas W. Freeman, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. In his keynote address to the conference, Ambassador Freeman pointed out thatU.S. military presence in Asia “is only one aspect of national security and influence,” and that “concepts of both power and security in and aroundEurasia are far less uni-dimensional.”

Understanding these concepts of power and security has important implications for formulating policy and for exploring the possibilities of regional cooperation. For example, said former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Thomas Hubbard, “In Korea there are two states and what both sides continue to see as a single nation. And this has played itself out very much inKorea’s foreign policy and domestic policy over the last several years.”

Altogether, the conference examined these questions with regard to India, Japan, South Korea, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The agenda, speaker biographies, and audio recordings of the presentations and discussions are available here. The conference was supported by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

We welcome our readers to continue the discussion with us by posting your reactions and comments on this blog.

Continue Reading →

Conflict Over the South China Sea: Identity Politics Meets History

By Shawn McHale, Associate Professor of History and International Affairs, George Washington University 


The South China Sea is one of the great connecting oceans of the world, acting as a major conduit of Asian and global trade.  It has also been a worrisome site of conflict.  In recent years, disputes over territorial claims have led to armed clashes involving China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. It has also led to demonstrations.  Arguments have spilled into cyberspace: on YouTube, Google Earth, online newspaper articles, and chat rooms, nationalist tempers have flared over their country’s claims to these tiny islands, atolls, and reefs.

Most of the territorial claims over the South China Sea are surprisingly weak, and none is incontestable.  Here we must distinguish between arguments over the Paracels, the far-flung cluster of islands, reefs, and atolls closest to China, and those over the Spratlys, a similarly widely spread set of islands further to the south. Only China and Vietnam contest the Paracels, whereas six countries have claims to the Spratlys. Finally, the contemporary bitter arguments over sovereignty in this area repeatedly invoke historical evidence. It is the latter issue that will be the focus of this Policy Commentary.

Bluntly stated, we cannot impose contemporary notions of sovereignty on historical practices before the twentieth century.  Despite much misinformation and inflamed rhetoric to the contrary, historical evidence overwhelmingly supports the view that states did not, traditionally, claim exclusive territorial rights over the vast majority of the South China Sea.  To the contrary: the area has historically been an Asian maritime commons. What, then, does the historical evidence suggest? And how has argument over this evidence shaped Asian identity politics today?


Continue Reading →

Caging the Dragon? Asian Regional Integration and U.S. Interests

By Brad Glosserman, Executive Director, Pacific Forum CSIS

Americans tend to be skeptical about or troubled by the notion of regional integration in Asia.

There is some basis for concern, but the advantages of integration are likely to exceed the cost to the United States.  An integrated Asia, the process of which has been shaped by the United States and like-minded partners, should strengthen the international system that Washington has labored to build over the last half century, reinvigorating and strengthening the norms and principles that have provided its foundation.

Defining “Asian integration” can be problematic for functional and geographic reasons. For my purposes, the term refers to East Asia, which I equate institutionally with ASEAN Plus Three. That narrowly conceived geographical scope allows me to demand more when it comes to functions. Meaningful integration means more than the loose confederation that defines ASEAN (its ambitions to create “communities” notwithstanding) but it doesn’t require the detailed legal framework of the European Union. At a minimum, it includes a regionwide free trade area, a political superstructure to express its collective will (no matter how sharp its teeth to demand conformity with its pronouncements) and recognition by the rest of the world that it is a meaningful political unit. Even that scaled-back objective may be too much. For many, Asian nations are too diverse, too committed to their (relatively) new sovereignty, and the benefits of integration are too diffuse to justify the costs. But if those formidable obstacles can be surmounted – and integration is proceeding, fitfully for sure, but there is progress nonetheless — most US observers worry that integration would come at their expense.

The Case Against Asia

There are three main objections to Asian integration. The first is that a regional economic unit would divert trade from the United States. Fred Bergsten (in “China and Economic Integration in East Asia: Implications for the United States”) estimates that “the United States could immediately lose as much as $25 billion of annual exports as a result of the initial static effects of the tariff discrimination that would result from truly free trade in East Asia (on the “10+3” model). These numbers could increase over time as dynamic economic effects, especially with respect to new investment patterns, are triggered.”


Continue Reading →
Page 1 of 2 12