Category Archives: Asia

Reactions to North Korea launch: does South Korea care?

A South Korean checkpoint in the DMZ.

The UN Security Council came together to warn North Korea that future actions deemed to be provocative would be dealt with “further consequences.” Experts say that North Korea is now preparing for an underground nuclear test. The warning included words from North Korea’s closest ally, China. From VOA:

China’s Communist Party-controlled Global Times newspaper said Tuesday that Pyongyang should not be misled into thinking it can ignore Beijing’s wishes with impunity. The paper said North Korea will “pay the price if it tries to abduct China’s North Korea policy.”

Last Friday’s failed launch of what North Korea called its attempt to put a weather satellite into orbit has sparked condemnation from the rest of the world. Many world leaders believe that the launch was a cover for testing long-range missile technology. The UN announced new sanctions and the US has canceled its food aid package.

But why doesn’t South Korea respond? In a special report to CNN World, Robert E. Kelly, a Senior Analyst at Wikistrat and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at Pusan National University, South Korea, says:

South Korea doesn’t want to strike back for two reasons. One, South Korean population centers are extremely vulnerable to Northern aggression. Two, South Koreans just don’t care that much about North Korea anymore.

It’s been nearly 60 years, since the end of the Korean War and the establishment of the demilitarized zone, splitting a once united peninsula in two. Ever since then, the issue of reunification has been a pervasive one in South Korea shaping its politics, its identity as a nation and most importantly its people. But today that’s changing as younger generations of South Koreans find themselves less connected and therefore less passionate about the possibility of a unified Korea. America Abroad’s Danial Shin reports »

North Korea’s nuclear ambitions overshadow nuclear summit

The three-day nuclear summit in Seoul, South Korea, to discuss ways to combat nuclear terrorism ended with a warning from US President Obama of “dire consequences” if North Korea launches a long-range rocket next month. North Korea defended its future actions by saying the rocket launch was “essential for economic development.” This action would put the February 29th “Leap Day” agreement of suspending nuclear weapons tests and uranium enrichment in exchange for food aid in jeopardy.

From The Brookings Institution:

“The February 29th accord, even if fully implemented, would only have returned conditions to December 2008, when a tenuous, self-imposed “freeze” was in place on the North’s nuclear and missile programs. But it would have set the stage for the United States, North Korea, and other members of the Six-Party Talks to restart negotiations on implementing the September 19, 2005 denuclearization agreement – which the DPRK abandoned when it found it no longer useful.”

Negotiating with the North Koreans has always been a difficult road. For more than two decades the U.S. has had a series of confrontations with North Korea over its nuclear ambitions. In October 1994, the United States and North Korea signed the Framework Agreement. North Korea agreed to suspend its nuclear program in exchange for fuel aid and two light water nuclear reactors to be built by 2003. Take a look back at that history and why a lasting agreement has proven elusive on America Abroad’s After Kim Jong-Il »

North Korea to suspend nuclear efforts

North Korea has apparently agreed to halt its uranium-enrichment program, nuclear weapons tests and long-range missile launches in return for 240,000 metric tons of US food aid. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that North Korea’s nuclear moratorium is a “modest first step in the right direction.” As part of the agreement, North Korea will allow UN inspectors to return to take a look at its facilities. This also could mean a new opening to get back to the 6-party talks on nuclear disarmament.

Relations and tensions between the U.S. and North Korea date back to the 1950-53 Korean War. More than 30,000 U.S. troops are based in South Korea as part of an armistice between the two nations. America Abroad looks back at the more than 60 years of American involvement on the Korean peninsula. Read more.

North Korea opens up


The 105-story Ryugyong Hotel in North Korean capital Pyongyang is set to open in the spring 25-years after construction began, Seoul-based Yonhap news agency reported.

North Korean developers began construction in 1987 as a response to South Korea’s new towers built for the 1988 Olympics. The building is taller than New York’s Chrysler Building and constructed almost entirely of concrete.

From The Washington Post:

“The North Koreans made it very clear that Kim Jong Il and other top officials considered this renovation a priority,” said Park Kil-sang, a liaison in the negotiations. “But it looked like a huge cement mountain, and it showed the wear of 20 years of just sitting there untouched. We actually figured it would be better to break it down entirely and build a new hotel from scratch.”

The goal for the North Koreans was to build it by April 15, 2012 which is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s “Eternal President” and father of the late Kim Jong-Il.

Unfortunately, “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-Il did not live long enough to see his project come to completion.

The death of Kim Jong-Il last December and the appointment of his unknown and untested 20-something son, Kim Jong-Un, as his successor, has left the world on the edge of it’s seat and with plenty of questions: Will his son have the personality and the power to match his larger than life father? Will this young leader be able to keep an iron grip on the people and how will he lead the 1.2 million-strong army with his fingers on the nuclear button? The US, South Korea and North Korea’s neighbors are watching closely and anxiously to see what comes next. After Kim Jong-Il: America and the Two Koreas, the latest radio documentary from America Abroad.

This news is on the heels of a YouTube video that has gone viral: young North Korean musicians playing a popular pop song from the 1980s on their accordions. Their video has attracted more than one million hits.

Obama administration releases report on international religious freedom

Burning incense, Tu Bi Xa Temple, Vietnam

The State Department recently designated eight countries as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPCs) in its annual report on international religious freedom: Burma, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Eritrea, Iran, the People’s Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. Earlier this year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that the Secretary of State designate those eight as CPCs, and also recommended the designation of Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. The USCIRF urges increased U.S. government action to promote freedom of religion or belief.

“The Commission welcomes the first CPC designations of the Obama administration, but is concerned that no new countries were added to the list,” said Leonard Leo, USCIRF Chair. “Repeating the current list continues glaring omissions, such as Pakistan and Vietnam. Since CPC designations can be made at any time, we respectfully urge Secretary Clinton to consider the six additional countries we recommended for designation.”

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) requires the State Department to undertake an annual review of every country to “determine whether the government of that country has engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” Any country meeting that threshold is to be designated a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, and the U.S. government is required to take action to encourage improvements in each CPC country.

America Abroad traveled to Vietnam last year to investigate the state of religious freedom there three years after the state department removed the country from the CPC list. In 2011, Vietnam finds itself again on the list. This year, human rights defender Cu Huy Ha Vu, was found guilty and sentenced to seven years under vague national security laws for his activities defending victims of land confiscation and abuse of power, including representing the Catholic villagers of Con Dau.

“Cu Huy Ha Vu’s arrest is part of a disturbing trend in Vietnam where the defenders of the vulnerable are attacked as threats to national security,” said Leonard Leo, USCIRF chair.   “The Obama Administration cannot continue to advance Vietnam’s security and economic interests without seeking concrete improvements on U.S. interests in religious freedom and the rule of law.  It’s past time for the Administration to re-designate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC).”

For background on the International Religious Freedom Act, listen »

The future of India’s fourth largest state

Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

Best known for being a hub of technological innovation and the home of Infosys, a global information technology services provider, the state of Andhra Pradesh in India is now a hotspot of political controversy.

It’s capital, the city of Hyderabad, is on edge, awaiting the release of a controversial and potentially far-reaching report that could lead to the splitting of India’s fourth largest state, Andhra Pradesh, into two.  The report, set to be released this week, is the product of a year’s study by the Srikrishna Committee, tasked with making recommendations for dealing with the Telangana separatist movement.

Telangana is a region of Andhra Pradesh that has agitated for status as a separate state within the Indian union for more than half a century.  Should the committee recommend the creation of a separate Telangana state, at stake will be the status of Hyderabad, likely the desired capital of a new state of Telangana.

Seemingly more controversial than the results of the Srikrishna Committee’s report has been the means by which its recommendations will be released.  Several of the political parties invited to receive the Committee’s initial report have boycotted, and the governing Congress Party in New Delhi has asked that local Congress MPs in Andhra Pradesh refrain from speaking about the report until the party’s official position is outlined.

For some background on Hyderabad as a developing city and economic engine in the region, listen to America Abroad reporter Matt Ozug’s segment on US efforts to expand commercial and diplomatic ties to this city.

Reported by Andy Masloski, Director of AAM Education.

Anwar Ibrahim on AAM Insight

In a recent WSJ op-ed two very unlikely bedfellows, Paul Wolfowitz and Al Gore, came together over the issue of the unjust imprisonment of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Mr. Anwar is being tried on the trumped up charge of sodomy in an effort to derail the opposition movement he spearheads. On a trip last year to the United States, Mr. Anwar stopped in to chat with AAM’s Katherine Gypson about restrictions on media freedom and political opposition in Malaysia. View the interview here.

Scooting around Saigon

scooters3If there is one word to describe Saigon, it is “scooter.”

While scooters/mopeds/small motorcycles are ubiquitous throughout Asia (East, Southeast, South), I have never seen anything like the swarms of scooters in Saigon.

Analogies are endless: they are like a plague of locusts buzzing through the streets, an endless army of leaf-cutter ants, shimmering schools of minnows, stampedes of cattle. Picture the movie “The Birds” except without the death and gore – the streets throng with that kind of volume of scooter traffic. It’s endless and unrelenting.

Read more »

A growing strategic partnership


from CNN

The White House is hosting its first formal state visit for India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. India has become a major player in global affairs and this formal state visit indicates how important India is to the US when it comes to issues like climate change, economic growth and countering extremism in South Asia.

India has become a major trading partner with the US, with $61 billion in trade in 2007. The US is India’s second-largest trading partner. India is also one of the biggest donors in Afghanistan, with $1.2 billion in aid, sharing some of the burden of stabilizing Afghanistan and providing civilian support.

Colin Cookman, Special Assistant for National Security and Brian Katulis, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress write:

Prime Minister Singh’s visit comes during a sensitive period for U.S. diplomacy around the world. The luster is wearing off from the Obama administration’s initial honeymoon period of foreign policy, leading to growing questions about what the Obama administration has tangibly achieved with its new style of diplomatic outreach. President Obama’s trip to Asia last week raised some concerns in India that the United States was acceding to China’s growing power without demonstrating India’s important role, and this state visit is aimed at signaling the importance of U.S.-India ties. Gaining India’s cooperation on a range of issues will be an important test of the Obama administration’s ability to achieve results in his foreign policy.

With changing power centers in the world, the US needs to make sure it has the right people in the right places. Alongside the new towers and growing population, the US has opened its first new consulate general in over a decade in Hyderabad, India, reflecting the growing economic and strategic relationship between the US and India.

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Listen to the rest of America Abroad radio producer Matt Ozug’s piece in Diplomacy Under Fire.

Opposition leadership in Malaysia

ibrahimA recent article by Maznah Mohamad, a visiting senior research fellow at the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore, questions the role of religion in Malaysian politics. He claims that its hard to distinguish Islamic radicals from Islamic moderates, saying that Islam and the government have essentially merged.

For two decades, the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) government invested enormous public resources in building up a network of Islamic institutions. The government’s initial intention was to deflect radical demands for an extreme version of Islamic governance. Over time, however, the effort to out-do its critics led the UMNO to over-Islamicise the state.

The UMNO’s programme has put Sharia law, Sharia courts, and an extensive Islamic bureaucracy in place, a collective effort that has taken on a life of its own. The number of Islamic laws instituted has quadrupled in just over 10 years. After Iran or Saudi Arabia, Malaysia’s Sharia court system is probably the most extensive in the Muslim world, and the accompanying bureaucracy is not only big but has more bite than the national parliament.

The struggle to define the role of religion in a democracy is one of the many challenges facing Malaysia. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been at the center of these debates for more than three decades – as a student leader, a finance minister and as deputy prime minister. In 1998, Anwar began six years of solitary confinement on charges of sexual misconduct and corruption that were eventually reversed.

AAM’s Katherine Gypson sat down with Ibrahim to discuss the political landscape in Malaysia, the politics of a new trial he faces in November and how it will affect his plans to run for the position of Prime Minister in 2010. Watch >