A nearly empty shopping street in Seoul, South Korea, Aug. 23, 2020 (AP photo by Ahn Young-joon).

South Korea, deservedly well-known for one of the world’s most successful initial responses to the coronavirus pandemic, is now seeing a dangerous spike in COVID-19 cases. On Thursday, 441 new infections were reported, the largest daily increase since March. The country has now seen triple-digit increases in new cases for 15 consecutive days, and patients have tested positive in all 17 provinces. Authorities have placed new restrictions on restaurants and ordered schools and kindergartens to close in Seoul, the bustling capital that is now the epicenter of the outbreak. The situation shows just how difficult it is to control this […]

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 23, 2019 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

The heads of Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook fended off tough questions from lawmakers last month at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee. To help allay concerns about monopolistic business practices, each CEO sought to portray his company as representing American values and serving American interests. They all did so in part by pointing to a threat supposedly bigger than their own companies: China. “If you look at where the top technology companies come from, a decade ago the vast majority were American. Today, almost half are Chinese,” Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said in his opening remarks. “There’s […]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and French President Emmanuel Macron during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, July 21, 2020 (Pool photo by Stephanie Lecocq via AP Images).

Something about the idea of Europe becoming a strategic actor in global affairs brings to mind the old Irish saying: May you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows you’re dead. Strategic autonomy has long been a recurring refrain for advocates of a more forceful Europe, one that is a rule-maker, rather than a rule-taker, in the shifting world order. But the European Union never seems to get any closer to realizing that goal, mainly due to internal divisions between member states over what interests to defend and advance, and wariness over the loss of sovereignty in […]

A staff member works on a mobile phone production line at a Huawei factory in Dongguan, China, March 6, 2019 (AP photo by Kin Cheung).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR Newsletter and Engagement Editor Benjamin Wilhelm curates the week’s top news and expert analysis on China. Guest contributor Lavender Au wrote the lead story in China Note this week. When the U.S. tightened restrictions on Huawei’s access to semiconductor chips last week, the Trump administration’s goal became clear, if it wasn’t already: kneecap the Chinese telecom giant’s technological advancement. Under a previous round of U.S. trade restrictions in May, Huawei was blocked from using American technology to make its own semiconductors, but the company found workarounds by obtaining chips designed by third parties. The latest […]

President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He hold a lunch after the signing of the phase-one U.S.-China trade deal, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Washington, Jan. 15, 2020 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

Not long ago, The New York Times labeled President Donald Trump the “biggest obstacle” to his own administration’s China policy. Trump’s trade war with China, which he launched as part of his campaign promise to get tough on its unfair trade practices, has always had unclear and shifting goals, while producing minimal results. Even as his administration has taken a relatively tough line against China’s high-tech industrial policies, Trump’s odd affinity for authoritarian leaders, including his “good friend” in China, Xi Jinping, kept getting in the way of a coherent policy, especially when it came to protecting human rights. Any […]

Pro-democracy protesters raise three fingers, a symbol of resistance, during a rally in Bangkok, Thailand, Aug, 16, 2020 (AP photo by Sakchai Lalit).

Towering over a traffic circle in downtown Bangkok, the Democracy Monument has borne witness to Thailand’s tumultuous political history. Built over eight decades ago, it features arching white wings that stand seven stories tall. At their base are militaristic images commemorating the country’s bloodless revolution of 1932, which ended the absolute monarchy and began a rocky transition to democracy. Since then, Thailand has gone through 18 constitutions and 13 coups. Along the way, the Democracy Monument has become a site of frequent popular protest—and violent suppression. In 1973, for example, security forces killed dozens of protesters who had gathered near […]

A CZ-5 rocket, carrying China’s first Mars explorer, lifts off from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in Hainan province, southern China, July 23, 2020 (FeatureChina photo by Yi Wei via AP).

On July 23, the Tianwen-1 spacecraft lifted off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island, in southern China, bound for Mars. If all goes according to plan, the probe is scheduled to reach the red planet in February 2021. That would make China just the third country in history to land on Mars, after the United States and the Soviet Union. While Tianwen-1 is focused on scientific exploration, the decision for any country to invest in such an ambitious endeavor is always deeply political. And while analysts often emphasize the security motives driving China’s pursuit of advanced space […]

A railway bridge over the Mekong River under construction in the suburbs of Luang Prabang, Laos, March 11, 2020 (Kyodo photo via AP Images).

Five months into the COVID-19 pandemic, East Asian countries like Vietnam, Taiwan and South Korea have garnered widespread praise for their effective handling of the coronavirus. Nearby Laos, with just 22 confirmed cases and no deaths, has gone largely unnoticed. While the World Health Organization has praised Laos’ prevention measures as “exemplary,” the mountainous Southeast Asian nation’s sparse rural population, limited transportation system and dearth of major cities have aided its response. But while Laos has so far weathered the public health effects of the pandemic, the economic impacts are starting to bite. In May, the World Bank cautioned that […]

Protesters give a hand signal, signifying the “Five demands, not one less,” during a demonstration against the new national security law in Hong Kong, July 1, 2020 (AP photo by Vincent Yu).

For most of the past decade, visions of the future of Hong Kong tended to fall into one of two starkly divided camps. The first, optimistic one held that the surprising resilience of Hong Kong’s civil society, including one example after another of massive and, until recently, overwhelmingly peaceful civil disobedience, would gradually bring Beijing around to the view that trying to impose tight controls over the city was not worth the devastating potential cost. Hong Kong, after all, had laid golden eggs for China for more than 20 years following Britain’s “handover” of the highly cosmopolitan and globalized outpost […]

American flags are displayed together with Chinese flags in Beijing, Sept. 16, 2018 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR Newsletter and Engagement Editor Benjamin Wilhelm curates the week’s top news and expert analysis on China. Guest contributor Yuan Ren wrote the lead story in China Note this week. President Donald Trump’s increasingly hawkish attempts to limit China’s influence in the United States broadened into cultural territory last week, when the State Department ordered the Washington headquarters of China’s state-funded Confucius Institutes to re-classify as a foreign mission in the U.S., much like its consulates and embassies. The Trump administration claimed that the government educational organization was under significant control of the Chinese Communist Party […]

U.S. President Donald Trump after attending a joint press conference with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, Nov. 9, 2017 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

The global economic map is reshuffling, and predictions abound on where the pieces will land. As companies scramble to protect themselves from U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade wars, the growing technology rivalry between the United States and China, and the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, will the long-promised “reshoring” of manufacturing back to higher-wage countries finally take place? Will the U.S. and China “decouple” their economies, particularly for the technologies of the future? If so, how will Europe, Japan and others respond? For the moment, the big winner is uncertainty. We have moved from a world in which companies […]

A man walks past a wall showing posters of political figures in Male, Maldives, Sept. 21, 2018 (AP photo by Eranga Jayawardena).

ADDU, Maldives—Visitors are slowly returning to the famous beach resorts of this island nation in the Indian Ocean after it reopened its borders last month, having largely contained its initial wave of COVID-19. While it failed to avoid the virus entirely, the Maldives has registered a relatively small caseload of around 5,300, including 21 deaths, confined largely to its crowded capital, Male. In recent days, however, community transmission across the atolls has increased at an alarming pace. Around a third of the country’s estimated 550,000-strong population live in Male, on one of the most densely populated islands on the planet, […]

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, left, and Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, during a meeting in Taipei, Taiwan, Aug. 10, 2020 (pool photo by Central News Agency via AP Images).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR Newsletter and Engagement Editor Benjamin Wilhelm curates the week’s top news and expert analysis on China. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar this week became the highest-level American official to visit Taiwan since 1979, when Washington severed official diplomatic ties with Taipei. The optics of the trip were questionable, as it came amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province that should be brought under its control, by force if necessary. Nevertheless, the visit was a boost for Taiwan, as it deals with constant anxiety over Chinese aggression. […]

A man walks past a poster encouraging people to wear face masks correctly in Hanoi, Vietnam, Apr. 23, 2020 (AP photo by Hau Dinh).

With the exception of Thailand, the five countries of mainland Southeast Asia are some of the poorest in the Asia-Pacific region. According to the World Bank, Cambodia has a per capita GDP of around $1,600, while Myanmar’s is roughly $1,400. Laos and Vietnam fare only marginally better, each at around $2,500. Their political systems run the gamut from semi-democracies to authoritarian one-party states. Yet despite some initial missteps, they have all largely suppressed COVID-19, proving far more effective in addressing the pandemic than most developed countries, including the United States. Vietnam, a country of roughly 95 million people, has reported […]

A volunteer sprays disinfectant to help contain the spread of the coronavirus, at the Santa Marta favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 10, 2020 (AP photo by Leo Correa).

Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is testing and revealing the limits of state authority. Simultaneously elevated and enfeebled, the nation-state has been the principal organizing unit behind the global crisis response. But often, it has lacked the legitimacy and authority it needs to manage the pandemic in the territories it purports to govern. In disputed territories and conflict zones, on remote isles in archipelagos, in favelas and urban settlements, citizens may look to the state for protection. But there at the margins, where the world’s most vulnerable populations often live, communities are instead enduring the pandemic without help from, […]

The SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle lifts off at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 30, 2020 (AP photo by John Raoux).

The splashdown of two American astronauts, Robert L. Benken and Douglas G. Hurley, in the Gulf of Mexico last Sunday was historic in many ways. It was the first water landing by NASA since 1975, and marked the completion of the first manned trip into outer space by a private company. Perhaps most importantly, it showed that the United States has officially regained the ability to send astronauts into space. For the better part of a decade, since the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011, the United States depended on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to get its astronauts to […]

Participants in a march for gender equality on International Women’s Day, in Tokyo, March 8, 2018 (AP photo by Shizuo Kambayashi).

Since beginning his current term in office eight years ago, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has repeatedly pledged that by 2020, 30 percent of leadership positions in the country would be held by women. But according to the World Economic Forum’s latest annual Global Gender Gap Report, women currently occupy only 15 percent of leadership posts in the country. To the surprise of no one, meeting Abe’s objective this year is “impossible, realistically speaking,” as one Japanese official acknowledged to the Mainichi newspaper in June. The government will instead push to hit its target “as early as possible by 2030.” […]

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