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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Burma’s Political Prisoners and U.S. Sanctions


Michael F. Martin
Specialist in Asian Affairs

The installation of the Union Government in 2011 and the undertaking of initial reforms have raised the prospects for the resumption of a democratically elected civilian government in Burma after five decades of military rule. The release of Burma’s political prisoners has a central role in U.S. policy and Burma’s political future. Many of the U.S. sanctions on Burma were implemented after Burma’s ruling military junta suppressed protests and detained many political prisoners. In addition, the removal of many of the existing U.S. sanctions requires the release of all political prisoners in Burma.

Similarly, hopes for a democratic government in Burma—as well as national reconciliation— would depend on the release of prisoners associated with the country’s ethnic groups. Several ethnic-based political parties have stated they will not participate in parliamentary elections until their members are released from custody. Also, prospects for stable ceasefires and lasting peace with various ethnic-based militias will probably require the release of their members currently in detention.

Estimates of how many political prisoners are being detained in Burma vary greatly. In November 2011, President Thein Sein stated that there are no political prisoners in Burma because everyone in detention had committed a crime. Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Ko Ko told the press in January 2012 that 128 dissidents remain in detention. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), or AAPP(B), a non-profit organization dedicated to identifying and locating political prisoners in Burma, the Burmese government may have as many as 914 political prisoners in its 42 prisons and 109 labor camps scattered across the country.

Differences in the estimates of the number of political prisoners in Burma can be attributed to two main factors. First, Burma’s prison and judicial system is not very transparent, making it difficult to obtain accurate information. Second, there is no consensus on the definition of a “political prisoner.” Some limit the definition of “political prisoner” to “prisoners of conscience” (people who are detained for peaceful political opposition). The AAPP(B) includes “anyone who is arrested because of his or her perceived or real involvement in or supporting role in opposition movements with peaceful or resistance means.”

Since his appointment in April 2011, President Thein Sein has granted amnesty to selected prisoners on five separate occasions. In total, the Union Government has released 28,324 prisoners, of which 657 were political prisoners, according to the AAPP(B).

The State Department is actively discussing the political prisoner issue—including the definition of political prisoners—with the Burmese government, opposition political parties, and representatives of some ethnic groups. In these discussions, U.S. officials emphasize the importance of the release of all political prisoners for the removal of U.S. sanctions on Burma.

The status of Burma’s political prisoners is likely to figure prominently in any congressional consideration of U.S. policy in Burma. Congress may choose to examine the political prisoner issue in Burma either separately or as part of a broader review of U.S. policy towards Burma. Congress may also consider taking up legislation—on its own or in response to a request from the Obama Administration—to amend, modify, or remove some of the existing sanctions on Burma. This report will be updated as circumstances require.


Date of Report: July 5, 2012
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: R42363
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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

China, Internet Freedom, and U.S. Policy


Thomas Lum, Coordinator
Acting Section Research Manager/Specialist in Asian Affairs

Patricia Moloney Figliola
Specialist in Internet and Telecommunications Policy

Matthew C. Weed
Analyst in Foreign Policy Legislation

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has the world’s largest number of Internet users, estimated at 500 million people. Despite government efforts to limit the flow of online news, Chinese Internet users are able to access unprecedented amounts of information, and political activists have utilized the Web as a vital communications tool. In recent years, Twitter-like microblogging has surged, resulting in dramatic cases of dissident communication and public comment on sensitive political issues. However, the Web has proven to be less of a democratic catalyst in China than many observers had hoped. The PRC government has one of the most rigorous Internet censorship systems, which relies heavily upon cooperation between the government and private Internet companies. Some U.S. policy makers have been especially critical of the compliance of some U.S. Internet communications and technology (ICT) companies with China’s censorship and policing activities.

The development of the Internet and its use in China have raised U.S. congressional concerns, including those related to human rights, trade and investment, and cybersecurity. The link between the Internet and human rights, a pillar of U.S. foreign policy towards China, is the main focus of this report. Congressional interest in the Internet in China is tied to human rights concerns in a number of ways. These include the following:

  • The use of the Internet as a U.S. policy tool for promoting freedom of expression and other rights in China, 
  • The use of the Internet by political dissidents in the PRC, and the political repression that such use often provokes, 
  • The role of U.S. Internet companies in both spreading freedom in China and complying with PRC censorship and social control efforts, and 
  • The development of U.S. Internet freedom policies globally. 
Since 2006, congressional committees and commissions have held nine hearings on Internet freedom and related issues, with a large emphasis on China. In response to criticism, in 2008, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Google, and other parties founded the Global Network Initiative, a set of guidelines that promotes awareness, due diligence, and transparency regarding the activities of ICT companies and their impacts on human rights, particularly in countries where governments frequently violate the rights of Internet users to freedom of expression and privacy. In the 112th Congress, the Global Online Freedom Act (H.R. 3605) would require U.S. companies to disclose any censorship or surveillance technology that they provide to Internet-restricting countries. It also would bar U.S. companies from selling technology that could be used for the purposes of censorship or surveillance in such countries.

For over a decade, the United States government has sought to promote global Internet freedom, particularly in China and Iran. In 2006, the Bush Administration established the Global Internet Freedom Task Force, which was renamed the NetFreedom Task Force under the Obama Administration. Congress provided $95 million for global Internet freedom programs between 2008 and 2012. The Broadcasting Board of Governors has spent approximately $2 million annually during the past decade to help enable Internet users in China and other Internetrestricting countries to access its websites, such as Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

Some experts argue that support for counter-censorship technology, which has long dominated the U.S. effort to promote global Internet freedom, has had an important but limited impact. Obstacles to Internet freedom in China and elsewhere include not only censorship but also the following: advances in government capabilities to monitor and attack online dissident activity; tight restrictions on social networking; and the lack of popular pressure for greater Internet freedom. As part of a broadening policy approach, the U.S. government has sponsored a widening range of Internet freedom programs, including censorship circumvention technology; privacy protection and online security; training civil society groups in effective uses of the Web for communications, organizational, and advocacy purposes; and spreading awareness of Internet freedom.


Date of Report: July 13, 2012
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: R42601
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China’s Auto Sector Development and Policies: Issues and Implications


Rachel Tang
Analyst in Asian Affairs

The automobile industry, a key sector in China’s industrialization and modernization efforts, has been developing rapidly since the 1990s. In recent years, China has become the world’s largest automotive producer, with annual vehicle output of over 18 million units in 2011. China is now also the world’s biggest market for automobile sales. Meanwhile, China’s auto sector development and policies have caused concerns in the United States, from automotive trade, China’s failure to effectively enforce trade agreements and laws, to market barriers and government policies that increasingly favor Chinese manufacturers, which could affect business operations and prospects of international companies doing business in (or with) China.

China’s auto industry has developed extensively through foreign direct investment, which has come in the form of alliances and joint ventures between international automobile manufacturers and Chinese partners. These international automobile manufacturers, who generally dominate the higher end of the Chinese market, have focused on making cars for China’s large and fastgrowing market. The domestic Chinese automakers, who occupy the lower end of the market, struggle to improve design and quality to expand sales overseas.

China exports and imports relatively few vehicles. Most of the cars produced in China stay in China and its vehicle exports are mostly light trucks and passenger cars shipped to developing country markets. Automotive trade between the United States and China has increased in recent years, primarily in auto parts. In 2011, the United States imported over $12 billion in auto parts from China, making it the second-largest source of auto parts for U.S. imports (behind only Japan). Many of these imported parts are aimed at the aftermarket, as most of what China exports to the U.S. market now are standard products such as brake parts and electrical parts. But with high rates of investment and growth in China by the leading U.S. manufacturers of both cars and parts, major motor vehicle companies are increasingly sourcing parts from China.

There have been a number of auto sector trade disputes between the United States and China, addressing issues such as China’s implementation of its WTO obligations, failure to implement an effective IPR enforcement regime, market barriers such as high tariffs on vehicle imports, export restrictions of raw materials such as rare earths, and various forms of government assistance to domestic auto and parts companies, such as tire producers.

An emerging issue is that the Chinese government’s policies and measures are becoming increasingly restrictive towards foreign auto companies, while at the same time giving preferential support to its domestic car makers. As the central government designates cleanenergy vehicles and their components as one of the seven “strategic and emerging” industries (in which it aspires to become a world leader), foreign companies, such as GM, reportedly have been pressured to transfer technology and/or help their Chinese partners to develop these new technologies. These new restrictions and conditions imposed by the Chinese government have caused concerns among global auto companies regarding the business environment in China and how these measures may affect their business operations, growth plans, and competitiveness.

This report provides an overview of China’s auto sector development: vehicle production, sales, market drivers, foreign and domestic manufacturers, and automotive trade. It examines how the Chinese government policies and measures guide and often direct China’s auto sector development. In addition, this report discusses the prospects and implications for global automakers operating in China.


Date of Report: July 25, 2012
Number of Pages: 40
Order Number: R40924
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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Foreign Assistance to North Korea


Mark E. Manyin Specialist in Asian Affairs 
Mary Beth Nikitin 
Specialist in Nonproliferation


Should the United States resume food, energy, and/or denuclearization assistance to North Korea? This is the major issue facing Congress in considering the provision of aid to Pyongyang. Between 1995 and 2008, the United States provided North Korea with over $1.3 billion in assistance: just over 50% for food aid and about 40% for energy assistance. Since early 2009, the United States has provided virtually no aid to North Korea. On February 29, 2012, after bilateral talks with the United States, North Korea announced a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests, and nuclear activities (including uranium enrichment) at its Yongbyon nuclear facilities. It also said it would allow international nuclear inspectors to return to North Korea. The United States announced it would provide North Korea with 240,000 metric tons (MT) of food aid. However, the so-called “Leap Day deal” unraveled after North Korea on April 13, 2012, launched, in defiance of United Nations resolutions, a rocket to place an “earth observation satellite” into orbit. U.S. officials say that during bilateral negotiations they warned their counterparts that any rocket launch using ballistic missile technology would jeopardize the agreement. 

Food Aid.
North Korea has suffered from chronic, massive food shortages since the mid-1990s. Food aid—largely from China, South Korea, and the United States—has been essential in filling the gap. In 2011, in response to continued food shortages, Pyongyang reportedly asked the United States, South Korea, and other countries to provide large-scale food aid. The United Nations has issued an appeal for assistance. In 2008 and 2009, the United States shipped about a third of a planned 500,000 MT food aid pledge before disagreements with the North Korean government led to the program’s cessation.

Providing food to North Korea would pose a number of dilemmas for the United States. Pyongyang has resisted reforms that would allow the equitable distribution of food and help pay for food imports. Additionally, the North Korean government restricts the ability of donors to operate in the country. Multiple sources have asserted that some of the food assistance going to North Korea is routinely diverted for resale in private markets or other uses. However, it is likely that food aid has helped feed millions of North Koreans, possibly staving off a repeat of the famine conditions that existed in North Korea in the mid-late 1990s, when 5%-10% of the population died due to particularly severe food shortages.

In deciding how to respond to North Korea’s current request, the Obama Administration and Congress face a number of decisions, including whether to resume food aid; if so, whether to condition food aid on progress in security and/or human rights matters; whether to link assistance to Pyongyang easing its restrictions on monitoring; and whether to pressure China to monitor its own food aid. In June 2012, the Senate voted to prohibit food aid to North Korea, though the measure would allow the President to give aid if he issues a “national interest” waiver. 

Energy Assistance.
Between 1995 and 2009, the United States provided around $600 million in energy assistance to North Korea. The aid was given over two time periods—1995-2003 and 2007-2009—in exchange for North Korea freezing its plutonium-based nuclear facilities. In 2008 and 2009, North Korea also took steps to disable these facilities. However, no additional energy assistance has been provided since 2009, when Pyongyang withdrew from the Six-Party Talks— involving North Korea, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia—over North Korea’s nuclear program. The move followed condemnation and sanctions by the U.N. Security Council for North

Korea’s April 2009 launch of a suspected long-range missile and May 2009 test of a nuclear device.

In 2007 and 2008, the United States also provided technical assistance to help in North Korea’s nuclear disablement process. In 2008, Congress took steps to legally enable the President to give expanded assistance for this purpose. However, following North Korea’s actions in the spring of 2009, Congress rejected the Obama Administration’s requests for funds to supplement existing resources in the event of a breakthrough. Congress did approve monies for the State Department’s general emergency nonproliferation fund that the Administration could use in North Korea. The Obama Administration, along with the South Korean government, has said that it would be willing to provide large-scale development aid if North Korea takes steps to irreversibly dismantle its nuclear program.

This report will be updated periodically to track changes in U.S. provision of aid to North Korea.


Date of Report: June 25, 2012
Number of Pages: 27
Order Number: R40095
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Monday, July 9, 2012

North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation


Emma Chanlett-Avery
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Ian E. Rinehart
Analyst in Asian Affairs

North Korea has been among the most vexing and persistent problems in U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War period. The United States has never had formal diplomatic relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the official name for North Korea). Negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program have consumed the past three U.S. administrations, even as some analysts anticipated a collapse of the isolated authoritarian regime. North Korea has been the recipient of well over $1 billion in U.S. aid and the target of dozens of U.S. sanctions.

This report provides background information on the negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program that began in the early 1990s under the Clinton Administration. As U.S. policy toward Pyongyang evolved through the George W. Bush presidency and into the Obama Administration, the negotiations moved from mostly bilateral to the multilateral Six-Party Talks (made up of China, Japan, Russia, North Korea, South Korea, and the United States). Although the negotiations have reached some key agreements that lay out deals for aid and recognition to North Korea in exchange for denuclearization, major problems with implementation have persisted. With talks suspended since 2009, concern about proliferation to other actors has grown.

After Kim Jong-il’s sudden death in December 2011, the reclusive regime now faces the challenge of transferring dynastic power to his youngest son, Kim Jong-un. Pyongyang had shown signs of reaching out in 2011 after a string of provocative acts in 2010, including an alleged torpedo attack on a South Korean warship that killed 46 South Korean servicemen and an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island that killed two South Korean Marines and two civilians. Bilateral agreements with the United States in February 2012 involving the provision of aid and freezing of some nuclear activities fell apart after Pyongyang tried to launch a missile in April.

The Obama Administration, like its predecessors, faces fundamental decisions on how to approach North Korea. To what degree should the United States attempt to isolate the regime diplomatically and financially? Should those efforts be balanced with engagement initiatives that continue to push for steps toward denuclearization, or for better human rights behavior? Should the United States adjust its approach in the post-Kim Jong-il era? Is China a reliable partner in efforts to pressure Pyongyang? Have the North’s nuclear tests and alleged torpedo attack demonstrated that regime change is the only way to peaceful resolution? How should the United States consider its alliance relationships with Japan and South Korea as it formulates its North Korea policy? Should the United States continue to offer humanitarian aid?

Although the primary focus of U.S. policy toward North Korea is the nuclear weapons program, there are a host of other issues, including Pyongyang’s missile program, illicit activities, and poor human rights record. Modest attempts at engaging North Korea, including joint operations to recover U.S. servicemen’s remains from the Korean War and some discussion about opening a U.S. liaison office in Pyongyang, remain suspended along with the nuclear negotiations.

This report will be updated periodically. (This report covers the overall U.S.-North Korea relationship, with an emphasis on the diplomacy of the Six-Party Talks. For information on the technical issues involved in North Korea’s weapons programs and delivery systems, as well as the steps involved in denuclearization, please see the companion piece to this report, CRS Report RL34256, North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: Technical Issues, by Mary Beth Nikitin. Please refer to the list at the end of this report for the full list of CRS reports focusing on other North Korean issues.)


Date of Report: June 29, 2012
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: R41259
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Timor-Leste: Political Dynamics, Development, and International Involvement


Ben Dolven
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Rhoda Margesson
Specialist in International Humanitarian Policy

Bruce Vaughn
Specialist in Asian Affairs

The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste gained independence on May 20, 2002, after a long history of Portuguese colonialism and, more recently, Indonesian rule. The young nation, with a population of 1.1 million, has been aided by the United Nations under several different mandates under which the U.N. has provided peacekeeping, humanitarian, reconstruction and capacity building assistance to establish a functioning government. The current United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) is slated to withdraw from the nation at the end of 2012.

The independence of Timor-Leste (also known as East Timor) followed a U.N.-organized 1999 referendum in which the East Timorese overwhelmingly voted for independence. In response, Indonesian-backed pro-integrationist militias went on a rampage, killing an estimated 1,300 people and destroying much of Timor-Leste’s infrastructure. For several years thereafter, the international community’s main concern focused on possible tensions in East Timor’s relations with Indonesia. Since 2006 the main threat to East Timor has been internal strife resulting from weak state institutions, rivalries among elites and security forces, deep-set poverty, unemployment, east-west tensions within the country, and population displacement.

The situation in Timor-Leste in 2012 is relatively calm compared with recent periods of political strife and insurrection. The country held Presidential elections in March and April, which led to the election of Tuar Matan Rauk, a former army chief. The U.N. described the polls as “peaceful, smooth and orderly.” Parliamentary polls are due on July 7. Stability has been aided by the 2006 reintroduction of peacekeeping troops and a United Nations mission, the flow of revenue from hydrocarbon resources in the Timor Sea, and improved political stability. East Timor has significant energy resources beneath the Timor Sea.

That said, Timor-Leste faces many serious challenges as it seeks to establish and deepen a stable democracy and develop its economy. Many institutions in the young nation remain weak, and tensions remain between the young country’s political elites and among security forces. Timor- Leste remains one of Asia’s poorest nations, ranking 147th out of 187 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index. Generating economic opportunity and employment are among the government’s greatest challenges.

Congressional concerns have focused on security and the role of the United Nations, human rights, East Timor’s boundary disputes with Australia and Indonesia, and the strengthening of the nation’s political system and functioning of its parliament. Key challenges for Timor-Leste include creating enough political stability to focus on building state capacity and infrastructure, providing employment, and preventing the oil-and-gas revenue stream from being squandered by corruption or poor investment decisions.


Date of Report: July 3, 2012
Number of Pages: 20
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