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Asia Unbound

CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

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Showing posts for "Joshua Kurlantzick"

Obama Won’t Meet Anwar, But Susan Rice Will

by Joshua Kurlantzick
anwar-ibrahim Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim speaks during a protest against the recent election results in Kuala Lumpur in June 2013 (Samsul Said/Courtesy: Reuters).

After sustained pressure from human rights groups, democracy advocates in Congress, and some within the Obama administration who were worried (rightly) that Obama touting Malaysia as a model democracy might be slightly compromised by the pending sham charges against Malaysia’s opposition leader, now it appears that National Security Advisor Susan Rice will meet Anwar Ibrahim during the president’s visit to Malaysia this coming weekend. AFP and ChannelNewsAsia have a summary of the most recent news on Obama’s upcoming visit to Malaysia here. Read more »

What President Obama Should Do in Malaysia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
obama-speaks-before-asia-trip-in-april U.S. president Barack Obama makes a statement to the media in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington on April 17, 2014 (Larry Downing/Courtesy: Reuters).

On April 27, President Obama will become the first sitting American president to visit Malaysia in five decades. This trip, which already had been postponed from the fall, has been complicated by the Malaysian government’s recent crackdown on opposition politicians, and by Kuala Lumpur’s inept handling of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 tragedy. However, Obama still plans to highlight the growing strategic and economic relationship between Malaysia and the United States, the relationship between himself and Prime Minister Najib tun Razak, and Malaysia’s supposed credentials as a moderate, Muslim-majority state and emerging democracy. But on his trip, the president should try to maintain a balanced focus, hitting the following points: Read more »

Indonesian Legislative Elections: Muddled Results, Not Positive for Policymaking

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A woman places a hand on a list of candidates for members of parliament at a polling station during voting for parliamentary elections in Jakarta on April 9, 2014. Indonesians voted for a new parliament on Wednesday in a poll that was dominated by the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), boosting the chances of its popular candidate in a presidential election three months from now (Beawiharta/Courtesy: Reuters). A woman places a hand on a list of candidates for members of parliament at a polling station during voting for parliamentary elections in Jakarta on April 9, 2014. (Beawiharta/Courtesy Reuters)

In terms of logistics and the quality of the actual voting day, Wednesday’s legislative elections in Indonesia were of a very high standard, with few irregularities reported across the massive country. The election once again shows that, in terms of the election day itself, Indonesia has moved toward consolidating its democracy and can be trusted to hold fair and relatively well-run polls. Read more »

Obama in Malaysia: A Strategic Partnership?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
najib-and-obama-in-2011 U.S. president Barack Obama meets with Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, on November 18, 2011 (Jason Reed/Courtesy: Reuters).

During his upcoming late April trip to Asia, President Obama will visit two nations in Southeast Asia, Malaysia and the Philippines, in addition to stops in Northeast Asia. The White House already has been briefing reporters on the overall messaging of the trip, and the specific themes the president plans to hit in Malaysia and the Philippines. In Malaysia, it appears from several news reports and from speaking with several administration officials, President Obama will add to the Malaysian government’s self-promotion that Kuala Lumpur is a successful and democratic nation, an example of other Muslim-majority countries, and a force for moderation in the world. The president apparently plans to hit these themes despite the regional anger at Malaysia’s handling of the Malaysia Airlines vanished plane, which exposed to the world many of the problems with Malaysia’s governance. Read more »

Total Breakdown in Myanmar’s Arakan State

by Joshua Kurlantzick
rakhine-state-violence A warehouse of the United Nation Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is seen damaged by the recent violence in Sittwe on March 28, 2014. Protesters in Myanmar's Rakhine State opposed to a census attacked offices and houses used by international aid groups after reports a European staff member from one group had removed a Buddhist flag used as a symbol to boycott the operation, witnesses said. The violence broke out late on Wednesday and continued into Thursday. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy: Reuters).

Over the weekend, according to Radio Free Asia and other news reports, nearly all international aid groups operating in western Myanmar’s Arakan, or Rakhine, State, fled the state capital or hid in police stations and other (supposedly) secure locations. They had to flee or hide as mobs of angry Arakanese Buddhists attacked several aid workers, and threatened many other offices of international aid agencies. This comes on the heels of several other attacks on international aid agencies operating in Arakan State and on the government’s decision to bar Doctors Without Borders, the leading health care provider to internally displaced people in Arakan State, from operating in the state. The Irrawaddy has a summary of the events here. Read more »

Obama’s Upcoming Trip to Malaysia: Going to Be Prickly and Tough

by Joshua Kurlantzick
najib-razak Since taking office last year, Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak has become more indebted to hardline, conservative elements in the ruling coalition, which has undercut the previously promised economic reforms that many, including the White House, had praised. (Edgar Su/Courtesy: Reuters).

After canceling a trip to Southeast Asia last fall because of the U.S. government shutdown, President Obama is now planning to travel to the region in late April. (He will travel to Northeast Asia as well.) The president plans to visit Malaysia, where last year he had to skip a summit of entrepreneurs where he had promised to speak. The Washington Post recently had a piece summarizing the upcoming trip and noting that Obama will be the first sitting president to visit Malaysia in about fifty years. This is supposed to be a celebratory occasion. Read more »

Can Malaysia Restore Its Public Image?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
malaysia-flight-family-briefing Relatives of passengers onboard missing flight MH370 complain to an official from Malaysia Airlines after the company's briefing to family members at a hotel in Beijing on March 19, 2014. Investigations into the mystery of the missing Malaysian jet appeared to be at a deadlock on Wednesday, with an exhaustive background search of the passengers and crew showing nothing untoward and no sign that the plane could be quickly found (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Courtesy: Reuters).

The Malaysian government probably has done more over the past week to undermine the international image of Malaysia than anyone else in the country’s nearly sixty years as an independent nation.

Of course, for most of those six decades until the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 the country received little international attention. If Malaysia made the news at all, it tended to get a relatively favorable image as a peaceful and multi-ethnic nation that had witnessed some of the strongest economic growth in Asia. Read more »

Why Malaysia Will Say Almost Nothing About the Missing Flight

by Joshua Kurlantzick
malaysia-flight Department of Civil Aviation director general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman looks on during a news conference at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on March 10, 2014 (Edgar Su/Courtesy: Reuters).

With an international team of investigators still seemingly baffled about what happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared over the weekend, relatives of the passengers and diplomats from countries touched by the mishap have vented their frustration with the Malaysian government. For days, it seems, Malaysian officials and the state-owned carrier have released almost no information about the flight or working theories of why it vanished. Malaysia Airlines did not even inform relatives for fifteen hours that the plane had disappeared, sending the distraught families to a hotel in Beijing to wait, and Kuala Lumpur’s envoys still have mostly kept the relatives in the dark days later. Read more »

Should Thailand be Downgraded to Tier 3 in Trafficking in Persons Report?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Rohingya-Thailand-detention-center Rohingya Muslims gather at the Immigration Detention Center during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in Kanchanaburi province in July 2013. The stateless people arrived in Thailand in early 2013 after fleeing a bloody conflict between the Buddhist and Muslims in Myanmar's western Rakhine State. A Reuters report claims Thailand has clandestinely been removing Rohingya migrants from detention centers to deliver them to human traffickers (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

The State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report likely will be released in June. Despite warranting a lower rating, Thailand has barely escaped being downgraded to Tier 3, the lowest possible rating in the report, for five years now. Although Thailand almost certainly has deserved to be put in the lowest tier, because of the massive amount of human trafficking routed through Thailand and the complicity of Thai government officials. Thailand has been exempted from the downgrade for years because of close ties between the United States and the kingdom, including cooperation on many other issues. Washington basically did not want to offend Thailand’s government by lumping it in at the bottom of the report, in Tier 3, alongside countries like Congo (DRC), Mauritania, and Sudan. Countries in Tier 3 are states “whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards [on combating trafficking in persons] and are not making significant efforts to do so,” according to the definition provided by the TIP report. Read more »

Doctors without Borders Kicked out of Rakhine State; Hatred Rising

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A nurse walks past as a child sitting at Medecins Sans Frontieres Holland's clinic in Yangon on March 3, 2014. (Minzayar Minzayar/Courtesy Reuters) A nurse walks past as a child sitting at Medecins Sans Frontieres Holland's clinic in Yangon on March 3, 2014. (Minzayar Minzayar/Courtesy Reuters)

News this past weekend that the Myanmar government appears to have kicked Doctors without Borders/Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) out of Arakan/Rakhine State is just another disturbing piece of news suggesting that inter-religious hatred in the country is rising, and the Myanmar government continues to deny this powder keg is close to exploding. Doctors without Borders had been working across Arakan/Rakhine State,  where it has treated thousands of people. The organization has been working in Myanmar for two decades and, in addition to its work in Arakan/Rakhine State, where over 100,000 people have become refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the past three years, Doctors without Borders also has been a central part of Myanmar’s anti-HIV strategy and treatment for years. Read more »