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Showing posts for "Joshua Kurlantzick"

Obama Prepares to Travel to Myanmar at a Critical Time

by Joshua Kurlantzick
obama-in-myanmar Crowds hold U.S. flags as President Barack Obama's motorcade drives through Yangon on November 19, 2012. Obama became the first serving U.S. president to visit Myanmar (Jason Reed/Courtesy: Reuters).

In November, President Obama will travel to Myanmar to attend the East Asia Summit, which brings together a broad range of nations from across the Pacific Rim. It will be the president’s second trip to Myanmar, following his landmark 2012 trip, which was the first by a sitting U.S. president to Myanmar since the country gained independence six decades ago. During the East Asia Summit, Obama almost surely will hold bilateral meetings with Myanmar President Thein Sein and other senior Myanmar leaders, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Read more »

Malaysia’s Growing Climate of Repression Gets Ignored

by Joshua Kurlantzick
malaysia lawyer protest march Malaysian lawyers march during a protest calling for the repeal of the Sedition Act in Kuala Lumpur on October 16, 2014. The Sedition Act has been used to arrest at least 30 people since last March, local media reported (Olivia Harris/Courtesy: Reuters).

Amidst the gushing over the inauguration of new Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the first outsider, non-elite president in Indonesia’s democratic era, there is a significant void of international interest in neighboring Malaysia, where the climate for freedom of expression and assembly has deteriorated badly in the past year. Over the past year, the government of Prime Minister Najib tun Razak, which in Najib’s first term had promised to improve the climate for civil liberties and abolish long-hated laws that allowed detention without trial, has shifted course. The government has pursued a sodomy case against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim that, next week, almost surely will end with Anwar being sentenced to jail, though the case was a comedy of ridiculous “evidence” and coached witnesses. (To be clear—I don’t think sodomy should be a crime, but it is in Malaysia; even so, there was no verifiable evidence Anwar actually engaged in this “crime.”) Read more »

Why Is the Obama Administration Planning Cobra Gold 2015 with Thailand?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
prayuth sept 30 Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha waves after a handover ceremony for the new Royal Thai Army Chief at the Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok on September 30, 2014 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

Despite the fact that Thai junta leader–turned prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha recently let slip that the current Thai regime might not hold elections until 2016 or later, U.S. policy toward the kingdom remains largely the same as before the coup. Some in the State Department and other parts of the administration have urged the U.S. government to take a tougher line against Thailand, noting that there should be a clear U.S. response to the overthrow of an elected government. But recent reports suggest that the Obama administration is not going to cancel the 2015 Cobra Gold military exercises with Thailand next year or move it to another country, which would be a serious blow to the prestige of the Thai armed forces. Moving Cobra Gold, in fact, would be a much tougher response to the coup than the mild sanctions put in place by the Obama administration thus far. The administration plans merely to scale Cobra Gold down. Read more »

Thailand’s Elections? How About…Never. Is Never Good for You?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai senate elections Officials wait for voters at a polling station in Bangkok during a vote for a new Senate earlier this year, March 30, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

On his way to meetings in Europe this week, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who still seems to believe all reporters will simply accept his word without question as if they were in the military, stopped to briefly lecture journalists. Reporters have been asking Prayuth about the junta government’s roadmap for a return to electoral democracy, a question that, like all inquires, seems exasperating to Prayuth. In the course of his lecture, Prayuth basically let slip that, though he had earlier promised that elections would be held by October 2015, that date might have been overambitious, and Thailand actually might not have elections before 2016. Prayuth left open the possibility that even 2016 might be too soon for elections, or that elections might not happen at all. Read more »

More on Selling Vietnam Lethal Arms

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Crewmen aboard Vietnam coastguard ship 8003 monitor radar of Chinese ships in disputed waters close to China's Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig in the South China Sea,in this photo from July 15, 2014 (Martin Petty/Courtesy: Reuters). Crewmen aboard Vietnam coastguard ship 8003 monitor radar of Chinese ships in disputed waters close to China's Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig in the South China Sea,in this photo from July 15, 2014 (Martin Petty/Courtesy: Reuters).

Last week, after the Obama administration’s decision to begin selling Vietnam limited amounts of lethal arms, a shift in the policy that has been in place since the end of the Vietnam War, I noted in a blog post that I believed the administration had made the right move, despite Vietnam’s serious—and worsening—rights abuses. Administration officials note that any further lethal arms sales, and closer relations with Vietnam and the Vietnamese military, will be contingent on Vietnam making progress in tolerating dissent of all types. Indeed, according to a report on the lethal arms sales in the New York Times: Read more »

Selling Vietnam Lethal Arms: The Right Move

by Joshua Kurlantzick
vietnam military An officer checks the alignment of the honor guard at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on October 6, 2014 (Nguyen Huy Kham/Courtesy: Reuters).

Last Friday, the Obama administration partially lifted the U.S. ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam, which had been in place since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. According to the Associated Press, on Friday, “State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters the United States will now allow sales of lethal maritime security capabilities and for surveillance on a case-by-case basis.” These lethal arms sales will, for now, remain relatively limited, though the United States could sell Vietnam boats and planes, which would theoretically be used for Vietnam’s coast guard. Read more »

The U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong: Part of a Trend of Weakness on Democracy

by Joshua Kurlantzick
hong kong occupy central People walk near a blocked area outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on October 6, 2014. Pro-democracy protests in Chinese-controlled Hong Kong subsided on Monday as students and civil servants returned to school and work after more than a week of demonstrations, but activists vowed to keep up their campaign of civil disobedience (Carlos Barria/Courtesy: Reuters).

As protests have mounted in Hong Kong, with a possible violent resolution in sight, the U.S. Consulate in the SAR has done little more than issue tepid statements on the demonstrations, which had been largely peaceful and orderly until the past two days. “We do not take sides in the discussion of Hong Kong’s political development, nor do we support and particular individuals or groups involved in it,” the consulate’s most notable statement said. The statement’s anodyne weakness basically suggested that the United States did not care whether the democracy movement succeeded in Hong Kong, or whether Hong Kong people were granted the real universal suffrage and political rights promised them under the 1984 handover agreement. And as the New York Times reported on Saturday, when President Obama briefly met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week, they discussed a wide range of issues to be examined during Obama’s upcoming trip to Beijing; Hong Kong appeared to be just an afterthought for Obama and clearly would be an afterthought in Obama’s conversations in Beijing. Read more »

The Pivot and Democratic Regression in Southeast Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
cambodia opposition youth supoprt A young supporter of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) holds a Cambodian national flag during the last day of a three-day protest at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh on September 17, 2013 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

This past week’s serious challenges to democracy in Indonesia, on the heels of what had been a successful presidential election in July, should serve as a reminder that, while the region has made strides since the 1980s and early 1990s, democracy is far from entrenched in Southeast Asia. Retrograde forces, like the coalition of politicians allied with Prabowo Subianto in Indonesia, continue to stand in the way of democratic reforms. In some Southeast Asian nations, such as Thailand and Malaysia, anti-democratic forces have been highly successful in reversing progress toward democratization. Read more »

Indonesia’s Democracy Takes a Hit

by Joshua Kurlantzick
joko widodo-swearing in Indonesia's president-elect and current Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo looks up as he leaves a swearing-in ceremony of new local legislators at the city council in Jakarta on September 26, 2014. Indonesia's parliament on Friday approved a measure ending direct elections for governors and mayors, a move Widodo criticized as a "big step back" for democracy in the country. Indonesia introduced direct elections for regional leaders in 2005, allowing the emergence of a new breed of politician free of links to the political elite, with Widodo being the best-known example (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters).

Last week, I warned that the passage of a proposed law by Indonesia’s parliament that would end direct elections of local officials would be a major blow to Indonesian democracy. The legislation had been championed by the most retrograde elements in Indonesia, and in particular by the party of the losing presidential candidate in this past July’s election, Prabowo Subianto. Direct election of local and provincial officials had been a critical post-Suharto reform, a major part of Indonesia’s decentralization process, and a vital element of political empowerment. Direct elections had helped create a new group of younger Indonesian political leaders who actually had to serve their local publics or—horrors!—risk being booted out of office, and it also (somewhat) shifted the political balance of power away from Jakarta and out across the archipelago. Such a process of decentralization only made sense in a vast and diverse country.  Allowing for more local and provincial elections did increase the possibility of graft in holding more polls, as I noted in my book Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline in Representative Government. But, for most Indonesians, this was a reasonable price to pay to (generally) get more responsive local government. And in any event, earlier methods of selecting local leaders—basically, they were hand-chosen by Suharto and his allies—still had led to enormous amounts of rent-seeking. Read more »

The Lucky Country Is About to Run out of Luck

by Joshua Kurlantzick
australia mining A stacker/reclaimer places coal in stockpiles at the coal port in Newcastle, Australia, in this file photo taken on June 6, 2012 (Daniel Munoz/Courtesy: Reuters).

I don’t often write about Australia, partly because Australian politics are so stable and the country such a solid partner for the United States, but also because Australia has for twenty years basically avoided the ups and downs of the world economy. Alone among rich nations, Australia was basically unaffected by the global economic and financial crises of 2008-9 and the country also has not faced the kind of long-term economic slowdown challenges that confront Europe, the United States, and Japan. Unemployment today in Australia is around 6 percent, and earlier this year it was under 6 percent. Most forecasters project that Australia will grow by at least 3 percent in 2014, which is well above projections for most other developed economies. Read more »