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Asia Unbound

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Showing posts for "Joshua Kurlantzick"

Obama, Asia, and Democracy

by Joshua Kurlantzick
obama-najib U.S. President Barack Obama and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak speak at the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Center in Cyberjaya in this file photo from April 27, 2014 (Larry Downing/Courtesy: Reuters).

It’s nice, in a way, to see issues one has worked on appear in major, globally important publications. This past week, just before President Obama’s trip to Asia, the Banyan column in The Economist, a column that focuses on Asia, detailed the Obama administration’s general disinterest in issues related to democracy and human rights in Asia. Banyan notes that President Obama has kept quiet as protests for suffrage have raged in Hong Kong. Banyan also writes that the Obama administration also has ignored a serious regression in political freedoms in Malaysia, maintained the close bilateral relationship with Thailand even as a military junta took over in Bangkok, and spent little time working on relations with the new Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, as authentic a democrat as you will get anywhere. Read more »

Myanmar Not Yet Attracting U.S. Companies

by Joshua Kurlantzick
yangon-coca-cola-factory Staff work at a Coca-Cola factory during its opening ceremony outside of Yangon in this file photo from June 4, 2013. The facility was the first to locally bottle Coca-Cola in more than six decades and follows the U.S. company's re-entry into Myanmar in 2012 (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy: Reuters).

As President Barack Obama arrives in Myanmar next week for the East Asia Summit, he will find less optimism not only about the political situation but also about Myanmar’s economic future. As I noted last week, when Obama first visited Myanmar in 2012, it was at the height of the country’s political reform process. Since then, the process of political reform has deteriorated, so much so that President Thein Sein last week held a kind of emergency summit with top civilian and military leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi. This meeting was held in an attempt, I think, to get all top Myanmar public figures to at least paper over their differences during the East Asia Summit. Still, it has become clear that the military does intend to just easily hand power over to a truly civilian government, freedom of expression and press has been curtailed once again, and western Myanmar has exploded into inter-religious conflict, leaving over 100,000 Rohingya living in squalid camps that have been described by the Arakan Project as open air prisons.  It will not be easy to paper over these serious problems. Read more »

Hun Sen’s Cambodia: A Review

by Joshua Kurlantzick
hun sen Cambodia's prime minister Hun Sen arrives at the Royal Palace during commemorations for the second anniversary of late king Norodom Sihanouk's death in Phnom Penh on October 15, 2014 (Samrang Pring/Courtesy: Reuters).

Although the Vietnam War, including the “sideshow” war in Cambodia, has been the subject of thousands of books, post-war Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos have gotten relatively little treatment from Western writers. This despite the fact that Cambodia suffered one of the worst genocides in history, Vietnam fought another war in 1979 against China and then remade itself into a strategic and economic power, and Laos remains one of the most authoritarian states in the world. Read more »

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 »