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Showing posts for "Joshua Kurlantzick"

No Going Back Now for Thailand: Coup Coming?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A man holds up a poster during an anti-violence campaign in central Bangkok on January 10, 2014.(Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) A man holds up a poster during an anti-violence campaign in central Bangkok on January 10, 2014.(Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

The planned shutdown for Bangkok on Monday Thai time, which is supposed to paralyze the capital, is but the latest in a series of anti-government protests held around the capital. But as I wrote earlier this week, all sides now are becoming more extreme, and I see no reason to think that this week will be peaceful. Instead, both the hard-core of the protest movement and some officers among the pro-red shirt police force are itching for an open conflict in the streets. This, I think, is likely to occur next week, and I expect both some of the protesters and many of the most aggressive—and, frankly, stupid—police to break out weaponry, including potentially even live ammunition. Read more »

Predictions for 2014

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Chinese sailors stand at attention on the helipad of the Chinese frigate Yancheng docked at Limassol port on January 4, 2014. (Andreas Manolis/Courtesy Reuters) Chinese sailors stand at attention on the helipad of the Chinese frigate Yancheng docked at Limassol port on January 4, 2014. (Andreas Manolis/Courtesy Reuters)

Just as in 2013, the new year promises to be a year of enormous dynamism and change in Asia. The region is now not only the biggest engine of global growth but also the center of multilateral free trade negotiations, the real heart of a democracy “spring” in developing nations–and the home of the rawest, most dangerous power politics in the world. After all, only in Asia do great powers with great stocks of nuclear weapons still face each other down, Cold War-style. In a new piece for Bloomberg, I offer my predictions for the region for 2014. Read it here.

Can Thailand Move Forward in 2014?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Riot policemen wears gas masks as they stand guard at the Thai-Japan youth stadium in central Bangkok on December 26, 2013. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters) Riot policemen wears gas masks as they stand guard at the Thai-Japan youth stadium in central Bangkok on December 26, 2013. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters)

Having just returned from Thailand, where the anti-government protest movement continues in force, and plans to shut down Bangkok again in two weeks, I can’t say I am optimistic about the Kingdom’s prospects for 2014. Although I do not think the anti-government protests planned for January 13 will draw as many people as those in December, simply because it is hard to continue to turn out such large numbers, the core of the demonstrators have become more and more willing to use aggressive, violent tactics. The increasing hard-line nature of the protests hardly bodes well for January. Read more »

Suu Kyi Faces Growing Criticism

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi looks on as she leads a news conference at the foreign ministry in Rome on October 28, 2013. (Max Rossi/Courtesy Reuters) Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi looks on as she leads a news conference at the foreign ministry in Rome on October 28, 2013. (Max Rossi/Courtesy Reuters)

Just a short blog item to think about over your holiday season; Asia Unbound will be back in force in the new year.

Over the past two years, as Buddhist-Muslim violence in Myanmar has spread from western Arakan/Rakhine State to other areas across the country, few leading Burman Buddhist politicians have been willing to criticize the Buddhist paramilitary groups responsible for starting most of the violence. President Thein Sein, to his credit, has on occasion condemned the violence, though his government has done little to address the root causes of the unrest. But Aung San Suu Kyi has, over the past two years, been even more reticent to comment on the unrest than Thein Sein or other top government officials. Read more »

Thailand’s Political Crisis—Not so Unique

by Joshua Kurlantzick
An anti-government protester holds a placard as she gathers with others during a rally at a major business district in Bangkok on December 19, 2013. (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy Reuters) An anti-government protester holds a placard as she gathers with others during a rally at a major business district in Bangkok on December 19, 2013. (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy Reuters)

As Thailand heads into the new year, which will mark four months of political crisis, one of the most persistent—and dangerous—concepts in Thai politics remains this idea that Thailand is somehow unique. According to this popular theory, Thailand’s history, politics, and potential political solutions are completely unique, untethered from the experiences of any other developing nations. This Thailand-as-unique narrative clearly comes across in the rhetoric of the anti-government protest movement and its quest for rule by a few good men, in the weakness of studies of comparative politics in the kingdom, and in the denunciation of foreign academics and journalists who write about Thailand. Read more »

Myanmar’s SEA Games Success a Positive Omen

by Joshua Kurlantzick
People take photos as fireworks are released during the opening ceremony of the 27th SEA Games in Naypyitaw December 11, 2013. Myanmar is hosting the games for the first time in over 40 years. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) People take photos as fireworks are released during the opening ceremony of the 27th SEA Games in Naypyitaw December 11, 2013. Myanmar is hosting the games for the first time in over 40 years. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

Since December 11, the Southeast Asian Games, a kind of Olympics for Southeast Asia, have been taking place in Myanmar. They go on until December 22, and there have been the kinds of minor hiccups one expects at any international sporting event—the Philippines is protesting a decision to strip one Filipina swimmer of her gold medal—but these are hardly different than the challenges that emerge regularly at the Olympics. Remember Roy Jones Jr. sitting on his chair in the boxing ring in Seoul in 1988, stunned at a clearly partisan judging decision  in the gold medal match that went against him? Other participants in the SEA Games have claimed that Myanmar, which as the host country has considerable sway over what events are included, decided to include an enormous number of obscure sports in order to boost its medal tallies and those of its closest allies, while excluding normal Olympic sports like gymnastics. Read more »

Is Free Trade Back in Gear After the Bali WTO Meeting?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A man walks past a logo of the World Trade Organization (WTO) ahead of the ninth WTO Ministerial Conference in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on December 2, 2013. (Edgar Su/Courtesy Reuters) A man walks past a logo of the World Trade Organization (WTO) ahead of the ninth WTO Ministerial Conference in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on December 2, 2013. (Edgar Su/Courtesy Reuters)

This month’s conclusion of the Bali World Trade Organization meetings was hailed by many business leaders and politicians as a major step forward for multilateral free trade, and an important step toward resuscitating the current round of WTO talks. But in reality, the results of Bali were minimal—officials at the meeting failed to reach any consensus on most of the substance on the table for the next WTO round, instead just deferring any substantial items on the WTO agenda. Read more »

Demise of the Democrat Party in Thailand

by Joshua Kurlantzick
An anti-government protester waves a Thai national flag during a rally at the Royal Plaza near the Government House in Bangkok on December 9, 2013. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters) An anti-government protester waves a Thai national flag during a rally at the Royal Plaza near the Government House in Bangkok on December 9, 2013. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters)

When I first moved to Thailand, in 1998, the Democrat Party, the oldest continuously-operating party in the kingdom, was in control of the government and was navigating Thailand through the economic reforms necessitated by the Asian financial crisis, which started in Thailand the previous year with the collapse of the baht. Although some of the reforms were unpopular, and the country was hurting badly from the baht’s fall, the collapse of many financial institutions, and the sudden halt in construction, I admired then-Democrat Party leaders like Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai for their willingness to take on hard economic reforms. I also admired many of them for championing Thailand’s 1997 constitution, the most reformist in the kingdom’s history, a landmark document that enshrined a wide range of rights. Read more »

Why Is Thailand Allergic to Democracy?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Anti-government protesters sweep the street around the Democracy Monument after weeks of protesting and days of clashes with police in Bangkok's city centre on December 4, 2013. (Dylan Martinez/Courtesy Reuters) Anti-government protesters sweep the street around the Democracy Monument after weeks of protesting and days of clashes with police in Bangkok's city centre on December 4, 2013. (Dylan Martinez/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past week, Thailand’s political unrest has descended into serious, chaotic violence. On Monday and Tuesday, protesters entered the grounds of both police headquarters and Government House, having already occupied other ministries. Despite a short truce to observe the king’s 86th birthday on December 5, the conflict is likely to start up again, since protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has vowed to keep on, and the deep divides in Thai society remain. Read more »

The U.S. Response to Thailand’s Unrest

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A Thai Buddhist monk puts on a gas mask as riot police use water cannon and tear gas while anti-government protesters attempt to remove barricades outside Government House in Bangkok on December 2, 2013. (Dylan Martinez/Courtesy Reuters) A Thai Buddhist monk puts on a gas mask as riot police use water cannon and tear gas while anti-government protesters attempt to remove barricades outside Government House in Bangkok on December 2, 2013. (Dylan Martinez/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the weekend, Thailand’s political unrest, which was already sliding downhill last week, took a turn for the worse. Clashes between anti-government demonstrators, pro-government demonstrators, police, and unidentified thugs resulted in four dead and dozens wounded over the weekend, and the police’s use of force was a blow to the Yingluck Shinawatra government’s promise to use non-violent measures to disperse protests. (The police have used tear gas, some other kind of burning gas, and, according to some media reports, rubber bullets.) The demonstrators show no sign of backing down, even following a meeting between Prime Minister Yingluck and the main protest leader, former Democrat Party politician Suthep Thaugsuban. Suthep has given the government a two-day ultimatum to hand over power. Demonstrators have ignored calls by the government to stay indoors at night and to call off their strikes. It is likely that, whatever kind of head is going to come to this conflict, it will come before December 5, the birthday of Thailand’s revered king. What’s more, the fact that Thailand’s military already has become involved in the crisis, trying to mediate between politicians and moving out to points around the city, is not a good sign for a peaceful resolution by civilians. Read more »