CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

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

Posts by Author

Showing posts for "Joshua Kurlantzick"

Thanat Khoman and the Fraying of the U.S.-Thailand Alliance

by Joshua Kurlantzick
prayuth-obama-asean U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-och upon his arrival at Sunnylands for a 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Rancho Mirage, California on February 15, 2016. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Last week, Thanat Khoman, the longtime politician and former foreign minister of Thailand, died of natural causes in Bangkok. He was 102, and one of the last surviving leaders who played a central role in the Indochina Wars of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Thanat was foreign minister between 1959 and 1971, when the spread of communism through Indochina—communist forces had nearly encircled Luang Prabang during the First Indochina War, and communist forces obviously were making gains in Laos and South Vietnam during Thanat’s tenure—terrified the conservative Thai military regime. Read more »

Malaysia’s Institutions Come Unraveled

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Muhyiddin Yassin-Mahathir Mohamad-Malaysia (Seated from L to R) UMNO's Deputy President Muhyiddin Yassin, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and member of parliament Razaleigh Hamzah give a news conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on October 12, 2015. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir and some leaders of the ruling party jointly demanded resolution of the 1MDB state fund scandal on Monday and condemned a crackdown on dissent, signalling a divide within the coalition. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)

On Saturday, as the Diplomat reported, Malaysia’s former deputy prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, released a statement on Facebook warning that the country was slipping into dictatorship. Yassin lashed out against Prime Minister Najib tun Razak for overseeing this reversal from democracy. “In the face of public outrage at his leadership, Najib is using all the power that he has to suppress the voice of the opposition and silence his critics,” warned Yassin. “We are really witnessing the collapse of democratic institutions and the emergence of a new dictatorship.” Read more »

Plunging Commodity Prices and the Impact on Malaysia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
najib-razak-budget Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak announces revisions to the fiscal budget in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on January 28, 2016. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)

Last month, Malaysia cut its 2016 growth forecast and slashed spending plans as the economy continues to suffer from falling oil prices. Oil and commodities are very important to Malaysia’s economy, with palm oil, in particular, being one of its foundations. Gas and rubber are also important sectors. So falling global commodity prices have hurt Malaysia badly. According to an article in the Straits Times, the Malaysian government has said that “each $1 drop in oil prices slashes RM 300 million [roughly $72 million] from its annual revenue.” Read more »

The U.S.-ASEAN Summit: Final Thoughts

by Joshua Kurlantzick
U.S.-ASEAN-leaders summit-sunnylands U.S. President Barack Obama (C) is flanked by leaders from the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit during a group photo opportunity in Rancho Mirage, California, on February 16, 2016. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The U.S.-ASEAN summit earlier this week, held at Sunnylands estate in California, was overshadowed by the death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, and the political debate over his possible replacement. Many Southeast Asian leaders, who had looked forward to the summit as a sign of the Obama administration’s interest in the region, as well as a kind of blessing for hardline rulers like Cambodia’s Hun Sen and Thailand’s Prayuth Chan-ocha, were probably disappointed by how little attention the summit got from the U.S. media and from many U.S. politicians and opinion leaders. Read more »

Democratic Regression in Southeast Asia and the Islamic State

by Joshua Kurlantzick
indonesia-islamic state-trial An Indonesian policemen stands guard during the trial of Ahmad Junaedi, who is accused of supporting Islamic State, at West Jakarta court in Jakarta, on February 9, 2016. (Beawiharta/Reuters)

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

Part 3

Southeast Asia’s decade of democratic regression, which I examined in the previous blog post, reflects a worrying global retrenchment. Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World report, which measures the spread or retrenchment of freedom globally, has reported ten straight years of declining global political freedom. In Freedom House’s 2016 edition of Freedom in the World, more than seventy countries registered declines in political freedom as compared to the prior year. Read more »

The Elephant in the US-ASEAN Room: Democracy

by Joshua Kurlantzick
US-ASEAN-summit U.S. President Barack Obama (bottom L) participates in a US-ASEAN meeting at the ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on November 21, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Next week, at a summit in California, President Obama will meet the ten leaders of countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the most important regional group in Asia. The event, the first-ever US-ASEAN summit on American soil, is being touted by the White House as a sign of the importance of Southeast Asia. After all, the Obama administration has made relations with Southeast Asia a centerpiece of “the pivot,” or “rebalance to Asia,” a national security strategy that entails shifting American military, economic, and diplomatic resources to the Pacific Rim. Read more »

Critics of China Vanish Outside China’s Borders

by Joshua Kurlantzick
china-hong kong-disapppearances A policeman on duty during a protest on the disappearance of five booksellers, outside China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong, China on January 4, 2016. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

Gui Minhai, by most accounts, appeared quite happy with his life in Pattaya, a seedy seaside report east of Bangkok. The writer and editor, born in China and holding a Swedish passport, had been living in a condo in Pattaya and working on books for Mighty Current, a Hong Kong-based publishing house he founded that specialized in steamy (and possibly untrue) tell-alls about the private lives and political in-fighting of leaders of China’s Communist Party. He swam daily, and apparently wrote at a desk overlooking the blue-green Gulf of Thailand. Read more »

Democratic Regression and the Rise of Islamic State-Linked Militants in Southeast Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
indonesia-terrorism-southeast asia Indonesia Muslim youth salute during the ceremony of defending the country against terrorism, radicalism and drug in Jakarta, on January 17, 2016. (Beawiharta/Reuters)

Read Part 1 here

Part 2

After Jakarta’s initial successes against militants such as those from Jemaah Islamiah, a new generation of Islamists began to emerge in Southeast Asia in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Some had been students in schools set up, in the 1990s and 2000s, by earlier generations of radicals, while others had taken part in plots and attacks in the 1990s and 2000s and had survived the region-wide crackdown on Jemaah Islamiah and other militants. Read more »

Southeast Asia’s Democratic Regression and the Rise of Islamic State-Linked Militants

by Joshua Kurlantzick
indonesia-islamic state Antiterror police walk as one carries a box with items retrieved from the house of a suspected militant involved in an attack in Jakarta, in Sampit, Indonesia Central Kalimantan province, on January 16, 2016. (Norjani/Antara Foto/Reuters)

Read Part 2 here and Part 3 here Read more »

Violence Flares in Laos

by Joshua Kurlantzick
laos-violence-2016 Officials attend the Communist Party Congress in Vientiane, Laos January 21, 2016. (Stringer/Reuters)

Despite its reputation for placidity, and its popularity as a backpacker tourist destination, Laos remains one of the most repressive and politically opaque countries in the world. It is consistently ranked as “not free” by Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World Index, and unlike neighboring Thailand, Cambodia, or even Myanmar during junta rule, Laos has no organized opposition party. In fact, even small public protests in Laos are quickly suppressed, their leaders going missing for years afterward. Read more »