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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"

Is There a Way Out in Thailand?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai-protestors-may2014 Anti-government protesters react as their leader arrives at Thailand's parliament building during the senate session in Bangkok on May 12, 2014. Thailand's interim prime minister expressed hope on Monday that February's annulled general election could be re-run soon, and said anti-government protesters would not succeed in getting the senate to impose an alternative premier (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

Since Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was removed from office last week by the Constitutional Court, already-high tensions in Thailand have only ratcheted up. The anti-government protestors rallied in Bangkok this past weekend. They have called their protests the final push to remove the government and install a non-elected prime minister who will, presumably, try to roll back the power of Thailand’s rural voters and further empower unelected Thai institutions. Read more »

Thailand’s Prime Minister Removed, But No One Happy With the Result

by Joshua Kurlantzick
yingluck-shinawatra Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra addresses reporters in Bangkok on May 7, 2014. A Thai court found Yingluck guilty of violating the constitution on Wednesday and said she had to step down, throwing the country into further political turmoil, although ministers not implicated in her case can remain in office (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

Yesterday Thai time, Thailand’s Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court, ruled that caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra had abused her power and should be removed from office, along with nine other ministers in her cabinet. The charges were related to the removal from his position of a former civil servant three years ago. The New York Times has a summary of the situation here. Read more »

Thailand’s Stalemate to Continue

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Abhisit-Vejjajiva Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the opposition Democrat Party, speaks during a news conference in Bangkok in this photo from April 2009 (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy: Reuters).

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Thailand’s political situation does. Over the past week, Thai opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva offered what he had, in advance, touted as a reconciliation and reform plan. He had come up with a plan, he promised, that would bridge Thailand’s political divide, bring the Democrat Party back to contesting elections, and possibly end the paralyzing street protests that now have gone on for seven months. His reform plan would, he said, stop any further loss of life in Bangkok, where demonstrators have frequently clashed with police and counter-demonstrators. Any hope is sorely needed: The body count is rising, Thailand is becoming more divided daily, and the Thai caretaker government has barely functioned since the winter. (Parliamentary elections held this past February were declared invalid and anti-government protestors obstructed many pooling booths and prevented people from voting; so, the caretaker government continues on.) Read more »

Humanitarian Emergency Developing in Western Myanmar

by Joshua Kurlantzick
kyein-ni-pyin Kyein Ni Pyin camp for internally displaced people is pictured through the windows of an empty building at the camp in Pauk Taw, Rakhine state, in this photo taken April 23, 2014. Restrictions on international aid have exacerbated a growing health crisis among stateless Muslim Rohingya in west Myanmar (Minzayar/Courtesy: Reuters).

As President Obama has traveled through Asia this past week, media attention has rightly focused on his trip and on some of the highlights (United States-Philippines defense agreement) and lowlights (breakdown of TPP talks, the president’s decision not to meet Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim). But although the president has briefly mentioned the looming catastrophe in western Myanmar, he has not recently devoted much time to talking about the situation there. Read more »

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 »