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Asia Unbound

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Showing posts for "Joshua Kurlantzick"

Thailand’s Royal Succession Battle Comes Into (Slightly) More Open View

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai-royal-guard-king's-birthday-2014 Thai Royal Guards ride their horses in front of the Grand Palace during a military parade as a part of a celebration for the upcoming birthday of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in Bangkok, on December 2, 2014. The revered king, the world's longest reigning monarch, will turn 87-years-old on December 5 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy: Reuters).

This post is part of a series on Thai leadership.

The past ten years of political turmoil in Thailand have revolved around several contentious challenges. A growing, politically empowered, and vocal working class in Thailand’s provinces has clashed with traditional Bangkok elites. Shifts in Thailand’s constitutions have led to a two-party system, rather than the old multi-party politics, but the two-party system has struggled to effectively represent the interests of a majority of Thais. The Thai military, once thought to be under civilian control, has reasserted its power throughout the past decade, while other institutions have failed to control the military’s resurgence. Violent street protests have emerged as a weapon to bring down governments, with no consequences for the violent demonstrators, a development that only fosters more violent protests. Read more »

How the Pivot Is Adding to Democracy’s Woes in Southeast Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai-may-protest-3 A protester against military rule holds a sign in front of soldiers deployed to the Victory monument in Bangkok where protesters gathered on May 26, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

Throughout much of the 1990s and early 2000s, Southeast Asia was one of the world’s bright spots for democracy. Even Myanmar, long one of the most repressive nations in the world, seemed to be changing. In 2010 and 2011, the xenophobic leadership of the Myanmar army, which had ruled the country since 1962, began a transition to civilian government by holding elections that ultimately helped create a partially civilian parliament. The country seemed poised for free elections in 2015 that would solidify its democratic change. Since the early 2010s, however, Southeast Asia’s democratization has stalled and, in some of the region’s most economically and strategically important nations, it has even reversed. Over the past decade, Thailand has undergone a rapid and severe democratic regression and Malaysia’s democratic institutions and culture have regressed as well. While less drastic, there have also been troubling developments in a number of other countries. Read more »

Jokowi’s Maritime Doctrine and What it Means

by Joshua Kurlantzick
jokowi-at-eas Indonesia's President Joko Widodo listens to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's speech (not pictured) at the 17th ASEAN-Japan Summit during the 25th ASEAN Summit at the Myanmar International Convention Centre in Naypyitaw on November 12, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

Despite coming into the Indonesian presidency as a man with minimal foreign policy experience, Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has attempted to launch a bold new foreign policy doctrine. Since the end of the Suharto dictatorship, Indonesian presidents have slowly rebuilt the country’s clout in regional and international affairs, which diminished greatly in the chaotic post-Suharto era. Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, though considered mostly a failure as a domestic reformer, did restore Indonesian leadership of ASEAN and play a significant role in helping mediate several regional conflicts. Read more »

Obama Returns Home to Harsh Reality

by Joshua Kurlantzick
obama at apec President Barack Obama pauses during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' meeting at the International Convention Center at Yanqi Lake in Beijing on November 11, 2014 (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Reuters).

President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Asia has been described as a triumph by some observers as well as by the administration itself. On the trip, which included meetings with Chinese and Myanmar leaders and appearances at two Asian regional organizations, the White House announced a new climate agreement with Beijing that would commit both countries to meeting targets for cutting their carbon emissions. It also announced other supposed breakthroughs. The United States and China agreed to a new system of notifying each other of military movements in the region and agreed to cut tariffs on other IT equipment. Obama also declared that the Pacific nations were getting close to concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Read more »

Obama’s Visit to Myanmar: A Mixed Result

by Joshua Kurlantzick
U.S. President Barack Obama and opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi hold a press conference after their meeting at her residence in Yangon, November 14, 2014 (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy: Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama and opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi hold a press conference after their meeting at her residence in Yangon, November 14, 2014 (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy: Reuters).

During President Obama’s visit to Myanmar last week, for the East Asia Summit, the president said some of the right things about Myanmar’s faltering political reform process. He noted the ongoing discrimination – some would say outright ethnic cleansing – against Rohingya in western Myanmar, as well as the precarious rule of law in much of the country. He expressed concern about the challenges of Myanmar’s elections next year, which will be held under a constitution designed to bar Aung San Suu Kyi from taking the presidency and which still reserves enormous powers for the military. The constitution, as it stands, will pose a danger to any future Myanmar civilian government, even if Suu Kyi’s party, as expected, wins control of Parliament next year. And much of the press coverage of the Myanmar visit focused on the president’s remarks about Myanmar’s political challenges. Indeed, Obama’s aides clearly briefed reporters covering the trip to emphasize that the visit was focused on pressuring the Myanmar leadership to reform, since several news articles picked up this theme. Read more »

Grading Jokowi’s First Month

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Indonesia's new President Joko Widodo shouts "Merdeka" or Freedom at the end of his speech, during his inauguration at the House of Representative building in Jakarta, October 20, 2014. Widodo took over as president of the world's third-largest democracy on Monday with supporters' hopes high but pressing economic problems and sceptical rivals set to test the former furniture businessman. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside (INDONESIA - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) Indonesia's new President Joko Widodo shouts "Merdeka" or Freedom at the end of his speech, during his inauguration at the House of Representative building in Jakarta on October 20, 2014. (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy Reuters)

Slightly less than a month into Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s term in office, a few aspects of how Jokowi will govern are coming into focus. And since he promised major change in the first hundred days of his presidency, it is fair to analyze how he has done to this (short) point in time. Let’s run down how the former Jakarta mayor, who never held national office before, is doing in several key areas. Read more »

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 »