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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"

China’s Ready to Rumble

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A fisherman (C) receives medical treatment upon his arrival home, after his boat was rammed and then sunk by Chinese vessels near disputed Paracels Islands, at Ly Son island of Vietnam's central Quang Ngai province May 29, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters) A fisherman (C) receives medical treatment upon his arrival home, after his boat was rammed and then sunk by Chinese vessels near disputed Paracels Islands, at Ly Son island of Vietnam's central Quang Ngai province May 29, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past two months, as China’s maritime disputes with Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam have escalated, most foreign observers and American officials, though worried, have shown little concern that the conflicts would explode into a full-scale war. After all, for more than three decades China has profited enormously from being part of the global economic system. Its military, though growing, remains far less technologically advanced than American armed forces. And for thirty years, predictions that China one day would try to dominate its region by force have always been proven wrong. Read more »

Thailand’s Coup Just One Sign of Southeast Asia’s Regression From Democracy

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai-coup-demonstration Demonstrators march as riot police officers and soldiers block a street during a protest against military rule in central of Bangkok on May 24, 2014. Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was in a "safe place" on Saturday, an aide said, after being held by Thailand's army following its seizure of power this week, as opposition to the coup grew among her supporters and pro-democracy activists (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

This past week, the Thai military launched its second coup in a decade, destroying what was left of Thailand’s shaky democratic system. This coup is likely to last longer, and be much harsher than the coup in 2006; already, the Thai armed forces are censoring Thai media and putting journalists and politicians in detention or in jail. Read more »

The U.S. Response to Thailand’s Coup

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thailand-coup Soldiers take up position at the Democracy monument after the coup was declared in Bangkok on May 22, 2014. Thailand's army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha took control of the government in the coup on Thursday saying the army had to restore order and push through reforms, two days after he declared martial law (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

So, the Thai military has now made real what, in effect, it had already done earlier this week—launched a coup and taken over the powers of government. The armed forces now have posted troops around Bangkok, dispatched ministers from the previous civilian government, abrogated the standing constitution (except for a few articles) and passed harsh new censorship decrees as part of their martial law plan. Most likely, the leaders of the Thai army shortly will appoint a caretaker government, which will be made up of mostly conservative, royalist political figures. Unsurprisingly, the anti-government PDRC protestors who had been demonstrating for months to evict the elected government of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and to put democracy on hold now are jubilant. The PDRC protestors have seemingly gotten exactly what they wanted—Yingluck is gone, the Puea Thai party is in disarray, and democracy has been put on hold. Whatever appointed government is put into place by the military likely will launch reforms that, in theory, could help cleanse Thailand’s political system of graft and vote buying but that, in reality, will be designed to try to ensure the Shinawatras and their political base are disempowered once and for all. Read more »

Thailand: It’s A Coup, Let’s Call it a Coup

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai martial law Thai soldiers walk inside a compound of the Army Club after the army declared martial law nationwide to restore order in Bangkok on May 20, 2014. Thailand's army declared martial law nationwide on Tuesday to restore order after six months of street protests that have left the country without a proper functioning government, but insisted the surprise intervention was not a military coup (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

Last night U.S. time the Thai military took control of the country’s broadcast networks and announced it was declaring martial law across the country, effectively putting the army in charge of all of Thailand, even though many provinces had been unaffected by the ongoing political strife in Bangkok. Whether or not the military has the legal basis to declare martial law remains unclear; the current Thai constitution seems to suggest that only the government—which means presumably the elected prime minister and cabinet—can declare martial law. The older constitution referred to by the military as its justification for intervening yesterday also states that a martial law order only can be revoked by a royal decree. Read more »

ASEAN’s Failure on Vietnam-China

by Joshua Kurlantzick
vietnam-china Security forces (front) scuffle with protesters chanting anti-China slogans during an anti-China protest in Vietnam's southern Ho Chi Minh city, in this photo taken by Kyodo on May 18, 2014. Vietnam flooded major cities with police to avert anti-China protests on Sunday, while Beijing evacuated thousands of citizens after a flare-up over disputed sovereignty in the South China Sea sparked rare and deadly rioting in Vietnam last week. China has evacuated more than 3,000 nationals following the attacks on Chinese workers and Chinese-owned businesses at industrial parks in its southern neighbor (Kyodo/Courtesy: Reuters).

Over the past week, as Vietnam’s contentious South China Sea dispute with China has escalated into outright ship-to-ship conflict around China’s new rig in the South China Sea, protests in Vietnam have escalated into major attacks on Chinese-owned factories in Vietnam (as well as on some other foreign factories, in part because demonstrators thought these factories were owned by Chinese companies.) Over the weekend, Vietnam’s government worked hard to cool the unrest inside Vietnam, primarily because the authoritarian regime in Hanoi is uncomfortable with any public protest, since it never knows what direction the demonstrations could turn. But Hanoi has not turned down its rhetorical anger at Beijing, with Hanoi’s official news agency accusing Beijing of showing “its aggressiveness by sending more military ships” to the area surrounded the disputed oil rig. Chinese ships reportedly have attacked Vietnamese coast guard ships with water cannons and rammed Vietnamese ships as well. Read more »

Vietnam Protests: More Than Just Anti-China Sentiment

by Joshua Kurlantzick
vietnam protests Protesters march during an anti-China protest on a street in Hanoi on May 11, 2014 (Kham/Courtesy: Reuters).

Protests that broke out earlier this week at factories in southern Vietnam have resulted in hundreds of arrests the past two days. Demonstrators torched several factories and smashed up more in industrial areas on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City. The exact number of arrests remains unknown, but some human rights activists I spoke with are now estimating the number of arrests is in the high hundreds, not the figures in the low hundreds given by news reports on Wednesday. Without a doubt, though, the coverage of the riots in the New York Times, which called them the worst public unrest in recent Vietnamese history, is correct. There have  been deadlier protests and riots in rural areas of Vietnam in recent years, especially in ethnic minority highland areas, but these protests and crackdowns received little public attention, and did not involve the numbers of people that we saw involved in the Ho Chi Minh City riots this week. Read more »

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 »