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

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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 »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of January 22, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Bacha-Khan-protest Civil society members take part in protest against the attack on Bacha Khan University at a demonstration in Peshawar, Pakistan, January 21, 2016. (Khuram Parvez/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Ariella Rotenberg, Ayumi Teraoka, Gabriel Walker, and James West look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. Terrorists kill twenty-one in attack on Pakistani university. On Wednesday, gunmen stormed Bacha Khan University in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Charsadda district, killing twenty-one people and injuring dozens more. Four attackers were killed in an hours-long gun battle with security guards, local police, and the army in the attempt to secure the campus. Read more »

Can Suu Kyi Break Myanmar’s Ceasefire Deadlock?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
aung-san-suu-kyi-negotiations-speech Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi gives a speech during talks between the government, army and representatives of ethnic armed groups over a ceasefire to end insurgencies, in Naypyitaw on January 12, 2016. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

Last week, Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party will control Myanmar’s next parliament, participated for the first time in the government’s ongoing peace negotiations with ethnic minority insurgencies. As the Associated Press reported, Suu Kyi declared that she would push for a complete peace accord, one that includes the insurgent groups that did not sign an initial peace framework last autumn. Read more »

What’s Next for Japan-Taiwan Relations

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith
Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (L) and vice presidential candidate Chen Chien-jen greet supporters as they take the stage during a final campaign rally ahead of the elections in Taipei, Taiwan, January 15, 2016 (REUTERS/Pichi Chuang). Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (L) and vice presidential candidate Chen Chien-jen greet supporters as they take the stage during a final campaign rally ahead of the elections in Taipei, Taiwan, January 15, 2016 (REUTERS/Pichi Chuang).

Ayumi Teraoka is research associate for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Taiwan’s presidential and Legislative Yuan elections on Saturday were closely monitored in Japan, where deep historical, cultural, and social ties with Taiwan remain. Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) released its official statement congratulating Tsai Ing-wen on her victory and assuring her that the Abe government would work toward “further deepening cooperation” with Taiwan. Japan’s strategic opportunities with Taiwan lie in further economic cooperation, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga’s statement of support this Monday for Taiwan’s entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a step in a welcome direction for Tokyo-Taipei relations in 2016 and beyond. Read more »

Democracy’s Continuing Struggles

by Joshua Kurlantzick
putin-speech President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a concert of the Children's Choir of Russia in Moscow, Russia, on December 25, 2015. (Reuters/Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin)

After the end of the Cold War, experts who closely studied trends in democratization believed that democracy was destined to sweep the globe. With the Soviet Union gone, there was no clear ideological force opposed to democracy, and no obvious model for economic growth under an autocratic government. Democracy had sunk roots in every corner, including in the poorest countries in Africa and Asia, disproving some theorists who once believed political freedom only worked in wealthy countries. Read more »

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Investigated for Lèse Majesté

by Joshua Kurlantzick
glyn-davies-thailand U.S. ambassador to Thailand Glyn Davies listens to a question from a journalist during a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand, on November 30, 2015. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Last week, in a move that was shocking despite the cooling U.S.-Thailand relationship, the Thai government announced that the U.S. ambassador in Bangkok, Glyn Davies, was being investigated on suspicion of having insulted King Bhumibhol Adulyadej. Ambassador Davies had spoken to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in late November. During his talk, according to the New York Times, Davies criticized the “long prison sentences handed to some of those found guilty of criticizing [the] king” under Thailand’s lèse majesté laws, generally considered the harshest in the world. Read more »

Najib Stays in Power as UMNO Meets

by Joshua Kurlantzick
najib-razak-unmo meeting Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives at a session of the 27th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Kuala Lumpur, on November 21, 2015. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)

This past summer, as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib tun Razak faced an explosion of news articles about alleged irregularities in the 1MDB state fund and about the appearance of over $600 million in Najib’s personal bank account, many Malaysian politicians believed that Najib would not survive as prime minister through the end of the year. Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, still one of the most influential figures in Malaysia, had unleashed a steady stream of online invective at Najib, repeatedly calling on him to resign. Read more »

The Year in Democracy in Southeast Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
myanmar-elections-3 Supporters of Myanmar's pro-democracy figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi gather outside National League for Democracy headquarters (NLD) in Yangon, Myanmar, on November 9, 2015. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

In the weeks since Myanmar’s national elections in November, the country’s potential as a democratic success story seems clearer and clearer. As I have noted, there are many remaining obstacles to Myanmar’s transition, including the continuing influence of the military in politics, the ongoing ethnic insurgencies, and the National League for Democracy’s inexperience in governing. Still, Myanmar’s free and fair elections, and the ruling party’s apparent willingness to step down, mark a major milestone for that country and surely are the high points for democracy in Southeast Asia in 2015. Read more »

Podcast: China’s Coming “Refolution”

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Tianjin-protest-12-8-2015 Residents evacuated from their homes after explosions in Tianjin, China, take part in a rally outside the venue of a government officials' news conference, August 19, 2015. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

In this podcast, I interview Minxin Pei, Tom and Margot Pritzker ’72 professor of government and George R. Roberts fellow and director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College, on his new research on the potential for regime transition in China. Read more »