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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 "Democracy"

Why Obama Shouldn’t Cancel his Asia Trip

by Joshua Kurlantzick
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks before a Luau for APEC leaders after dinner during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii on November 12, 2011. (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama speaks before a Luau for APEC leaders after dinner during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii on November 12, 2011. (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

With the government shut down, the White House announced yesterday that the President’s upcoming trip to Asia, scheduled to begin October 6, will be cut short. Plans to visit Malaysia and the Philippines have been shelved for now, though Obama will still attend the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting of leaders in Bali, Indonesia. Read more »

Obama’s October Trip to Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greet Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor as they arrive at the opening dinner of the APEC Leaders Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii on November 12, 2011. President Obama will be visiting Malaysia in October 2013. (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greet Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor as they arrive at the opening dinner of the APEC Leaders Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii on November 12, 2011. President Obama will be visiting Malaysia in October 2013. (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters)

The White House last week confirmed that President Obama will be traveling to Southeast Asia between October 6 and 12. He will visit Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Malaysia. Read more »

Cambodian Opposition Growing Into Powerful Force

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A Buddhist monk records the speech of one of the leaders of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) during a rally in Phnom Penh on September 7, 2013. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters) A Buddhist monk records the speech of one of the leaders of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) during a rally in Phnom Penh on September 7, 2013. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the weekend, Cambodia’s opposition coalition, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), held a large rally in Phnom Penh to protest the national election commission’s ratifying of the results of this summer’s election. The national election commission—which is controlled by the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)—essentially said that all the results of the summer national election were valid, that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP had won 68 seats in Parliament, enough to form a government, as compared to 55 for the CNRP. Of course, 55 seats was an enormous gain for the opposition compared to previous parliaments, but opposition leaders Sam Rainsy, Kem Sokha, and others claim that the CNRP really won a majority of the seats, and only has been allotted 55 due to massive irregularities, fraud, and the toothlessness of the national election commission. The opposition brought over 20,000 people to Phnom Penh this weekend to protest the election commission’s ratification of results and to call, once again, for an international inquiry into the election results. Read more »

Myanmar Civil Society Going to Lose Another One?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Myanmareses living in Malaysia display placards in protest against the Myitsone dam project, outside Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur on September 22, 2011. (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters) Myanmareses living in Malaysia display placards in protest against the Myitsone dam project, outside Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur on September 22, 2011. (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters)

Since Myanmar’s reform process began in earnest in 2010, Myanmar civil society activists seem to have won one victory after the next. Indeed, the apparent change in the power of civil society, from before 2010 to today, has been probably the most striking aspect of Myanmar’s transition. Although the political system has opened up, there has not yet been a national general election since 2010; although the military is not as omnipresent as it was before 2010, it remains the central institution in the country, its role as a political actor untouched in many respects; although the business climate undoubtedly has improved, many Western and Japanese investors who have come to Myanmar in the past two years have returned home disappointed that, in reality, graft, poor infrastructure, uncertain regulations, and poor quality labor remain huge impediments to doing business. Read more »

China’s Internet Suppression Tactics Diffuse into Southeast Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Anti-government protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks use an iPad in front of riot policemen during a rally outside a shopping mall in Bangkok on June 9, 2013. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters) Anti-government protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks use an iPad in front of riot policemen during a rally outside a shopping mall in Bangkok on June 9, 2013. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters)

In an excellent new piece on Voice of America (VOA) news, Steve Herman analyzes how several nations in Southeast Asia appear to be moving to “emulate China” in the way that these countries, like China, regulate and harshly restrict social media. In Thailand, for example, which has one of the harshest climate for Internet speech in the world—despite being theoretically a democracy—the government is now moving to crack down on Facebook users who just post or “like” any articles that could be deemed insulting to the Thai monarchy. Unlike in most other countries that still have lèse-majesté laws on the books, Thailand actually enforces its  lèse-majesté laws, and anyone—not just the king, queen, and other royals—can file a lèse-majesté charge against anyone else in Thailand. As a result, the  lèse-majesté law has become an oppressive tool of political repression by all sides in Thailand’s never ending political drama. Read more »

Why is There a Military Build-up in Phnom Penh?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
U.S. President Barack Obama toasts with Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen as they participate in an East Asia Summit dinner in Phnom Penh on November 19, 2012. (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama toasts with Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen as they participate in an East Asia Summit dinner in Phnom Penh on November 19, 2012. (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the weekend, tanks, armored personnel carriers and other heavy weaponry appeared in the Phnom Penh area, according to reports in the Cambodian press and in Asia Sentinel. Only a few weeks after Cambodia’s national elections, which the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) allegedly won in a squeaker and the opposition claims was fraudulent, why are tanks and APCs rolling into Phnom Penh? Cambodia has no battles in the capital; even its border skirmishes with Thailand over the disputed Preah Vihear Temple have calmed down in the past two years. No, the show of force is designed to intimidate opposition supporters, who tend to live in urban areas. Defense Minister Tea Banh of the CPP didn’t mince words. According to the Cambodia Daily, he said, “You don’t have to wonder, they [the weapons] will be used to protect the country, and crack down on anyone who tries to destroy the nation.Read more »

Charles T. McClean: Getting Out the Youth Vote in Japan

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith
Interns of the non-profit organization Dot JP celebrate the end of their two-month internships in the offices of Japanese politicians from the Kansai region September 22, 2012 (Courtesy of Dot JP's Facebook page). Students from the Kansai region celebrate the end of their two-month internships in the offices of Japanese politicians, which were arranged by the non-profit organization Dot JP September 22, 2012 (Courtesy of Dot JP).

Charles T. McClean is a Research Associate for Japan Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Japan’s future is the subject of headlines these days, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s victory in the latest election has focused attention on his policy agenda. Yet much remains uncertain about what this summer’s election means for Japan’s future. The decade-long experiment in political reform in Japan seems to have come to an end, and many read the return to power of the Liberal Democratic Party as a mandate for stability and a return to the political practices of the past. Read more »

Watershed Election in Cambodia?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Sam Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) makes a point as he addresses reporters at his party's headquarters in Phnom Penh on July 29, 2013. Cambodia's main opposition party CNRP rejected election results given by the government, which said long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen's party had won, and called for an inquiry into what it called massive manipulation of electoral rolls. (Pring Samrang/Courtesy Reuters) Sam Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) makes a point as he addresses reporters at his party's headquarters in Phnom Penh on July 29, 2013. Cambodia's main opposition party CNRP rejected election results given by the government, which said long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen's party had won, and called for an inquiry into what it called massive manipulation of electoral rolls. (Pring Samrang/Courtesy Reuters)

Last week, in advance of Cambodia’s national elections, I noted that the election was a foregone conclusion, given that the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party, led by increasingly autocratic prime minister Hun Sen, had awarded itself so many advantages in advance of the actual voting day. The opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party managed to overcome many of these obstacles, and the tally of fifty out of 120 parliamentary seats that it has won—the tally of CNRP seats that the government’s spokesman admitted the opposition won—is shockingly high, given the huge barriers placed in its way. These barriers included possible CNRP voters simply being turned away from registering to vote, hundreds of thousands of people deleted from the voter rolls, state media devoting almost no time to anyone but the CPP in the run-up to the election,  attacks on CNRP supporters, and much more thuggery. Read more »

Will Cambodia’s Elections Matter?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany (R) arrive at an election campaign area in Phnom Penh on June 27, 2013. (Pring Samrang/Courtesy Reuters) Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany (R) arrive at an election campaign area in Phnom Penh on June 27, 2013. (Pring Samrang/Courtesy Reuters)

Until the past week, Cambodia’s national elections, which will be held on July 28, 2013, looked utterly unexciting. The Cambodian People’s Party (CCP) of the increasingly autocratic Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the country in various positions, for nearly three decades, seemed destined to win an almost-total victory. The CPP, which has increased its share of parliamentary seats in each of the past three elections, had used various autocratic tools to ensure that the July 28th elections bore no resemblance to free and fair polls. Members of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party, which holds a small minority of seats in parliament, were harassed and served with a buffet of civil and criminal complaints. Their supporters, particularly in rural areas, were attacked by pro-CPP thugs, while the state media, which dominates the country, has been used almost exclusively to promote Hun Sen and his allies, according to Human Rights Watch. Read more »

Dealing with Elected Autocrats, Like Morsi

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi wave Egyptian flags, signs and masks of him as they gather at the Rabaa Adawiya square, where they are camping, in Cairo on July 12, 2013. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters) Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi wave Egyptian flags, signs and masks of him as they gather at the Rabaa Adawiya square, where they are camping, in Cairo on July 12, 2013. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters)

As battles continue on the streets of Egypt, many Egyptians have argued that their country’s predicament is unique. With a long history of military rule, a vibrant Islamist movement, and a leadership role in the Arab world, Egypt, they argue, stands alone in its political transition – and must get that transition right for the Arab Spring really to have changed the Middle East. Read more »