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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 "Southeast Asia"

Malaysia’s Growing Climate of Repression Gets Ignored

by Joshua Kurlantzick
malaysia lawyer protest march Malaysian lawyers march during a protest calling for the repeal of the Sedition Act in Kuala Lumpur on October 16, 2014. The Sedition Act has been used to arrest at least 30 people since last March, local media reported (Olivia Harris/Courtesy: Reuters).

Amidst the gushing over the inauguration of new Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the first outsider, non-elite president in Indonesia’s democratic era, there is a significant void of international interest in neighboring Malaysia, where the climate for freedom of expression and assembly has deteriorated badly in the past year. Over the past year, the government of Prime Minister Najib tun Razak, which in Najib’s first term had promised to improve the climate for civil liberties and abolish long-hated laws that allowed detention without trial, has shifted course. The government has pursued a sodomy case against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim that, next week, almost surely will end with Anwar being sentenced to jail, though the case was a comedy of ridiculous “evidence” and coached witnesses. (To be clear—I don’t think sodomy should be a crime, but it is in Malaysia; even so, there was no verifiable evidence Anwar actually engaged in this “crime.”) Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of October 24, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Jeffrey Fowle (C) and his wife (R) are greeted by U.S. Air Force 88 Air Base Wing Commander Col. John Devillier upon arrival at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio early on October 22, 2014 (Courtesy: Reuters). Jeffrey Fowle (C) and his wife (R) are greeted by U.S. Air Force 88 Air Base Wing Commander Col. John Devillier upon arrival at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio early on October 22, 2014 (Courtesy: Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Andrew Hill, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. North Korea releases U.S. prisoner. On Tuesday, Pyongyang released Jeffrey Fowle, one of three Americans currently detained in North Korea. Fowle, a fifty-six-year-old road maintenance worker from Ohio, was detained after he was found to have left a Bible in his hotel during a tour of North Korea; ownership of Bibles and missionary-related activities are illegal in North Korea. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was no deal made for Fowle’s release and urged Pyongyang to release the two other detainees, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller. Read more »

Why Is the Obama Administration Planning Cobra Gold 2015 with Thailand?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
prayuth sept 30 Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha waves after a handover ceremony for the new Royal Thai Army Chief at the Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok on September 30, 2014 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

Despite the fact that Thai junta leader–turned prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha recently let slip that the current Thai regime might not hold elections until 2016 or later, U.S. policy toward the kingdom remains largely the same as before the coup. Some in the State Department and other parts of the administration have urged the U.S. government to take a tougher line against Thailand, noting that there should be a clear U.S. response to the overthrow of an elected government. But recent reports suggest that the Obama administration is not going to cancel the 2015 Cobra Gold military exercises with Thailand next year or move it to another country, which would be a serious blow to the prestige of the Thai armed forces. Moving Cobra Gold, in fact, would be a much tougher response to the coup than the mild sanctions put in place by the Obama administration thus far. The administration plans merely to scale Cobra Gold down. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of October 17, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Health workers in protection suits wait in the corridor near a quarantine ward during a drill to demonstrate the procedures of handling Ebola victims, at a hospital in Guangzhou, Guangdong province on October 16, 2014 (Courtesy: Reuters). Health workers in protection suits wait in the corridor near a quarantine ward during a drill to demonstrate the procedures of handling Ebola victims, at a hospital in Guangzhou, Guangdong province on October 16, 2014 (Courtesy: Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Andrew Hill, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Asia responds to Ebola crisis. In preparation for the possible spread of Ebola into East Asia, governments in the region are building on lessons learned from SARS and other Asia-based health epidemics, stepping up aid to Africa, and taking precautions at home. This week, China sent thousands of doses of an experimental Ebola drug to Africa. South Korean President Park Geun-hye announced she will send medical personnel to Africa. Read more »

Thailand’s Elections? How About…Never. Is Never Good for You?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai senate elections Officials wait for voters at a polling station in Bangkok during a vote for a new Senate earlier this year, March 30, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

On his way to meetings in Europe this week, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who still seems to believe all reporters will simply accept his word without question as if they were in the military, stopped to briefly lecture journalists. Reporters have been asking Prayuth about the junta government’s roadmap for a return to electoral democracy, a question that, like all inquires, seems exasperating to Prayuth. In the course of his lecture, Prayuth basically let slip that, though he had earlier promised that elections would be held by October 2015, that date might have been overambitious, and Thailand actually might not have elections before 2016. Prayuth left open the possibility that even 2016 might be too soon for elections, or that elections might not happen at all. Read more »

More on Selling Vietnam Lethal Arms

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Crewmen aboard Vietnam coastguard ship 8003 monitor radar of Chinese ships in disputed waters close to China's Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig in the South China Sea,in this photo from July 15, 2014 (Martin Petty/Courtesy: Reuters). Crewmen aboard Vietnam coastguard ship 8003 monitor radar of Chinese ships in disputed waters close to China's Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig in the South China Sea,in this photo from July 15, 2014 (Martin Petty/Courtesy: Reuters).

Last week, after the Obama administration’s decision to begin selling Vietnam limited amounts of lethal arms, a shift in the policy that has been in place since the end of the Vietnam War, I noted in a blog post that I believed the administration had made the right move, despite Vietnam’s serious—and worsening—rights abuses. Administration officials note that any further lethal arms sales, and closer relations with Vietnam and the Vietnamese military, will be contingent on Vietnam making progress in tolerating dissent of all types. Indeed, according to a report on the lethal arms sales in the New York Times: Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of October 10, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Malala Yousafzai speaks during the Women of the World Festival (WOW) at the Southbank Centre in London on March 8, 2014 (Luke MacGregor/Courtesy: Reuters). Malala Yousafzai speaks during the Women of the World Festival (WOW) at the Southbank Centre in London on March 8, 2014 (Luke MacGregor/Courtesy: Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Andrew Hill, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Indian and Pakistani share Nobel Peace Prize; gunfire results in casualties in Kashmir. Kailash Stayarthi, an Indian activist against child labor and trafficking, and Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for girls’ education, jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. At seventeen, Yousafzai is the youngest person to ever receive the prize. In unrelated news, Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged gunfire over their border in the divided region of Kashmir, resulting in the deaths of at least seventeen civilians and forcing thousands out of their homes. Each country blames the other for targeting civilians and violating a border truce that has largely held since 2003. Read more »

Selling Vietnam Lethal Arms: The Right Move

by Joshua Kurlantzick
vietnam military An officer checks the alignment of the honor guard at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on October 6, 2014 (Nguyen Huy Kham/Courtesy: Reuters).

Last Friday, the Obama administration partially lifted the U.S. ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam, which had been in place since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. According to the Associated Press, on Friday, “State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters the United States will now allow sales of lethal maritime security capabilities and for surveillance on a case-by-case basis.” These lethal arms sales will, for now, remain relatively limited, though the United States could sell Vietnam boats and planes, which would theoretically be used for Vietnam’s coast guard. Read more »

The Pivot and Democratic Regression in Southeast Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
cambodia opposition youth supoprt A young supporter of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) holds a Cambodian national flag during the last day of a three-day protest at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh on September 17, 2013 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

This past week’s serious challenges to democracy in Indonesia, on the heels of what had been a successful presidential election in July, should serve as a reminder that, while the region has made strides since the 1980s and early 1990s, democracy is far from entrenched in Southeast Asia. Retrograde forces, like the coalition of politicians allied with Prabowo Subianto in Indonesia, continue to stand in the way of democratic reforms. In some Southeast Asian nations, such as Thailand and Malaysia, anti-democratic forces have been highly successful in reversing progress toward democratization. Read more »

Indonesia’s Democracy Takes a Hit

by Joshua Kurlantzick
joko widodo-swearing in Indonesia's president-elect and current Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo looks up as he leaves a swearing-in ceremony of new local legislators at the city council in Jakarta on September 26, 2014. Indonesia's parliament on Friday approved a measure ending direct elections for governors and mayors, a move Widodo criticized as a "big step back" for democracy in the country. Indonesia introduced direct elections for regional leaders in 2005, allowing the emergence of a new breed of politician free of links to the political elite, with Widodo being the best-known example (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters).

Last week, I warned that the passage of a proposed law by Indonesia’s parliament that would end direct elections of local officials would be a major blow to Indonesian democracy. The legislation had been championed by the most retrograde elements in Indonesia, and in particular by the party of the losing presidential candidate in this past July’s election, Prabowo Subianto. Direct election of local and provincial officials had been a critical post-Suharto reform, a major part of Indonesia’s decentralization process, and a vital element of political empowerment. Direct elections had helped create a new group of younger Indonesian political leaders who actually had to serve their local publics or—horrors!—risk being booted out of office, and it also (somewhat) shifted the political balance of power away from Jakarta and out across the archipelago. Such a process of decentralization only made sense in a vast and diverse country.  Allowing for more local and provincial elections did increase the possibility of graft in holding more polls, as I noted in my book Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline in Representative Government. But, for most Indonesians, this was a reasonable price to pay to (generally) get more responsive local government. And in any event, earlier methods of selecting local leaders—basically, they were hand-chosen by Suharto and his allies—still had led to enormous amounts of rent-seeking. Read more »