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Asia Unbound

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Showing posts for "Asean"

The Return of Japan

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accepts a gift from Win Aung, the chairman of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), at a Myanmar-Japan business seminar at the UMFCCI premises in Yangon on May 25, 2013. (Stringer/ Courtesy Reuters) Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accepts a gift from Win Aung, the chairman of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), at a Myanmar-Japan business seminar at the UMFCCI premises in Yangon on May 25, 2013. (Stringer/ Courtesy Reuters)

When I was doing research in the mid-2000s for my first book, Charm Offensive, on how China was becoming more influential economically and diplomatically in Southeast Asia, I came into the project wondering whether Beijing was, at that time, benefiting from the U.S. being largely absent from Southeast Asia, focused on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and unable to get any trade agenda through Congress. Read more »

Indonesia Adrift?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Children cover their noses near burnt land in Marpoyan Damai sub district, in the outskirts of Pekanbaru, in Indonesia's Riau province on June 20, 2013. (Stringer Indonesia/Courtesy Reuters) Children cover their noses near burnt land in Marpoyan Damai sub district, in the outskirts of Pekanbaru, in Indonesia's Riau province on June 20, 2013. (Stringer Indonesia/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past month,Indonesia, the natural leader of Southeast Asia, has often seemed rudderless in its foreign policy, lashing out at other nations in the region over a haze crisis caused primarily in Indonesia, and offering little leadership as the region tries to work toward serious negotiations with China on a realistic South China Sea code of conduct. Does Indonesia have a regional strategy, or even an international one? Does it have a foreign ministry up to the challenge of returning to leadership in ASEAN, and playing a leading role in global organizations like the G-20 and the UN? Read more »

ASEAN’s Haze Shows the Organization’s Futility

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A tourist wearing a face mask passes the hazy skyline of the Marina Bay Sands casino and resort in Singapore on June 18, 2013. (Edgar Su/Courtesy Reuters) A tourist wearing a face mask passes the hazy skyline of the Marina Bay Sands casino and resort in Singapore on June 18, 2013. (Edgar Su/Courtesy Reuters)

Haze continues to spread across Southeast Asia, the result primarily of burn-offs from farming by individuals and agribusinesses in Indonesia, combined with the dry summer weather and urban pollution in the region’s largest cities. As Yanzhong Huang notes, air pollution levels in some parts of penisular Southeast Asia have reached record highs this past week; the more proactive governments in the region, like Singapore, have taken health precautions like pushing nearly all residents to wear masks while outdoors and setting up centers across the city-state for low-income and elderly residents to get free face masks they can use. As Yanzhong notes, Singapore also is vowing to pursue companies that use polluting practices and cause this haze. Overall, countries in the region, like Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, appear to be pointing fingers at each other and engaging in diplomatic recriminations rather than collaborating to address the haze crisis and its causes. Read more »

Myanmar’s Religious and Ethnic Tensions Begin to Spread Across the Region

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A Muslim woman cries in a monastery used to shelter internally displaced people after a riot between Muslims and Buddhists in Lashio township on May 30, 2013. A Muslim woman cries in a monastery used to shelter internally displaced people after a riot between Muslims and Buddhists in Lashio township on May 30, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

For decades, during the rule of the military junta, Myanmar’s numerous internal problems spilled over its borders, sewing chaos along the frontiers with India,Thailand,China, and Bangladesh. Myanmar’s narcotics producers flooded Thailand and other countries with methamphetamines and heroin, Myanmar’s numerous civil wars sent hundreds of thousands of refugees spilling into Thailand and Bangladesh and created a profitable cross-border illegal arms trade in India, and Myanmar’s combination of rape as a weapon of war and massive migration created some of the most virulent strains of HIV/AIDS in Asia, which then spread into China and Thailand. Read more »

South China Sea: Going to Get Worse Before It (Might) Gets Better

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A Chinese national flag is seen on a boat at a fishing village in Tanmen town, Hainan province, next to the South China Sea. A Chinese national flag is seen on a boat at a fishing village in Tanmen town, Hainan province, next to the South China Sea (Aly Song/Courtesy Reuters).

This week’s latest South China Sea incident, in which a Chinese fishing boat cut a Vietnamese seismic cable —at least according to Hanoi— is a reminder that, despite the South China Sea dominating nearly every meeting in Southeast Asia this year, the situation in the Sea appears to be getting worse. This is in contrast to flare-ups in the past, when after a period of tension, as in the mid-1990s, there was usually a cooling-off period. Although there have been several brief cooling-off periods in the past two years, including some initiated by senior Chinese leaders traveling to Southeast Asia, they have not stuck, and the situation continues to deteriorate and get more dangerous.

In the new year, it will likely get even worse. Here’s why: Read more »

Re-Envisioning ASEAN

by Joshua Kurlantzick
U.S. president Obama participates in a family photo of ASEAN leaders during the ASEAN Summit at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh. U.S. president Obama participates in a family photo of ASEAN leaders during the ASEAN Summit at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

In the wake of ASEAN’s disastrous year, which included open fissures in the organization over how to handle the South China Sea, spats between Cambodia and the Philippines, and the utter failure to play any role in helping resolve growing violence in western Myanmar, many commentators —including the current ASEAN secretary-general— have argued that the organization needs to change substantially over the next decade if it is to remain, as it hopes, at the center of East Asian integration. I took my own stab at proposing some far-reaching —some might say idealistic— goals for ASEAN to meet over the next twenty years. Many of the goals that I set out in the paper might seem far-reaching for an organization that has always moved slowly and prided itself on operating, Quaker-style, through consensus. And yet powerful voices within ASEAN, including inside the Secretariat, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Vietnam, do realize the organization needs to change substantially. Read more »

Obama Heads to Southeast Asia Amid Regional Tensions

by Joshua Kurlantzick
President Barack Obama waves at the door of Air Force One; The U.S. president will travel to Southeast Asia November 16-21, 2012. President Barack Obama waves at the door of Air Force One; The U.S. president will travel to Southeast Asia November 16-21, 2012 (Romeo Ranoco/Courtesy Reuters).

As President Barack Obama sets off this weekend for a historic trip to Southeast Asia, he arrives at a high point for himself —and a low point for the region. Obama, making his first trip since winning re-election at the polls, will be the first sitting American president to visit Myanmar. The country has undoubtedly embarked upon historic reforms, yet is also embroiled in brutal ethnic violence. Thailand, another stop on Obama’s trip, is bracing for what could be a hugely disruptive leadership succession fight. In Cambodia, he will attend the East Asia Summit, as well as the Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), an organization in the throes of a crisis. Read more »

The Future of ASEAN

by Joshua Kurlantzick
U.S. secretary of state Clinton speaks with ASEAN secretary-general Pitsuwan during a meeting at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta. U.S. secretary of state Clinton speaks with ASEAN secretary-general Pitsuwan during a meeting at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta (Jim Watson/Courtesy Reuters).

Next week,  leaders from Asia and around the world will gather in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the twenty-first annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and related meetings. On the eve of this event, I have published a new CFR Working Paper, in partnership with the International Institutions and Global Governance program, on ASEAN’s future and its role in the region. While ASEAN has accomplished several notable acheivements in the economic and nonproliferation realms, I argue that ASEAN today lags woefully behind its full potential. In the paper, I analyze the major obstacles currently facing ASEAN, and I  prescribe recommmendations for the both the United States and ASEAN that will enable ASEAN to firmly establish itself as the essential regional organization in Asia. Read more »

Does the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration Even Matter?

by Guest Blogger for Joshua Kurlantzick
U.S. secretary of state Clinton poses with ASEAN leaders during a meeting at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta September 4, 2012. U.S. secretary of state Clinton poses with ASEAN leaders during a meeting at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta September 4, 2012 (Jim Watson/Courtesy Reuters).

Elizabeth Leader is a Research Associate for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. The author’s views on ASEAN’s human rights progress do not necessarily reflect those of Joshua Kurlantzick.

The Asia-Pacific remains the only UN-defined region that does not adhere to its own human rights treaty or possess a region-wide mechanism for the promotion and protection of human rights. Thus, there was seemingly a lot riding on the backs of the ten ASEAN foreign ministers who gathered in New York on Thursday —on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly— to review the second draft of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD). Concern over the controversial draft (drawn up by the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights) has, in the international media, far outweighed any sort of praise. Read more »

News Flash: Washington Source of All Beijing’s Problems

by Elizabeth C. Economy
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in an arrival ceremony at Rarotonga International Airport in Rarotonga, Cook Islands on August 31, 2012. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in an arrival ceremony at Rarotonga International Airport in Rarotonga, Cook Islands on August 31, 2012. (Jim Watson / Courtesy Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s swing through Asia has been marked by a revelation in Beijing: the source of all China’s problems with its neighbors is the United States. A Xinhua editorial paints the United States as a “sneaky trouble maker sitting behind some nations in the region and pulling strings.” In the Global Times, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences scholar Ni Feng states that the U.S. pivot is “stirring up tensions between China and its neighbors”; while Renmin University scholar Jin Canrong argues that Washington aims to “dominate the region’s political agenda, and build a Trans-Pacific Partnership that excludes China, as well as further consolidate its military edge.” Read more »