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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 "Burma/Myanmar"

What Has Gone Wrong in Southeast Asia?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai-coup-protest A protester, who was briefly detained and then released, walks back toward others protesting against military rule near the Victory Monument in Bangkok on May 24, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

What has gone wrong in Southeast Asia? Between the late 1980s and the late 2000s, many countries in the region were viewed by global democracy analysts and Southeast Asians themselves as leading examples of democratization in the developing world.

By the late 2000s, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore all were ranked as “free” or “partly free” by the monitoring organization Freedom House, while Cambodia and, perhaps most surprisingly, Myanmar had both taken sizable steps toward democracy as well. 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 »

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 »

Total Breakdown in Myanmar’s Arakan State

by Joshua Kurlantzick
rakhine-state-violence A warehouse of the United Nation Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is seen damaged by the recent violence in Sittwe on March 28, 2014. Protesters in Myanmar's Rakhine State opposed to a census attacked offices and houses used by international aid groups after reports a European staff member from one group had removed a Buddhist flag used as a symbol to boycott the operation, witnesses said. The violence broke out late on Wednesday and continued into Thursday. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy: Reuters).

Over the weekend, according to Radio Free Asia and other news reports, nearly all international aid groups operating in western Myanmar’s Arakan, or Rakhine, State, fled the state capital or hid in police stations and other (supposedly) secure locations. They had to flee or hide as mobs of angry Arakanese Buddhists attacked several aid workers, and threatened many other offices of international aid agencies. This comes on the heels of several other attacks on international aid agencies operating in Arakan State and on the government’s decision to bar Doctors Without Borders, the leading health care provider to internally displaced people in Arakan State, from operating in the state. The Irrawaddy has a summary of the events here. Read more »

Doctors without Borders Kicked out of Rakhine State; Hatred Rising

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A nurse walks past as a child sitting at Medecins Sans Frontieres Holland's clinic in Yangon on March 3, 2014. (Minzayar Minzayar/Courtesy Reuters) A nurse walks past as a child sitting at Medecins Sans Frontieres Holland's clinic in Yangon on March 3, 2014. (Minzayar Minzayar/Courtesy Reuters)

News this past weekend that the Myanmar government appears to have kicked Doctors without Borders/Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) out of Arakan/Rakhine State is just another disturbing piece of news suggesting that inter-religious hatred in the country is rising, and the Myanmar government continues to deny this powder keg is close to exploding. Doctors without Borders had been working across Arakan/Rakhine State,  where it has treated thousands of people. The organization has been working in Myanmar for two decades and, in addition to its work in Arakan/Rakhine State, where over 100,000 people have become refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the past three years, Doctors without Borders also has been a central part of Myanmar’s anti-HIV strategy and treatment for years. Read more »

Chemical Weapons in Myanmar?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Reporters hold banners as they march for press freedom in Yangon on January 7, 2014. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) Reporters hold banners as they march for press freedom in Yangon on January 7, 2014. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

This past week, the Myanmar government detained—and may be arresting—six Burmese journalists who reported that the country may have had a chemical weapons factory under the former military dictatorship. The local journal produced the following report, according to the Irrawaddy: Read more »

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

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Anti-government protesters help a fellow protester injured in a grenade attack during a rally in Bangkok on January 17, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters) Anti-government protesters help a fellow protester injured in a grenade attack during a rally in Bangkok on January 17, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

Darcie Draudt, Charles McClean, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia this week.

1. Explosions hit protestors in Bangkok. Two explosions hit anti-government protestors in Bangkok, Thailand on January 17, wounding more than two dozen people. Some reports claim the explosion was the result of an explosive device, such as a grenade. Since Monday, protestors have taken to the streets in opposition to the nation’s political system, which they demand be overhauled along with the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whom they accuse of corruption. The protests, which have gathered around seven main intersection in Bangkok, started with 170,000 protestors on Monday and dropped to 60,000 people on Tuesday. By Friday, only 12,000 protesters were still on the streets. Though generally peaceful, the protest has been marred by small incidences of violence between the protesters and police during this week’s demonstration. Read more »

Suu Kyi Faces Growing Criticism

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi looks on as she leads a news conference at the foreign ministry in Rome on October 28, 2013. (Max Rossi/Courtesy Reuters) Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi looks on as she leads a news conference at the foreign ministry in Rome on October 28, 2013. (Max Rossi/Courtesy Reuters)

Just a short blog item to think about over your holiday season; Asia Unbound will be back in force in the new year.

Over the past two years, as Buddhist-Muslim violence in Myanmar has spread from western Arakan/Rakhine State to other areas across the country, few leading Burman Buddhist politicians have been willing to criticize the Buddhist paramilitary groups responsible for starting most of the violence. President Thein Sein, to his credit, has on occasion condemned the violence, though his government has done little to address the root causes of the unrest. But Aung San Suu Kyi has, over the past two years, been even more reticent to comment on the unrest than Thein Sein or other top government officials. Read more »

Myanmar’s SEA Games Success a Positive Omen

by Joshua Kurlantzick
People take photos as fireworks are released during the opening ceremony of the 27th SEA Games in Naypyitaw December 11, 2013. Myanmar is hosting the games for the first time in over 40 years. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) People take photos as fireworks are released during the opening ceremony of the 27th SEA Games in Naypyitaw December 11, 2013. Myanmar is hosting the games for the first time in over 40 years. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

Since December 11, the Southeast Asian Games, a kind of Olympics for Southeast Asia, have been taking place in Myanmar. They go on until December 22, and there have been the kinds of minor hiccups one expects at any international sporting event—the Philippines is protesting a decision to strip one Filipina swimmer of her gold medal—but these are hardly different than the challenges that emerge regularly at the Olympics. Remember Roy Jones Jr. sitting on his chair in the boxing ring in Seoul in 1988, stunned at a clearly partisan judging decision  in the gold medal match that went against him? Other participants in the SEA Games have claimed that Myanmar, which as the host country has considerable sway over what events are included, decided to include an enormous number of obscure sports in order to boost its medal tallies and those of its closest allies, while excluding normal Olympic sports like gymnastics. Read more »

Myanmar on the Edge

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A Muslim man searches for his belongings left behind of his burnt home at Thapyuchai village, outside of Thandwe in the Rakhine state, on October 2, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) A Muslim man searches for his belongings left behind of his burnt home at Thapyuchai village, outside of Thandwe in the Rakhine state, on October 2, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past two weeks, Myanmar authorities reportedly have arrested several men from Arakan/Rakhine State, claiming that they were planning to bomb mosques across the country. The reported plot, which comes on the heels of other bombings in October, highlights a serious problem.  Myanmar now faces growing insecurity and rising disappointment among citizens that reform has not brought higher standards of living. Interethnic and interreligious unrest now threaten to halt reforms altogether, depress much-needed investment, and even lead to broader regional tensions. Read more »