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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"

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 »

New Attempted Bombings in Myanmar Could Be Prelude to New Disaster

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A man walks out from a destroyed mosque that was burnt down in recent violence at Thapyuchai village, outside of Thandwe, in the Rakhine state, on October 3, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) A man walks out from a destroyed mosque that was burnt down in recent violence at Thapyuchai village, outside of Thandwe, in the Rakhine state, on October 3, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

Disillusionment in Myanmar?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Myanmar's Police Chief Zaw Win speaks at a news conference about the recent bomb blasts around the country, at the Yangon Division government office in Yangon on October 18, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) Myanmar's Police Chief Zaw Win speaks at a news conference about the recent bomb blasts around the country, at the Yangon Division government office in Yangon on October 18, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

Bombings in Myanmar

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A policeman stands inside the intensive care unit (ICU) room where a American woman injured during the Traders Hotel bomb blast is receiving treatment at Yangon General Hospital in Yangon on October 15, 2013. (Courtesy Reuters) A policeman stands inside the intensive care unit (ICU) room where a American woman injured during the Traders Hotel bomb blast is receiving treatment at Yangon General Hospital in Yangon on October 15, 2013. (Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past week, a string of unexplained bombings across Myanmar has received considerable media attention, featured prominently in the New York Times, the Guardian, and many Western news wires. In part, this coverage came because one of the devices apparently exploded at the Traders Hotel, a high-end business hotel in the center of Yangon where many Westerners (including myself) often stay, since even during the years of military rule, the Traders always had reliable electricity and comforts. One American apparently was injured in the Traders bombing, and there were bomb blasts, which appeared to be from crude homemade bombs, at many other sites around Yangon. There also this week were several similar explosions in Mandalay. Today, more bombs exploded in northeastern Myanmar, killing at least one person, according to Global Post. Read more »

United States Makes Right Decision to go Slow on Military Cooperation with Myanmar

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A Muslim girl watches from the doorway of her home as soldiers walk by in Thapyuchai village, outside of Thandwe in the Rakhine state, on October 2, 2013. Security forces raced to contain deadly violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state on Tuesday, police said, after mobs torched Muslim homes and Buddhist villagers were attacked in a region plagued by intractable sectarian tensions. (Thandwe/Courtesy Reuters) A Muslim girl watches from the doorway of her home as soldiers walk by in Thapyuchai village, outside of Thandwe in the Rakhine state, on October 2, 2013. Security forces raced to contain deadly violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state on Tuesday, police said, after mobs torched Muslim homes and Buddhist villagers were attacked in a region plagued by intractable sectarian tensions. (Thandwe/Courtesy Reuters)

Last week, the Obama administration announced that, despite the rapid warming of ties between the United States and Myanmar, the former military dictatorship would not get any American military assistance in the fiscal year 2014. (Of course, as it stands now, there will be no U.S. budget in the fiscal year 2014!) As the Irrawaddy reports, the administration has taken this step because the Myanmar military allegedly still uses child soldiers, which makes it ineligible for U.S. military aid.

There are many advocates within the Obama administration for moving faster on military-military ties with Myanmar, and indeed several other democracies, like former colonial power Britain, are moving faster than the United States on military-military ties. Yet the use of child soldiers is hardly the only reason why this decision to hold off on military aid is warranted. As an excellent recent Associated Press report notes, one of the major arguments for closer military- military ties does not hold up to scrutiny. Advocates of quickly boosting military-military ties argue that the interaction will help inculcate in the Myanmar military a culture of respect for rights and for the rule of law. This can be accomplished, so the theory goes, by sponsoring leading Myanmar officers to attend training through the U.S. International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. Yet the AP report notes:

Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of October 4, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (L), U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (2nd L), Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C), Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (2nd R), and Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera pose for photos during their meeting at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on October 3, 2013. (Koji Sasahara/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (L), U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (2nd L), Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C), Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (2nd R), and Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera pose for photos during their meeting at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on October 3, 2013. (Koji Sasahara/Courtesy Reuters)

Will Piekos and Sharone Tobias look at the top five stories in Asia this week.

1. Obama cancels Asia trip. U.S. President Barack Obama canceled a four-country tour of Asia, including Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines, in which he would have attended meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Indonesia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Brunei. The travel was canceled because of the U.S. government shutdown. Analysts say that canceling the Asia trip, after Obama had previously committed to attending these summits every year, could deal a blow to the administration’s pivot to Asia. Secretary of State John Kerry will lead the U.S. delegation instead. Read more »

Myanmar Facing Massive Inflation Before Economy Really Gets Going

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Toe Aung, deputy head of urban planning, poses for a photo at the Yangon City hall, with the lit Sule Pagoda seen behind him, in Yangon, on September 5, 2013. Toe Aung, a former army major, bears one of the biggest responsibilities in reform-era Myanmar: planning Yangon's unstoppable transformation from a regional backwater into Southeast Asia's next megacity. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) Toe Aung, deputy head of urban planning, poses for a photo at the Yangon City hall, with the lit Sule Pagoda seen behind him, in Yangon, on September 5, 2013. Toe Aung, a former army major, bears one of the biggest responsibilities in reform-era Myanmar: planning Yangon's unstoppable transformation from a regional backwater into Southeast Asia's next megacity. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

A short piece by Agence France-Presse (AFP) run in the Straits Times yesterday, buried amidst the big international stories on Syria and the stand-off in the Philippines and others, caught my attention. The short piece, titled “Poor and Homeless in Costly Yangon” discussed how, because of Myanmar’s political and economic opening, and the lack of quality office and apartment and factory space in Yangon, rents for any decent property have soared through the roof. AFP estimates that land prices in Yangon have risen since 2010, the beginning of Myanmar’s opening, to as much as $700 per square foot now, far more than the price per square foot in Bangkok, which is vastly richer and has twenty-four hour electricity water, and all other modern conveniences. Other articles have suggested that some properties in central Yangon are renting for more than $1000 per square foot, more than rentals in Manhattan. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of September 6, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
An employee of a sushi restaurant takes a break as seafood stalls are seen at the Noryangjin fisheries wholesale market in Seoul on September 6, 2013. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy Reuters) An employee of a sushi restaurant takes a break as seafood stalls are seen at the Noryangjin fisheries wholesale market in Seoul on September 6, 2013. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy Reuters)

Will Piekos and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia this week.

1. Beijing goes to war against a former security tsar. Investigations of multiple senior executives at state-owned oil producer PetroChina seem to link back to a corruption case against domestic security tsar and former senior oil executive Zhou Yongkang. Zhou was in charge of the police and domestic security apparatus and was also a member of the Politburo’s standing committee until 2012. Zhou is not officially under investigation himself, though there are rumors that he is under house arrest. Read more »