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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"

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 »

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 »

Blink and You Will Miss It: Obama’s Quiet Pivot Progress

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Philippine President Benigno Aquino greets visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during a courtesy call at the presidential palace in Manila on August 30, 2013. (Romeo Ranoco/Courtesy Reuters) Philippine President Benigno Aquino greets visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during a courtesy call at the presidential palace in Manila on August 30, 2013. (Romeo Ranoco/Courtesy Reuters)

Amidst the din of Syrian intervention talk and Fed picks, the Obama administration is pushing forward quietly, but determinedly, to flesh out the pivot to Asia. While most of the critical attention on the pivot or rebalance is paid to what is transpiring on the security front, there is real, albeit slow, progress on the trade front and the potential for significant advances in other areas such as environmental protection. Read more »

Is Myanmar’s Kachin Conflict Really Over?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
UN special Vijay Nambiar takes pictures of burnt houses in Meikhtila on March 24, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) UN special Vijay Nambiar takes pictures of burnt houses in Meikhtila on March 24, 2013. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

The visit on Wednesday by the United Nations’ special envoy to Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, to Laiza, the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organization, is a positive sign that the conflict in Kachin state might really be over. [Asia Times has a fine summary of Nambiar’s visit.] The peace deal between the KIO and the Myanmar government, signed in the spring, was obviously a major step forward to ending the decades-long conflict, but it did not provide real closure—it was not a final ceasefire. Read more »

Western Myanmar Conflict About to Heat up Again

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Rohingya men who were shot by the police during a riot on Friday rest in Dapaing district clinic, outside of Sittwe, on August 11, 2013. Attempts to bring stability to Myanmar's strategic northwest Rakhine State could be unravelling after police opened fire on Rohingya Muslims for the third time in two months, reviving tensions in a region beset by religious violence last year. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) Rohingya men who were shot by the police during a riot on Friday rest in Dapaing district clinic, outside of Sittwe, on August 11, 2013. Attempts to bring stability to Myanmar's strategic northwest Rakhine State could be unravelling after police opened fire on Rohingya Muslims for the third time in two months, reviving tensions in a region beset by religious violence last year. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past week, several violent incidents have erupted again in Rakhine (or Arakan) State in western Myanmar, including riots last Friday in which police shot at crowds of Rohingya men and women, killing at least one person, although the death toll remains unclear. This is the at least the third time in the past two months that police have used live fire on crowds of Rohingya in Rakhine State. Read more »