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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"

Myanmar’s Election Day May Be Only a Step Toward Democracy

by Joshua Kurlantzick
shwe mann-aung hlaing-suu kyi-myanmar Shwe Mann (C), speaker of Myanmar's Lower House of Parliament, Myanmar's military Commander-in-chief Senior General Ming Aung Hlaing (L) and Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrive for Myanmar's top six-party talks at the Presidential palace in Naypyitaw on April 10, 2015. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy: Reuters)

In the end of October, Myanmar will hold what will be probably its first truly free national election in twenty-five years. Several reports released this week on the upcoming election suggest that, for all the problems with Myanmar’s reform process over the past five years, the actual Election Day is likely to be relatively fair. A new International Crisis Group (ICG) report on the upcoming election notes that the election commission has, thus far, operated transparently and consulted widely and that the government has reached out to credible international observers to help ensure Election Day is fair. Read more »

Amid Spectacle of Malaysia Infighting, Democratic Slide Continues

by Joshua Kurlantzick
najib-razak-malaysia Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks during the opening ceremony of the 26th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on April 27, 2015. (Olivia Harris/Courtesy: Reuters)

Since the end of 2014, Malaysians, normally living in one of the most stable countries in Asia, have witnessed an extraordinary political spectacle. Although the same ruling coalition has run Malaysia since independence five decades ago, 89-year-old former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad recently launched a fusillade of public attacks on the current prime minister, Najib Razak, his longtime political protégé. Read more »

Philippines and Vietnam Rapidly Building Strategic Partnership

by Joshua Kurlantzick
benigno-aquino-nguyen-tan-dung Philippines' President Benigno Aquino (R) greets Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung during his courtesy call at the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila on May 21, 2014. (Aaron Favila/Courtesy: Reuters)

Until the past five years, the Philippines and Vietnam had minimal strategic ties other than working together, through ASEAN initiatives, on a range of nontraditional security issues. The two countries had very different styles of leadership—the Philippines is a vibrant democracy with one of the freest media markets in the world, while Vietnam remains run by a highly opaque Party—and Hanoi remained wary of diverging from its strategy of hedging close ties with China with increasingly close relations with the United States. By contrast, the Philippines, despite a very mixed historical relationship with the United States, was (and is) a U.S. treaty ally and one of Washington’s closest partners in Southeast Asia. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 24, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (R) greets China's President Xi Jinping during the arrival for the opening ceremony of the Asian African Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, 22 April 2015. The 60th Asian-African Conference is held in Jakarta and Bandung from 19 to 24 April 2015. REUTERS/Mast Irham/POOL Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (R) greets China's President Xi Jinping during the arrival for the opening ceremony of the Asian African Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 22, 2015 (Mast Irham/Courtesy Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Xi Jinping visits Indonesia and Pakistan. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Pakistan and Indonesia this week. In Pakistan, he signed agreements worth more than $28 billion as part of the new “Silk Road,” an ambitious land and maritime economic corridor connecting China to Europe and the Middle East. Pakistan will invest part of the money in infrastructure proejcts, including a deepwater port at Gwadar and railroads from Baluchistan into western China. In Indonesia, Xi attended the Asian-African Conference. Xi Jinping and  Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo held bilateral talks on the sidelines of the conference to discuss investments in Indonesian development. This pledge came on the heels of Jokowi’s announcement that Indonesia plans to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Bank. At the conference, Xi spoke about the importance of developed countries investing in the developing world “with no political strings attached,” while Jokowi, in his keynote address, called for a new world order not dominated by Western-controlled financial institutions. Xi also met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, despite a speech by Abe in which he warned against powerful nations imposing on the weak. Read more »

What Does Thailand’s Article 44 Mean for Thailand’s International Relations?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
prayuth-medvedev Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (R) speak during a news conference at the Government House in Bangkok on April 8, 2015. (Athit Perawongmetha/ Courtesy: Reuters)

Thailand’s ruling junta now has replaced martial law, which had been in force since the coup in May 2014, with legislation under Article 44 of the interim constitution. This shift has been heavily criticized by human rights organizations, many foreign countries, and some Thai media outlets. Human Rights Watch has called the shift to operating under Article 44 an attempt to give Prayuth “unlimited powers without safeguards against human rights violations.” Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 17, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Local residents and their supporters celebrate after the Fukui District Court issued an injunction to prevent the restart of two nuclear reactors at Takahama nuclear power plant, in front of the court in Fukui, northwestern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo April 14, 2015. (Kyodo/Courtesy: Reuters) Local residents and their supporters celebrate after the Fukui District Court issued an injunction to prevent the restart of two nuclear reactors at Takahama nuclear power plant, in front of the court in Fukui, northwestern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo April 14, 2015. (Kyodo/Courtesy: Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Japan court blocks reopening of nuclear reactors. A Japanese district court issued orders for two nuclear reactors in western Fukui prefecture to stay offline, rejecting regulators’ safety approval of the planned restart later this year. The court criticized the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s lax safety standards, particularly in the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima crisis. Kansai Electric, the operators of the reactors in Fukui, plan to file a protest asking the court to reverse its decision. With all forty-eight commercial reactors in Japan still offline, the decision may further delay Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to restart nuclear reactors. Abe has said the shutdown damages the struggling Japanese economy, forcing Japan to import expensive fossil fuels to compensate for the existing energy deficit. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 10, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
A ship (top) of Chinese Coast Guard is seen near a ship of Vietnam Marine Guard in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) off shore of Vietnam May 14, 2014. Vietnamese ships were followed by Chinese vessels as they neared China's oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea on Wednesday, Vietnam's Coast Guard said. Vietnam has condemned as illegal the operation of a Chinese deepwater drilling rig in what Vietnam says is its territorial water in the South China Sea and has told China's state-run oil company to remove it. China has said the rig was operating completely within its waters. (Nguyen Minh/Courtesy: Reuters) A ship (top) of Chinese Coast Guard is seen near a ship of Vietnam Marine Guard in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) off shore of Vietnam May 14, 2014. Vietnamese ships were followed by Chinese vessels as they neared China's oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea on Wednesday, Vietnam's Coast Guard said. Vietnam has condemned as illegal the operation of a Chinese deepwater drilling rig in what Vietnam says is its territorial water in the South China Sea and has told China's state-run oil company to remove it. China has said the rig was operating completely within its waters. (Nguyen Minh/Courtesy: Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. U.S. Secretary of Defense wraps up inaugural visit to Northeast Asia. Recently confirmed Secretary of Defense Ash Carter arrived in East Asia this week, reinforcing the importance of the rebalance policy under his watch at the Pentagon. On his way to the region from Washington, Carter spoke at the McCain Institute at Arizona State University on Monday, where he underscored the importance of U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific through both military strength and economic growth. Read more »

Little Mention of Southeast Asia in Secretary of Defense’s Rebalance Speech

by Joshua Kurlantzick
ash-carter-rebalance U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter addresses U.S. military personnel during a meeting near an F-16 fighter jet at Osan U.S. Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, South Korea on Thursday, April 9, 2015. (Lee Jin-man/Courtesy: Reuters)

In a speech at Arizona State University earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter laid out a kind of relaunch of the Obama administration’s rebalance to Asia—a plan for moving the rebalance forward over the final years of the president’s second term. Carter hit many key points that the administration hopes to emphasize: the importance of passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership both for the region’s economic future and for America’s own strategic interests; the growth in maritime partnerships with longtime allies like Australia and Japan; the increase in training programs for partner militaries in the Asia-Pacific region. Read more »

Is There Such Thing As a Thai-Style Democracy?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Prayuth-Chan-ocha-Thailand Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha pays respect in front of Buddhist monks as he attends the merit-making ceremony on the occasion of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's birthday at Sanam Luang in Bangkok on April 2, 2015. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters)

This past week, Thai prime minister—and junta leader—General Prayuth Chan-ocha ended martial law, which had been in place since the May 2014 coup, and replaced it by invoking an article of the interim constitution that gives him nearly-absolute powers. This shift did not necessarily mean Thailand is moving any closer to a return to democracy. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 3, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha prays as he takes a part in the merit-making ceremony on the occasion of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's birthday at Sanam Luang in Bangkok on April 2, 2015. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters) Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha prays as he takes a part in the merit-making ceremony on the occasion of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's birthday at Sanam Luang in Bangkok on April 2, 2015. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Thailand lifts martial law and puts in place a “new security order.” Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej approved a request from the country’s junta to lift martial law on Wednesday and trade it for a so-called new security order. Most experts agree this choice was a cosmetic one, not substantive, that was an attempt to improve the appearance of Thailand to the outside world while maintaining absolute power for the junta. Read more »