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CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

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Showing posts for "Southeast Asia"

The Pivot and Democratic Regression in Southeast Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
cambodia opposition youth supoprt A young supporter of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) holds a Cambodian national flag during the last day of a three-day protest at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh on September 17, 2013 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

This past week’s serious challenges to democracy in Indonesia, on the heels of what had been a successful presidential election in July, should serve as a reminder that, while the region has made strides since the 1980s and early 1990s, democracy is far from entrenched in Southeast Asia. Retrograde forces, like the coalition of politicians allied with Prabowo Subianto in Indonesia, continue to stand in the way of democratic reforms. In some Southeast Asian nations, such as Thailand and Malaysia, anti-democratic forces have been highly successful in reversing progress toward democratization. Read more »

Indonesia’s Democracy Takes a Hit

by Joshua Kurlantzick
joko widodo-swearing in Indonesia's president-elect and current Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo looks up as he leaves a swearing-in ceremony of new local legislators at the city council in Jakarta on September 26, 2014. Indonesia's parliament on Friday approved a measure ending direct elections for governors and mayors, a move Widodo criticized as a "big step back" for democracy in the country. Indonesia introduced direct elections for regional leaders in 2005, allowing the emergence of a new breed of politician free of links to the political elite, with Widodo being the best-known example (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters).

Last week, I warned that the passage of a proposed law by Indonesia’s parliament that would end direct elections of local officials would be a major blow to Indonesian democracy. The legislation had been championed by the most retrograde elements in Indonesia, and in particular by the party of the losing presidential candidate in this past July’s election, Prabowo Subianto. Direct election of local and provincial officials had been a critical post-Suharto reform, a major part of Indonesia’s decentralization process, and a vital element of political empowerment. Direct elections had helped create a new group of younger Indonesian political leaders who actually had to serve their local publics or—horrors!—risk being booted out of office, and it also (somewhat) shifted the political balance of power away from Jakarta and out across the archipelago. Such a process of decentralization only made sense in a vast and diverse country.  Allowing for more local and provincial elections did increase the possibility of graft in holding more polls, as I noted in my book Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline in Representative Government. But, for most Indonesians, this was a reasonable price to pay to (generally) get more responsive local government. And in any event, earlier methods of selecting local leaders—basically, they were hand-chosen by Suharto and his allies—still had led to enormous amounts of rent-seeking. Read more »

Indonesia’s Democratic Showdown

by Joshua Kurlantzick
joko widodo-2 Indonesia's President-Elect Joko Widodo gestures while his Vice President-Elect Jusuf Kalla looks on as they prepare to speak with the media at their transition headquarters in Jakarta on September 15, 2014 (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters).

In the wake of the election of Joko Widodo as Indonesia’s president, many Indonesians were hopeful that the country’s nascent democracy finally had proved its strength and that Widodo, known to all as Jokowi, would be able to build on his election and leave a legacy of dramatic political reform. After all, Jokowi was the first president who came from politics in the post-Suharto era, and he was also the first president to have risen up in politics organically rather than through elite political maneuvering—he had emerged as a national politician partly as a result of the decentralization Indonesia undertook a decade ago that allowed for direct elections. Jokowi had risen from mayor of Solo, where he delivered effective governance, to mayor of Jakarta, and finally to presidential candidate. He had the strongest credentials as a democrat of any leader in modern Indonesian history. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of September 19, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
A British Airways airplane flies past a signage for pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in London on April 22, 2014. (Luke MacGregor/Courtesy Reuters) A British Airways airplane flies past a signage for pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in London on April 22, 2014. (Luke MacGregor/Courtesy Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Andrew Hill, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. China fines GlaxoSmithKline nearly $500 million for bribery. A Chinese court fined British pharmaceuticals firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) 3 billion yuan ($489 million) after the one-day, closed-door trial ended, finding the company guilty of bribery. Several officials of the company, including Mark Reilly, the former head of GSK in China, were also given suspended jail sentences. GSK said that it remained committed to operating in China despite the ruling. The company is also being investigated in the United States under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and has been accused of corrupt practices on smaller scales in Poland, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. By some estimates, GSK’s actions in China led to over $150 million in illegal revenues. Read more »

Jokowi’s Priorities

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Joko Widodo Indonesian president-elect Joko Widodo speaks to the media at a press briefing in the garden of his home in Jakarta on August 21, 2014 (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters).

As the new president of Indonesia (don’t tell Prabowo Subianto), Joko Widodo has a full plate. The economy is slowing down, the education system is one of the worst in the region, the country’s physical infrastructure is crumbling, the region is looking to Indonesia as a natural leader, and the man defeated in the presidential election is vowing to use his power in parliament to block every move the president makes. And Jokowi himself, despite his credentials as a democrat and his success as a mayor, has little national or international experience. He also will be spending most of these first months trying to bolster his support in parliament and pick off members of Prabowo’s coalition rather than getting down to governing and policy. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of September 12, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice (L), shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing September 9, 2014. REUTERS/Andy Wong/Pool (CHINA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY) U.S. national security advisor Susan Rice (L), shakes hands with Chinese president Xi Jinping during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing on September 9, 2014. (Andy Wong/Courtesy Reuters)

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Andrew Hill, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice visits Asia. Susan Rice is in Beijing for three days of meetings, including a forty-five minute private session with Chinese president Xi Jinping, in preparation for U.S. president Barack Obama’s visit to China in November. Much of the conversation focused on the close calls between U.S. and Chinese military ship and aircraft in recent years, and a senior Chinese military officer told Rice that the United States should stop its close-up aerial and naval surveillance of China. Read more »

The Failures of the ASEAN Economic Community

by Joshua Kurlantzick
jakarta-international-container-terminal A worker walks at the Jakarta international container terminal in Tanjung Priok port in this file photo from July 26, 2012. Southeast Asia has sought to overcome competing national interests and form a European Union-style economic community by 2015 (Supri/Courtesy: Reuters).

Next year, the long-awaited ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will come into effect, welcomed surely by fanfare both from the organization and from all of the ten member states. Long promised by ASEAN countries but repeatedly delayed in its launch, the AEC is supposed to be a single market for all ten member states, similar in some respects to the early days of the European Union’s single market. In theory, the AEC would provide a major boost to intra-regional trade, which lags behind its potential, and also would help woo foreign investment region-wide. Read more »

U.S. Policy Options Toward Thailand

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai-government-house A Thai soldier uses his walkie-talkie as he stands guard at the Government House before the first cabinet meeting in Bangkok on September 9, 2014 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy: Reuters).

In my previous post on the rule of Prayuth Chan-ocha, I noted that, in this “hard coup,” army rule could last a considerably long time–two years, and possibly even more. Some Thai observers are suggesting that Prayuth and the army will retain power for as much as five years. As I mentioned previously, in this “hard coup,” the military is likely to take more draconian action against any opponents in the next year as well, since the army has overseen somewhat of an economic rebound, has muffled most of the Thai press, and has gotten relatively little criticism from Asian countries like Japan, Indonesia, and India. I expect to see activists detained for longer periods of time, and treated much more roughly under army detention than they have been so far. I also expect Thaksin sympathizers to be purged from the civil service and the armed forces, and many leading pro-Thaksin politicians to be charged with offenses and actually sent to jail, a rarity in the past for Thai elites of any political persuasion. Read more »

What Will Prayuth Do as Prime Minister?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
prayuth chan-ocha Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha waits for his cabinet members for a group photo session after an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Government House in Bangkok on September 4, 2014. Thailand's new military-stacked cabinet met King Bhumibol in Bangkok on Thursday, marking the formal start of an administration that will spend at least a year overhauling the Thai political system before calling a fresh election (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy: Reuters).

To the surprise of few Thai observers, in August Thailand’s legislative assembly, packed with military men and military allies, chose coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha to be the prime minister, until elections supposedly to be called late next year or early in 2016. Prayuth thus became the first Thai coup leader in decades to take the job as prime minister in Thailand, rather than finding a fig leaf civilian as interim prime minister, solidifying the notion that this was indeed a “hard” coup more similar to the draconian authoritarian rule in Thailand in the 1950s and 1960s than the “soft” coup that took place in 2006. The military, Bangkok elites, and the royal family supposedly learned from the 2006 “soft” coup that only a “hard” coup could really wipe out Thaksin Shinawatra’s organization in Thailand and entrench elite rule for at least another generation. The 2006 coup was followed by a new constitution and then elections that resulted in a pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party winning power again,  thus defeating–in the minds of Bangkok elites–the very purpose of the coup. Read more »

Human Rights Watch Reports Thailand Indefinitely Detaining Thousands of Migrant Children

by Joshua Kurlantzick
rohingya-in-thailand Rohingya people from Myanmar, who were rescued from human traffickers, are kept in a communal cell at the Songkhla Immigration Detention Centre in Thailand near the border with Malaysia in this photo from February 13, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

As if Thailand’s international image hadn’t suffered enough, with a coup government trying to turn the clock back forty years, the country’s seafood industry being exposed as one of the worst examples of human trafficking and outright slavery in the world, and even neighboring Myanmar’s politics looking good by comparison, Human Rights Watch today released a lengthy report on the detention of migrant children in Thailand. The report is available here. Read more »