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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"

Thailand’s State Capitalism

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Thaksin-red shirts A member of the pro-government "red shirt" group (C) holds a picture of ousted Thai former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as she gather with others during a rally in Nakhon Pathom province on the outskirts of Bangkok, on April 5, 2014. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Though former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose family originally came from the northern suburbs of Chiang Mai, has lived in exile for years, in the Chiang Mai area, until the spring of 2014, it was almost as if he never left. Cab drivers displayed his photo on their dashboard right next to Buddha images and pictures of ancient Thai royals. Community radio stations broadcast his speeches from exile, and vendors in nearby villages sold posters of the politician grinning and T-shirts bearing his image. Billboards featuring Thaksin and other local politicians from his party dominated the landscape on the sides of roads. Read more »

State Capitalism and its Threats

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Thaksin-red shirts-2 A member of the pro-government "red shirt" group gestures and holds a picture of ousted Thai prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra during a rally in Nakhon Pathom province on the outskirts of Bangkok, on May 11, 2014. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters)

State capitalism poses five types of threats to democracy, global security, and the global economy.

One of the fears about state capitalism is that the state’s control of the economy, in democratic nations, will inexorably lead to state control of politics and a reduction in democratic freedoms. These fears are not totally misplaced. But when Western writers, politicians and other opinion leaders examine state capitalism, they tend to take an undifferentiated approach, treating all state capitalists alike, rather than examining each country in some more detail. Read more »

Myanmar’s Transition and the U.S. Role

by Joshua Kurlantzick
myanmar-democratic transition Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (L), Myanmar's commander-in-chief, shakes hands with National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi before their meeting in Hlaing's office at Naypyitaw on December 2, 2015. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

Last November, Myanmar held its first truly free national elections in twenty-five years. In the months leading up to the vote, members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), foreign diplomats, and many Myanmar voters worried that, no matter who actually received the most votes, the results would somehow be invalidated. After all, Myanmar’s military had ruled the country since 1962, when it first took power in a coup, and had only given way, in the early 2010s, to a civilian government that was led by a former top general, President Thein Sein. Read more »

Who is Htin Kyaw, Myanmar’s Presumptive President?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Htin Kyaw-myanmar Htin Kyaw (C), the National League for Democracy (NLD) nominated presidential candidate for the lower house of parliament, arrives at Parliament in Naypyitaw on February 1, 2016. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

Htin Kyaw, who is almost surely going to be the new president of Myanmar, was so unknown to the international media that when he was nominated last week for president by the National League for Democracy (NLD), stories about him were riddled with mistakes. Some news reports suggested that he had attended Oxford University (his father actually attended Oxford, while Htin Kyaw studied at the defunct University of London Institute of Computer Science), while other reports suggested he had been Suu Kyi’s chauffeur, a rumor strenuously denied by NLD spokespeople. Read more »

Is Myanmar the Model for Cuba’s Reforms?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Obama-Myanmar U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a YSEALI (Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative) Town Hall at Yangon University in Yangon on November 14, 2014. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Over the past six months, the Obama White House has rapidly bolstered diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba. Last month, Washington and Havana signed a deal restoring commercial flights between the two countries for first time in over fifty years; the deal, one of many agreements recently reached, came at the same time as Washington allowed a U.S. factory to set up in Cuba. The outreach to the island is an attempt, according to deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, to ensure that the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement is nearly irreversible by the time that Obama leaves office. Read more »

Thanat Khoman and the Fraying of the U.S.-Thailand Alliance

by Joshua Kurlantzick
prayuth-obama-asean U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-och upon his arrival at Sunnylands for a 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Rancho Mirage, California on February 15, 2016. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Last week, Thanat Khoman, the longtime politician and former foreign minister of Thailand, died of natural causes in Bangkok. He was 102, and one of the last surviving leaders who played a central role in the Indochina Wars of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Thanat was foreign minister between 1959 and 1971, when the spread of communism through Indochina—communist forces had nearly encircled Luang Prabang during the First Indochina War, and communist forces obviously were making gains in Laos and South Vietnam during Thanat’s tenure—terrified the conservative Thai military regime. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of March 4, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Harry-harris-Abe Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) shakes hands with U.S. Navy Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., Commander of the United States Pacific Command, before talks at Abe’s official residence in Tokyo, Japan, February 16, 2016. (Franck Robichon/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. U.S. admiral proposes reviving naval coalition with Australia, India, and Japan. On Wednesday, Admiral Harry B. Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, proposed reviving an informal strategic coalition between the U.S., Australian, Indian, and Japanese navies. Although Harris did not specifically name China in the proposal, and instead mentioned powerful nations seeking to “bully smaller nations,” the alliance would likely serve as a military tool to balance China’s maritime expansion in the Indo-Pacific region. Read more »

Malaysia’s Institutions Come Unraveled

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Muhyiddin Yassin-Mahathir Mohamad-Malaysia (Seated from L to R) UMNO's Deputy President Muhyiddin Yassin, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and member of parliament Razaleigh Hamzah give a news conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on October 12, 2015. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir and some leaders of the ruling party jointly demanded resolution of the 1MDB state fund scandal on Monday and condemned a crackdown on dissent, signalling a divide within the coalition. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)

On Saturday, as the Diplomat reported, Malaysia’s former deputy prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, released a statement on Facebook warning that the country was slipping into dictatorship. Yassin lashed out against Prime Minister Najib tun Razak for overseeing this reversal from democracy. “In the face of public outrage at his leadership, Najib is using all the power that he has to suppress the voice of the opposition and silence his critics,” warned Yassin. “We are really witnessing the collapse of democratic institutions and the emergence of a new dictatorship.” Read more »

Plunging Commodity Prices and the Impact on Malaysia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
najib-razak-budget Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak announces revisions to the fiscal budget in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on January 28, 2016. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)

Last month, Malaysia cut its 2016 growth forecast and slashed spending plans as the economy continues to suffer from falling oil prices. Oil and commodities are very important to Malaysia’s economy, with palm oil, in particular, being one of its foundations. Gas and rubber are also important sectors. So falling global commodity prices have hurt Malaysia badly. According to an article in the Straits Times, the Malaysian government has said that “each $1 drop in oil prices slashes RM 300 million [roughly $72 million] from its annual revenue.” Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of February 19, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Philippines-China-missile-protest A protester from the League of Filipino Students and Kabataan (Youth) Party list group holds an effigy symbolizing a missile during a rally by more than a dozen students outside the Chinese consulate in Manila’s Makati financial district in the Philippines, February 19, 2016. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Sungtae “Jacky” Park, Ariella Rotenberg, Ayumi Teraoka, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. China puts missiles on disputed island. The Pentagon has claimed that China has deployed surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island, one of the Paracel Islands disputed in the South China Sea. Based on satellite imagery, China has deployed two batteries of eight HQ-9 missile launchers on the island, which Taiwan and Vietnam also claim. In response, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has accused China of “an increase in militarization” of the South China Sea. Read more »