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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"

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of June 6, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Tens of thousands of people take part in a candlelight vigil at Hong Kong's Victoria Park on June 4, 2014, to mark the 25th anniversary of the military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989 (Bobby Yip/Courtesy: Reuters). Tens of thousands of people take part in a candlelight vigil at Hong Kong's Victoria Park on June 4, 2014, to mark the 25th anniversary of the military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989 (Bobby Yip/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. Thousands protest on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tiananmen Square; mainland China ramps up security. Much of the world commemorated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the military crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Police presence shot up in Beijing and other major Chinese cities for the anniversary, and many websites, including LinkedIn, censored all mention of the incident. In Hong Kong, where freedom of speech is more protected, approximately 180,000 people converged in Victoria Park, lighting candles and chanting slogans. The White House officially commemorated the anniversary, leaving China “strongly dissatisfied.” Read more »

What Has Gone Wrong in Southeast Asia?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai-coup-protest A protester, who was briefly detained and then released, walks back toward others protesting against military rule near the Victory Monument in Bangkok on May 24, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

What has gone wrong in Southeast Asia? Between the late 1980s and the late 2000s, many countries in the region were viewed by global democracy analysts and Southeast Asians themselves as leading examples of democratization in the developing world.

By the late 2000s, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore all were ranked as “free” or “partly free” by the monitoring organization Freedom House, while Cambodia and, perhaps most surprisingly, Myanmar had both taken sizable steps toward democracy as well. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 30, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Trucks packed with criminals and suspects are seen during a mass sentencing rally at a stadium in Yili, Xinjiang on May 27, 2014 (Courtesy Reuters). Trucks packed with criminals and suspects are seen during a mass sentencing rally at a stadium in Yili, Xinjiang on May 27, 2014 (Courtesy Reuters).

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

1. China convicts fifty-five people in Xinjiang mass sentencing. Fifty-five people were sentenced for terrorism, separatism, international homicide, and murder at a stadium of 7,000 onlookers in Yili, Xinjiang. Standing in backs of vehicles surrounded by armed guards, the defendants all appeared to be from the region’s Muslim Uighur community. The rare mass trial, in which three defendants were sentenced to death, is part of Beijing’s hardline response to a recent string of deadly attacks across the country. Human rights advocates criticized the mass sentencing for its failure to address underlying public security problems. Meanwhile, authorities in Xinjiang are hoping to overcome fears of terrorist attacks by offering cash bonuses to tourists to the region from elsewhere in China. Read more »

Thailand’s Coup Just One Sign of Southeast Asia’s Regression From Democracy

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai-coup-demonstration Demonstrators march as riot police officers and soldiers block a street during a protest against military rule in central of Bangkok on May 24, 2014. Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was in a "safe place" on Saturday, an aide said, after being held by Thailand's army following its seizure of power this week, as opposition to the coup grew among her supporters and pro-democracy activists (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

This past week, the Thai military launched its second coup in a decade, destroying what was left of Thailand’s shaky democratic system. This coup is likely to last longer, and be much harsher than the coup in 2006; already, the Thai armed forces are censoring Thai media and putting journalists and politicians in detention or in jail. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 23, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Anti-government protesters get ready to leave their main encampment after a military coup was declared in Bangkok on May 22, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters). Anti-government protesters get ready to leave their main encampment after a military coup was declared in Bangkok on May 22, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters).

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

1. Tumultuous times for Thailand. On Thursday, Thailand’s army chief general Prayuth Chan-ocha declared a military coup, just two days after martial law was instated. The coup d’etat is the latest development in six months of political instability and protests, and follows the May 7 dismissal of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. General Chan-ocha has assumed the role until new elections are held. Although Yingluck was elected by popular vote, the Thai establishment (defenders of the monarchy) has historically found ways to invalidate the ballot box when a rival comes into power. Violence between the pro-government “Red Shirts” and anti-government “Yellow Shirts,” with the military now in the mix, is a looming possibility. Read more »

The U.S. Response to Thailand’s Coup

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thailand-coup Soldiers take up position at the Democracy monument after the coup was declared in Bangkok on May 22, 2014. Thailand's army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha took control of the government in the coup on Thursday saying the army had to restore order and push through reforms, two days after he declared martial law (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

So, the Thai military has now made real what, in effect, it had already done earlier this week—launched a coup and taken over the powers of government. The armed forces now have posted troops around Bangkok, dispatched ministers from the previous civilian government, abrogated the standing constitution (except for a few articles) and passed harsh new censorship decrees as part of their martial law plan. Most likely, the leaders of the Thai army shortly will appoint a caretaker government, which will be made up of mostly conservative, royalist political figures. Unsurprisingly, the anti-government PDRC protestors who had been demonstrating for months to evict the elected government of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and to put democracy on hold now are jubilant. The PDRC protestors have seemingly gotten exactly what they wanted—Yingluck is gone, the Puea Thai party is in disarray, and democracy has been put on hold. Whatever appointed government is put into place by the military likely will launch reforms that, in theory, could help cleanse Thailand’s political system of graft and vote buying but that, in reality, will be designed to try to ensure the Shinawatras and their political base are disempowered once and for all. Read more »

Thailand: It’s A Coup, Let’s Call it a Coup

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai martial law Thai soldiers walk inside a compound of the Army Club after the army declared martial law nationwide to restore order in Bangkok on May 20, 2014. Thailand's army declared martial law nationwide on Tuesday to restore order after six months of street protests that have left the country without a proper functioning government, but insisted the surprise intervention was not a military coup (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

Last night U.S. time the Thai military took control of the country’s broadcast networks and announced it was declaring martial law across the country, effectively putting the army in charge of all of Thailand, even though many provinces had been unaffected by the ongoing political strife in Bangkok. Whether or not the military has the legal basis to declare martial law remains unclear; the current Thai constitution seems to suggest that only the government—which means presumably the elected prime minister and cabinet—can declare martial law. The older constitution referred to by the military as its justification for intervening yesterday also states that a martial law order only can be revoked by a royal decree. Read more »

ASEAN’s Failure on Vietnam-China

by Joshua Kurlantzick
vietnam-china Security forces (front) scuffle with protesters chanting anti-China slogans during an anti-China protest in Vietnam's southern Ho Chi Minh city, in this photo taken by Kyodo on May 18, 2014. Vietnam flooded major cities with police to avert anti-China protests on Sunday, while Beijing evacuated thousands of citizens after a flare-up over disputed sovereignty in the South China Sea sparked rare and deadly rioting in Vietnam last week. China has evacuated more than 3,000 nationals following the attacks on Chinese workers and Chinese-owned businesses at industrial parks in its southern neighbor (Kyodo/Courtesy: Reuters).

Over the past week, as Vietnam’s contentious South China Sea dispute with China has escalated into outright ship-to-ship conflict around China’s new rig in the South China Sea, protests in Vietnam have escalated into major attacks on Chinese-owned factories in Vietnam (as well as on some other foreign factories, in part because demonstrators thought these factories were owned by Chinese companies.) Over the weekend, Vietnam’s government worked hard to cool the unrest inside Vietnam, primarily because the authoritarian regime in Hanoi is uncomfortable with any public protest, since it never knows what direction the demonstrations could turn. But Hanoi has not turned down its rhetorical anger at Beijing, with Hanoi’s official news agency accusing Beijing of showing “its aggressiveness by sending more military ships” to the area surrounded the disputed oil rig. Chinese ships reportedly have attacked Vietnamese coast guard ships with water cannons and rammed Vietnamese ships as well. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 16, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Supporters of India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate on March 16, 2014, after learning of poll results showing Narendra Modi of the BJP as the next leader of the world’s largest democracy (Amit Dave/Courtesy Reuters). Supporters of India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate on March 16, 2014, after learning of poll results showing Narendra Modi of the BJP as the next leader of the world’s largest democracy (Amit Dave/Courtesy Reuters).

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

1. And the results are in: A Modi mandate in India! The five-week marathon of elections is complete in India, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has emerged victorious, winning the party’s highest-ever tally of seats in parliament. No single party has captured the number of seats needed to form a government—272—on its own in thirty years, making this election particularly significant in Indian politics. Despite his controversial past, Narendra Modi will lead the new Indian government and will be expected to deliver on his campaign promises of economic growth and good governance. The Congress party—which has been in power for the past decade and promoted Rahul Gandhi as its candidate for prime minister—has conceded its defeat, remarking “Modi promised the moon and stars to the people. People bought that dream.” Read more »

Vietnam Protests: More Than Just Anti-China Sentiment

by Joshua Kurlantzick
vietnam protests Protesters march during an anti-China protest on a street in Hanoi on May 11, 2014 (Kham/Courtesy: Reuters).

Protests that broke out earlier this week at factories in southern Vietnam have resulted in hundreds of arrests the past two days. Demonstrators torched several factories and smashed up more in industrial areas on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City. The exact number of arrests remains unknown, but some human rights activists I spoke with are now estimating the number of arrests is in the high hundreds, not the figures in the low hundreds given by news reports on Wednesday. Without a doubt, though, the coverage of the riots in the New York Times, which called them the worst public unrest in recent Vietnamese history, is correct. There have  been deadlier protests and riots in rural areas of Vietnam in recent years, especially in ethnic minority highland areas, but these protests and crackdowns received little public attention, and did not involve the numbers of people that we saw involved in the Ho Chi Minh City riots this week. Read more »