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Asia Unbound

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Showing posts for "Thailand"

Obama, Asia, and Democracy

by Joshua Kurlantzick
obama-najib U.S. President Barack Obama and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak speak at the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Center in Cyberjaya in this file photo from April 27, 2014 (Larry Downing/Courtesy: Reuters).

It’s nice, in a way, to see issues one has worked on appear in major, globally important publications. This past week, just before President Obama’s trip to Asia, the Banyan column in The Economist, a column that focuses on Asia, detailed the Obama administration’s general disinterest in issues related to democracy and human rights in Asia. Banyan notes that President Obama has kept quiet as protests for suffrage have raged in Hong Kong. Banyan also writes that the Obama administration also has ignored a serious regression in political freedoms in Malaysia, maintained the close bilateral relationship with Thailand even as a military junta took over in Bangkok, and spent little time working on relations with the new Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, as authentic a democrat as you will get anywhere. Read more »

Why Is the Obama Administration Planning Cobra Gold 2015 with Thailand?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
prayuth sept 30 Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha waves after a handover ceremony for the new Royal Thai Army Chief at the Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok on September 30, 2014 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

Despite the fact that Thai junta leader–turned prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha recently let slip that the current Thai regime might not hold elections until 2016 or later, U.S. policy toward the kingdom remains largely the same as before the coup. Some in the State Department and other parts of the administration have urged the U.S. government to take a tougher line against Thailand, noting that there should be a clear U.S. response to the overthrow of an elected government. But recent reports suggest that the Obama administration is not going to cancel the 2015 Cobra Gold military exercises with Thailand next year or move it to another country, which would be a serious blow to the prestige of the Thai armed forces. Moving Cobra Gold, in fact, would be a much tougher response to the coup than the mild sanctions put in place by the Obama administration thus far. The administration plans merely to scale Cobra Gold down. Read more »

Thailand’s Elections? How About…Never. Is Never Good for You?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai senate elections Officials wait for voters at a polling station in Bangkok during a vote for a new Senate earlier this year, March 30, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

On his way to meetings in Europe this week, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who still seems to believe all reporters will simply accept his word without question as if they were in the military, stopped to briefly lecture journalists. Reporters have been asking Prayuth about the junta government’s roadmap for a return to electoral democracy, a question that, like all inquires, seems exasperating to Prayuth. In the course of his lecture, Prayuth basically let slip that, though he had earlier promised that elections would be held by October 2015, that date might have been overambitious, and Thailand actually might not have elections before 2016. Prayuth left open the possibility that even 2016 might be too soon for elections, or that elections might not happen at all. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of October 10, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Malala Yousafzai speaks during the Women of the World Festival (WOW) at the Southbank Centre in London on March 8, 2014 (Luke MacGregor/Courtesy: Reuters). Malala Yousafzai speaks during the Women of the World Festival (WOW) at the Southbank Centre in London on March 8, 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. Indian and Pakistani share Nobel Peace Prize; gunfire results in casualties in Kashmir. Kailash Stayarthi, an Indian activist against child labor and trafficking, and Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for girls’ education, jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. At seventeen, Yousafzai is the youngest person to ever receive the prize. In unrelated news, Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged gunfire over their border in the divided region of Kashmir, resulting in the deaths of at least seventeen civilians and forcing thousands out of their homes. Each country blames the other for targeting civilians and violating a border truce that has largely held since 2003. 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 »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of August 22, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Thailand's newly appointed prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha (front), reviews honor guards on the outskirts of Bangkok on August 21, 2014 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters). Thailand's newly appointed prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha (front), reviews honor guards on the outskirts of Bangkok on August 21, 2014 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters).

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

1. Thai junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha appointed prime minister. In a 191-0 vote on Thursday, Thailand’s rubber-stamp legislature named as prime minister the general who in May led the military coup of Thailand’s elected government. General Prayuth awaits an expected endorsement from King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of July 25, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
A customer walks past a KFC store in Shanghai on July 22, 2014. The latest food scandal in China is spreading fast, dragging in Starbucks, Burger King, and others, as well as McDonald's products as far away as Japan (Aly Song/Courtesy: Reuters). A customer walks past a KFC store in Shanghai on July 22, 2014. The latest food scandal in China is spreading fast, dragging in Starbucks, Burger King, and others, as well as McDonald's products as far away as Japan (Aly Song/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. Meat scandal erupts in China. Shanghai Husi Food Co., a Chinese food supplier owned by the Illinois-based global food processor OSI Group Inc., has been shown to have repackaged old meat and changed expiration dates before shipping it to retailers. Some of the world’s best-known chain restaurants, including McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks, were sold the rotten meat and have been forced to alter their supply chains or cancel the sale of some products entirely. The Shanghai police have detained five employees of Shanghai Husi, and the head of the OSI Group has accepted “responsibility for these missteps.” Read more »

So Many Southeast Asia Top Events, So Many Questions

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A member of the pro-government "red shirt" group holds a picture of ousted Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra during a rally in Nakhon Pathom province on the outskirts of Bangkok on May 10, 2014 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters). A member of the pro-government "red shirt" group holds a picture of ousted Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra during a rally in Nakhon Pathom province on the outskirts of Bangkok on May 10, 2014 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

The past week has been so busy with events, both tragic and hopeful, related to Southeast Asia, that I barely have time to keep up with the news.  A few short thoughts:

1. Is Prabowo Going to Concede?

No way. Prabowo Subianto is now tacitly hinting in interviews that, on July 22, he might be declared the loser of Indonesia’s presidential election, and he is now using interviews to argue that, whatever the result announced on July 22, it is likely a fraud. This is a shift from his earlier position stating simply that he was going to win. On July 22 he will expand on his fraud argument and file a case to the Constitutional Court. Jokowi – and Indonesia – better be prepared for a long and drawn-out legal contest. Read more »