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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 "Thailand"

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

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) reads a joint statement as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi watches after their delegation level talks at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on December 11, 2014. (Adnan Abidi/Courtesy Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) reads a joint statement as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi watches after their delegation level talks at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on December 11, 2014. (Adnan Abidi/Courtesy Reuters)

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

1. Liu Tienan sentenced to life in prison. Liu Tienan, former deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission and former head of the National Energy Administration, was convicted of bribery and sentenced to life in prison. He was one of the first officials to be singled out by President Xi Jinping’s anticorruption campaign and is among the highest-ranking officials to be imprisoned. Liu admitted to accepting bribes valued at 35 million yuan (approximately US$5.7 million) from 2002 to 2012. Read more »

What the Turmoil in Thailand’s Palace Means for Thai Politics (Perhaps)

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Thai Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn Thai Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is accompanied by royal consort Princess Srirasmi as he presides over the Royal Barge Procession on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok in this file photo from November 9, 2012 (Sukree Sukplang/Courtesy: Reuters).

This post is part two of a series on Thai leadership.

As I noted last week, Thailand has been consumed by recent news that Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn appears to be on the verge of divorcing his third wife, Srirasmi, and erasing all remnants of her and her family from his life and from the royal palace. Of course, no Thai media are openly reporting this news, since saying almost anything at all about the crown prince or any other leading member of the royal family (or even about royal events that allegedly took place hundreds of years ago) can get one slapped with harsh lèse-majesté charges. Still, the Thai media have reported on the decisions taken by the crown prince, while delicately dancing around the implications of these decisions or how they affect the royal succession and Thai politics in general. Read more »

Thailand’s Royal Succession Battle Comes Into (Slightly) More Open View

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai-royal-guard-king's-birthday-2014 Thai Royal Guards ride their horses in front of the Grand Palace during a military parade as a part of a celebration for the upcoming birthday of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in Bangkok, on December 2, 2014. The revered king, the world's longest reigning monarch, will turn 87-years-old on December 5 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy: Reuters).

This post is part of a series on Thai leadership.

The past ten years of political turmoil in Thailand have revolved around several contentious challenges. A growing, politically empowered, and vocal working class in Thailand’s provinces has clashed with traditional Bangkok elites. Shifts in Thailand’s constitutions have led to a two-party system, rather than the old multi-party politics, but the two-party system has struggled to effectively represent the interests of a majority of Thais. The Thai military, once thought to be under civilian control, has reasserted its power throughout the past decade, while other institutions have failed to control the military’s resurgence. Violent street protests have emerged as a weapon to bring down governments, with no consequences for the violent demonstrators, a development that only fosters more violent protests. Read more »

How the Pivot Is Adding to Democracy’s Woes in Southeast Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai-may-protest-3 A protester against military rule holds a sign in front of soldiers deployed to the Victory monument in Bangkok where protesters gathered on May 26, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

Throughout much of the 1990s and early 2000s, Southeast Asia was one of the world’s bright spots for democracy. Even Myanmar, long one of the most repressive nations in the world, seemed to be changing. In 2010 and 2011, the xenophobic leadership of the Myanmar army, which had ruled the country since 1962, began a transition to civilian government by holding elections that ultimately helped create a partially civilian parliament. The country seemed poised for free elections in 2015 that would solidify its democratic change. Since the early 2010s, however, Southeast Asia’s democratization has stalled and, in some of the region’s most economically and strategically important nations, it has even reversed. Over the past decade, Thailand has undergone a rapid and severe democratic regression and Malaysia’s democratic institutions and culture have regressed as well. While less drastic, there have also been troubling developments in a number of other countries. Read more »

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 »