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

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Should Thailand be Downgraded to Tier 3 in Trafficking in Persons Report?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Rohingya-Thailand-detention-center Rohingya Muslims gather at the Immigration Detention Center during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in Kanchanaburi province in July 2013. The stateless people arrived in Thailand in early 2013 after fleeing a bloody conflict between the Buddhist and Muslims in Myanmar's western Rakhine State. A Reuters report claims Thailand has clandestinely been removing Rohingya migrants from detention centers to deliver them to human traffickers (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

The State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report likely will be released in June. Despite warranting a lower rating, Thailand has barely escaped being downgraded to Tier 3, the lowest possible rating in the report, for five years now. Although Thailand almost certainly has deserved to be put in the lowest tier, because of the massive amount of human trafficking routed through Thailand and the complicity of Thai government officials. Thailand has been exempted from the downgrade for years because of close ties between the United States and the kingdom, including cooperation on many other issues. Washington basically did not want to offend Thailand’s government by lumping it in at the bottom of the report, in Tier 3, alongside countries like Congo (DRC), Mauritania, and Sudan. Countries in Tier 3 are states “whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards [on combating trafficking in persons] and are not making significant efforts to do so,” according to the definition provided by the TIP report. Read more »

Thailand Headed for a Violent Ending

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Thayakorn Yosubon, the father of a pair of siblings killed in Sunday's bomb blast near an anti-government protest site, mourns as he hold a photograph of his children during their funeral at a Buddhist temple in Bangkok on February 24, 2014. (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy Reuters) Thayakorn Yosubon, the father of a pair of siblings killed in Sunday's bomb blast near an anti-government protest site, mourns as he hold a photograph of his children during their funeral at a Buddhist temple in Bangkok on February 24, 2014. (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy Reuters)

Clashes in Thailand between anti-government protestors and security forces have intensified. This past weekend, unidentified gunmen sprayed bullets at anti-government protestors in eastern Thailand and killed a five-year-old girl, and someone apparently launched two grenade attacks in Bangkok. Since this current round of demonstrations started last November, 21 people have been killed and hundreds injured in Thailand. The country has basically functioned without an effective government now for months, the once-teflon economy is sputtering, and Thais are preparing for the violence to get worse. Read more »

Behind Pattern of Global Unrest, a Middle Class in Revolt

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Policemen hold their weapons ready as they pull back during clashes with anti-government protesters near the Government House in Bangkok on February 18, 2014. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters) Policemen hold their weapons ready as they pull back during clashes with anti-government protesters near the Government House in Bangkok on February 18, 2014. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

For months now, protesters have gathered in the capitals of many developing nations—Turkey, Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela, Malaysia, and Cambodia, among others—in demonstrations united by some key features. In nearly all of these places, protesters are pushing to oust presidents or prime ministers they claim are venal, authoritarian, and unresponsive to popular opinion. Nearly all of these governments, no matter how corrupt, brutal, and autocratic, actually won elections in relatively free polls. And in nearly all of these countries the vast majority of demonstrators hail from cosmopolitan areas: Kiev, Bangkok, Caracas, Istanbul, and other cities. The streets seem to be filled with very people one might expect to support democracy rather than put more nails in its coffin. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of February 7, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Maulana Sami ul-Haq, one of the Taliban negotiators, and government negotiator Irfan Siddiqui (L) smile before a news conference in Islamabad on February 6, 2014. (Mian Khursheed/Courtesy Reuters) Maulana Sami ul-Haq, one of the Taliban negotiators, and government negotiator Irfan Siddiqui (L) smile before a news conference in Islamabad on February 6, 2014. (Mian Khursheed/Courtesy Reuters)

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

1. Pakistan begins official peace talks with the Taliban. Pakistani government officials and Taliban representatives began formal talks on Thursday. The government delegation has requested an immediate cease-fire and that the talks to be limited to areas where the insurgency is strongest. The Taliban negotiators initially agreed to work within the framework of Pakistan’s constitution. However, one of the Taliban’s negotiators pulled out on Friday because he wanted the agenda included an imposition of Islamic law. Read more »

Thailand’s Election Day: Overall, the Voters Win, But Chaos Ahead

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Election commission officials display ballot papers to the media while counting votes at a polling station in Bangkok on February 2, 2014. (Athit Perawongmetha/ Courtesy Reuters) Election commission officials display ballot papers to the media while counting votes at a polling station in Bangkok on February 2, 2014. (Athit Perawongmetha/ Courtesy Reuters)

Despite protesters blocking voting in southern provinces and many parts of Bangkok, and despite several serious incidents of violence in Bangkok, including a gunfight in the streets, the Sunday election actually was somewhat more peaceful than expected, and turnout slightly higher than expected. The relatively high turnout, the lack of widespread violence that protest leaders surely hoped would erupt, and the fact that heads of the armed forces quietly voted, suggests that overall, Sunday was a net loss for the anti-government PDRC, though hardly a sign that the Thai government is now in the clear. Read more »

Drip, Drip, Drip: The Impact of Thailand’s Political Chaos on the Thai Economy (and the World)

by Joshua Kurlantzick
An anti-government protester walks down an empty road during a rally near the Government Complex in Bangkok on January 24, 2014. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters) An anti-government protester walks down an empty road during a rally near the Government Complex in Bangkok on January 24, 2014. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters)

For months now, even as Thailand’s political crisis has escalated from street protests into daily violence, the disintegration of state institutions, and the threat of a coup, most Thai businesspeople, foreign investors, and analysts of the Thai economy have maintained a relatively positive outlook for the Thai economy this year and next. After all, as several long-time investors in Thailand have told me, the country’s economy has over decades proven extraordinarily resilient, surviving nineteen coups and attempted coups, natural disasters, the Indochina wars, and many Bangkok street protests that ended in bloodshed. Read more »

Thailand Endgame

by Joshua Kurlantzick
An anti-government protester (C) negotiates with a local official and police officers regarding the closing of a polling station after protesters blocked its entrance during advance voting for a general election in Bangkok on January 26, 2014. (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters) An anti-government protester (C) negotiates with a local official and police officers regarding the closing of a polling station after protesters blocked its entrance during advance voting for a general election in Bangkok on January 26, 2014. (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the weekend, Thailand’s political crisis moved closer to the ultimate endgame, which is a complete takeover by anti-government forces, both in the street and in institutions in Bangkok. Primarily pro-government Thais came out to polls across the country to vote in advance balloting, which went on without incident in much of the North and Northeast. In these places, one might have thought a normal election was proceeding. In Bangkok and parts of the South, the demonstrators blocked many polling booths, and the level of anger and violence went up a notch, if that was even possible. The Economist this weekend essentially suggests that Thailand is going to break apart. I think that’s extreme, but the situation is deteriorating out of control quite quickly. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of January 24, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Supporters of Xu Zhiyong, one of China's most prominent rights advocates, shout slogans near a court where Xu's trial is being held, in Beijing on January 22, 2014. (Kim Kyung-hoon/Courtesy Reuters) Supporters of Xu Zhiyong, one of China's most prominent rights advocates, shout slogans near a court where Xu's trial is being held, in Beijing on January 22, 2014. (Kim Kyung-hoon/Courtesy Reuters)

Darcie Draudt, Charles McClean, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia this week.

1. Report reveals that several of China’s top leaders hold trillions in offshore accounts. A new report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed nearly 22,000 tax haven clients from Hong Kong and mainland China. Among the confidential files cited, there are details of a real estate company co-owned by President Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law, and British Virgin Island companies set up by former Premier Wen Jiabao’s son and son-in-law. The report also states that PricewaterhouseCooper, UBS, and other Western banks have acted as middlemen aiding in setting up the offshore accounts. According to the report, “by some estimates, between $1 trillion and $4 trillion in untraced assets have left the country since 2000.” The ICIJ website is now blocked in China. Read more »

Thai Royalty Becomes More Openly Involved in Politics

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Anti-government protesters celebrate under portraits of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit as they enter the area near the Government house in Bangkok on December 3, 2013. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters) Anti-government protesters celebrate under portraits of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit as they enter the area near the Government house in Bangkok on December 3, 2013. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

Despite officially being a constitutional monarchy and supposedly no different than the monarchies of Britain, the Netherlands, or modern-day Japan, Thailand’s royal family has, during the reign of King Bhumibhol Adulyadej, always been far more closely involved in Thai politics than any constitutional monarch would be. However, until the past decade, the royal family usually conducted its interventions behind the scenes. The king and his allies normally acted behind at least a veil of deniability, so that in times of crisis, the king could potentially play the role of mediator and neutral-broker. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of January 17, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Anti-government protesters help a fellow protester injured in a grenade attack during a rally in Bangkok on January 17, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters) Anti-government protesters help a fellow protester injured in a grenade attack during a rally in Bangkok on January 17, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

Darcie Draudt, Charles McClean, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia this week.

1. Explosions hit protestors in Bangkok. Two explosions hit anti-government protestors in Bangkok, Thailand on January 17, wounding more than two dozen people. Some reports claim the explosion was the result of an explosive device, such as a grenade. Since Monday, protestors have taken to the streets in opposition to the nation’s political system, which they demand be overhauled along with the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whom they accuse of corruption. The protests, which have gathered around seven main intersection in Bangkok, started with 170,000 protestors on Monday and dropped to 60,000 people on Tuesday. By Friday, only 12,000 protesters were still on the streets. Though generally peaceful, the protest has been marred by small incidences of violence between the protesters and police during this week’s demonstration. Read more »