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Why Obama is Mad for Myanmar

Did you ever wonder why President Obama and his administration seem to have invested so much time and energy on Myanmar and its transition to democracy?

It's a question I had been thinking about.  So I decided to explore it in my most recent column for The Edge Review.  What I decided was that there were political, economic nd strategic reasons for the administration focus on Myanmar -- much to do with Obama's rebalancing, or "pivot," to Asia.  But there are other considerations as well, which I lay out in my column.

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Asia's Rocky Road to Democracy

For the latest edition of The Edge Review, I take a look at the recent setbacks to democracy in Southeast Asia, from the perspective of a reporter who has been watching the democratic trends since the late 1980s.  Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

©The Edge Review

The rocky road to democracy

By Keith B. Richburg

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This year is the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen, and many seasoned journalists have pointed out their frustration that not much has changed in China and Southeast Asia since then. I find it fascinating how much journalistic attention is paid to the fight for democracy in Hong Kong and Asia, to the near exclusion of the struggle to preserve the deteriorating democracies of the West.
Last month's standoff between police and Occupy Democracy protesters in London's Parliament Square is one illustrative example, seeing as it has received no attention whatsoever. This is not to mention the demonstrations against police force militarization that have popped up around the country since Ferguson.

Last year, research published by Martin Gilens of Princeton found that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. In other words, the wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little to no power. The Obama administration's crusade against whistleblowers like Snowden, Assange, and Manning sends a message to young people like myself that speaking out against corruption and government abuse of power is not welcome.

Although it might feel better to lament Asia's lack of progress in enacting democratic reforms, I believe we should broaden the scope of the discussion to also include the increasingly pathetic state of democracy in our own backyards.

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Sounds of Silence in Bangkok

Last time in this space, I wrote about the student-led pro-democracy protests, a piece that originally appeared in The Washington Post's Outlook section.  But writing that piece made me think about the relative lack of any kind of public protest here in Thailand, against last May's military coup.  I decided to tackle that theme in the most recent edition of The Edge Review, the digital magazine I write for.  Here's my take;

©The Edge Review

The sound of silence

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China's false promises to Hong Kong (Washington Post article)

I wrote a piece for the Oct 4 Outlook Section of The Washington Post, in which I lay out how the roots of the current protests in Hong Kong go back to China's vague promises during the Handover period -- promises China never intended to keep.  Here's my piece from The Post; tell me what you think in the comments section below.

 

Copyright: © The Washington Post

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Fascinated 1/3 of the way through out of America. Thank you.

Thank you, John. Let me know what you think when you finish!
Keith

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Return to Vietnam

I was in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, for the past week -- my first trip to the country in more than a dozen years.  I had spent a lot of time there in the 1980s and '90s, and wanted to see the changes underway.  My takeaway; the U.S. and Vietnam need to do more to build their nascent relationship.  Here's my latest column for The Edge Review.

Copyright: The Edge Review

Burying the past

 

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Great essay Keith! Brought back memories of my travels in Vietnam in the late eighties when the government just opened the country up for Tourism. Hope someone within the U.S. govt is reading this as well!

Thanks, Patrick! I see the State Dept just announced the lifting of the embargo, so that's a first step.
Keith

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Southeast Asia's Glass Ceiling

This week, for my column in The Edge Review (on Twitter @EdgeReviewSEA), I look at how the countries of Southeast Asia seem to be suffering from a paucity of women in political leadership roles.  Here's my take, and feel free to leave any comments in the field below, or talk to me on Twitter @keithrichburg.

Copyright: The Edge Review, 2014

Perpetuating the pecking order

 

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Move Over, China

Here is my latest column for The Edge Review, on how much of the U.S. is missing a huge story developing in Asia -- the creation of a single common market due by the end of next year.  Follow TER on Twitter @EdgeReviewSEA.  And please leave any comments at the bottom.

Copyright: The Edge Review

Move Over China

ASEAN’s economic integration heralds a vast new frontier for foreign businesses

 

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Electile Dysfunction and Asia

 

Greetings. And if you’ve come to this page in recent weeks looking for some fresh postings, my apologies.  I’ve been busy relocating to Asia, where I’ll be based for the next several months — and hopefully able to give you more, and more lively, up-to-date and on-the-ground observations.

 

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Here's another symptom of relevance to Southeast Asia, among other parts of the world: 48 US ambassador-designates still await Senate confirmation, most of them months after their nomination. That's a lot of countries without an American ambassador.

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Let Iraq - and any country - break apart

With Islamic militants on the march across Northwestern Iraq and Iraqi army units dropping their weapons and fleeing in disarray, the country is facing a de facto partition between the Kurdish North, the Sunni heartland and the Shiite-dominated South.  This sorry state of affairs has led many to ask; was Joe Biden right?

 

Comments

Keith,

You may be right, de-facto partition may be the least bad option for Iraq, though people are right to be dismayed that tribalism and religious extremists will have prevailed if that happens.

You wrote:

"I covered a lot of conflicts in Africa that had their roots in tribal or ethnic tensions that were a result of those artificial, colonial boundaries. One case in point is South Sudan…”

Arbitrary and illogical as many colonial borders were, that was no different to the pre-colonial tribal territorial “borders”. Hutus and Tutsis (and Twa etc.) disputed territories in brutal conflicts, long before Europeans arrived. As you know, or should know, the Twa in the precolonial era were regarded as subhuman by Tutsis and Hutus and were slaughtered and lost territory to them as their populations grew.

Or take the large Masai/Kikuyu/Kalenjin territorial gains and losses in the 18th and 19th centuries. These tribes took and lost large swathes of territory at the expense and of other tribes. For petty tribalists (and there are lot of them) these territorial disputes still matter today within Kenya (land scarcity due to massive population increase, was largely behind the 2008 clashes). I.e. there are no colonial border issues that can be blamed for these “border" disputes.

Your example of the South v North Sudan conflict is actually not an example colonial borders, but pre-colonial territorial disputes. And the current civil war within newly formed South Sudan civil war is a reversion to ancient tribal emnity sadly.

Bizarre colonial lines on maps did not cause, but froze, existing border disputes.

In the immediate postcolonial era, there was in Africa (and within organisations like the OAU), there was the noble-minded idea that tribe and religion should not matter. That is one reason why borders were left as they were. It is a shame that egalitarian spirit did not last.

Tribal, religious, ethnic, nationalistic and political differences will alway arise unfortunately, even in a seemingly homogenous population. Look at Ukraine. There it isn’t tribe or religion. It is political differences as a result of the dire economic situation.

Anon, first, apologies for getting your comment posted so late -- I've been traveling. And second, you make good points, about how colonial borders really only froze pre-colonial disputes. I'll make sure to try to incorporate more history in future posts. cheers, Keith

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Obama's Cautious Foreign Policy Just What We Need

Everyone, it seems, has been weighing in of late with a “report card” on President Obama’s management of foreign affairs.  So I decided to overcome my initial reluctance and offer my own assessment too.

 

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Just finished your book, Out of America, and thought it remarkable. It joins my small list of "fearless books" :Manchester's Goodbye Darkness, Guy Sager's, Forgotten Soldier...Thanks for your truth. Can you imagine Iran getting the bomb? Does that worry you if they get it? Would any evidence convince you to do something to stop them? Best to you

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Is the Asian "pivot" really dead?

Whatever happened to the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia?

 

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I agree with your opinion. I will have to assess the situation for myself.

I agree with your opinion. I will have to assess the situation for myself.

How unfortunate. You write such great articles and no comments?!!

Rather ironic that China is now viewed as the successor to Japan and the U.S. as the big bully in Asia. China's perceived expansionist ambitions give Obama a breather on Asian affairs.

Rather ironic that China is now viewed as the successor to Japan and the U.S. as the big bully in Asia. China's perceived expansionist ambitions give Obama a breather on Asian affairs.

VIc, where are you these days? Still in HI?

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Corruption Threatens Chinese Regime's Legitimacy

Widespread, massive corruption is the biggest threat to social stability in China and to the Communist Party’s durability in power.  The extent of the problem was revealed in a amazingly detailed new report this week.

 

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Democracy Faces Challenges in Asia

Christmas and New Year’s holiday travel took me to three places in Asia where people were on the streets protesting about democracy -- but within different contexts, and with differing complaints and expectations.  It shows how in the three decades since I’ve reporting on Southeast Asia and China, democracy in the region remains very much a work in progress.

 

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