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The Pivot in Southeast Asia: Balancing Interests and Values

A CFR Working Paper

Author: , Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia

The Pivot in Southeast Asia: Balancing Interests and Values - joshua-kurlantzick-the-pivot-in-southeast-asia-balancing-interests-and-values

Publisher Council on Foreign Relations Press

Release Date January 2015

26 pages


Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Senior Fellow Joshua Kurlantzick analyzes the effects of the Obama administration's pivot on Southeast Asia and argues that the United States should refocus its Southeast Asia policy in two ways: prioritize the countries of peninsular Southeast Asia and restore the emphasis on democracy and human rights in the region.

The U.S. rebalance to Asia involves building relations with countries in mainland Southeast Asia once shunned by Washington because of their autocratic governments, and reviving close U.S. links to Thailand and Malaysia. The Obama administration has also upgraded defense partnerships throughout the region, followed through on promises to send high-level officials to Southeast Asian regional meetings, and increased military-to-military cooperation.

Kurlantzick contends that the White House has focused too much on the countries of mainland Southeast Asia, at the expense of attention to the countries of peninsular Southeast Asia—Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore—that are of greater value strategically and economically. Second, increased U.S. ties with mainland Southeast Asia have facilitated political regression in the region by empowering brutal militaries, condoning authoritarian regimes, and alien­ating young Southeast Asian democrats. A shift in Southeast Asia policy would allow the United States to better align Asia policy with democratic values and maximize the strategic benefits of U.S. interest in the region.

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Joshua Kurlantzick is senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. Kurlantzick previously was a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he studied Southeast Asian politics and economics and China’s relations with Southeast Asia, including Chinese investment, aid, and diplomacy. Previously, he was a fellow at the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy and a fellow at the Pacific Council on International Policy. Kurlantzick has also served as a columnist for Time, a special correspondent for the New Republic, a senior correspondent for the American Prospect, a contributing writer for Mother Jones, and a correspondent in Southeast Asia for the Economist. He also serves on the editorial board of Current History. Kurlantzick is the winner of the Luce Scholarship for journalism in Asia and was selected as a finalist for the Osborn Elliot prize for journalism in Asia. His first book, Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World, was nominated for CFR’s 2008 Arthur Ross Book Award. His most recent book is Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government.

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