Joshua Kurlantzick

Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia


Southeast Asia, China; Asian regionalism; public diplomacy; democratization in the developing world.


Joshua Kurlantzick is senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Mr. Kurlantzick was previously 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.

Mr. Kurlantzick has also served as a columnist for Time, a correspondent for The Economist based in Bangkok, a special correspondent for the New Republic, a senior correspondent for the American Prospect, and a contributing writer for Mother Jones. He also serves on the editorial board of Current History.

He 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. He is the author of Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline in Representative Government, and the author of the forthcoming A Great Place to Have a War: The Secret War in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA.

Mr. Kurlantzick received his BA in political science from Haverford College.

The Pivot and Human Rights in Southeast Asia: Balancing Interests and Values

Since early in President Obama's first term, the United States has pursued a policy of rebuilding ties with Southeast Asia, part of a broader strategy toward Asia called the "pivot," or rebalance. This strategy includes shifting economic, diplomatic, and military resources to the region. In large part, the Obama administration has focused on building relations with countries in mainland Southeast Asia once shunned because of their autocratic governments and reviving close links to Thailand and Malaysia.

Yet as the United States has re-engaged with the region, Southeast Asia has regressed politically. An increasingly authoritarian and unstable Southeast Asia could prove a poor partner. Although there are numerous reasons for Southeast Asia's political regression, aspects of the pivot may be contributing to the region's backsliding. My work on the pivot—articles, roundtable meetings, blog posts, and working papers—aim to help the United States rethink aspects of the pivot in Southeast Asia. This reevaluation of policy will help the United States to fulfill the core promise of the pivot—to reorient American attention to the Pacific—while better aligning Asia policy with democratic values and also maximizing the strategic benefits of America's involvement in Southeast Asia.

This project is made possible through the support of the Open Society Foundations.

Political and Economic Reform in Myanmar

Over the past four years, Myanmar (Burma) has undergone rapid political and economic reform. Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest, and the country has liberalized the media, political expression, and parts of the economy. The National League for Democracy could well win a majority of seats in the 2015 parliamentary elections. Many multinational companies view Myanmar as a gigantic opportunity.

Yet since early 2013, Myanmar's reform process appears to have stalled. After initially loosening media restrictions, the government has tightened them. President Thein Sein, who had been hailed as a liberalizer in his first three years, has shifted course and begun to consolidate power to himself. Meanwhile, hopes that Myanmar's military would reduce its role in politics have proven unfounded. Members of the military also allegedly are involved in the Buddhist paramilitary groups that have sprung up and attacked Muslims, leading to severe conflict in western Rakhine State.

In the run-up to critical 2015 national elections, the Project on Political and Economic Reform in Myanmar—which includes roundtables, in-country research, articles, and blog posts—examines the challenges Myanmar faces in building a federal democratic state. The project also examines the role of external actors in helping Myanmar craft a federal democracy.

This project is made possible through the support of the Open Society Foundations.

State Inc.: The Return of State Capitalism and Its Impact on Politics, Security, and Trade

Over the past decade, state capitalism—a high degree of state intervention in or control of an economy—has been growing throughout the developing world. Contrary to popular wisdom among many policymakers and writers, however, the phenomenon is not confined to authoritarian states. Democracies like South Africa, Brazil, Turkey, India, Singapore, and Malaysia increasingly have adopted state interventionist strategies to support industries and individual companies their governments consider most important to development.

This growth in state capitalism could have enormous repercussions for global markets, international institutions, global security, and democracy throughout the developing world. My work on state capitalism, which will culminate in a book, examines its rise and analyzes why so many developing democracies over the past decade have pursued it. I also analyze the implications of modern state capitalism for the world economy, international security, and democratic development throughout Asia, Latin America, and other developing regions of the world.

Featured Publications

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Expert Brief


Author: Joshua Kurlantzick

In this chapter preview from Pathways to Freedom: Political and Economic Lessons From Democratic Transitions, Joshua Kurlantzick chronicles the winding path of Thailand, which appeared poised for democratic consolidation in the 1990s but has since degenerated into instability and uncertainty.

See more in Thailand; Democratization

Expert Brief


Author: Joshua Kurlantzick

In this chapter preview from Pathways to Freedom: Political and Economic Lessons from Democratic Transitions, Joshua Kurlantzick analyzes Indonesia's political, security, and economic achievements since the fall of longtime dictator Suharto in 1998, as well as the country's remaining challenges.

See more in Indonesia; Democratization

Ask CFR Experts

Why did the United States reestablish diplomatic relations with communist states like China and Vietnam?

Asked by Michael Varacalli, from New York University

The United States did not have diplomatic relations with mainland China in the late 1940s after the communist takeover (though theoretically it maintained diplomatic relations through ties with Taiwan). The United States ended diplomatic relations with Vietnam following the Vietnam War in 1975.

Read full answer

See more in China; Vietnam; Diplomacy and Statecraft

Recent Activity from Asia Unbound



Straits Times: 'Smooth transition' key to deeper ties

Joshua Kurlantzick is quoted on the U.S.-Myanmar relationship during the upcoming government transition following the sweeping victory of the National League for Democracy in recent elections. 


One Nation, Worlds Apart

Joshua Kurlantzick is quoted in Southeast Asia Globe on the decentralization of power in Indonesia. 


Democracy, Thai-Style

Joshua Kurlantzick is quoted in the Boston Review on the idea of "Thai-style democracy." 


Southeast Asia: 10 Trends to Watch in 2015

Joshua Kurlantzick is interviewed by the Diplomat on what to expect in Southeast Asia in 2015. In particular, he comments on Thailand's slow return to democracy and the effect of oil prices on Southeast Asian economies.