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

All Publications

Policy Innovation Memorandum No. 56

Reforming the U.S. International Military Education and Training Program

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick

The International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which provides U.S. government funds to members of foreign militaries to take classes at U.S. military facilities, has the potential to be a powerful tool of U.S. influence. Joshua Kurlantzick explains how the program can be reformed to more effectively promote U.S. interests.

See more in Asia and Pacific; United States; Diplomacy and Statecraft; Military Leadership

Teaching Note

State Capitalism: How the Return of Statism is Transforming the World

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick

In his new book, State Capitalism: How the Return of Statism is Transforming the World, Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia Joshua Kurlantzick analyzes the rise in state capitalism in developing nations, including China, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil, and South Africa, among other states. He defines state capitalism as situations in which governments control or exert significant influence over at least one-third of the largest corporations in a country.

See more in Global; Economics; Organization of Government


State Capitalism and the Threat to Democracy

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick
Asia Sentinel

Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has written State Capitalism: How the Return of Statism is Transforming the World, a timely look at the phenomenon and its dangers to democracy and the economic order. Asia Sentinel is privileged to print this excerpt from the book, which is to be published by Oxford University Press in April.

See more in Thailand; Democratization


Is Washington’s Myanmar Policy the Model for U.S.-Cuba Normalization?

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick
World Politics Review

Over the past year, the Obama administration has rapidly repaired diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba. Last month, in the latest of many agreements, Washington and Havana signed a deal restoring commercial flights between the two countries for the first time in more than 50 years, just as the White House approved construction of the first U.S. factory in Cuba since the 1960 embargo.

See more in Cuba; United States; Diplomacy and Statecraft


The Dark Heart of ASEAN

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick
Project Syndicate
Next week, at a summit in California, US President Barack Obama will meet with the leaders of the ten countries of Asia’s most important regional grouping: the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The event, the first-ever US-ASEAN summit on American soil, is being touted as a sign of America’s growing interest in Southeast Asia. The question is whether the US, by inviting all members of ASEAN, has allowed its interests to overwhelm its principles.

See more in Asia and Pacific; United States; International Organizations and Alliances; Diplomacy and Statecraft


State Capitalism

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick

The combination of new technologies, the perceived failures of liberal economics and democracy in many developing nations, the rise of modern authoritarians, and the success of some of the best-known state capitalists have created an era ripe for state intervention. In State Capitalism, Joshua Kurlantzick ranges across the world—Brazil, China, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, and more—and argues that the increase in state capitalism across the globe has, on balance, contributed to a decline in democracy.

See more in Global; Economics; Organization of Government


What’s Behind China’s Apparent Abductions of Its Critics Abroad?

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick
World Politics Review

Joshua Kurlantzick looks at the international and domestic factors within China that appear to be behind the rising pace of abductions and deportations, a significant signal that China’s economic, diplomatic, and military might is simply becoming too much for many Southeast Asian nations to resist.

See more in China; Censorship and Freedom of Speech; Regional Security

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.