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Joshua Kurlantzick

Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia

Expertise

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

Programs

Asia Program

Bio

Joshua Kurlantzick is a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Mr. Kurlantzick was most recently 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 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 the recently published book Democracy in Retreat.

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.

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.

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

Ask CFR Experts

What action, if any, should be taken by outside actors to support reform in Myanmar?

Asked by Talee
Author: Joshua Kurlantzick

Despite impressive changes over the past three years, Myanmar (or Burma) now faces growing insecurity and rising disappointment among citizens that reform has not brought higher standards of living. Interethnic and interreligious unrest now threaten to halt reforms altogether, depress much-needed investment, and could even lead to broader regional tensions.

Read full answer

See more in Burma/Myanmar; Peace, Conflict, and Human Rights; Economics

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

Expert Brief

Thailand

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

Indonesia

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

Recent Activity from Asia Unbound

Events

CFR Events

Roundtable Meeting

Realizing Democracy: Lessons from Thailand and Indonesia

Speaker:

Joshua Kurlantzick, Fellow for Southeast Asia, Council on Foreign Relations

Presider:

Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Director, Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative, Council on Foreign Relations
May 13, 2013

This meeting is on the record.

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Media Conference Call

Transition in China and the ASEAN Summit

Speakers:

Elizabeth C. Economy, C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies, Joshua Kurlantzick, Fellow for Southeast Asia

Presider:

Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, CFR.org
November 15, 2012

This meeting is on the record.

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General Meeting ⁄ Washington

U.S. Policy Options Toward Myanmar

Speakers:

Joshua Kurlantzick, Fellow for Southeast Asia, Council on Foreign Relations, Lex Rieffel, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development, Brookings Institution

Presider:

Romesh Ratnesar, Deputy Editor, Bloomberg Businessweek
April 19, 2012 12:00-12:30 p.m. - Lunch Reception
12:30-1:30 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

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Roundtable Meeting

Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls

Speaker:

Mara Hvistendahl, Correspondent, Science Magazine

Presiders:

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Fellow and Deputy Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations, Joshua Kurlantzick, Fellow for Southeast Asia, Council on Foreign Relations
February 6, 2012

This meeting is not for attribution.

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Press/Panels