Joshua Kurlantzick

Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia


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


Emerging Powers in Southeast Asia , Southeast Asia Roundtable Series


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.

This project is made possible through the support of the Open Society Foundations and the United States Institute of Peace.

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


Plots, Suspects, and Repercussions of the Bombing at Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick
The National

Almost two weeks after the bombing at central Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine that killed 20 people and set off a massive manhunt for a suspect identified in CCTV video, Thai authorities appear no closer to solving the case. No one has taken credit for the attack and Thai leaders have also denied the bombing had anything to do with international terrorism, although they provided no evidence to support this claim.

See more in Thailand; Peace, Conflict, and Human Rights


Amid Political Infighting, Malaysia's Democratic Slide Continues

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick
World Politics Review

Political infighting in Malaysia, with former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad demanding Prime Minister Najib Razak resign amid a corruption scandal, is the latest sign of the country’s democratic reversal. But, Joshua Kurlantzick writes, Malaysia’s slide is part of a trend across Southeast Asia, where democratization has stalled.

See more in Malaysia; Presidents and Chiefs of State; Democratization


The Great Deglobalizing

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick
The Boston Globe

During a seemingly successful trip to Asia in November, Barack Obama announced several breakthroughs. Among them was a promise that the United States and Asian nations would proceed toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a free-trade deal that, if enacted, would create a free trade area with a total gross domestic product of more than $27 trillion.

See more in Global; Globalization; Financial Crises

Other Report

The Pivot in Southeast Asia: Balancing Interests and Values

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick

Joshua Kurlantzick analyzes the effects of the Obama administration's pivot on Southeast Asia and its relation to the region's democratic regression. Kurlantzick recommends that the United States prioritize the countries of peninsular Southeast Asia and restore the emphasis on democracy and human rights in the region.

See more in Asia and Pacific; Democratization; Diplomacy and Statecraft


Why Air Disasters Keep Happening in Southeast Asia

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick

In the past year, Southeast Asia has suffered an unprecedented number of air travel-related tragedies. Josh Kurlantzick posits that the weak safety regulations of new low-cost carriers, air traffic controllers, and airspace in that part of the world, may lend insight into why several such tragedies have occurred in such close proximity to one another. 

See more in Asia and Pacific; Development

Recent Activity from Asia Unbound


CFR Events

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.


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,

November 15, 2012

This meeting is on the record.


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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Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls

Speaker: Mara Hvistendahl, Correspondent, Science Magazine
Presiders: Joshua Kurlantzick, Fellow for Southeast Asia, Council on Foreign Relations, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Fellow and Deputy Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations
February 6, 2012

This meeting is not for attribution.




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.