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Hunter Marston: Southeast Asia's diverging paths threaten the region's clout

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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, is received by Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, right, at Government House in Bangkok on Sept. 9.   © Reuters

What is the state of democracy in Southeast Asia? The recent East Asia Summit in Laos, among the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and partners such as the U.S., China, Japan and India, highlighted divergent political and strategic trends in the region. While some countries appear to be heading for more democratic governance, others are seen as backsliding toward authoritarianism or entrenching themselves as semidemocratic, one-party states.

Military-ruled Thailand is turning increasingly inward, while reformist Myanmar is reaching out to the world. Indonesia and the Philippines are re-examining their traditional foreign policy approaches while undergoing significant domestic changes. Malaysia is distracted politically by a bitter struggle between Prime Minister Najib Razak and opponents who accuse him of corruption, although economic changes continue apace.

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