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 Event Summary 2018

(Upcoming!) Women is Politics: Experiences and Lessons 

On the occasion of the visit of former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, this forum on women’s role in politics and government is intended to share lessons and experiences. In addition to her role as prime minister, Helen Clark also went on to lead the United Nations Development Program, based in New York. Her remarks and views will be discussed and compared with leading Thai women from political parties and a former minister with the current Thai government 

(Upcoming!) TRADE WAR: Global Directions, Local Implications 

The so-called “trade war” between the United States and China has become the talk of the world making rounds everywhere from casual conversations to the corridors of power. The trade conflict between the world’s two largest economies began early this year when the US imposed tariffs on solar panels and washing machines against cheaper versions from South Korea and China. But by midyear, China became the US’ principal target in a wider and more intense tit-for-tat protectionist spiral. The early effects of the US-China confrontation are now evident and will manifest more clearly and widely next year and beyond. 

Public Forum: Water Politics: The South China Sea and The Mekong Region (Youtube and NO Summary Report) 

The South China Sea has become an arena of geopolitical tensions, pitting Asean claimant states against China. The Philippines and Vietnam, in particular, have high stakes in the South China Sea, whereas China has built a string of artificial islands in the area. In addition, the Mekong region in mainland Southeast Asia is another arena of tensions arising from water resource utilization. China has built a string of upstream dams to the detriment of local communities and habits in downstream countries, particularly Cambodia and Vietnam. In both cases, regional and international governance frameworks have proved inadequate in addressing thorny issues and challenges. This public forum seeks to better understand stakeholder perspectives and to explore ways for constructive dialogue with mutually beneficial policy considerations. 

A "Dream Thailand" Public Forum: "The Future of Democracy: What It Means for China, the West and the Rest (Youtube and NO Summary Report) 

This lecture will be delivered by Professor Larry Diamond, who is a world-renowned expert in both theory and practice of comparative politics and democratization, based at Stanford University. Prof Diamond has written myriad books and articles on democracy, and has had policy experience in democracy promotion. He is the author of much of the literature concerning democratic “rollback/recession/reversal.” Few scholars and practitioners have tracked global democratization more than Prof Diamond. After his talk, we will hold a panel to examine democratization and authoritarianism in the context of Thailand and Southeast Asia, drawing on local expertise. This is a timely forum that benefits from Prof Diamond’s brief visit to Thailand. 

Public Forum: Rakhine’s Past, Myanmar’s Future: Beyond the Rohingya Crisis (a book launch and panel discussion) - [Youtube and NO Summary Report]] 

It will revolve around a launch of a new book, Myanmar’s ‘Rohingya’ Conflict, by Anthony Ware and Costas Laoutides. After a presentation laying out a summary and thesis of the book, we will have two prominent experts on Myanmar/Burma issues – Emeritus Professor Robert Taylor and Dr Tin Maung Maung Than – to tease out dynamics and prospects of the Rohingya crisis in particular and what lies ahead for Myanmar overall. ISIS Senior Fellow Gwen Robinson will moderate. 

Public Forum: Surin Pitsuwan and ASEAN: A Tribute - (Youtube and Summary Report) 

As you know, Dr Surin was a Thai Foreign Minister and statesman and later an ASEAN Secretary-General who put Southeast Asia’s regional organisation on the maps and in the minds of many in capitals around the world. Apart from being ASEAN’s tireless and charismatic spokesman, Dr Surin used his leadership skills and diplomatic acumen to come up with solutions and answers to many of Southeast Asia’s problems and challenges. His unfortunate and untimely passing on 30th November 2017 deprives the region of its most ardent and inspirational thinker, practitioner, spokesman, and leader. Accordingly, it is fitting that we remember Dr Surin for his many achievements and lasting results in favour and on behalf of ASEAN. 

Public Lecture: DEMOCRACY’S DISCONTENTS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA - Sound Recorded (No Youtube & Report)) 

Southeast Asia is well known for its diverse regime types, ranging from absolute monarchy in Brunei and military government in Thailand to communist-party rule in Laos and Vietnams, with varying shades of democracy and dictatorship in between. Some of these regimes hold regular elections but harbor authoritarian values and practices rather than democratic characteristics and behavior. Twenty years ago, prospects for democracy in Southeast Asia seemed bright as democratization made inroads in the region. But recent trends have witnessed a regression and retreat of democracy. This public lecture and ensuing discussion will aim to tease out and dissect the causes and consequences of Southeast Asia’s discontents with democracy. Dr Mark Thompson is a longtime and well-known expert on the subject, and he will share his research findings and insights with us. 

A "Dream Thailand" Public Forum: The Military in Thai Politics: Trends and Prospects (A Book Launch and Panel Discussion) - [Youtube & Summary Report 

Evidently, Thailand has had a military government since its latest coup in May 2014. The last time this happened was in 2006-07 following a similar putsch, but the military government at that time stayed in office for just 15 months, and left on time. Prior to 2006, Thailand had a military government for 13 months in 1991-92. Thus, over the past four decades, the current military government has been in power the longest. It also has further plans for Thai politics and appears intent to exert longer-term influence in the country. In this context, Dr Greg Raymond’s just-published Thai Military Power: A Culture of Strategic Accommodation is utterly timely, explaining the evolution and dynamics of the military’s role in Thai politics. We will launch Dr Raymond’s fine book at this public forum, starting with the author’s presentation of his research and findings, followed by a panel discussion as per the attached flyer. 

Public Forum: CHINA’ S WAY: BRI, AIIB, NDB, SCS, LMC, ETC - (Youtube and Summary Report) 

Amidst global power shift, China now looms large on the global stage. Its Belt and Road Initiative, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and New Development Bank have the potential to redraw the global economic landscape. China's role in Southeast Asia from the South China Sea to the Mekong Region - the latter within the framework of China-supported Lancang Mekong Cooperation - also may reshape regional dynamics, while China's bilateral relationships with most Southeast Asian countries have been strengthened while ASEAN's role, unity and centrality have become more problematic. As the smaller regional states grapple with ongoing changes on the ground and in the sea, other major powers beside China are on the move in their own different ways. Southeast Asia is a region clearly in flux, a consequential nexus and arena for contest and cooperation. What happens in Southeast Asia will be portentous for what will happen on the broader global canvass. This public forum brings together top experts on the subject of China's rise, dynamism, and strategic aims and intentions. We will start with Mr Jim Stent’s presentation based on his new book, China’s Banking Transformation: The Untold Story, as a way of launching into a more encompassing discussion on China, Southeast Asia, and broader geoeconomics and geopolitics. 

Public Forum: Myanmar's Rohingya/Rakhine Crisis: Domestic Roots and International Dynamics - (Youtube and Summary Report) 

As we are aware, Myanmar's promising reforms from 2011 culminated with elections four years later and a power-sharing agreement between generals and civilians, the latter led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Economic development has risen markedly, albeit from a low base, but fatigue and disillusion have beset democratization under high expectations. Due to the Suu Kyi-led government’s own fault and to intractable ethnic unrest, Myanmar has become a single-issue country revolving around the persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority in westernmost Rakhine state. Myanmar’s economy is poised to enjoy a prolonged expansion as more capital and labor are deployed on fertile land but the country's democratic politics will be messy and unsatisfactory, leaving its erstwhile supporters in the international community feeling jilted. Against this backdrop, our public forum on this occasion will examine the trends and dynamics of Myanmar's Rohingya/Rakhine crisis. 

(November 16, 2018) Asean chairmanship has many limitations - Thitinan Pongsudhirak 

Just as all politics is ultimately local, all regionalism is mostly domestic. Such is the case with Asean. Whichever of the 10 member states chairs Asean, its role and performance tends to be domestically rooted. To envision and drive Asean forward requires deft leadership, bold ideas and smart diplomacy that must extend beyond and transcend parochial domestic concerns. No Asean member has shown this sort of farsighted regionalist ambition in recent years. Thailand appears on course to be no different when it chairs Asia's most durable organisation next year. 

(November 13, 2018) Thailand gets ready to take Asean chair - Kavi Chongkittavorn 

A decade after living through the devastating experience of the 2009 Asean summit, the kingdom will have another chance to regain its regional leadership and reputation. Singapore will pass the baton to Thailand on Nov 15 as the Asean chair. Although the official role will kick off in January, Bangkok will get the ball rolling immediately.

Preparations have been well under way for the past two years to ensure that Thailand's time as chair will proceed without hiccups. Like a kanom chan (multi-layered rice-cake), several domestic hurdles need to be cleared in the next three critical months. 

(November 9,2018) Facing up to Thailand's role as Asean chair - Thitinan Pongsudhirak 

As Thailand gears up to chair Asean next year, a sense of deja vu is setting in. The last time Thailand held its rotational turn at Asean's helm from July 2008 to December 2009, it was undermined by domestic street protests that ended up disrupting top-level meetings and abruptly sending Asia-Pacific leaders home prematurely. Owning up to what transpired, it has to be said that the Thai hosting of Asean-centred summits back then was an utter fiasco. 

(November 6, 2018) Asean must maximise East Asia meet - Kavi Chongkittavorn 

When the world's most powerful leaders converge in Singapore next week for the 13th East Asia Summit (EAS), they will know the region's overall security situation and economic cooperative atmosphere has improved greatly in the past six months. Given this favourable atmosphere, Asean leaders have to seize the opportunity and take the lead in engaging EAS leaders in ways to lock in a more predictable and stable future. 

(November 2, 2018) 'My country's got' these socio-political ills - Thitinan Pongsudhirak 

The explosive Rap Against Dictatorship music video that has taken Thailand by storm has raised myriad socio-political questions and issues. Known in Thai as Prathet Ku Mee, the sensational music video has been viewed on YouTube more than 25 million times in just 10 days, a feat in its own right and a record for its artistic kind in Thailand. How this five-minute rap song in the Thai language has done so much says a lot about where Thailand has been and where it is going. 

(October 30, 2018) China-Japan thaw: Good news for Asean - Kavi Chongkittavorn 

The new thaw between China and Japan -- the world's No.2 and No.3 economies -- is a good development for Asean. The three-day official visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to China last week marked a new turning point in their roller-coaster of ties. The much-awaited improvement bodes well for ongoing Asean community-building efforts in all dimensions. The region's progress and stability depend very much on the level of these Asian economic giants' amity and cooperation.

Remarkably, both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mr Abe recognised that given the current international strategic environment, their two countries are increasingly dependent on one another and their common interests and concerns on many levels have also multiplied. As such, these challenges provide new opportunities for them to cooperate more. Whether the warming up will be sustainable and develop further into something more dynamic will hinge on the impact of the US's American First policy and denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula. 

(October 23, 2018) Five facts on Mahathir's upcoming visit - Kavi Chongkittavorn 

scheduled visit on Wednesday and Thursday will be historic, as he will have the opportunity to promote long lasting peace and prosperity in the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur's new strategic intent has created new opportunities for the advancement of Thai-Malaysian relations as never before seen. In addition, the new regional and international environment has also prompted countries in mainland Southeast Asia to adopt more proactive diplomacy in engaging neighbouring countries. 

(October 19, 2018) Debunking two myths of the 2014 coup - Thitinan Pongsudhirak 

As momentum towards the next general election gathers pace, the two main myths that underpinned Thailand's most recent military coup in May 2014 deserve debunking. Both are associated with the military's role in politics. Seeing through these two perpetuated myths leaves us with the reality that all players in Thai politics are in pursuit of power and vested interests. All pretence to the contrary is sheer falsehood, hypocrisy and political manipulation. 

(October 16, 2018) Vietnam's star rises, as does one of its leaders - Kavi Chongkittavorn 

At the outset, three important characteristics of Vietnam must be recognised.

First, despite its economy not yet being considered a market economy, Vietnam has the region's most extensive network of free trade agreements with foreign countries. Its economic growth continues at an average of 7%. It is the economic powerhouse of Asean. 

(October 12, 2018) The annals of Thailand's military dictators - Thitinan Pongsudhirak 

As Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha eyes longer-term power beyond the next election, his eventual legacy will be compared to other military leaders who have come and gone as heads of past Thai governments. Had he left office or stepped down to run for it earlier, Gen Prayut might be in a better place. As things stand, his tenure and subsequent exit from the political scene does not appear promising for how he will be seen in hindsight.

Once they seize the reins of government, military dictators in contemporary Thailand generally do not leave voluntarily. Most often, they are forced out by internal factionalism and power plays within the army high command, based on this or that cohort of officers and competing groups of loyalists. This was the case with Field Marshal Plaek Phibulsonggram in 1957. After ruling for a decade and overseeing two competing cliques in the army that also involved the police force on one side, Phibul lost political control and was ousted in a military coup.