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 Event Summary 2018

The Future of Democracy: What It Means for China, the West and the Rest 

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. 

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

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. 

(September 21, 2018) Remembering Chai-anan Samudavanija - Thitinan Pongsudhirak 

In death, as in life, Chai-anan Samudavanija always outshines. More than two decades after he left an academic career for policy work and a public intellectual role, Chai-anan's scholarly output is still cited more than any other social scientist. His passing, at 74, reflects Thailand's circuitous political trajectory and the shortcomings of the country's higher education. Until Thai academic standards are better incentivised and upgraded, few scholars are likely to scale international heights of scholarship and thought leadership anywhere near Chai-anan's achievements 

(September 18, 2018) Is Huai Khwang really a new Chinatown? - Kavi Chongkittavorn 

Bluntly speaking, Huai Khwang, which has been dubbed a new Chinatown, is not really a Chinatown in the truest sense of the word -- not another Yaowarat for sure. The 400-metre strip along Pracha Rat Bamphen Road at best represents the dynamic and raw passion of new Chinese entrepreneurs, wanting to make money from millions of Chinese tourists through social media. New Chinese restaurants with dishes from Yunnan and Guangxi, especially the spicy mala hotpot as well as Chinese-style coffee shops, give this small business district the facade of a Chinatown. 

(September 11, 2018) 10 ways to maintain Hun Sen's 'barami' - Kavi Chongkittavorn 

In the past election spin, it was about barami (charisma). When Hun Sen entered politics in the mid-1970s, nobody thought he would have the staying power to last so long. Thirty-three years ago, he was the world's youngest prime minister. Today, he is still around having outlasted every other world leader to rank as longest-reigning prime minister. 

(September 7, 2018) Belt and Road is China's 'manifest destiny' - Thitinan Pongsudhirak 

No national project of global reach carries as much stake and attracts as much attention as China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Conceived in 2013, the BRI is the colossal brainchild of President Xi Jinping and his government. 

(September 4, 2018) New mindsets needed at Suvarnabhumi - Kavi Chongkittavorn 

Warning: Cheap packages tours to Thailand from China for the coming Mid-Autumn Festival (third week of September) and National Day (first week of October) are nearly fully booked. However, some major tourist agencies in the posh Chaoyangmenwai Street still hold out hope that Thailand will waive visa fees for their holidaymakers once again. 

(August, 31 2018) Asia at risk of being its own worst enemy - Thitinan Pongsudhirak 

The broad unravelling of the post-war liberal international system is no longer a matter of dispute. Its manifestations over the past decade from the disintegration of the Middle East as we knew it and the de-integration of the European Union with "Brexit" and anti-migration sentiment to the United States' unilateral turn against openness and liberal values so fundamental to its rise all testify to a murky and portentous international environment. Similarly, the global trading system no longer works like it used to as multilateral trade liberalisation has given way to plurilateral and bilateral free-trade agreements. 

(August 28, 2018) KL-Beijing ties and the 'Mahathir doctrine' - Kavi Chongkittavorn 

Be careful what you say these days, especially when it comes to comments about Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, also known as Tun Mahathir, or Tun Ma by Chinese-language dailies in Malaysia, and his five-day visit to China. One can take what one hears literally at one's own risk. 

(August 24, 2018) A trade war that is about more than trade - Thitinan Pongsudhirak 

The most dangerous risk from the ongoing "trade war" between the United States and China is that it is not fundamentally about trade. With each tit-for-tat escalation and retaliation from both sides, what the world is witnessing is a larger struggle between two grand competitors of the 21st century, underpinned by opposing systems of socioeconomic organisation, values and ideas about global order. 

(August 21,2018) 'New Pakistan' faces big challenges - Kavi Chongkittavorn 

Pakistan's newly sworn-in Prime Minister Imran Khan has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make his country's presence felt both regionally and globally. 

(August 14, 2018) Making sense of Jokowi's second term bid - Kavi Chongkittavorn 

Do not let the state-of-the-art Soekarno-Hatta International Airport Terminal 3 and the slogan "Energy of Asia" for this month's Asian Games fool you about Indonesia's place in the world. It is just the beginning.