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 Event Summary 2018

(Upcoming Event) Geopolitics/Geoeconomics of Digitalisation and Disruption (Last Event) 

This topic is in line with the broader discussion and literature on the Fourth Industrial Revolution in view of accelerating digitization and advancing communication and connectivity that has already transformed how we do and see things. From Artificial Intelligence and Robotics to the Internet of this and that and Autonomous Cars, these changes will impinge on our lives and on the fates of nations and economies like never before. These new, emerging technologies and their consequent disruptions in many facets of businesses and economies form the basis of this seminar. Dr Ana Lehmann will begin by presenting some comparative European evidence and data on AI, Cybersecurity, Industry 4.0, and growth strategies for smaller and emerging economies, based on her experience as professor and former vice minister of industry with the Portuguese government. After her presentation, Thai experts will discuss some of the similar lessons and challenges that can be drawn within the Thai context and its Southeast Asia neighbourhood. 

A "Dream Thailand" Public Forum: Women is Politics: Experiences and Lessons (Youtube & No Summary Report) 

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 

A "Dream Thailand" Public Forum: TRADE WAR: Global Directions, Local Implications (No Summary Report & Wait for Youtube) 

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. 

(December 11, 2018) Cambodia's key role in regional security - Kavi Chongkittavorn 

Last month, Asia Times, citing unnamed diplomatic sources, reported that China has lobbied Cambodia for a naval base in Koh Kong province on the Gulf of Thailand, prompting the Cambodian government to deny the news. 

(December 7, 2018) Eastern Economic Corridor must continue - Thitinan Pongsudhirak 

As the election looms, the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will likely leave behind a very mixed legacy. Far from being a clean-up crew against graft and a technocratic team for effective policy performance when it seized power more than four years ago, this outgoing government has had its fair share of unaccountable corruption allegations and policy directions that merely served its own vested interests of staying in power after the polls. 

(December 4, 2018) Watch out for Asean's new Indo-Pacific - Kavi Chongkittavorn 

If everything goes as planned, members of the United Nations Security Council will have a rendezvous in Bangkok at the end of 2019. Asean leaders will use the occasion to display to the world's most powerful players their collective leadership on the new vision of an Asia-wide region stretching from South Asia to Northeast Asia. Even though it is still nearly a year away, preparations for the first meeting between Asean leaders and the Big 5 (the council's five permanent members) have already started in earnest. 

(November 30, 2018) China's Belt & Road needs to listen more - Thitinan Pongsudhirak 

In the aftermath of a tense Asean-led summit season, it is clear now that the United States and China are engaged in a great-power competition not seen since the Cold War. The US-China trade war, irrespective of negotiated talks in Buenos Aires between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping, is set to deteriorate over the next two years and probably longer. The two superpowers may have fundamental and structural differences that cannot be resolved without a sweeping deal that realigns their geopolitical status and geoeconomic interests in a way that is acceptable to both, an unlikely prospect. So the confrontation will likely intensify. 

(November 27, 2018) Asean engages global strategic partners - Kavi Chongkittavorn 

The Trump administration's chaotic and erratic diplomacy has prompted Asean to intensify and widen engagement with its strategic partners. At its recent summit in Singapore, Asean elevated Russia and the European Union to its eighth and ninth strategic partners, respectively. 

(November 23, 2018) Asean summit season ends with more risks - Thitinan Pongsudhirak 

The prominence and utility of Asean as a regional platform for peace and prosperity is demonstrated most vividly in a series of top-level meetings among its leaders and counterparts from other major powers, particularly the United States, China and Japan, among others. That Asean's summit season this year has ended with a whimper and acrimony bodes ill for what lies ahead. As the Asean Chair in 2019, Thailand should feel more pressed and incentivised to get its house in order with an elected government that can function effectively before major Asean meetings get under way next year. 

(November 20, 2018) 4 big challenges for Thailand as Asean chair - Kavi Chongkittavorn 

Last week, Singapore handed the incoming Asean chair, Thailand, four formidable challenges that would define Asean's centrality and its relevance, not to mention the kingdom's leadership role. These issues are the nascent Indo-Pacific concept, the Rakhine crisis, peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, and the drafting of a code of conduct (COC) on the South China Sea. 

(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.