Southeast Asia in Global Context

Roundtable discussion series

Situated between India and China, along the busiest maritime sea routes in the world, Southeast Asia remains today at the crossroads of ideas, commerce, migration, language, religion, and law, as it has for centuries. With a total population greater than that of the European Union, the countries of Southeast Asia have been working through the ASEAN—the Association of Southeast Asian Nations—to integrate their economies and cooperate politically and economically on matters of common concern, increasing the region’s influence on global affairs. This roundtable series situates contemporary Southeast Asia in Asia and the wider world, examining the many ways the pressing issues in the region affect us all.

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Financial Innovation, Systemic Risk & Climate Crisis in Asia

17 October 2019

In this, the 8th instalment of CAPI’s ongoing “Southeast Asia in Global Context” roundtable discussion series, we convened an interdisciplinary panel of international experts to examine issues in green finance as well as financial regulation/systemic risk, especially as they relate to climate issues and political instability in the region and beyond (e.g., Hong Kong, Brexit).

The discussants considered whether countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore (and Canada) can take credit for their relatively mild experience of the 2008 global financial crisis, and whether there would have been a global financial crisis if Islamic banking principles had been in operation. Finally, the panel considered how financial institutions are adjusting to the climate crisis.

Participants

Panellists:

  • Meyer Aaron, CEO, 3Pi Capital Advisory Inc; former Policy Advisor,Bank of Canada
  • Ravipal Bains,Associate, McMillan LLP, Vancouver
  • Adhiti Gupta,Manager, Design Funding, Convergence Blended Finance, Toronto
  • Christian Hofmann,Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore (via video-link)
  • Daromir Rudnyckyj,Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of Victoria

Chairs

  • Phil Calvert, CAPI Senior Research Fellow and former Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos
  • Victor V. Ramraj, CAPI Director and Chair in Asia-Pacific Legal Relations and Professor of Law, University of Victoria

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The South China Sea: What is Now and What is Next?

21 March 2019

The 7th in CAPI’s ongoing Southeast Asia in Global Context roundtable series convened another distinguished panel of international experts to discuss the simmering issues in the highly contentious South China Sea region.

Discussion topics included:

  • Overview/Background. What is the current geopolitical status of and tensions in the South China Sea? In particular, how have the tensions in the region affected ASEAN and intra-Southeast Asia relations?
  • US-China Relations. What is the status of the Freedom of Navigation Operations in the region? To what extent is the US-China relationship influenced by the geopolitics of the South China Sea? How close have we been and are we to a military conflict in the region?
  • International Law & Institutions. What are the important legal developments since the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration? What role can international law and formal international institutions play in responding to developments in the region? 

CAPI gratefully acknowledges the support of the Department of National Defence Canada Defence Engagement Program

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Participants

Panellists:

  • Nirmal Ghosh, US Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, Washington DC, USA
  • Nong Hong, Executive Director & Senior Fellow, Institute for China-America Studies, Washington DC, USA
  • Ted L McDorman, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria, Canada
  • Giles Norman, Executive Director, Defence and Security Policy, Global Affairs Canada
  • Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Executive Director & Professor, Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand (via video-link)
  • Jeff Reeves, Vice-President, Research, Asia Pacific Foundation, Vancouver, Canada
  • Brett Witthoeft, Royal Canadian Navy Indo-Pacific Security Analyst, Maritime Forces Pacific, Victoria, Canada 

Chairs

  • Phil Calvert, CAPI Senior Research Fellow and former Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos
  • Victor V. Ramraj, CAPI Director and Chair in Asia-Pacific Legal Relations and Professor of Law, University of Victoria

Reflection on the discussion

“A Fine Dance”: A Reflection on The South China Sea, What is Now and What is Next?

| By Frances Ankenman, J.D. Candidate, UVic Faculty of Law 

In the latest roundtable event of the Southeast Asia in Global Context series, CAPI welcomed interdisciplinary experts from both Asian and North American institutions to explore contemporary trends in the Pacific Ocean’s most pressing maritime and territorial dispute: the South China Sea. As one of the world’s most biologically, economically and strategically significant marine environments, the South China Sea is a geopolitical hotspot with implications for security, trade, and balances of power at a global scale.

As a centuries-old conflict engaging nations both within and far beyond the region, the ongoing international dispute mirrors the South China Sea itself: old and deep, whose currents flow to the rest of the world. Discussion centered on the evolving relationships among claimants and key strategic players, with a particular focus on the relationships between the United States, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Panelists agreed the dispute has reached a fragile equilibrium between China and US superpowers, with the US continuing to conduct uninterrupted Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) patrols and China asserting sovereignty through a strong military presence and surveillance of maritime activity in the region.

While there have been relatively few state-driven conflicts in the region in recent years, panelists agreed that close proximity situations in the South China Sea, whether between military or non-military vessels, could easily escalate. Some expressed low confidence in the region’s ability to de-escalate a complex conflict with existing tools, owing to growth in domestic pressures in claimant countries, densification of military presence, sophistication of weapons, and progressively rapid cycles of action and reaction. Nationalism and jingoism in claimant states could also flare in the face of an international conflict and complicate de-escalation efforts, though governments in China and Southeast Asia have generally limited nationalist movements to the extent that they threaten economic relations with other states.

Panelists debated whether US involvement in the South China Sea has shifted under Trump administration, with a general consensus that it is louder and lacking in strategic focus compared to engagement under Obama administration. ASEAN states broadly find themselves caught between superpowers and have chosen, in the words of one panelist, to ‘swim in the middle’. There will likely be more pressure on ASEAN states moving forward to align their security and economic interests with one of the superpowers, which may fracture the association as a whole.

Next, panelists examined the role of public international law a tool to promote international cooperation and manage conflict in the South China Sea. Panelists pointed to the Permanent Court of Arbitration decision, which was rejected by China, as an example of the limited effectiveness of non-binding international law. The Code of Conduct (COC), under negotiation, is seen as a significant opportunity to create a binding, long-lasting agreement among nations in the region. Importantly, from China’s perspective a COC could support peripheral stability, one of its long-term primary strategic goals.

In South China Sea: What is Now, What is Next?, panelists dove deep into the murky waters of the South China Sea dispute to critically examine the large-scale strategic adjustments driving complex, multifaceted and interwoven relationships among the world’s most powerful nations. Gathering experts with diverse perspectives and experiences, this event produced a vibrant and stimulating dialogue on the latest chapter – and those yet to be written - of the story of the South China Sea.

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Ethno-Religious Nationalism and Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia

25 October 2018

What are the major flashpoints and key indicators for authoritarianism in Southeast Asia and what are the underlying societal conditions that have given rise to the political shifts we are witnessing in the region?

In the latest of our ongoing “Southeast Asia in Global Context” roundtable series, a distinguished panel of international experts will consider questions about trends in human rights, democracy, and enthno-religious nationalism in Southeast Asia.


CAPI gratefully acknowledges the support of the Department of National Defence Canada Defence Engagement Program

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Participants

Panellists

  • Vitit Muntarbhorn, Faculty of Law, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, and UN Independent Expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch
  • Shane Barter, Director of the Pacific Basin Research Center, Soka University of America
  • Kai Ostwald, Director, Centre for Southeast Asia Research, UBC
  • Helen Lansdowne, Associate Director, CAPI
  • Melissa Crouch, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales [by videolink]

Chairs

  • Phil Calvert, CAPI Senior Research Fellow and former Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos
  • Victor V. Ramraj, CAPI Director and Chair in Asia-Pacific Legal Relations and Professor of Law, University of Victoria

Reflection on the discussion

By Frances Ankenman, J.D. Candidate, UVic Faculty of Law 

The Ethno-Religious Nationalism and Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia roundtable event invited cross-sector experts to join in a series of interwoven and evolving conversations about trends in human rights, as understood through shifting relationships among religion, the state and the political economy in Southeast Asia. 

The discussion began with an acknowledgement of the highly variable human rights record in Southeast Asia, explained by the diverse political systems, legal traditions and ethno-religious compositions within and among states in the region. Panelists noted both localized examples of advancements in human rights and broader regional trends of increasing state constraints on a range of fundamental human rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and minority protection. Some noted that although liberal democracies often have strong human rights records, the democratic/autocratic divide may not be an informative predictor of human rights protections in Southeast Asia, where there are several contemporary examples of human rights violations under democratic systems, and human rights advancements under authoritarian regimes.

Beyond state-driven trends in human rights, panelists discussed the roles of inter-state, international and non-state actors in the region. Some characterized human rights protection at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) level as weak, with no mechanism for human rights protection or cooperation on migrant and refugee issues. Beyond the region, panelists cited the United States’ decreased presence in Southeast Asia and shifting balance of global powers as a cause of reduced international pressure for state-driven human rights protection. Panelists also identified a trend of shrinking space for civil society to advance human rights agendas in both authoritarian regimes and democracies in the region. Despite these top-down challenges, panelists pointed to optimistic stories of peace-building initiatives led by civil society, such as interfaith groups established at the village level, that continue to meaningfully advance human rights efforts.

The discussion of human rights led panelists to consider the close and interconnected relationships between religion, ethnicity and the state across the region, and the concerning trend of political instrumentalization of ethnoreligious issues. While this trend is widespread throughout the region, panelists pointed to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and the relationship between the state and Buddhism in Cambodia as key examples of the intentional use of religion and ethnicity as state instruments to maintain power, control and popular support. 

Participants examined trends in the political economy, cautioning that while there are many signs that economies in Southeast Asia are growing, resource distribution is a pressing issue in Southeast Asia that is driving some of the trends in politics and human rights protection. Beyond the region, panelists considered the role of Chinese investment in shifting the regional economic balance and reimagining international economic and political relations. 

Raising topics of immediate significance within and beyond Southeast Asia, the Ethno-Religious Nationalism and Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia roundtable event laid a strong foundation for continued conversations about shifting trends in state-religious interactions, the evolving role of the political economy, and the future of human rights in Southeast Asia.

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Connectivity and Borders in Southeast Asia

15 March 2018

The ASEAN Economic Community has entered into force, and we hear much about ASEAN’s connectivity agenda. At the same time, we are witnessing rising religious and other forms of nationalism in the region, and border tensions persist. How do ASEAN countries navigate this landscape, and what does it mean for politics, security, migration and infrastructure development in the region?

How does it tie into larger questions of nationalism and globalization? What, indeed, does a border mean in Southeast Asia—both land and maritime borders. In this context, how to manage conflicts arising from the realities of geography and borders?

Panellists

  • Don Bobiash, Assistant-Deputy Minister Asia-Pacific, Global Affairs Canada
  • Jonathan Head, Southeast Asia Correspondent, BBC News, Bangkok
  • Kai Ostwald, Director, Centre for Southeast Asia Research, UBC
  • Renée Mulligan, ​Board, Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada
  • Scott Watson, Associate Professor and Chair, Political Science, UVic

Chairs

  • Phil Calvert, CAPI Senior Research Fellow and former Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos
  • Victor V. Ramraj, CAPI Director and Chair in Asia-Pacific Legal Relations and Professor of Law, University of Victoria

9 November 2017

Southeast Asia is one of the world’s fastest growing economies, and for several decades Canada has taken a keen interest. But the region is not without its challenges, which Canadian businesses and diplomatic representatives continue to navigate. This session will examine Canada’s current opportunities and challenges in the region, including trade, investment, and human rights. It will discuss key questions, including what are the prospects for a Canada-ASEAN free trade agreement? How do NAFTA discussions affect Canada’s relationship with Southeast Asia? What are the opportunities for Canada, and how should Canada respond? Does Canada have the human capacity to engage with Southeast Asia? What are the geopolitical and human rights challenges of engaging with ASEAN? How should Canada balance its engagement with Southeast Asia and its commitment to human rights and social responsibility?

Panellists

  • Marie-Louise Hannan, Ambassador of Canada to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (via video link)
  • Hugh Stephens, Distinguished Fellow with the Asia Pacific Foundation and Principal at Trans-Pacific Connections; CAPI Associate
  • Jim Boutilier, Special Advisor on Asia-Pacific, Maritime Forces Pacific; CAPI Associate
  • Dominique Spragg, VP Strategic Planning, Viking Air
  • Andrew Doherty, Canada Director, Canada-ASEAN Business Council
  • Kai Ostwald, Assistant Professor in the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs & the Department of Political Science, and Faculty Associate at the Institute of Asian Research, UBC
  • Robyn Fila, International Programs Manager, Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives, University of Victoria
  • Thanh Phan, PhD Candidate in Law & Society, Faculty of Law, and CIGI Doctoral Fellow, University of Victoria
  • Theressa Etmanski, LLM Candidate in Law & Society, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria

Chairs

  • Phil Calvert, CAPI Senior Research Fellow and former Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos
  • Victor V. Ramraj, CAPI Director and Chair in Asia-Pacific Legal Relations and Professor of Law, University of Victoria

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CAPI's Southeast Asia in Global Context series is led by Phil Calvert, CAPI Senior Research Fellow and former Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, and Victor V. Ramraj, CAPI Director and Chair in Asia-Pacific Legal Relations.

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