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Trends in Southeast Asia

The Trends in Southeast Asia series serves as in-depth analysis of contemporary geopolitical and socio-economic forces in the region. The series is written for policymakers, diplomats, scholars and students of the region with emphasis on empirical and observable trends, and less on theory-building or historical accounts of events.

The aim of Trends is to offer concrete accounts of the dynamism in the region as transnational processes impact local communities, national governments as well as bilateral and foreign relations. Subjects that are of interest to the series are national elections; economic patterns and growth; demographic changes and their social implications; migratory patterns; religious and ethnic trends; bilateral relations and geopolitics in the region in relation to the larger powers of Japan, China and the US. This series undergoes a peer-review process.


“How Thailand’s Move Forward Party’s Fandom Strategy Shaped the 2023 General Election” by Alexandra Colombier



• The concept of political fandom, the state of being fans of a politician or of a political party, played a crucial role during Thailand’s General Election in 2023. Fandom contributed to the popularity on social media of politicians, such as Pita Limjaroenrat, the Move Forward Party’s leader and prime ministerial candidate.

• The strategies involved in achieving celebrity status for politicians are varied. This paper provides a case study of the factors behind the success of Pita and the Move Forward Party and contrasts these with reasons why Pita’s key political opponents were less effective.

• It argues that the digital age and the transcendence of politics into pop culture, where celebrity status and fandom can drive electoral outcomes, signify a profound shift in democratic participation, political engagement and the very fabric of Thai politics.

• While fandom has become a stream in participatory democracy, it also highlights the polarized and temperamental nature of Thailand’s contemporary hyper-partisan political scene.

Trends in Southeast Asia 2024/5, March 2024


“China’s Cultural Diplomacy in Indonesia: The Case of a Transnational Singing Contest” by Chang-Yau Hoon and Ardhitya Eduard Yeremia



• The emphasis on cultural connectivity in China’s growing presence and involvement in Southeast Asia highlights the importance China places on people-to-people exchanges as part of its global engagement strategy.

• The remarkable ascension of China over the recent decades has precipitated a proliferation of anti-China sentiments, particularly galvanized within the crucible of a “discourse war” with Western powers, as expressed in the latter’s “China threat” narrative.

• In response to such challenges, China has made substantial investments in cultural diplomacy, to augment its soft power through orchestrated global outreach initiatives.

• This article examines Chinese cultural diplomacy in the realm of entertainment, specifically “The Melody of Spring: Transnational Spring Festival Gala” hosted in Nanning, Guangxi, and disseminated globally each Chinese New Year.

• Against the legacy of China-Indonesia bilateral relations as well as Indonesia’s treatment of its Chinese minority, this study explores China’s cultural diplomacy and soft power in contemporary Indonesia.

• Through the case study of the “Transnational Spring Festival Gala”, this article posits that China’s cultural dissemination as an instrument of soft power has yielded little influence on the Indonesian public and has limited impact on the formation of a transnational imagined community.

Trends in Southeast Asia 2024/4, February 2024


“Enhancing ASEAN’s Role in Critical Mineral Supply Chains” by Sharon Seah and Mirza Sadaqat Huda



• The clean energy transition momentum is gathering pace globally, and in Southeast Asia as well. The transition is dependent on an uninterrupted supply of critical minerals and metals that are essential for the production of low-carbon technologies.

• The supply of critical minerals is impeded by several constraints. First is the dominance of a handful of countries in both the upstream and downstream parts of the supply chain. Second is the current geopolitical race to secure supplies leading to greater protectionist behaviours, exhibited through export bans and trade impediments.

• This study focuses on four selected critical minerals which are important to the region. Two criteria are used in determining a mineral having high significance: (1) There are significant deposits of it which can be tapped on to bolster Southeast Asia’s strategic position in the supply chains; and (2) It is an essential input in industries and sectors of importance in Southeast Asia. The four critical minerals examined in this study are: copper, nickel, bauxite (alumina), and rare earth elements (REEs).

• The study makes three recommendations to enhance ASEAN’s role in the critical minerals supply chains. The first addresses the insufficiency of investments in early-stage exploration and exploitation of critical minerals and, in the process, calls for an embracing of circular economy principles. The second appeals for investments at all stages, including in technology to tap into downstream activities beyond refining and purification, and in the manufacturing of component parts such as battery cell storage and permanent magnets. The third calls for improvements in sustainability management in the mining sector, which is generally extremely environmentally and socially damaging to communities.

Trends in Southeast Asia 2024/3, February 2024


“China as a Rising Norm Entrepreneur: Examining GDI, GSI and GCI” by Manoj Kewalramani



• This paper discusses Chinese President Xi Jinping’s flagship global initiatives’ normative implications for the world order.

• It argues that the Global Development Initiative (GDI), Global Security Initiative (GSI) and Global Civilization Initiative (GCI), which are key pillars of China’s proposal to build a community of common destiny for mankind, are driven by Beijing’s desire to cultivate authority in the international system.

• Analysing the speeches by Chinese leaders, policy documents, media and analytical discourse in China, along with policy decisions, this study provides an assessment of the Chinese leadership’s worldview. It places the launch of GDI, GSI and GCI within this context, before detailing the elements of each initiative and offering a critical analysis.

• This study concludes that through GDI, GSI and GCI, the Chinese leadership hopes to shape an external environment that not only ensures regime security but is also favourable to China’s development and security interests. In doing so, however, it is reshaping key norms of global governance towards a fundamentally illiberal direction.

Trends in Southeast Asia 2024/2, January 2024


“TIMOR-LESTE IN ASEAN: Is It Ready to Join?” by Joanne Lin, Sharon Seah, Sithanonxay Suvannaphakdy and Melinda Martinus



• After more than a decade of deliberations, ASEAN leaders agreed on 11 November 2022 in principle to admit Timor-Leste as the eleventh member of the regional organization and to grant Timor-Leste observer status to attend all ASEAN meetings. Timor-Leste has demonstrated positive developmental progress, and fact-finding missions across the three ASEAN Community pillars have returned generally optimistic results.

• However, an assessment of Timor-Leste’s ability to fulfil its commitments and obligations reveals that the country will need to close the gap with the ten existing members on matters such as the ratification and implementation of legally binding agreements and derivative work plans. Creating enforcement mechanisms and finding ways to implement commitments at the local level will be important.

• Timor-Leste has put in place institutional structures and implementing agencies for advancing cooperation with ASEAN. It is also moving towards harmonizing its laws with ASEAN instruments. However, its capacity remains in question due to a lack of substantive knowledge and technical expertise among government officials, as well as inadequate infrastructure, logistics and facilities for hosting ASEAN meetings.

• Strengthening human capital will be a top priority for Timor-Leste. This includes not only enhancing its personnel’s knowledge and technical expertise on ASEAN processes and procedures but also skills such as English language proficiency and negotiation. Coordinated capacity-building assistance from ASEAN and dialogue partners will be important. These efforts must also be met with economic diversification and growth of its nascent private sector.

• Apart from bridging gaps, ASEAN needs to grapple with its reservations that Timor-Leste’s economic limitations may slow down the realization of the ASEAN Economic Community. There are also concerns that Timor-Leste’s membership may entrench differences within the bloc, particularly with regard to geopolitical issues, and dilute the organization’s effectiveness or further complicate the consensus-based decision-making process.

Trends in Southeast Asia 2024/1, January 2024


The Debate on the Ba‘Alawi Lineage in Indonesia: Highlighting Weaknesses in the Genealogical Records by Ahmad Muhajir and Afra Alatas



Managing China-Singapore Relations Amid US-China Rivalry by Ma Bo



“The Evolution of Madani: How Is 2.0 Different from 1.0?” by Mohd Faizal Musa



“Post-Islamism Battles Political Islam in Malaysia” by Mohd Faizal Musa



“The Labour Politics of App-Based Driving in Vietnam” by Joe Buckley