An Absent Elephant? The US in Southeast Asia


About the Seminar

This presentation will revisit a familiar analogy: “When the elephants fight, the grass suffers. When the elephants make love, the grass also suffers.” The presenter will urge the retirement of this hackneyed Cold War parable, notwithstanding the contention of some that the Southeast Asian grass is now trapped in a Cold War II between Chinese and American elephants. He will also reject two fabulist counter-parables: first, that America is abdicating in favour of incipient Chinese primacy; and second, that a grass-suffocating Sino-American G2 is in prospect. Instead, time permitting, he will argue for creative agency and strategic autonomy in Southeast Asia; for fresh thinking about ASEAN centrality; for the South China Sea as a litmus test of China’s intentions; and for the need to realize that the chaotic and disruptive presidency of Donald Trump is not an omen of extended American decline.

About the Speaker

Donald K. Emmerson heads the Southeast Asia Program in the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, where he is also a faculty affiliate of the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, and the Ford Dorsey Program in International Policy Studies; and a senior fellow emeritus in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Emmerson’s current research features Southeast Asia-China dynamics, the South China Sea, ASEAN and US foreign policy. Forthcoming is an edited volume, The Deer and the Dragon: Southeast Asia and China in the 21st Century. In 2018-19 his writings have appeared in outlets such as Asia Policy, Asia Times, IPP Review, Jakarta Post, Journal of Democracy, RSIS Commentary and Yale Global Online. Speaking venues in that period have included Bali, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Washington, DC. Earlier work comprises many books, articles, and op eds. In 2010 the National Bureau of Asian Research and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars honoured him with an award to “top scholars from across the United States” who “have successfully bridged the gap between the academy and policy”. Before coming to Stanford in 1999, Emmerson was a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he won a campus-wide teaching award. Places where he has held visiting positions include the Australian National University (Canberra) and the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton). His degrees are from Yale (PhD) and Princeton (BA). He met his wife while attending high school in Beirut. Born in Japan the son of a peripatetic US foreign service officer, he was lucky to grow up on all of the inhabited continents except Australia.


For registration, please click here. Registration closes on 4 December 2019.


Dec 06 2019


10:00 am - 11:30 am


ISEAS Seminar Room 2