Autonomy and Agency in Southeast Asia: Rethinking “Don’t Make Us Choose” and Resolving the Deer-Dragon Dilemma


About the Webinar

The popularity of “Don’t Make Us Choose” (DMUC) as a Southeast Asian plea to the United States and China in light of their rivalry in the region is not surprising. However, the speaker will argue that DMUC is negative, external, and passive. It asks Washington and Beijing not to do something (i.e., not to make Southeast Asian states choose) without saying what those choices might be and without recommending what should actually happen (rather than not happen) in a positive, internal, and proactive sense. The speaker instead advocates “Rethinking the Deer-Dragon Dilemma” (RDDD), an approach reflected in his edited book, The Deer and the Dragon: Southeast Asia and China in the 21st Century (2020). Unlike DMUC, RDDD means asking what ASEAN and/or its member states themselves could/should decide to do and then try to do, thus living up to the attributes of autonomy and agency featured in the title of his talk. RDDD envisions a constructive resolution (or a variously constructive set of country-specific resolutions) that could accomplish one or more desired outcomes without unmanageable external coercion. In this interpretive context, whereas DMUC implies autonomy without agency because it fails to say what ASEAN or any of its members should proactively do, RDDD proposes to explore the making of unforced choices that could, unlike DMUC, concretely and beneficially exemplify both the autonomy and the agency that DMUC merely claims to preserve abstractly and by default.

About the Speaker

Donald K. Emmerson heads the Southeast Asia Program at Stanford University where he is also a faculty affiliate of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law and the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies. Recent publications, other than The Deer and the Dragon, include pieces in The Diplomat, East Asia Forum, and The Jakarta Post. Entities hosting his presentations in 2020-21 have included the Asia Society, the National Committee on US-China Relations, and Universitas Pelita Harapan. Before moving to Stanford in 1999, he taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has held visiting positions at the Institute for Advanced Studies and the Australian National University, among other institutions. His doctorate in political science is from Yale. The son of a peripatetic US foreign service officer, he feels fortunate to have grown up on all of the inhabited continents save Australia.


This webinar will be delivered online entirely. You can join the webinar at the specified date and time using devices (computer, phone, or tablet) with internet connection.

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If you have questions for the speaker, please key in your questions via the Q&A, stating your name and affiliation. The moderator will field them to the speaker during the Q&A session.


Apr 23 2021


9:00 am - 10:00 am