The 33rd ASEAN Roundtable: Resilience in a Disruptive World

The ASEAN Studies Center of ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute organised the 33rd ASEAN Roundtable, at Raffles City Convention Centre, with the theme “Resilience in a Disruptive World.”


Monday, 26 November 2018  – The ASEAN Studies Center of ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute organised the 33rd ASEAN Roundtable, at Raffles City Convention Centre, with the theme “Resilience in a Disruptive World.” The Roundtable took place against the backdrop of Singapore’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2018, the 50th anniversary of ISEAS, and the 10th anniversary of the ASEAN Studies Centre. The Roundtable’s discussions focused on key dimensions of ASEAN resilience in adapting to changes and managing disruptions facing the region.

Dr Maliki Osman delivering his speech at the 33rd ASEAN Roundtable organised by the ASEAN Studies Centre of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

In his Opening Speech, Dr Maliki Osman, Singapore’s Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recapped ASEAN’s key deliverables this year. These include, among others, the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN), substantial progress in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations, youth cooperation, and defense practical cooperation including maritime exercises and rules for air and maritime encounters. Dr Maliki noted that the process leading to these outcomes, that involves building trust, mutual respect and finding common ground, is as important as the substantive achievements.

Dr Maliki Osman taking questions from the audience after his speech at the 33rd ASEAN Roundtable.  With him is Mr Choi Shing Kwok, Director of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The Roundtable’s Session One – “Navigating the Power Shift” – discussed how ASEAN should position itself amidst intensifying US-China strategic rivalry, and vis-à-vis the Belt and Road Initiative and the Indo-Pacific. Recommendations to maintain ASEAN strategic autonomy included, among others, (i) holding on to ASEAN’s norms and principles governing inter-state relations and strengthening ASEAN-led mechanisms that focus on dialogue and cooperative security; (ii) deepening security cooperation in operational terms; (iii) embracing the BRI to support regional economic growth while diversifying the portfolio with other partners and synergising it with existing ASEAN’s connectivity initiatives; (iv) member states to regard ASEAN interests as part of national interests.

Session 1 on Navigating the power shift. From left to right, Dr Malcolm Cook, Dr Riefqi Muna, Prof Joseph Liow and Assoc Prof Herman Kraft. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

At Session Two “Raising the Flag of Open and Free Trade,” the speakers discussed the impacts of the US-Sino trade war; the prospect of concluding RCEP by 2019, and the importance for ASEAN economies to resist protectionism and pursue multilateralised trade regimes with extra-regional partners. It was noted that (i) Malaysia and Singapore would be more negatively affected through supply linkages with US-China trade while Vietnam and the Philippines are biggest potential gainers from trade diversion; (ii) greater risks of the trade war for ASEAN come from capital flows and investment sentiment, and financial market effects tend to be larger than trade effects; and (iii) the pressure and urgency to conclude RCEP have increased in view of the uncertain global trade landscape and the forthcoming entry into force of the CPTPP.

Session 2 on Raising the flag of open and free trade. From left to right Dr Tham Siew Yean, Dr Donna Hanna, Ms Alpana Roy and Mr Jayant Menon (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Session Three “Riding the Digital Wave” assessed ASEAN resilience in the age of digital disruptions from three angles: employment, technology and urbanisation, and cyber infrastructure and security. It was noted that (i) high-skills occupations will gain more prominence but still constitute a small share in total employment; hence the need to strengthen training and social security for mid-skilled workers; (ii) the ASCN seeks to harness technological and digital solutions to improve urban lives by creating a regional ecosystem to synergise smart city development across ASEAN; (iii) to ride the digital wave, policy-makers and regulators of the region’s digital infrastructure are stepping up measures to ensure network security, cyber security, personal data protection, and address misinformation; and (iv) the differing readiness levels in ASEAN countries require sustained commitment from governments to adopt region-wide policies.

Session 3 on Riding the Digital Wave. From left to right, Ms Moe Thuzar, Mr Lim Teng Leng, Mr Christian Viegelahn, and Ms Nur Sulyna Abdullah. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The 33rd ASEAN Roundtable concluded with a dialogue session on ASEAN evolution and the importance of ASEAN resilience from within, focusing on the notions of ASEAN centrality and leadership within ASEAN. They highlighted that (i) ASEAN should take a definite and principled stand on issues affecting the region, e.g. the South China Sea and the Rohingya issues; (ii) collective leadership must not be an excuse for not to take leadership, and Indonesia must be a key part of leadership in ASEAN; (iii) as populism is rising in some quarters of the region, the presence and benefits of ASEAN must be felt at the grassroots and embraced by politicians of member states; and (iv) the we-feelings among ASEAN Leaders must be nurtured to provide political will and reach compromise on difficult questions even as post-Charter ASEAN is becoming more rules-based and institutionalised.

Session 4 on Resilience from within. From left to right, Dr Tang Siew Mun, Mr Kasit Piromya, Dr Dino Patti Djamal and Ambassador Ong Keng Yong. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

About 220 guests from the diplomatic, academic, government, and private sectors attended the full day event on 26 November 2018. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

1. Media Coverage

1. Welcoming Remarks By ISEAS Director, Mr Choi Shing Kwok
2. Keynote Address by SMS Dr Maliki Osman. His Keynote Address is also available here.
3. Transcript of SMS Dr Maliki Osman’s Question and Answer Session