The Regional Outlook Forum (ROF), held every year in January, is the flagship event of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. This one-day conference, in its 23rd year in 2020, will focus on macro trends, developments and challenges facing Southeast Asia in the immediate, short and medium-term. Distinguished scholars and intellectuals, as well as seasoned practitioners with international and regional reputation, will share their insights with all participants.
The Regional Outlook Forum 2020 will examine global and regional trends and highlight domestic developments in key Southeast Asian countries to shed more light on what lies beyond the horizon, including the pitfalls and opportunities ahead.
Great Power Relationship: United States and China Rivalry
The trade war between the United States and China has now spilled over into the arena of technology with the US ban on sales of American-made products to Huawei. Although Beijing has limited cards to play in this conflict, moves by Washington risk forcing China into a tougher position. This is because just as President Trump is responding to bi-partisan American opinion to regard China as a “strategic competitor”, President Xi is also constrained by domestic nationalistic sentiments. This great power rivalry will have consequences for the region as well as in Europe. Southeast Asia is also caught between the uncertainties and challenges arising from the great power rivalry of the United States and China.
A number of Southeast Asian countries are either in the post-election phase or gearing up for elections that will shape the political and socio-economic landscape in these countries in the years to come. In Indonesia, President Joko Widodo has continued on his second term with a new cabinet since October 2019, while Thailand has yet to resolve the longstanding issue of its government’s political legitimacy and also keeping the disparate coalition together. Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) is nearing its mid-term with political and economic challenges remaining. Vietnam will be gearing up for the 13th Party Congress in 2021 to elect a new set of leaders, while its economy will also need to be managed to become a high quality manufacturing hub with a stronger foothold in ICT. Myanmar will face elections in 2020.
Opportunities and Challenges
Amidst the uncertainties and challenges, there are some positive news. Asia remains the most dynamic region in the world and is a very important pillar of global growth. In Southeast Asia, countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia are growing at commendable rates of about five per cent per year amidst US-China trade tensions. The trade war between the United States and China has resulted in more companies and businesses relocating and investing in Southeast Asia, thereby generating more employment opportunities and raising living standards in the region, although the impact has varied from country to country.
will seek to address the following questions:
- How will US-China tensions continue to affect Southeast Asia and the wider region? What are the ramifications of America’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ strategy?
- What will be the main political and economic challenges facing President Joko Widodo’s second term? How will the capital’s relocation to Kalimantan have ramifications on Indonesia’s economy and finances? Is rising conservatism expected to fan greater intolerance in the country? What will be some of the Islamic trends that will continue to be pertinent in 2020 and beyond?
- Pakatan Harapan will be nearing its mid-term in 2020. How will the Malaysian government continue to manage succession and also economic and other political challenges facing the country? Will the UMNO-PAS coalition eventually unseat the PH government?
- How will the legitimacy and viability of the new government develop in Thailand after the 2019 elections? Can Thailand regain its status as the regional logistics hub for Japanese, US and other investors?
- What are some of the political and economic challenges facing Vietnam as it gears up for the 13th Congress in 2021? How will Vietnam rise to the opportunities presented by an increase of investments coming into the country arising from US-China trade tensions?
- How will the 2020 election year unfold for Myanmar’s political and economic outlook? What are some of the on-the-ground sentiments prevailing in the country prior to the elections?