TRUST AND POWER IN PIVOTAL TIMES
Trust between countries is crucial for fostering stable and productive relations and finding common ground amid differing national interests. Trust among citizenry, government and business enables society to resolve pressing problems. The situation today and prospects in the year ahead are shaped by the state of trust and the exercise of power in political and economic spheres.
ROF2024 will consider the global political and economic challenges that arise from the heightened rivalry between the major powers. Geopolitical currents — chiefly, U.S.-China tensions and Russia’s war in Ukraine — continue to ripple across the region. Strategic distrust between the U.S. and China, and their efforts to exert influence and military presence, bear important consequences for Southeast Asia and the South China Sea. New frontiers of contestation, most consequentially U.S.-allied Indo-Pacific partnerships, raise questions about bipolar conflict and ASEAN’s role and posture.
On the regional front, ROF2024 will weigh Southeast Asia’s response to pivotal economic, technological and natural resource challenges. The bifurcation of global supply chains driven by geopolitical rivalry impinges on the region’s trade and investment, cross-border integration and access to technology for generating growth and upgrading economies.
ROF2024 will also survey the domestic situation in Southeast Asian countries. We reflect on the popular trends that are shaping politics in the Philippines and Thailand, the resilience of dynasties, and the outlook for reform. Ahead of Indonesia’s February presidential vote and legislative elections in 2024, we scrutinise the contest among political elites to win the people’s trust, and the possible directions in which the next president will lead the region’s largest country. Finally, in light of the stabilisation of Malaysia’s political landscape in 2023, with both the Unity government and Perikatan Nasional opposition consolidating their coalitions, we deliberate Malaysia’s social cohesion and political outlook.
Professor Kawashima Shin
Professor of International Relations, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo
Dato’ Seri Wong Siew Hai
President, Malaysia Semiconductor Industry Association (MSIA)
Ms Marites Dañguilan Vitug
Editor-at-large, Rappler; Author of Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China
Tan Sri Anifah Aman
Senator, Dewan Negara Malaysia; Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia (2009-2018)
Dr Burhanuddin Muhtadi
Professor of Political Science, Islamic State University (UIN) Syarif Hidayatullah; Visiting Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute
Keynote Address: Rivalry and Distrust in the Global Order: How Should Southeast Asia Respond?
Political and economic rivalries continue to shape the global order heading into 2024. Deepening distrust between major powers affects political and economic ties, posing new challenges for Southeast Asia’s strategic and peaceable engagement with all sides. In principle, the region does not choose sides, but the diplomatic balancing act faces new complexities. South China Sea disputes call for a defence of sovereign borders. Our Keynote addresses the major issues looming on the horizon, and how Southeast Asia can navigate with clarity, purpose, and cohesion.
Panel 1: Geopolitical currents: US, China and Japan
The persistence of U.S.-China tensions raises questions about the causes and implications of this globally pivotal relationship. This Panel will reflect on the underlying factors and contemporary turning points that have given rise to the strategic distrust between the world’s major powers. This Panel will also help us gain clarity on how domestic developments, particularly the U.S. elections in November and China’s economic slowdown, may impact on the geopolitical rivalry in the coming year. Among the Asian countries, the strategic responses of Japan — as a middle power, QUAD member, and major presence in Southeast Asia, as well as China’s neighbour and the U.S.’ ally — have exceptionally grown in importance.
Panel 2: Regional Economic Challenges: Supply Chains, Technology, and Investment
U.S.- China geopolitical tensions, domestic economic policies, and the pursuit of new technologies converge on the question of Southeast Asia’s place in global supply chains. Reconfigurations in supply chains require strategic adaptations in three major aspects. First, raw material and component part industries are dynamically shifting in line with new market demand, notably for renewable energy and electric vehicle production. Second, the continual expansion of the digital economy and acceleration of artificial intelligence pose questions for countries that seek to access both U.S.-based and China-based value chains, in key sectors such as semiconductors. Third, China’s trade tensions with the U.S. and Europe, coupled with its growth slowdown, have prompted investment relocation to regions such as Southeast Asia. This panel will provide perspective on these unfolding developments, and how governments, multinationals, small and medium enterprises, and financial institutions should respond.
Panel 3: The Philippines and Thailand: Enduring Elites, Deepening Dilemmas
The Philippines and Thailand, while located in geographic corners of Southeast Asia, have witnessed people power and elite endurance. Both highly unequal societies are grappling with the ramifications of elections that have seen the return of dynastic influence. Problems of disinformation weigh heavily on the Philippines, where social media usage is among the highest globally. In the international arena, the country is engrossed in South China Sea disputes and dilemmas of its proximity to Taiwan. Thailand’s government, a coalition of Pheu Thai with military-aligned parties, was formed in August 2023 after three months of impasse following the general election that delivered an emphatic rejection of the military establishment. However, the mandate for change was overturned, eroding public trust in the democratic system. This Panel will discuss key domestic and regional issues facing both countries.
Panel 4: Indonesia’s 2024 Elections: Contenders and Consequences
Indonesia’s 14 February 2024 presidential election will be pivotal. After Joko Widodo’s decade-long presidency, Indonesians will elect his successor. The contest for president and vice-president nominations in September-October 2023 revealed the power dynamics and vested interests of the nation’s political elites. Candidates have presented their economic visions and religious credentials in their appeals to Indonesia’s diverse electorate. Rhetoric, tension and expectancy rise in the heat of campaigning, especially on social media. But Indonesia’s democracy has proven robust if still a work in progress; the winner must forge political alliances and secure a broad-based mandate. This Panel will unpack the state of play in the quest for power.
Panel 5: Malaysia: New Possibilities?
Malaysia’s Unity government registered various achievements in 2023, its first year in power. The sprawling coalition maintained its cohesion, rolled out various signature policies, and defended Negeri Sembilan, Penang and Selangor in the August 2023 state elections. However, the Unity pact – comprising Pakatan Harapan-Barisan Nasional on the Peninsula – saw its state assembly majorities shrink, and continually struggles to win ethnic Malay support. Perikatan Nasional, in federal opposition, sustained its popular momentum and dominates the Peninsular northeast and northwest. Economic challenges persist; the Anwar Ibrahim administration’s delivery of tangible gains and long-term reforms will be tested. Selangor will be increasingly crucial to the Unity coalition’s future, and the contest for the Malay vote will keep shaping the country’s politics. This panel will reflect on Malaysia’s prospects of continuity and possibilities of change.
Registration for ROF2024 is now opened until 3 January 2024. Early Bird promotion until 19 November 2023.REGISTER NOW